HC Deb 04 April 1946 vol 421 cc1402-504

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Whiteley.]

3.25 p.m.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

In the White Paper which we issued this week, entitled "The World Food Shortage," we endeavoured to set out the plain facts of the world situation in relation to food supplies. This White Paper supplements and amplifies the previous White Paper on the world grain situation. There have been a number of statements by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food; there was a statement by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at U.N.O., there have been many useful articles in the Press, and the facts have been laid before the country and this House. I do not wish to burden the House this afternoon with a lot of figures that are already available, and I do not want to repeat what has been said in the White Paper. My task is to endeavour to place this problem in its correct perspective, and to invite the help of all Members of the House, and of all people in this country and wherever in the world my words may carry, to do what is possible to help in this critical time.

We are facing a world food shortage. It is the aftermath of war. It is a retribution which, as so often, falls on the innocent for the general follies of mankind. The plain fact is that millions of people today are faced with a scarcity of food, and some with absolute starvation. We in this country are not faced with starvation, hut, necessarily, a country such as ours, which depends to a greater extent than any other on imported food, has a very difficult position to face. It is quite impossible for us by any degree of sacrifice on our part to restore the world situation. We all know from our own experience that, during the war, we had to put up with a far less varied, and a far duller, diet than we were accustomed to in peacetime. We had to give up many pleasant forms of food; we had to depend on a narrower range. But throughout the war our people were fed. Whatever else was rationed, we were able to give our people bread. It is today precisely in the great staple foods, on which the greater part of the human race depends—wheat and rice—that the world shortage exists. I myself doubt whether, if distribution and transport were ideally perfect, there would even then be enough to go round. It is certain that that is not possible in the conditions obtaining today.

I think it right that we should look at the reasons. First, there is the destruction of war—the destruction of the fields, of transport, of plant—and the removal from production of millions of workers. There is the interruption of the normal movement of supply between producers and consumers, which, in the modern world, had become a very complicated interchange. Second, there was a series of disastrous losses due to natural causes, of which widely distributed drought was the chief.

What was the normal cereal position in the world, in its broadest aspects, before the war? While Europe supplied a great deal of its wheat requirements itself, it was the principal market for the great surplus areas of Canada, the United States, the Argentine and Australia. Asia supported itself partly in each country from local resources of meat and rice, but India, Malaya, China and Japan depended for a proportion of their needs on the surplus produced in Burma, Siam and Indo-China.

There is a very close parallel between the events that happened in the war in both these great areas of supply and demand. The German war cut off the European market except for Britain, and the surplus countries accumulated very considerable reserves by that outlet being cut off. They also reduced their acreage while an increased purchasing power, due to full employment and better wages among the poorer sections of the community, enhanced the home demand. Meanwhile, in Europe, the withdrawal of labour from the land, the actual destruction of crops and transport, and the shortage of fertilisers—all these things due to the operations of the war—reduced everywhere, except in Britain, the actual production. Parallel with this, in Asia the Japanese offensive severed the consuming from the producing areas. The result was that output in Siam and Indo-China was reduced—there was no incentive to produce more than enough for subsistence—while the war in Burma upset the whole economy of that country, so that after the liberation there was only a very small exportable surplus. Meanwhile the increase of demand in Asia is due to the constant increase of the population of India by no less than five mil- lions a year with no comparable increase in production. Thus when the war came to an end. there was bound to be an increased demand for wheat and rice, but the effects of the war were rendered far more serious by the widespread failures of crops.

I need not relate in detail all that happened. There was drought in the Mediteranean countries. in North Africa, in South Africa, and in New Zealand; there was the failure of the rains both in Northern and Southern India, and there was also a tidal wave in Madras. These were all unforeseeable calamities, and, of course, the difficulties with regard to rice in Asia had their repercussions on the wheat situation, by setting up a new demand on the common wheat supplies of the world. How far was this critical situation foreseen? Some things were foreseeable and others could not have been anticipated, but it had always been realised that time would be needed for Europe and the Far East to recover from the ravages of war. It was contemplated, and indeed calculated, that the great stocks built up by the wheat exporting countries would tide the world over this difficult time until normal harvests resumed. It was further anticipated that the Japanese war would continue for some 12 or 18 months after the end of the European war.

It must be remembered that we could not estimate what would be the food position in the enemy countries, or the enemy occupied countries, and of course we could have no foreknowledge of the drought. Therefore it was quite reasonable for the Coalition Government to decide that we could allow our own wheat production to fall from its wartime peak. We could anticipate that increased feeding stuffs would be available for farmers in successive stages from the autumn of 1945, so that we could begin to build up our depleted livestock. We had probably reduced our livestock more than the vast majority of countries.

When the present Government assumed office the position was already different from that which obtained during the war. We had the claims of liberated Europe; Lend-Lease came to an end, and from this time on, supplies rather than shipping became the major consideration. By September, reports came in which showed that the wheat position was not as good as had been hoped. Stocks in the exporting countries had been reduced—there was a good deal of feeding to livestock—and droughts had already occurred in the Mediterranean basin, but the best opinion was that we could still get through till the harvest of 1946. Nevertheless, the scene was already beginning to be overcast, and various steps were recommended in 1945 by us to the exporting countries. We suggested a reduction in the amount of wheat fed to stock, a maximum effort to move wheat from North America to Europe, and a reduction of the end-of season stocks to a minimum. After further reviews in January and February, and the visit of the Minister to Washington in January, we ourselves in February raised our extraction rate, with the inevitable result of reducing the supply of feeding stuffs for our livestock. That was a heavy sacrifice to make and it was particularly hard on our own farmers. We invited other countries to do the same.

The response by the great exporting countries was immediate and I doubt whether it is always sufficiently recognised how quickly came the response from those countries. Within a week of a cable that I sent to President Truman, he announced those farreaching steps which were set out in the statement of 6th February. Action was taken by Canada and Australia, and it is thanks to the prompt action of those countries, that the situation has not become entirely out of hand. We here also set on foot an increased wheat sowing and bread saving campaign.

Meanwhile the Indian drought, which had begun in the autumn, continued through January to February, reducing the Indian wheat crop by as much as 25 per cent. This meant a great new demand by India on the common pool. The situation in Germany has been increasingly difficult. We have to occupy a zone which has never been self-sufficing in food, but we have from our own scanty stocks more than once helped the Germans of the British zone. At the beginning of the year, a special delegation came from India to this country to represent the grievous position that was looming up there. At their request my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food went to Washington to help them to plead their cause. The amount required for India was tremendous considering the resources available, and in the result, although they got less than they sought, they did get an allocation three times greater than that which was allotted in January. The leader of the deputation, Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar, has expressed his gratitude to my right hon. Friend for his efforts on their behalf.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

Is the right hon. Gentleman not going to give the figures in the case of India?

The Prime Minister

I think the hon. Member will find these figures in the White Paper. I did not want to load my speech with a lot of figures.

Mr. Nicholson

Not the figures of the result of conversations in Washington?

The Prime Minister

I will see that the figures are given in the course of the Debate. Meanwhile we have been setting on foot a whole series of measures to try to extract the utmost that can be made available of rice from Siam and Burma. One has to remember what the position of those countries has been—Siam was practically under Japanese domination, and Burma had been overrun. Those were the great sources from which surplus rice in the past was available. Lord Killearn is now in Singapore coordinating these efforts. I would like to add here that no one must imagine that this is a very short-term problem. There is a short-term problem, but we also have to look ahead for the next year and see what the situation is going to be. We are trying to stimulate the greatest possible effort to get more cultivation and more production, because next year is not going to be easy at all.

I have stressed the cereal position because it is fundamental. Whenever the human race is driven away from other foods, it always comes down eventually to the question of cereals. But there is a world shortage of other foods; in particular, of fats. We have decided not to make immediately a further cut in the fats ration, but to intensify our efforts to increase supplies. Throughout all our Colonies, where there is anything that can be done, special efforts are being made, by sending out transport and so forth, to try to get greater supplies of fats made available. The whaling fleets, which unfortunately had a very poor season, have been instructed to stay out in the Antarctic beyond the normal date. Everywhere we are making these efforts, but I am bound to warn the country that I cannot guarantee that a further cut will not be necessary, though we shall do our utmost to avoid it. During these past six months, we have been trying, not merely to safeguard supplies for our own consumers here at home, but to bring to the notice of the great producing countries the reality of the situation, and to organise supplies for the world in general, and especially for those areas outside this country for which we have a responsibility.

I said earlier that, whatever effort we make in this country, we ourselves cannot deal with this situation, but we are doing what we can. We have raised our extraction rate. We had to cut down our feeding stuffs to animals. We have encouraged the maximum sowing of spring wheat. We have reintroduced compulsory direction for a higher acreage of wheat in the 1947 harvest, and taken steps to increase the labour force, including prisoners of war. We have launched a campaign of saving. We have also summoned a Conference of Ministers of Food and Agriculture, which is sitting today and has been sitting since yesterday in London, in order to stimulate European food production and make the maximum use for human consumption of existing supplies As the House knows, the Food and Agricultural Organisation is holding a Conference in May on the world shortage, and we shall take our part in this. Mr. Hoover, whose great services after the last war are still fresh in our memory, is arriving here, I believe today, and will be consulting with the Foreign Secretary.

As a result of the efforts which are being made throughout the world, and especially the response of the great exporting countries, the position is rather better than it was a short time ago, but the outlook is still very uncertain, and the outlook for next year is not satisfactory. By next June the world will have consumed all those abnormal stocks of wheat that were accumulating during the war at the time when the producing countries were cut off from their main markets. We ourselves shall have reduced our stocks to a level even below what was deemed to be the minimum in peace time—and in peace time our stocks had not got to be very heavy, because there were regular supplies and there were greater surpluses. We must all pray 'hat the world harvests this year will not fall below the average, but we have to recognise that if they do, the outlook will he black. Meanwhile, we must all, whether farmers, smallholders or allotment holders, do our utmost to increase production, and we must all use the greatest economy in our consumption.

We have endeavoured to set out the facts as well and fully as we can, but I am bound to say to the House that the standard of accuracy in the information given about different countries varies very considerably. Few countries have such accurate statistics as we have here. I think no other country has such an efficient system of rationing, such a complete system of administration, and, let me say, such complete cooperation on the part of the ordinary citizen. In looking at this question, one must always beware of the fallacy of averages. In many countries the conditions vary very much between town and country. Travellers coming back will give a completely different picture, and there is often, by averages, given an illusion of a uniform colour, that really covers a patchwork. We are trying to enable people to see this picture as a whole.

Many mistakes are made by trying to build up an argument on the basis of a simple figure. For instance, well-meaning people write to me sometimes calling attention to a figure of our stocks. They will suggest that because we have a stock of so much, we can therefore afford to disperse it and send it abroad. Stock must be related to prospective supply and prospective demand, arid people like that are really living in the past, because they have not got away from the idea that the normal flow which we had in peace time of food coming in, week by week, and day by day, from all over the world, will still be the fact in the future.

It will not be for some time yet, and in estimating our stock position we have to watch very carefully not only what we have got here but what is coming in, in the future. I know very well that all of us in this country feel acutely distressed at the thought of other people suffering want, and even starvation, while we can carry on. But a Government is charged with responsibility to its own people which it cannot shirk. It has no right to disregard its obligations. It cannot take unjustifiable risks. We have, as I believe the people of this country would have wished us to do, reduced our margin of safety to the limit to help others, but further we cannot go. We must maintain the strength of our people as a vital factor in the economic, political and social recovery of the world.

There is another matter which is sometimes pressed upon me. I am asked to allow schemes of voluntary collection of our food to be undertaken, so that food parcels may be sent abroad. I have not agreed to this, first because the method is very wasteful of labour; secondly, because the distribution of food in countries suffering from shortages is far better and more fairly done by Government agencies than by some person here and there receiving a parcel, not perhaps the person who most needs it; thirdly, because I am not without fear of a kind of moral pressure being brought upon people to give up food which they really ought not to give up. After all, this people has been rationed for six years on standards which are only just enough to keep us in health, and one has to remember there are a great many people in this country who are living on the bare rations. I fear that individual gifts, while satisfying the conscience, do not make an effective contribution to the solution of the problem, and the less spectacular course of making, every one of us, as small a demand as possible on the common pool of food, is really far more effective.

It is our policy that consumption in this country should not fall further if it can possibly be avoided. We want to maintain our present standard. Our people have endured much over a very long period, longer than most other countries. Everything possible that can be done, will be done, to try to make our dietary more varied and more palatable within the limits that the world situation imposes. In the present world position it is inevitable there should be stringency. We shall do all we can to prevent our late enemies suffering starvation. Out of our own meagre resources we have done what we can, but I am bound to point out that, if it is inevitable that some should suffer, I must rank the claims of those who, like the Indian people, have fought by our side and the people of the liberated territories, higher than the claims of the Germans and the Japanese who fought against us, people who, for the most part, accepted the leadership of the men who are responsible for the unhappy state of the world. If we could, we would provide all with food, but I say that if that choice comes, one is bound to help our friends before our late enemies.

I think we have no cause to be ashamed of the part our people have played in this as in other spheres. I doubt if any other people or Government have, while conscious of their own domestic needs, devoted more attention to trying to help others. There has never, I think, in the history of the world been a time when all the people, all the time, have been adequately fed, or have had a reasonable certainty for a reasonable period that that would be so. Only in more modern times have advances in the science of production and transport rendered that possible. The lesson of the war is that international, as well as national, planning and control are necessary if we are to get full nutrition for all.

The Combined Food Board is an experiment, the essential principle of which we should like to see continued. It has not any executive powers, because the executive power to decide this issue of exports naturally rests with the Governments of the exporting countries. But it is an international forum, in which information and arguments can be jointly examined, and recommendations forwarded to the sovereign Governments. In fact those Governments are, today, observing the recommendation made, and I think it is only by those means that large-scale famine has been avoided. We were wise in this country riot to give in to those who wished to abandon rationing and price controls at an early stage. If we had done so, the present shortages might have caused starvation here. If the international system of allocation had been abandoned, there would have been starvation of millions in many countries. I think the moral is the same, internal or international: in times of scarcity, planning is the only means of providing fair shares for all and avoiding the coincidence of starvation on the one hand, and lavish consumption on the other.

I hope that, when these present difficulties have been overcome, we shall be moving into an era in which, by utilising the resources of the world, we shall see that there is no starvation, no undernourishment in any part of the world at all, but at present we have to go through a grim period—a grim period in which we, as far as we can, will do our part with the other nations to try to save others. Our duty today, every one of us, is to have a full realisation of what this position is and, as far as we may, particularly by avoiding waste, to reduce to the utmost our demands, so that there may be a little more for others.

3.59 P.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)

We have just listened to a statement from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister which, in substance, paraphrased the White Paper that the Government were good enough to lay before us the other day. This White Paper is divided into two parts. It starts with a description of the world situation, and goes on to describe the methods which His Majesty's Government have taken to deal with production at home. If I may be allowed to say so, I thought the Prime Minister dealt very cursorily with the latter part. I propose to deal with it myself later.

The first thing I want to say about this White Paper—and I am bound to add, in fairness, that the Prime Minister to a very large extent avoided it—is that it attributes, as anyone who looks can see on page r, the cause of the critical situation in which we find curselves today, to an exceptional succession of droughts. That is not true. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said that he devoted a good deal of his speech to cereals because of the importance of that subject. The fact of the matter is that, taking a large number of years, we find that weather does not make an appreciable difference to the total annual yield of wheat throughout the world. It is a very remarkable fact that what you gain in one part of the world on the swings, you lose in another part of the world on the roundabouts. Wheat is the only crop which is planted somewhere in the world, every day of the year. It is harvested every week of the year. The result is that, taking one year with another, the total crop for the world as a whole does not vary materially from year to year, as a result of the weather. Much more important is the actual acreage sown to wheat in different parts of the world every year.

If the House wants any proof of that, it is contained in the White Paper itself. The White Paper gives at considerable length instances of the shortages of wheat that are alleged to have occurred in 1945 as a result of bad harvests. There was a poor harvest in the Argentine; there was an indifferent harvest in Australia and Canada, but, to offset that, the harvest in 1945 in India was one of the three best on record. To give an illustration of some of the mistakes of the White Paper, I ask hon. Members to look at the comparison on page 7. They will find that the White Paper describes what happened in 1945 in New Zealand, and four other countries where there were shortages, and goes on to refer to the harvest in India from December to April being a failure. That is not comparing like with like. That is taking the 1946 harvest in India and comparing it with the 1945 harvest in those other countries. If we compare the 1945 harvest in India with that in those other countries, we find that it was one of the three highest on record. Even allowing for the fact that the harvest in the Argentine, New Zealand and Australia was poor, the United States, in 1945, not only had the biggest ever grown in the history of the United States, but of any single country in history. If one looks at the table on page 9 one finds that in the four chief producing countries of the world, the United States, Canada, the Argentine and Australia, the prewar average production was 36.9 million tons and in 1945, 45.3 million tons, an increase of just on 10 million tons.

The actual reason for the shortage, of wheat that we are facing today is quite different. It is mentioned in several places in the White Paper, but was not referred to by the Prime Minister, and it is insufficiently emphasised in the White Paper. The real reason why we are suffering from this shortage of wheat in the chief producing countries of the world, is faulty price-fixing, as a result of which it paid the farmers in the United States, to some extent those in Canada and to a lesser extent those in the Argentine, to feed their wheat and grain to animals and sell the animal products or to sell the wheat for making industrial products rather than to let it go for direct human consumption. It was not any bad harvest that reduced the carry-over in the United States and Canada from 45 million tons in 1943, to 23 million tons last year and if million tons this year. The harvest had nothing to do with it, and the weather had nothing to do with it.

The Prime Minister

I never said it had. If the right hon. Gentleman followed what I said he will remember that I pointed out that the carry-over stocks had been gradually reduced. I never suggested it was the bad harvest.

Mr. Hudson

I acquitted the Prime Minister of that. I said it was not clear in the White Paper. The reserve stock was 45 million tons in 1943, 23 million tons last year and 11 millions this year and the drop was not caused by bad harvests or weather, but by the abnormal consumption of grain, especially wheat, by farmers for feeding livestock. In other words, the real reason for the shortage from which we are suffering today was that the judgment of the price-fixing authorities was at fault. Incidentally, it was also due—with respect to what the Prime Minister said—to un harmonised planning, rather than to natural catastrophe.

There is quite an arguable proposition, although I am not going to develop it at length, that if a similar situation had started to develop in normal times when there had been no control of prices, there would have been very quickly such an automatic adjustment of prices that the farmer would soon have found that it did not pay him to feed wheat to animals, or for the brewer to buy the wheat for beer, and it would have gone into human consumption. That argument gains strength from what is happening today in respect to certain coarse grains. At present rye, for example, is not under control. The price of rye has gone up in relation to wheat. Rye is, at present, coming forward to the ports for shipment for human consumption instead of being fed to animals The remedy therefore—and this is not brought out in the White Paper to the extent to which it should be —is a very drastic curtailment indeed of the feeding of bread grains to animals in the United States of America and Canada. What we would like to know is, did the Minister of Food get a specific commitment that a stop would be put to this practice, or only a pious hope such as is expressed in the White Paper issued in February?

To illustrate the importance of this may I say that Asia was, prewar, one of the largest grain producing areas of the world and in Asia only 14 per cent. of the total crop of grain was used for seed or fed to animals. In the United States no less than 75 per cent. of the grain crop, not only wheat but also maize, was fed to animals or used for industrial purposes. That is where the big leak is. The same thing is true in the United States of other things such as cottonseed and soya beans. I am told that somewhere between 80 per cent. and 90 per cent. of the cottonseed and soya bean crop goes into some processing industry. Some of it, of course, finds its way into human consumption in the shape of margarine, but the great bulk does not. The total annual cottonseed crop in America is of the order of 51 million tons. The Minister of Food will see that there is a pretty good margin there for getting some more fats.

There is a further real trouble to which no adequate reference is made in the White Paper. A secondary real trouble is the enormous number of acres throughout the world that are not being planted for wheat, and have not been, for many reasons which the Prime Minister gave. But the real gap in the information contained in the White Paper—I am, not blaming the Government for it—if we want to see the picture the world as a whole is happening today behind that iron curtain which stretches from Trieste to Stettin.

Before the war that area was one of the greatest food producing areas of the world. When I was in Germany for a few days last July, I had a look at what was happening in our area, and at what was happening in the American zone. In our area we gave instructions, which have been carried out, that they were to adopt our methods of agriculture. We said: "You must feed your grain and your food directly to humans, not to animals We gave instructions that large increases in the growth of potatoes and vegetables were to be undertaken. When I got to the American zone I was told, "It is no use doing anything here. The Nazis were self-sufficient; they had seen Prac- tising self-sufficiency for ten years. They must have got the best system and the thing we can do is to apply the Nazi system." That was based on a complete fallacy. It is true that the Nazis wanted to make themselves self-sufficient, but it was self-sufficiency so far as overseas sources were concerned. As a result of Dr. Schacht's bilateral trade agreements, they developed an enormous import trade of feeding stuffs from the Balkans and from Hungary, which enabled them to build up an artificially high level of livestock. Cut off Hungary and Bulgaria, and the supply of vegetables from Italy, and they were stranded. They had much too high a population of livestock.

What is happening in those countries? Why cannot those countries, which used to provide this vast mass of feeding stuffs and grain, help Germany and Western Europe for that matter? Such information as I have got is that, in Hungary, the cattle population has been reduced by two-thirds, the horse population by four-fifths. Men cannot cultivate the land under such conditions. The same is probably true in Bulgaria. So far as Russia and Manchuria are concerned, I was told from an American source the other day, that in Manchuria there is hardly a beast of any sort left. There are millions of acres lying untilled this year. No one knows what Russia's position is. The other day she was reported to have offered 400,000 tons of wheat and 100,000 tons of barley to France. Did she grow it herself? Did she loot it from Hungary or Bulgaria, or was it merely a transfer of the wheat which the Americans had sent earlier? It is to that sort of question and that sort of problem that the crypto-Communists ought to address themselves, rather than ask us to sacrifice our small rations.

Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)

Is the right hon. Gentleman now describing all the Churches of this country, which have been taking part in the "Save Europe Campaign," as crypto-Communists?

Mr. Hudson

No, I do not think implied that. I hope that the cap does not fit. The remedy is twofold. The real remedy for the wheat situation is undoubtedly to try to get the United States to agree to cut down the feeding of grain to animals. The other remedy is to try to get these waste spaces cultivated. To do that fertilisers and machinery are required. There is potash in unlimited supply in the Russian zone and there are considerable supplies of phosphates available. It ought not to be impossible for the world to turn factories over to making tractors. These are the practical problems to which we need to apply our minds.

Coming to the question of home food production, the first thing I would say about this White Paper is that it justifies to the hilt everything which my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said on 14th February, when he pointed out that the statements made by the Government op to the very last minute had done nothing to warn the country of the seriousness of the situation. I took the trouble to read through the Debate of 26th October, and in the light of what has happened since, the description of the situation given by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food was really tragically and hopelessly inadequate. Let me read one or two passages. He said: '' No one will deny that the food situation in Europe generally leaves much to be desired. He went on: Unfortunately, the world food supply prospects for the corning year are seriously disquieting." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 2443, 2446.] Now that we have the advantage of this White Paper we learn that at the time when the Minister was making this important statement the food problem was no longer one of austerity but of absolute shortage. If anyone, hearing that the world food supply is "seriously disquieting" could be expected to take it to mean an actual food shortage, I do not know what words mean.

The Minister of Food (Sir Benjamin Smith)

That is the difference between then and now.

Mr. Hudson

That is what the right hon. Gentleman knew then. But this statement was made on 26th October, 1945. Yet in the second paragraph of the first page of the White Paper it is stated that it was already clear towards the end of 1945—not "at the end of 1945," and is not 26th October "towards the end "?—it became apparent that the position was no longer one of austerity, but of actual food shortage. It is abundantly clear, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman knew what the situation was as long ago as last October.

The other point which we made was that he did not announce it to the public. Again, I refer to the White Paper. We said, in particular, that no adequate warning was given and that the Government did not take the necessary measures earlier. I ask the House to compare the following two sentences. The first is: present estimates of import requirements substantially exceeded the estimated available supplies … The other is: world supplies would not be likely to equal the demand … Can anyone suggest that there is the slightest difference in meaning between those two sentences? Both mean that there were not enough supplies in the world to meet the demand. If hon. Members look at pages 16 and 17 they will see that those sentences appear on those pages. They will also see that as soon as it became clear that world supplies would not be likely to equal the demand, then the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food and his colleague the Minister of Agriculture came down and made the statement in the House of Commons in February which shocked the country. They knew exactly the same thing as long ago as 4th September. On page 16 hon. Members will see that on 4th September, 1945, a Press notice was issued giving the same information. The Government, in the White Paper, take credit for having inspired the Press notice. Quite clearly, they knew then what they knew later, in February. If they could do it in February, why did they not do it in September? If they had done it on 4th September, there would have been plenty of time to get a substantially increased amount of Autumn wheat sown. On those two points, it is clear that the White Paper destroys completely the whole case that the Government have hitherto made.

Before I go on to the question of home food production, I will deal with fats. I refer to the muddle of 22nd March. It will be remembered that on 23rd March, the papers came out with a statement emanating from the Ministry of Food that there was likely to be a cut of one-eighth, that is, one ounce, in margarine in the following eight days, and a reduction of one-seventh in the amount of soap. That was denied the following day from No. 10 Downing Street. It was stated that the Cabinet had not decided then and that if the cuts were made, they would be less than suggested. It will be remembered that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister came back from Washington and was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington to explain this matter. He started off by saying there was no contradiction; but on the following day he admitted that a regrettable error had been made. Well, I was under the impression, and I imagine everybody in the House and in the country had the same impression, that a regrettable error had been made in the Ministry of Food. I wonder whether that is the case. I wonder whether the regrettable error was not made at No. 10. I wonder whether the Minister of Food was not really right—to give the right hon. Gentleman credit.

What is the situation as regards fats? It is very difficult to get it out of the statement, especially because the right hon. Gentleman made some contradictory statements in the Debate on 14th February. He was talking, first, about the reduction in the amount of ground nuts we were to get from India. He said, as a result of that, we were going to lose 130,000 tons of oils. He went on to say that the whaling fleet had been less successful, and that instead of getting 135,000 tons, we were only going to get 100,000 tons—a loss of 35,000 tons. That, according to my arithmetic, adds up to a shortage of 165,000 tons. I should have thought it was nearer 200,000 than 100,000. In the White Paper it is stated that the average consumption of fats per head of the population is 35 lb. per year. If one does a small sum, one will see that the consumption is of the order of 700,000 tons of fat per year.

Sir H. Smith

Exclusive of industry

Mr. Hudson

I said for human consumption That figure of 165,000 tons is about a quarter of 700,000 tons. Therefore, on the right hon. Gentleman's own admission he is short of a quarter of his supply of fats. A reduction of one-eighth in the fat ration and of one-seventh on the soap ration does not add up too differently to a quarter. I would say, therefore, that it is probable from what the right hon. Gentleman said, that the original statement of the Ministry of Food was right, and the regrettable error was on the part of No. 10.

We would like to know what the facts really are. Is it a fact, as it would appear today—and I am not unfair, I think, to deduce this from what the Prime Minister said—that the Government are gambling on being able to find a little more fat somewhere in the world? The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself said it was possible. He said he could not promise anything, but it was possible that they would have to reduce the fat ration later on. Do the Government really think that, later on, at the onset of autumn and winter, is the best time to reduce the fat ration if, as is quite possible, they find that the gamble does not come off? Fats are probably the most important things to the housewife. It is no use saying, "We are on a sellers' market and, therefore, we cannot possibly give you figures." This White Paper itself creates a sellers' market. Everybody knows we are in the market to buy fats. Everybody knows we are short. The price is not going to go up against us materially, because of anything the Government do not keep secret. I do suggest the housewife ought to know, and be able to judge what the position is. We in the House of Commons also ought to know what the position is. Secrecy ought to be abandoned.

I come to the second part of the White Paper, the part on home production. There is no kind of sense of urgency in this country today as far as production is concerned. Not only is there no sense of urgency in this country, but there is very little sense of urgency in many countries abroad. A report came from Australia on 8th March from which I will read a very short extract: The difficulty all along has been to know … This apparently is officially inspired— … just what is wanted. There has been so much vagueness and such a mass of official contradictions that incalculable opportunities have been lost already and the latest statement of the Minister of Food does little to clear the air.

Sir B. Smith

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me the source of that quotation?

Mr. Hudson

It will be found in "The Times" of 9th March. It looks as though it had been officially inspired. It quotes the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

May we know what are the grounds for thinking that it is officially inspired?

Mr. Hudson

If the right hon. Gentleman looks at this, he will see that Mr. Chifley is mentioned. It is very difficult to believe it was not officially inspired.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

The letter to which the hon. Gentleman is referring was the subject of a Question I addressed to the Minister of Food and to which I thought he gave the House an unsatisfactory answer.

Mr. Hudson

The sting comes in the tail. It says: ."ߪ certainly will not fire enthusiasm here or help public leaders pressing for a redoubled effort from producers. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister made an appeal for all people to help. That is a quotation showing that unless something more is done, we shall not get that help, we shall not get the inspiration. It is not surprising, perhaps, that so little has been done on the home front in the way of production, for in that same Debate the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food said that there were two, and only two, alternatives. He said the first was to reduce our stocks, and the second was to reduce our own consumption. There is surely a third alternative, and that is to increase our own production so that we can help to relieve the demands we make on other countries. It does not seem to have penetrated to the right hon. Gentleman that that was possible. There is still a great margin for increased production in this country. When, towards the end of the days of the Coalition, it was apparent that we would be very short of dollars after the war, definite and very detailed investigations and calculations were made between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food, and other Departments, to see what extra production could be squeezed out of the land of this country. The answer was that quite an appreciable amount could he secured on three conditions—that there should be adequately increased supplies of labour, adequately increased supplies of machinery, and of fertilisers.

Sir B. Smith

The right hon. Gentleman himself cut them down.

Mr. Hudson

The conditions were that we increased supplies of labour, fertilisers and machinery. The same point is made in the White Paper. It states that an appeal is being made to farmers to maintain their tillage for this year, at the same rate as last year. The White Paper states that we must do that, but, in order to do it, there must be increased supplies of machinery, labour and fertilisers. The trouble is that these supplies are not being made available. It is true that, when we get the American loan, the difficulties over dollars will not be so great, but we are faced now with the sort of situation that we foresaw, although it has arisen from a different cause. The fundamental need is for an increase in the home food production to the maximum possible extent. Machinery is short, spare parts are short and fertilisers, particularly potash, are short. Let me read one paragraph from a letter I have had from a firm of fertiliser merchants in my own county, on the subject of potash, which is one of the key fertilisers for growing sugar beet and vegetables: The whole trouble has been brought about by the inability of the Labour Government to make provision for supplies, and at their door must lie the entire responsibility for the non delivery of potash and the consequent serious results on food production. It is interesting to contrast the present position with that pertaining during the war years, when every pound of potash was imported under conditions of great danger and difficulty. Then, 1.C.I.'s huge plant kept running continuously and manufacture was not stopped for went of supplies, whereas, this year, when transport has become easier and the danger of sea travel mainly removed, they have had six weeks of idleness owing to lack of raw potash. The Minister of Agriculture should be commiserated with on the way in which his colleagues have let him down. Everybody knows that increased manpower is required. On 4th December, the Minister of Labour announced that 10,000 men would be released under Class B. On 14th January, a Press announcement of the Ministry of Agriculture stated that an additional 8,000 would be released. Last week, we asked for the results up to date —5,000 only. This was not done in a period when the position was just one of disquiet, but in a period when it had been known for some time, that the condition of the world was one of acute food shortage. I venture to say, and the Minister of Agriculture will, no doubt, correct me if I am wrong, that the amount of labour available to agriculture this summer is going to he less than it was last year We have the drop in the Women's Land Army; we have not the number of German prisoners, to equal the Italians: we shall not have the same help from school children or from the troops, and the number of men actually employed in agriculture will, this year, be less than it was last year. Does that show any sense of urgency on the part of the Government? Is that the sort of thing the country expects when it reads this White Paper?

I should also like to know about the milk position. Milk is, and has been throughout the war, a priority product. We sacrificed everything to get milk during the war. The Prime Minister will remember the emphasis which he laid, and which Lord Woolton laid, on my doing everything possible to get adequate supplies of milk. Nine months have gone since the end of the war and I was shocked to hear the hon. lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, state in an Adjournment Debate last week, that she contemplated a reduction in the total supplies of milk. I am not astonished when I hear that we are to get 300,000 tons less of groundnuts, which means 165,000 tons less cake—[Laughter.] This is not a laughing matter; it is damned serious. At 3½ lbs. of cake to the gallon of milk, that means roc million gallons of milk less—more than a month's supply. In order to make good that protein loss, we should have to plant another 250,000 acres of beans. But the right hon. Gentleman has known all this since December. Nothing has been said to the farmers of this country to warn them of the appalling drop in supplies of high protein food. If the warning had been issued the Government might have allowed them time to start growing some more Spring crops, or making more silage There is no sense of urgency there.

Further, what about the maize we were promised? What has happened to it? I am told that maize is no longer being burned in the railway engines or the electricity works in the Argentine; on the contrary, it is being loaded on the railways and on the ships and some of it has actually left. Are we getting any of the 317,000 tons which were shipped from the Argentine in January, February and March of this year? How much is coming to this country?

I come to my final point—home production of fish. The Government, in their White Paper, devote a whole paragraph to fish, but it is on fish for home consumption. What about giving a little help to the Continent? What about herring? [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but there is this great difference between herring and white fish. If we over-fish for white fish, the yields very rapidly go down, but, so far as we know, from long experience, herring cannot be over-fished. If we do not catch them, they disappear, so we may as well catch them. What is the present position of the herring fleet? It was substantially reduced during the war, and it is today something under half of what it was in prewar days. There are still very large numbers of drifters which have not been brought back or are awaiting reconditioning, but, despite that, the men engaged in the fleet, I am told, are suffering anxiety lest there should not be adequate facilities at the ports to take care of the catches they will land, even with this reduced fishing fleet. I am told that, in parts of the fishing fleet area, they are actually considering fishing only every other day. They are actually considering a scheme for not fishing on two days a week. I wonder what hon. Members opposite would have said if a Conservative Government had been in power, and that sort of thing had happened?

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, in the recent Debate on the fishing industry, said the Government hoped to export 500,000 barrels of cured herrings. Before the last war, we used to export 8,500,000 cwt. of cured herrings, mainly to Russia and Germany, and, when people live on a cereal diet, the herring is the one thing needed to balance the diet. Before the war of 1914-18 we used to export 8,500,000 cwt.; before this last war, we exported 2,750,000 cwt., mainly to Russia and Germany. We are proposing this year to export 1,500,000. Holland, which has never been regarded as a fishing country, is proposing to put it fleet back on a prewar basis in six weeks' time, and they are making preparations to cure 800,000 barrels, compared with our 500,000. If Holland can do it, why cannot we do it?

If the Government had been serious last autumn, they would have put in hand, as one of the greatest priorities, the reconstitution of the herring fleet and would have provided the men, the nets and the landing gear, and the Ministry of Supply would have been compelled to produce the wood and hoop iron, by which it would have been possible to produce substantial quantities of cured herring. Even today, I am told, the trawlers from Aberdeen would be prepared to trawl for herring in the North Sea this summer and land them direct in Germany. But they will not be able to do that, because the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will not make sufficient cotton yarn available to make the necessary nets.

In answer to a question by the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) the other day, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that 10,000,000 people in the British zone would be living on 1,000 calories a day, or less. The Prime Minister said that if anyone had to suffer, the Germans should suffer first. There is no inherent reason why anyone should suffer so far as fish is concerned. Sir John Drummond, the adviser to the Ministry of Food, said in a lecture last week that 1,000 calories was below the danger line and that below 1,000 death from starvation was only a matter of time. I do not know whether hon. Members saw a letter published the other day from an airman in Germany. He said: The announcement has come as a bombshell. With the former 1,500 calories per day civilians were quite contented on the whole, but the thought that they will now have to exist with 66 per cent. of this amount is more than the average German can grasp. A typical comment is that the amount is too much to die quickly and too little to live long —that is to say, it will prolong the agonies of a death by starvation. British efficiency, which was highly praised, has suffered a devastating setback. The Germans say, and in my opinion quite rightly, that the authorities who govern the food situation must be quite incompetent. How else can one explain that overnight it is found necessary to cut the ration in more than 60 per cent. in the case of wheat products and by a full 50 per cent. in the case of bread? The world was horrified when Hitler condemned 6,000,000 Jews to death; we are dealing today, not with 6,000,000, but with 10,000,000 men, women and children.

From the facts I have just given, it is clear that it was within our power, if action had been taken in time, to save those men, women and children. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, the Minister of Food, and their colleagues on the Front Bench and the hon. Members behind them, had better ponder over the facts I have put before them. If they reflect on them in the still watches of the night they will, perhaps, realise the share of responsibility which lies on their shoulders, individually and collectively, for the suffering and the deaths of many of these millions.

4.44 p.m

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

The very gloomy speech to which we have just listened is particularly interesting because it shows the right hon. Gentleman who made it in a new light. He has taken the trouble to draw the attention of the House, in detail, to the White Paper, but, when it does not suit his purpose, he neglects to take note of what the White Paper calls attention to with regard to the difficulties we are now facing. I listed the vital matters which are mentioned in the White Paper in regard to bringing this had food situation into existence. They are, first, the dislocation of world agricultural organisation by war; secondly, the physical destruction of war devastation; thirdly, the dislocation of the world transport system; fourthly, the separation of farm areas in war zones from urban and industrial areas; and, fifthly, drought on a worldwide scale. I will not say it is unfair that the right hon. Gentleman, who is speaking for the Opposition and who is trying to make the best case he can, should use the arguments he has used, but he has certainly not given sufficient weight to the disastrous effects, which the right hon. Gentleman, with all his knowledge of these matters, could not and did not in fact prophesy, of unprecedented droughts added to all the disturbances caused by war. That, undoubtedly, caused a very serious condition which the right hon. Gentleman himself did not foresee, and, therefore, he cannot blame others for not being able to foresee them.

I forget whether he mentioned that there was now sitting at Church House, almost next door, a conference. which I visited yesterday, of Ministers of Agriculture and others from the, different countries of Europe considering precisely what can be done, and presided over by the Minister of State of this country. That conference is getting down to action in this matter and is, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the preliminary conference to assist in the work of the food and agricultural organisation conference which is being called next month in Washington and which will certainly be able to take action on a very much bigger scale. I must say that I agree, to a certain extent, with the right hon. Gentleman that, while it is very desirable that this conference should be held and that a great deal more information should be obtained, it is also certain that we need action. It is also certain that the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations is the body which can initiate action on a worldwide scale. I want to suggest to the representatives of our Government that they should be ready to take the responsibility of action on a worldwide scale because we are facing a very serious disaster to human life, and our representatives in the Government must be prepared to face the responsibility of action on such a scale. I should like to know from the Minister what world machinery for action he is proposing to suggest and what machinery lie is proposing to use.

On this, I should like to make one or two suggestions. If the House will turn to page 4 of the White Paper, paragraph 8, they will see in line 7 a sentence which reads: In many European countries, plans which now appear premature were made to build up the greatly depleted livestock population. That is the paragraph which deals with shortages in cereals due to the fact that the livestock population has been too big. This particular statement means that the Government, who are the people to take action, did not have correct information. The right hon. Gentleman says they did have that information. I think it is clear from the statement that they did not. I want to know why that information was not available and why the Government did not have the right kind of knowledge at their disposal.

This is not the only problem, of course, and while it is quite clear that one can not solve global problems of world shortage by a global formula for the distribution of cereals, I think something can be clone. I want to suggest something which can be done by a more detailed analysis. The problem can be broken down into details and made more manageable. I must confess that I had hoped the right hon. Gentleman, who knows so much a bout detail, would have given the House some help in this way.

We should break down the problem into its details, in order to see how they can best be approached. The United Kingdom problem is different from that of France, the Western European problem is different from that of Eastern Europe and, of course, the European problem is entirely different from that of India. While the right hon. Gentleman has concentrated his attack upon the Government largely on matters dealing with this country, what the Government are faced with is a world problem in the solution of which they are obliged to take a position of leadership, and which I hope they will do with great effect. We cannot only attempt to solve the problem which applies to us in this country, although it is our primary duty to look after the people of this country. There is no doubt in my mind about that, but it is by no means our only duty, and we cannot, in fact, look after the people of this country adequately unless in some degree we look after the whole world. We cannot live by ourselves alone.

When the causes of world shortage are examined as they are set out in the White Paper, there is only one which gives any indication of how to tackle the problem, and that is the one which draws attention to the existence throughout Europe, side by side, of two different economies, one the economy of the farm population and the other the economy of the industrial and urban areas. Everywhere in Europe, we find those two economies side by side. The right hon. Gentleman just now generalised about Germany, but of course, this division is true about Germany as it is true about France. I was in Germany later than the right hon. Gentleman. I was there last November. I passed through many places in country disricts where there was an abundance of food of every kind. I saw children being given milk on the roadside, I saw people buying eggs in the country dis tricts, and I saw gardens and allotments full of all kinds of valuable vegetables. I also saw farms, with cattle grazing, chickens, and other poultry. Then, close at hand, not many miles away, were the desolated towns of the Ruhr. I had the opportunity of flying over the Ruhr towns in one of those two-seater Auster aircraft —" Wizzers," they call them—at the very low altitude of less than 1,000 feet. It was very depressing. Towns such as Cologne and Dusseldorf looked like collections of ash cans, and, in fact, they appeared to be stinking ash cans. They constituted a most gloomy arid depressing sight. But immediately outside those towns there were plenty of houses standing, with gardens and fields During my visit, which was on official business, I went over a very large part of the British zone of Germany, and I also went to Berlin. So far as I have been able to judge from looking at it superficially, the whole of that zone appeared to be tidily cultivated—how well cultivated I do not know, because I do not know how much fertiliser and so on had been used.

While it is necessary for us to get down to the main problems which are set out in the White Paper, it is also necessary for us, as I said just now, to break down the problem into details, and one of the ways to approach it is to break down this problem of the different countries of Europe into the question of the zones, side by side, and see if we cannot do something with them. I went to France in January, 1945. and I give this as an illustration, because it applies to food conditions in Europe generally. I saw in France and everywhere in these European countries this patchwork arrangement of well fed farm zones and badly fed urban zones, and one is obliged to think that something more ought to be done in the countries themselves with the resources of these zones. There are two problems which we are facing at the moment from the world point of view. The first is the problem of making the best we can of a bad job up to the next harvest. The second is the problem of taking such measures as are necessary to see that the harvests in succeeding years are very much better, and do not let us down

I do not propose to say anything further about the long distance problem, but I will confine my remarks entirely to this immediate problem of trying to get something out of the juxtaposition of the two zones—the agricultural farm zone and the industrial zone. In order to allow the House to see what I have in mind, I would ask hon. Members to remember our experience in the war. It will be remembered how during the war a number of scientists greatly aided in the operations of the Armies in North Africa, Burma and elsewhere, and in the landings in Normandy, by bringing scientific knowledge, calculation and analysis to bear upon purely military problems. I believe we ought to do that in connection with this particular problem. In France the matter is solving itself because, although badly off in many places, the country is pulling itself together. In Germany, with the occupying forces there, the responsibility falls upon ourselves. I suggest it might be possible, by taking full advantage of the resources of the farm population areas in Germany, to alleviate very considerably the food conditions of the urban and industrial areas of Germany by bringing the two more closely together. When I was in the Ruhr in November I found that the military authorities were attempting to persuade the populations of the town areas to go by voluntary evacuation into the country areas. They were not very willing to do that because the country people were not prepared to welcome them very cordially, hut, at any rate, if we were to treat as one unit the Ruhr area and the country around it, by averaging up the food supplies in the two, we might provide a very much better ration than that which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned of 1,000 calories, which, from my own experience, I think is likely to be considerably exceeded in many places.

We ought to analyse the situation in the Ruhr and in the country districts from an outside point of view. Take, for instance, a man like Professor Bernal, who was an adviser on military operations, or men of his calibre, and get them to analyse the situation. I believe that by applying scientific operational research to peacetime problems, such as the remedying of this great food shortage, we might achieve a very much better result than we have done up to the present. I suggest there is need for action based on an exact scientific appreciation, in the military sense of the word, of the problems which face each country. Do not let us try to solve the problems of each country together, but treat each countryseriatim. That would be as important as any great accumulation of information.

I believe the United Nations organisation should have its own operational staff. I see the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation is sitting opposite, and perhaps he will have something to say. He ought to have his own operational staff, as Lord Louis Mountbatten and other great generals had in helping them to plan an attack. If the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, at the conference which is to take place next month, takes action on these lines, it will be of very great assistance in the great work that he is to undertake. Our Government have the power of action as far as this country is concerned; they should increase their armament by appointing an operations staff to work in this country and in other parts of the British Dominions, and should see that the work is directed along the right lines.

There are two main problems facing us. We have to get ourselves and the rest of Europe over the dangerous period of the next harvest, and to plan the 1947 harvest so as to avoid a recurrence of the dangers that now threaten us. The first problem is one of defence, and we need the scientists to help in that. The next problem, in 1947, should be a matter of offence, to secure rising standards of production, not only in this country, but all over Europe. I think it can be done. Both these problems should be looked at as battle problems, and we should employ scientists to carry out operational research. On these lines, I believe, we can face and overcome those difficulties.

5.1 p.m.

Sir John Boyd Orr (Scottish Universities)

Although I have spoken before in the House, I crave the indulgence of hon. Member, in rising on this occasion, because the House still fills me with some sense of awe. In taking part in this Debate, I shall not attempt either to attack or defend the Government, but I would like to express a certain amount of sympathy with those Ministers who have to deal with the food position in this country at the present time. I do so for two reasons. The first is that whatever action they take is taken under the pres- sure of world events which they cannot control, and the second is that they took office at a time when the war was finished and people naturally expected an improvement in the food position, instead of which there was a worsening of it. That being so, people are disappointed, and are inclined to be a little critical, without having a full knowledge of affairs. I am convinced that whatever Government had been in power, and whoever might have had direction over food affairs, would have been faced with the same difficulties and with a good deal of the same criticism as we have heard today.

I shall discuss food on rather broader lines. The overriding fact is the world food shortage and the inequitable distribution of available food. This is no new problem in the world. Before the war, there were countries which had so much food that they were burning it, although other countries were suffering hunger because of the lack of it. It is no new problem even in this country. In the early part of the war, Members of a Committee of another place, representing all parties, considered what should be the country's agricultural policy after the war. Wisely they decided that it should be based on the food requirements of the people. They came to the conclusion that if the people of this country were to be fed on a health standard, we would need, in addition to all the food that was imported before the war, to increase production of the more important foods, such as meat, dairy produce, milk, fruit, vegetables, eggs and bacon, from 25 per cent. to as much as 70 per cent. In the United States similar inquiries were made, and it was found that, if the people of the United States were to be fed on a health standard, production of those foodstuffs would have to be increased by from 15 to 75 per cent. In South America, India and China, the food shortage was very much greater. A food shortage is not something to which mankind has been unaccustomed in the past. Nor is the maldistribution of food a new problem. As I have said, before the war some countries had so much food that they burned it, whereas other countries lacked food. Even in this country, in some households as much as 4,000 or 5,000 calories went into the houses, with accompanying waste, while in families on the lower income scale, less than 2,000 calories went in.

On top of that condition, there Came the war, with a worsening of the whole food position. We are, therefore, faced with two aspects of the world food problem. The first is the temporary crisis, which is being dealt with by U.N.R.R.A. and the Combined Food Board. Secondly, there is the long-term planning which is necessary to relieve the world for ever from hunger and malnutrition. Those two problems are closely related. When the measures which arc at present being taken to alleviate starvation are ended, and the world is brought back to the prewar position, there will still be many millions of people suffering from malnutrition and many more millions suffering from hunger and, indeed, famine.

The work must be maintained until all mankind has food on a health standard. Furthermore, a new problem will arise. During the war, certain countries have stepped up production far above the prewar level. There is a great danger that there will accumulate piles of food for which there is no market, with the result that there will be a depression in agriculture, which may lead to another economic crisis such as occurred in 1929. The world economic system, which has been shattered by the present war, will not stand for a second time such a great crisis.

Such was the position when the Food and Agricultural Organisation, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest), was brought into being last November. After consultation with the other temporary organisations in existence, it was decided that the best service which the Food and Agriculture Organisation could do would be to bring together all existing information on the prewar position and on how that position had been distorted by the war, and to consider the measures which had been taken between the two wars to deal with food—how far they had been successful, how far they had failed, and the reasons for the success or failure—and, on the basis of that information, to work out a more permanent world food plan. That work is far advanced. With the help of workers borrowed from Government Departments and other institutions, we hope that, by the end of the present summer, it will be possible for the Food and Agriculture Organisation to submit for the consideration of Governments and of the United Nations organisations concerned, a world food plan which, we hope, will go far—indeed, the whole length— to relieve the world of hunger and malnutrition, and bring about a rise in the standard of living of primary producers. There was the need to get that long-term plan out so that the temporary measures at present being taken might dovetail smoothly into long-term measures.

When, recently, the food position suddenly became worse, and in view of the fact that the bodies dealing with it were temporary bodies, each with different functions, each covering different parts of the world, it was decided, again after consultation with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, that that organisation, which is the only permanent body considering food in all its aspects on a worldwide scale, should come into action and cooperate with those other bodies at an earlier date than has been originally planned. It was agreed that the Food and Agriculture Organisation should call a conference of representatives of those bodies and of responsible Ministers from countries which could make a contribution to the solution of the world food problem. That conference will be held in Washington on 20th May. Today, a combined group of workers, drawn from the temporary organisations, from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and from other sources, are working with feverish haste to bring together all the available information, and to prepare suggestions for that conference when it meets. They will make an assessment of the food position and of the prospects for 1946–47 and 1947–48, and I hope they will reach agreement on the measures which can be taken to increase production. I am certain measures can be taken to increase production and also to make better use and better distribution of the available food. I hope they will consider also and agree to measures which the Food and Agriculture Organisation can take to keep the whole position under continuous review, so that Governments and peoples may he warned, and not again be caught out, as they have been during the present crisis. I hope they will also consider the advisability of coordinating the activities of the existing organisations.

I would now like to refer to the aims of the Food and Agricultural Organisa- tion. As hon Members know, it deals not only with food, but with fishery and forestry. Forestry is not the least important, because in Europe one of the greatest factors which will delay the erection of houses and the provision of furniture is the great shortage of timber. However, I will confine myself to dealing with the food aspect. The object of the Food and Agricultural Organisation is to raise the levels of nutrition of people in all countries of the world. That level is not defined, because obviously it must be the level necessary to maintain the highest standard of health which can be obtained from good food. It is also given the task of raising the standard of living of the food producers, many of whom were living in abysmal poverty before the war. When that has been accomplished, I would like hon. Members to consider bringing about a change in world affairs leading to the promotion of human welfare. It has been agreed that before the war. one-half of the world's population suffered from lack of food, and that lack of food was the cause of disease, misery and premature death. If we can produce the necessary foodstuffs to raise the health standard, then that prewar position will be replaced by health, happiness and longer life. When the world decides to feed the peoples of the world as human beings should be fed there will be a greatly increased market for agricultural products, and there will be no slump in agriculture after the war which has just ended as there was after the previous war.

If food is to be produced it will be necessary for Governments to offer a price which will encourage the production of food. The food producers of the world must have a good standard, of living. Those living in the country producing food must have as high a standard as those who consume the food in the towns. To enable agriculturists to bring about a great increase in food production there will be a great demand for industrial products. Millions and millions of agricultural implements will be needed. As conditions of living are improved, and purchasing power is increased, there will be a greater market for vast masses of consumer goods. Therefore, stability and prosperity in agriculture will overflow into industry. We must put first things first, and do the things which we know to be right. Nothing can be more right than for Governments to ensure that the people they are governing are fed by healthy standards. By doing that first we will escape from many of the social and economic evils which bedevilled is in the past, and we will set agriculture on an ascending spiral of prosperity.

We are all aware that science has made the world seem so small, and brought nations into such close contact with each other, that there are only two alternatives facing nations today: collaboration for their mutual benefit, or war for their mutual destruction. However, nations find it difficult. The beliefs of the past, the imperialistic ambitions and racial hatreds are still there. When nations meet one another they are afraid to give way in case they strengthen the position of another nation which may make war. They are too much inclined to have fears about economic problems and strategic points, and similar matters which divide nations. In the Food and Agricultural Organisation we have a means whereby nations can begin to operate something which will do none of them harm, but all of them good.

We realise there are great difficulties in carrying through this great scheme. I am sure hon. Members of this House who were present at the conference at Quebec will bear me out when I say that at the beginning of that conference there was a little gloom and a little uncertainty, but as the people met and discussed things of common interest to all mankind that gloom disappeared. There they were, sitting under flags which had been laid away during the war but were now unfurled, making their plans for dealing with this great problem. There was an air of wild enthusiasm. I was drafted to that organisation for a short time, and I had to warn the conference that the difficulties in carrying out this great world food plan were so great that it would be a miracle if it succeeded. We are living in an age of miracles, so we should see to it that it is carried out. Since then some of the difficulties have begun to disappear. There are the conflicting interests of consumers and producers, conflicting interests of industrialists and agriculturists. When they are put together none of those problems cancel out. It will be easier to put for ward one large complete scheme rather than trying to have a series of small schemes.

We have been able to bring together the best brains of the world to come and meet us in consultation. We have people from Europe, from Asia, from North America; people whom we think are the ablest experts. They will come to Washington and work with us for three or four days and give us the benefit of their economic and financial knowledge, because we should have financiers to help us to work out these problems. They will sit down and consider the information we have, thinking of ways and means, and say "Yes, it can be done "—and it can be done; it would he sound economic policy. A further thing which gave great encouragement was the fact that nations are to form Food and Agricultural Organisation Committees within each country, in order to be able to get the information as quickly as possible—information with regard to food consumption and food production, and any measures which are being taken or are in contemplation We found that Governments were eager to set up these committees. Some committees consist of Ministers themselves We have had the greatest encouragement from these countries to proceed with our work, instead of being driven by the Press from behind. I am sure this great nation will not be last in doing its utmost to promote the work of the Food and Agricultural Organisation.

I am not sure whether or not all hon. Members of the House are aware of the great reputation of this country. Between the two wars, when there was grave malnutrition, a series of measures was taken, resulting in the saving of agriculture, rendering it more prosperous, and improving out of all recognition the feeding of the people of this country. The result was that the infant mortality rate, and other death rates, were cut in half. It shows how easily health and welfare can be attained.

The war food policy of this country has been the admiration of all the countries of the world. There is every reason why we should show the world that we intend to give all the support we possibly can to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, which is trying to carry out a tremendous task. The nations are cooperating. In the present appalling crisis I believe that it will be possible to lay the foundation of permanent collaboration among the nations, in a plan which will bring about a world food scheme, based on human needs and that it will set going a really benevolent revolution.

5.21 p.m.

Mr. John Henderson (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I venture to crave the indulgence of the House to make my maiden speech. I find it all the more difficult to do so in that I have to follow the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr) who is a distinguished food scientist. I have sat on these Benches for nearly six weeks and have heard many interesting speeches, ranging from discussions of the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government to the requirements of housing. The speech to which we have just listened has been so illuminating, interesting and edifying that it will stand out pre-eminently as one of the most enjoyable of those to which I have listened in that time.

I enter this Debate with a considerable amount of diffidence. I gladly accept the gracious invitation of the Prime Minister, extended to all Members of the House, to assist in any way possible to deal with the difficulties of the food situation. I hope that my observations, whatever they may be, will he helpful to the Minister of Food. For more than 35 years I have been identified with the food business, as buyer, importer and distributor. Therefore, I am not unaware of the tremendous difficulties that confront the Minister. Those difficulties were present before he took office but they have increased during his term of office. With all clue respect to him and to his Department, they are not altogether without responsibility for some of the unrest and disquiet which fill the minds of people at large.

Certain promises have been made. I am not going back to promises made before the General Election. Those promises created hope, particularly among housewives, but those hopes have not been fulfilled. Perhaps I might give just one instance. I think it was in reply to the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) some seven weeks ago, regarding the withdrawal of dried eggs, that a promise was made of 40 allocations of shell eggs, to be provided by the month of June. That was a sheer impossibility, but because the promise was made it was Accepted and believed. The consequence is that, as throughout the past few weeks, housewife, retailer, both private and co- operative, and wholesale distributor have seen that 40 allocations of eggs are not possible, they have begun to wonder what reliance they can place upon the statements issued from the Ministry of Food.

At the present moment London and Lanarkshire are given what is known as the 16th allocation of shell eggs, that is, one egg. It means that in 13 weeks just over one egg per head of the population has been delivered, and that they have 10 weeks to go. During those 10 weeks the Minister of Food has to provide 24 allocations, in addition to priorities for children and people with doctors' certificates. I suggest that it is unfair to the people and to the trade to make statements unless those statements can be put into effect.

The Prime Minister, in the speech to which I listened with rapt attention, mentioned that the strength of our people must be maintained. Unfortunately, rations have had to be reduced since the Government came into power. The standard of living has been reduced during that period. How can any Member of the Government or of this House expect to maintain the strength of the people of the country upon the existing rations? We get 3 ozs. bacon, value 5d. After it is cooked the weight is reduced to 1½ ozs. at the very most. We get 8 ozs. of sugar, value, 2d.; 3 ozs. cheese, value, 2½d. There are 12 ozs. for people engaged in heavy industry. We get 3 ozs. of butter, value, 3¾d.; 3 ozs. of margarine, value, 1¾d.; 1 oz. of cooking fat, value, ¾d.; 4 ozs. of preserves, value, 3d., and the meagre meat ration. The man who digs coal, or builds houses, or works in the iron and steel or other heavy industries, gets 1s. 2d. worth of meat, including corned beef, for one adult, to last seven days. I ask hon. Members on all sides of the House whether they think a high standard of efficiency in the industrial world, or the increased production for which there has been such an eloquent plea, can be attained on the basis of the rations which I have just described.

Since July last year, lentils have been off the market. Our old friend Spam has disappeared. There are no lentils and no dried egg. The standard of living has been altogether reduced. I say to the Minister of Food, to whom I am tremendously indebted: "I will never be able to repay you, Sir, for the service you rendered me. I was struggling through a by-election. The issue was uncertain. You announced the probable reduction of the fat ration. People who, up till then, had been in doubt for whom to vote, came down on my side, as a protest at further reductions in the ration."

I wonder whether the Ministry are satisfied that the Food Board have explored all the markets for foodstuffs. Through the courtesy of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, as the result of an inquiry I made yesterday, I now have information regarding imports from Rumania, Poland and the Netherlands. I agree with an observation made by a previous speaker that the existence of the iron curtain around certain parts of Europe makes it difficult for us to obtain information about the supplies of foodstuffs there. If there is any surplus over their own requirements, where is that surplus going? Is it going to another country which has helped itself very liberally to a part of their territory?.

Think of the Netherlands. From the Netherlands, in the last year before the war, we brought into this country over 40,000 tons of shell eggs, or 1,750,000 cases. The eggs are there; has the Department made the necessary overtures, have they made the necessary trade inquiries, and are they going to bring into this country from those countries where there are supplies additional quantities, in order to give this very necessary and valuable food to the people who need it so much? From Finland in prewar days 142,000 cases were imported—in 1938. Again Finland, I know, has supplies of this particular foodstuff. Why are they not coming to this country? Is it because they are going to this other nation which, again, very liberally appropriated to itself a considerable part of their territory? Are they taking, to feed their own people, the eggs which should have come, as in prewar days, to this country?.

Another point which I think will he helpful is this. Within the past few weeks there have come into this country very considerable quantities of Canadian shell eggs. As the Ministry well know, peak production in this country will be somewhere about the end of April to the end of May. After that it will be impossible to put any quantity of shell eggs into cold store; it can only be done with eggs produced in the springtime. I should like to ask the Minister why it is that up and down the country there are cold stores lying practically empty. I telephoned to one in Glasgow this forenoon, and I was advised that they have accommodation for 50,000 cases lying empty. We are now on the eve of the peak production period for eggs, both from the Free State and Northern Ireland and from our own home country. Could we not arrange to have a spread over of that peak production over the whole 12 months of the year, in order that there should be an allocation of this very valuable foodstuff in the late autumn and winter months, when it is needed far more than it is at present? I should like to ask the Minister if he will inquire into this matter, and see that some of those eggs are cold stored at the appropriate moment, in order to spread over the supplies into the autumn and winter months.

I have read the White Paper with very great interest. On page 18, paragraph 65, it is laid down that there shall be a substantial reduction in feeding stuffs for poultry. I should like to ask the Minister if he will review this decision. Eggs arc important. They are valuable for the child of tender years and for the aged person. I hope that my observations in this direction will prove helpful to the Minister and my maiden speech of some value to the Debate.

5.35 P.m.

Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)

It is my privilege to congratulate the hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. J. Henderson) on his maiden speech. I do so with all the greater pleasure because he has followed his good Scottish instincts; he has argued, and has been extremely controversial, instead of following the more conventional practice of this House and attempting, in a maiden speech, to say nothing at all. He has talked about shell eggs and the egg importing industry, with which I understand he has a lifetime association, and while I congratulate him, I know he will be the first to understand that in the Debates of this House, congratulation does not necessarily mean agreement. Belonging as I do to the same nationality as the hon. Member, I make that small point.

The Prime Minister in opening this Debate said, in regard to the distribution of food in many of the starving or near starving parts of the world, that we had to guard against the fallacy of the average. In other words, although we knew the average allowance of calories in a country, we did not necessarily know the degree of suffering in an individual family. The differences between town and country, and many other considerations had also to be remembered. We in this House, in discussing food, will not, I hope, limit our thoughts or our sympathies to our own country, but they must necessarily begin here, and in Great Britain, as elsewhere, we must guard against the fallacy of the average. The hon. Member for Cathcart, although newly in this House, has, no doubt, already discovered that we are served here by a reasonably excellent canteen, and that we can supplement our rations with meals at various parts of the day. I suggest to the Minister of Food that he should take one of his friends into the Strangers' Dining Room for tea one of these days, and then perhaps he will join me in a protest against the excessive amount of stale bread that is served out in that tea room. I think we ought to give our visitors a daintier tea with less to eat, which I think they would appreciate, and which would be a contribution to the campaign to use the minimum of bread.

Whatever minor criticisms we may make about the food service in this House, it is true that we, like many other workers, have supplementary rations. But if you take a family where there are no supplementary rations, where there are old people in the house who require to get every meal of the week indoors, where there may be children or invalids, on that level the food situation is extremely dull and difficult. It is important that the entire world should know that, because maybe we err in this country by our great capacity for understatement. The Prime Minister said this afternoon that we had no reason to be ashamed of what we are doing in regard to the world food situation. I want to be rather more positive, rather more crude if you like. I want to ask Members on the other side, as well as over here, if they can name a single Great Power in the world which, according to its resources, is making as big a contribution as we are. Let us say quite bluntly that world leadership on the food front at the present moment is not being given by the United States of America, or by Soviet Russia; it is being given by this little island, by people who might be excused if they took a rather more selfish attitude.

After all, there was no rationing of the blitz. Our American friends would be the first to appreciate that it was our cities which had to "take it" during the wartime bombing. We do not complain about that, complaint is beside the point, but in view of what this country went through during the war we might have been forgiven if we had taken a more selfish attitude in peace. I say quite bluntly that we should let it be known throughout the world that we have the finest ration system in the world and the smallest black market in the world. There is a sense of mutual decency and honour in this country that induces most people to attempt to play the game.

I come back to what we might do. It is hardly in my spirit to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson) because, really, we cannot in this House of Commons discuss a situation which threatens millions of people, literally, with death from hunger or illnesses due to hunger, in the pin-pricking way he did. We can all turn up our reference books and find a date when either a Minister or an official of a certain Department may have slipped up, may have prematurely announced to the world that there was great anxiety about the fats situation, or that there might have to be a reduction in fats. I was grateful, as other hon. Members of the House were, to have the statement given today that there is not to be a reduction in our fat ration. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not yet.''] Let us remember that we built up a reputation in this country during the war and we do not want to lose it in the peace. Please let us remember that just as the war years were exceptional, this year after the war is exceptional, and next year is going to be exceptional.

If we do ask our people to put up with hardships we are not doing so because we are hiding stocks of food anywhere, we are not doing so for capricious reasons; we are doing it because, according to our means, we do want not only to preach to other nations, but to give an example to other nations of what can be done by cooperation towards helping in this very grave situation. Others in this House besides myself may have read in the " Observer" last Sunday an article by a distinguished American woman publicist, a great friend of this country, Miss Dorothy Thompson. I shall shelter behind her wordy in putting what is also my point of view in regard to America's attitude to this world situation. Miss I Dorothy Thompson is a democratic American citizen exercising her right, as we exercise ours, to say bluntly, as a good world citizen as well as an American, what should be done. Last Sunday, referring to the American Government's removal of all rationing schemes she, said: Between business pressures and unimaginative bureaucracy, and with a Government that neither plans nor liberates, the good will and common sense of the American people are stifled. A recent Gallup Poll shows that the great majority of the people approves the resumption of food rationing. The Government argues that the system could not be reinstituted in time to meet the emergency. Evidently it thinks that the aftermath of history's most awful war and most continuingly destructive peace will endure for only a few more months. The people know better. I think we can be grateful that there are many Americans, who take a more civilised attitude than the American Government, in a world situation in which there is real danger of more people being killed by hunger, than were killed by war. America, Great Britain, Russia, all of us must, according to our resources show what we can do to meet that situation, and I hope it will go across to America, that there are many of us in this country who appreciate the stand of such enlightened Americans. I hope that they will press their Government to reintroduce rationing in America, because, after all, it is America's world, it is America's peace, as well as our own. Why not say what we all know? If there were anything like equality of sacrifice between America and Europe, then this menace of famine could be lifted, at least, from the European theatre.

But now I look farther afield. We in Great Britain have a special responsibility for India. We have in India old associations, old friendships, old enmities. Again I turn to my many friends in America. I have crossed that Continent seven times. Always in America, by Americans who are progressive to those who are extremely conservative, I, as a British representative, have been upbraided with what Great Britain has done in India. Again and again, I have assured American friends that we of the Labour movement were genuine when we said we would work for the independence of India. At the present moment that independence is going forward, but darkening the entire sky is the knowledge that millions of Indians are, literally, threatened with death by starvation: that their plight is even more desperate than that of Europe. I ask the Minister of Food, Is it necessary that he should hide his virtues? Is it necessary that he should not tell us, openly, exactly what he, as spokesman for this country, has been suggesting should be done to meet that threatened famine in India?

We are game enough, are we not, in this country to do our best? Then cannot we ask all our good American friends who have expressed such great concern about the welfare of India and the Indians to join with us in doing something really big and really worth while? Will not our own Food Minister say, will not the Organisation that the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr) discussed so well, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, do something in addition to collecting statistics and information? Will it not openly with the entire world listening make suggestions that the conscience of the world can neither approve nor disapprove? I would suggest, for instance, that as rice is the daily bread of the East, we in this country, in addition to what we are already doing on the food front, should agree to do entirely without rice. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are."] I beg pardon. I thought there was a little coming in. I am glad to know there is none at all coming in. That strengthens what I want to say. Why not invite America to send all their rice to India and the East? That would substantially ease the situation. It seems to be one of the tragedies of the modern world that one is not heard if one only speaks; one must shout. Why do not we say in a way that can be heard across the Atlantic that, if only our friends in America, where there is no rationing of food, would follow the example of Britain, where there is rationing, they would be doing something that would be a contribution towards alleviating the suffering of the East?

I am not going to talk about calories, because many of us do not quite get the inwardness of the household situation when we talk about calories. But I would assure the House that the British housewife is not the moron some people imagine she is, that she is a sensible person, and that she is also a kind person, and that if a little more care were taken to help her to know the realities in the lives of women in other countries, our Minister of Food would have great cooperation and sympathy from her. Many of us have had contacts with anti-Fascist movements in Europe that go back to before the war and during the war. I have had made out for me extracts from letters that have come from Austria, from families with whom we have kept underground contact for all those years. They are ordinary family letters coming from Austria to people in this country. I am not going to tell the postal system we use. But these are genuine letters. The originals can be examined by any Member of this House. Out of the many extracts. I will quote only a few, if the House will bear with me for a few moments longer. These are living documents, and they ought to be better known to the people of this country. I apologise for the language which is a little crude, but it is, I think, essential we should know the realities. My first letter is to an anti-Fascist friend in this country, who succeeded in getting a small box of food, including a tin of sardines, to his father and mother in Austria. He received a letter from his mother, in which she said: We over ate the first day. Together with father, I ate the tin of sardines, and it was too much. It was too much for them, they were ill. I have another letter, from a sister to her brother, in which she says: My inside is in a had state. Whatever I eat just runs through me. One of the reasons for my great loss of weight is that I cannot possibly eat any more peas, although they are the only substantial food we get. Another brave man in this country received this letter: Mother does not suffer so much now, but her blood is in a very bad state. Apparently, one Austrian family, more than a year ago, had a supply of dried peas sent to them by a kind uncle. The food situation was not so bad at that time, and they were not very pleased with their present, but gradually, as times became worse, they had to use them, and this is what they wrote: We now appreciate the dried peas very much. although the Russian variety gives us so much work on account of the maggots. We soak them in water over-night, and on the following day we have to cut up each single pea to get the maggots out, and that means a lot of work. I have scores of letters like these in my personal possession, telling of despair and illness, and it is the joint responsibility of this country and of America, as well as of all other civilised countries, to do all that we can. I heard an hon. Member discussing the herring fleet f think a great deal more has been done to improve the herring catch than he apparently realises. I understand that we are already taking over herring to Europe, but I hope I shall be corrected if I am wrong in regard to that. I see the Minister of Food agrees. I do not understand why, when rations are so short, we continue to give men engaged on manual labour less meat than men and women doing sedentary work in the Forces. I should like an explanation on that point. I suggest that the Minister of Food should tell us exactly what he thinks is a fair sacrifice for us collectively to accept, and then give those of us doing sedentary occupations our rations leaving extras for the miners, the brickmakers, and others in the heavy occupations. I have had talks on this subject in my constituency. I know that the wives of miners are sympathetic in regard to the situation in Europe, but again and again they come to me and ask why their husbands cannot be allowed to bring home meat i, they do not choose to have their meals at the pit canteens. Men engaged on work of that character must have meat. They cannot work on bread and potatoes. Is it impractical to suggest that men who do not wish to eat at the canteen should be allowed to bring home, once a week, a supply of meat to help their wives over this difficult period?

I am concerned that good relations should be maintained, not only with America, but with Soviet Russia. I beg of those in this House who are friends of Soviet Russia, and the Press who can reach Russia, to tell them what a grave wrong they are doing to themselves when at one and the same time, there is starvation in the Russian occupation zone, and they send half a million tons of grain to France I do not understand it, and I should like to have it explained to me. I should be grateful if someone on the Front Bench could explain the reason. There is nothing more despicable than to play food politics at the present moment. There is no reason why Russia should not play the game, when other Powers are playing it, but friends of Soviet Russia should advise that great country that she is doing herself immeasurable harm in world opinion, and is bewildering many of us who are working to get food into the Russian zone, by suddenly announcing that she has a great surplus, and is able to send food to other parts of the world.

I apologise for having detained the House so long, but this is a big subject, and many of us in this House who are working on this food problem are deeply anxious about the position. We should know the truth, and our Minister should give us guidance, telling us fairly what we can have in this country. It is in the highest interest of this country that we continue not just to follow, but to give world leadership until a few good harvests carry us over these years of bitter shortages.

5.59 p.m.

Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing, East)

I find myself in almost complete agreement with the greater part of what has been expressed by the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), and in saying that I am sure that I am expressing the general consensus of opinion in the House. I wish to direct myself this afternoon to one aspect only of the food shortage situation, namely, the question of oils and fats I think it expedient to say at this point—because it is the usual custom when speaking on a subject in which one is interested —that I have had a lifelong experience in this industry. I am anxious not to trouble the House with statistics, but I think it would be useful if I were to give a general review of the position as it is today, and compare it with that prevailing before the war.

The oils and fats of this country are produced primarily from oil seeds and kernels, which are imported from British West Africa, India, Brazil and Mandated Territories, Argentine, Egypt and the Sudan. The seeds from which the oil is crushed or extracted could be put into a small group of seven. They are linseed, soya beans, copra, ground nuts, palm kernels, Egyptian cotton seed and cotton seed imported from other countries—India, British East Africa and Brazil. I do not, as I say, wish to trouble the House with many statistics, but I will give the total average tonnage imported into the United Kingdom for the live years 1935 to 1939 inclusive. For the period 1935– 1939 inclusive, the average total volume of oil seeds imported into this country each year was 1,490,000 tons. The average tonnage of all the oil seeds imported into this country for the five war years 1940–1944 inclusive was 1,418,000 tons, of which nearly two-thirds, that is, 70 per cent., comprised high yielding nuts, namely, 81,000 tons of copra, 491,000 tons of ground nuts, arid 416,000 tons of palm kernels, yielding an average of 55 per cent. of edible oil, compared with cotton seed, which yields only 18 percent. of oil. So it will be seen that, due to the foresight and wisdom of the Food controller during those years —I refer to Lord Woolton—he secured the maximum volume of oil seeds when they were available, with the result that he built up very large stocks in this country. I know something about that, because I was partly responsible for the warehousing of all those stocks that went to the port of Hull. Even today, as the Minister of Food is well aware, we are living upon those stocks and if we had no stocks upon which to draw, our position would indeed be very grave.

Now I want to deal with the position as it is today. The monthly average tonnage of oil seeds imported into the United Kingdom in 1938, the year immediately preceding the war, was 158,992 tons. So it will be seen that during the war years 1940–1944 the average import for the whole of that period was approximately the same as for the five years preceding the war, whereas during the month ended 28th February, 1946, the total volume of oil seeds imported was only 86,713 tons. The figure for the month which I have just given, is alarming in itself, but I think it is likely to become increasingly so, for this reason: The figures for the month ended 28th February, 1946, included no less than 49,800 tons of ground nuts. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell me. when he comes to wind up the Debate, whether we may look for the continuance of these supplies, or whether we are to anticipate a serious decline. I am afraid the answer will be the latter, because for the time being, at any rate, if my information is correct, India is prohibiting the exportation of these ground nuts. I sympathise with the Minister because that is a great slice out of the total oil seeds available throughout the world for importation to this country at the present time.

There is one direction to which I desire to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention. During the prewar years, we imported into this country a vast amount of cotton seed. In fact, the volume of cotton seed, for the five years 1935–1939 was no less than an average of 613,000 tons per annum. That represented nearly half of the total imports of all oil seeds to this country before the war. During the war years 1940– 1944 inclusive, however, we imported no cotton seed from Egypt whatever, and an average of only 93,000 tons a year from all other sources. That means to say that we are suffering, and have suffered during the whole course of the war, from a loss of no less than 520,000 tons of cotton seed per annum.

With regard to Egyptian cotton seed, to which I wish particularly to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend, I would say this. In 1940, when Italy came into the war, the Mediterranean was closed, just at the time when the Egyptian cotton crop was about to come on to the market. Consequently, with no possibility of export in sight, the British Government, under an agreement with the Egyptian Government, set up a British Commission to buy all the Egyptian cotton and cotton seed offered, thus making a vital contribution, incidentally, towards the maintenance of Egypt's economy. Later, Egypt reduced her cotton acreage and increased her crops of cereals. Meanwhile, Egypt crushed in her own country a good portion of the seed she grew, and used the products, namely oil and cake, using the oil to meet her own domestic requirements and the cake for fertilisers—a very uneconomic fertiliser—and also for fuel due to shortage of coal. These were temporary measures only. She will continue to be fundamentally a one-crop country, though possibly not in quite the same degree as before. It is expected, therefore, that Egypt's external trade will largely revert to that of prewar, with the United Kingdom as her principal customer. We are in need of this cottonseed now. Will the Government approach the Egyptian Government and inquire when supplies are likely to be available, and to what extent and how soon we may look to the supplies being forthcoming? During the last 40 years we have purchased no less than two-thirds of the entire Egyptian cotton-seed crop. I understand that, today Egypt is purchasing coal from South Africa. Cannot we arrange to ship coal in exchange for cotton seed? Egypt today also requires large quantities of agricultural machinery, and textiles as well as patent medicines, and many other commodities. I do not know whether the Minister can arrange that some of the imports which she desires can be got from this country. I know the difficulties with the world wide demand for our goods, but surely it would be expedient to give a preference to those countries that will give in exchange the vital commodity of which this country is in such urgent need.

I am going to be quite frank with the Minister. I am not quite sure what the real reason is why we cannot get this cotton seed from Egypt. Is it really a question of exchanging commodities or is it the fact—and if it is I would ask the Government to be quite frank not only with this House but with the country—that we are suffering today by virtue of the fact that we are a debtor country? We have to face up to that. What is the total amount of sterling credits which Egypt holds in London today? Is it that Egypt is not prepared to permit the cotton seed to be exported to this country, until she can receive an adequate amount of commodities against the credits which are now lying in London? I do not know, but I do think we should be told. The other point I should like to mention is this. Has the Minister fully investigated the Brazilian market for cotton seed, next only in importance to that of Egypt? Would it not be of real assistance to the House if we could be given a White Paper setting forth the different oil seeds, with information in regard to the difficulties which my right hon. Friend is finding in those respective countries in securing his requirements? It is very difficult for us to believe that it is not possible to secure any cotton seed from Brazil.

I do not want to detain the House much longer. I should have liked to develop arguments in regard to other oil seeds to which I have made reference but time will not permit. I should, however, like to say that this country, and the British housewife especially, has suffered great hardships. The housewife has endured a great deal, and I am sure the Minister will be one of the first to acknowledge that she has accepted the position in a most gracious and magnificent manner. I suggest that no further sacrifice should be imposed upon her, until it is definitely proved that no other nation can make any further contribution. I hear from my friends coming from many parts of the world that there are countries that are not suffering from a shortage of food at all, and are in a position incomparably better than ourselves.

This applies to some of the Scandinavian countries. Does the Minister know whether Denmark and Sweden are suffering equally with ourselves and are these countries contributing—not to our cause but to the international cause? Is Rumania, with her abundance, helping to feed her neighbours? I do not know. I wonder if the Minister can inform us. Can it be said that our great Ally, America, is making a sacrifice equal to that of our country? I am merely asking for information. I say that before our people are asked to make more sacrifices, there should be better distribution of foodstuffs between the countries that have and the countries that have not. If and when we see that other countries are making sacrifices equal to that of our own, the British housewife will not be found wanting in facing any demands that may be made, which can be justified.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Royle (Salford, West)

One of the privileges of a back bencher, in this Debate, has been to listen to the contribution made by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr). After hearing what he had to say at the opening of his remarks, surely the idea is vanquished for all time that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food has any responsibility whatever for the food situation which now confronts us. The necessity for procuring our essential foods involves questions of international complication. It may appear to the House that my contribution is of a very simple character. I happen to be a retail food trader, a shopkeeper. I do not think there are many of us in the House; in fact, I have still to find a colleague in the trade. The greater part of my life has been occupied with the retail distribution of food, particularly meat, and I have collected some knowledge of the distribution of most foods. In addition, during the war I had the opportunity to serve the Ministry of Food as a temporary civil servant, and simple though my contribution may be to this Debate, perhaps the House will not hesitate to hear the point of view of one who was in the closest possible touch with the consumer during the war years.

I am well aware that the greatest worry at the moment is about the supply of wheat and, therefore, of bread, and that problems connected with other commodities pale into insignificance in comparison. We have come through six years of war without an undue shortage of, or worry about, bread, yet it is probably true that no other food is subject to so much waste. Its plentiful supply has made us careless. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) was careful not to point out that during the war Providence was very kind. We escaped serious drought and a shortage of grain and then, as the White Paper maintains, the moment peace came harvests in many parts of the world failed and Lend-Lease ceased. In any judgment of the present Administration these facts must be well borne in mind. Lord Woolton commenced his term of office as Minister of Food with 3,000,000 tons of food in stock. Very soon, he had the advantage of Lend-Lease. His successor, now in another place, had Lend-Lease during the whole of the time he occupied the position as Minister of Food, whereas my right hon. Friend the present Minister was deprived of that advantage immediately he took office.

But grain is not the only commodity which has become scarce, or the only one which has been affected by the cessation of Lend-Lease. I have already indicated that my greatest knowledge of food distribution is in regard to meat, the supply of which has been affected by drought, by the question of dollar purchase and by the scarcity of grain, with a resultant shortage of feeding stuffs. Those of us in the trade, knowing our home produced supplies at the end of the war were at the lowest level because of our hand-to-mouth usages, estimated that the three years which are required to bring cattle to meat maturity might be sufficient to bring us to something like a normal home produced supply position. Now, unfortunately, we have to realise that that will no longer be possible, because of the shortage of feeding stuffs. As the White Paper suggests, there must be a firsthand, rather than a second-hand, usage of our available grain. After our wartime experiences, I held the view that with sufficient grain, and with the right encouragement both to the farmer and farm workers, 65 per cent. of our meat needs could be provided at home, as against probably less than 40 per cent. before the war. But the happenings of recent months have belied that optimism.

But since this Debate deals with long-term policy, I feel that 65 per cent. of our total meat needs should be our aim in cattle production in the future. For our immediate needs we are compelled to look abroad, and in that respect there are one or two points which I hope my right hon. Friend will clear up when he winds up the Debate tonight. During the war, we fed millions of men with meat on an allowance which was considerably higher than the 1s. 2d. civilian ration. In addition, there was a very generous seaman's ration. Most of those men are now at home. Millions of troops who were in the Near, Middle and Far East, and on the Continent, during the war, have returned to America. Will my right hon. Friend tell us where the supply of meat that used to go to those men is now? It has been suggested that we have eaten it. We have eaten last year's meat, but there should be a continuance of supply. The amount now to be consumed should be greatly less than our needs at the time so many of cur Forces throughout the world were eating meat. Last year's harvests have not affected that supply May the House hear whether it is a fact that Australia arid New Zealand have ceased the slaughter of lambs because store refrigerators are overflowing? Is it true that no British meat boat has been into any of the South American meat exporting ports for two months? I hope the Minister will be in a position to answer these questions, in the negative because if he can, he will allay the worries of many people in many different circles.

I turn to what I might describe as the small side of meat distribution. The White Paper states that our present meat consumption is 100 lb. per person per annum, or, in other words, 2 lb. per head per week. At retail prices the ration of 1s. 2d. does not represent a great deal more than 1 lb. Where is the difference? According to these figures, hotels, restaurants, canteens, etc., must take up almost half of our meat consumption, so that for people who can take advantage of those facilities the meat allowance is quite good —I would almost say very good. There are, however, sections of the population who cannot take advantage of them. The housewife must do her housekeeping on a 1s. 2d. ration; the fireman on the railway who stokes three tons of coal between Euston and Crewe must exist on a 1s. 2d. meat ration; the tramway man must eat his sandwiches on the platform of the tram or the bus driver in the cabin of his bus. This discrimination is not good and I suggest that it calls for some attention.

There is another anomaly. During the war transport difficulties dictated that producing areas should consume home produced meat while industrial areas have had large proportions of inferior imported meat. I suggest to the Minister of Food that the time has now come when that can be adjusted, so as to give satisfaction to large masses of our people in the heavily populated industrial areas and relieve some of their anxieties with regard to the class of food they eat. I have referred previously at Question time to pig clubs, and I suggest that today a system which enables certain people to get extra meat and bacon without surrendering the appropriate number of coupons is worthy of very close examination.

In spite of the suggestions and questions that I have put I should like to say that the meat scheme—and I know something about it—has been the most satisfactory of all our wartime rationing schemes. Meat has been controlled and is still controlled in every detail from the moment of procurement right to the time of purchase by the housewife. Along with butter, tea, and sugar, the housewife knows that her meat is available right to within five minutes before the establishment closes. From the farmer down to the consumer the Ministry has had a hand in the matter. We heard much on Thursday of last week about the bulk purchase of cotton, and I suggest to the critics of that system that the answer lies in the wartime supply and bulk purchase of meat in this, country. Throughout the war, and since, queues for completely controlled items of food have been con- spicuous by their absence, while other foods in short supply have created them, think a good lesson is to be learned from that fact.

As one who stood behind the counter until the moment of entering this House last July, I would say respectfully to the Minister of Food, "Please adopt the right technique. Take all the people into your confidence at the earliest possible moment we retailers, who have had the closest contact with the consumers, can assure von that they can and will take it ' even now that hostilities are over." In the1914–18 war we had only 19 months of wartime rationing, yet it took 19 more months of rationing in peacetime to bring us back to a plentiful supply, and even then at the terrible cost of inflation. This time we have had nearly six years of wartime rationing, with the whole world involved in the war, and critics of this Government scream because plenty has not arrived eight months after the cessation of hostilities. The masses of the people are behind this administration, and I counsel the Minister, if I may, to take his courage in both hands. I suggest without trepidation that even if bread had to be rationed in this country, our people would accept the position without fearing that the end of the world had come, but with a sure and certain knowledge that all would receive their share and that the supply would be available whenever they were able to shop

Talk of flour and bread shortage without control can create panic. Control averts anxiety; it does more—it eliminates waste, and with that elimination of waste we should then be able to placate our consciences by making an even greater contribution to the needs of the starving populations of Europe. On every side of this House there are hon. and right hon. Gentlemen—and hon. Ladies—whose actions are motivated by the Christian principles, and I cannot get away this week from a sentence which constantly rings through my head: "If thine enemy hunger, feed him." That sentence was not written for the sake of writing something; it was meant to be a guiding principle to Christians in all ages. And they are not all our enemies; many of them are our most gallant friends, and I believe and say with all the sincerity that I can command that a nation that will sacrifice for others will ultimately reap a very rich harvest.

I would say to our more fortunate Allies that we know that national selfishness, like personal selfishness, is a matter of degree, but it is present in a much higher degree in some than in others. If anything can be done, let us do it, even though it be drastic. The great heart of the British people is still very full. It has taken not a little courage to say these latter things in the course of my contribution, but I know that the best of the people of Britain will agree with what I have had to say.

6.39 p.m.

Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)

In opening this Debate the Prime Minister expressed anxiety, which we know he very sincerely feels, as to the present world food situation. He gave us certain indications of future policy and he summarised many of the facts in the White Paper. But I think it is fair to say that he did not add to the factual information there given. Therefore, it is really on the White Paper that this Debate must proceed today. Many of us, I think, would have wished that we could have had at the beginning of the Debate, either in the White Paper or in an early speech, a statement of what was the result of the recent conversations in Washington and what were the allocations then made. I imagine that the Minister of Food will give us that information later, but that will be at the end of the Debate and not, as would have been preferable, at the beginning.

What does this White Paper give us? I have been trying for five months to get it, and I confess that now it has come, I am disappointed. The Minister of Food said he woud consider it last October. After a long hesitation, the Foreign Secretary promised it, and now the mountains—perhaps I should say the twin mountains—have produced. I think after such a long labour, we might have had a rather plumper mouse. I do not want to be unfair. If even a White Paper like this had been produced, with the information then available, in the early autumn, it would have had a very valuable effect on the situation. The Prime Minister has told us, when at last the appeal was made, with an adequate environment of publicity and information, how, immediately, and on what a scale, the countries across the Atlantic, America in particular, responded. If we had had last autumn what information the Govern- ment were then able to give, it is extremely likely that the rationing that was then ended might have been continued and the economies now being hastily organised, might have been in effect during the winter.

But this White Paper has grave facts and grave omissions. It is not really a balance sheet of world needs and resources. It is rather an essay on the food shortage, obviously written by several hands, and illustrated by certain facts and figures. It gives a global wheat deficit but it gives nothing of wheat needs, country by country, or even region by region. It is not a vivid document. As the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) said, it is not in all respects an accurate and fair document, and it is not even very lucid in its presentation. It includes only two limited statistical tables, one on consumption levels and one on production and stocks in the four main producing countries. There is nothing comparable on the requirements side. It says practically nothing about meats and fats. The treatment of the Far East is very sketchy. It says nothing about the Russian situation and the countries whose fate is influenced by Russian policy. It gives us hardly any information as to the date on which the Ministers could have had the information on which they could have acted and changed their policy. There is no indication whether we are going to have the long expected fuller account of actual conditions in the British zone of Germany. It tells us practically nothing about the result of the Food Minister's consultations in Washington. It is, above all, astonishingly reticent about our own situation and our stocks. Here is a British Government paper which says hardly anything about what we need, what we have, and what it is possible that we shall get. We have had to drag out, bit by bit, question by question, information about our stocks I have failed this week to get a figure of our present stock position comparable with a similar season in the years before the war. In his statement, the Prime Minister said that our stocks—I do not know whether in general or a particular foodstuff—were down to a minimum that was regarded as a minimum even in peace time, and I hope we may have some explanation—

The Prime Minister

May I correct the right hon. Gentleman? I did not say that. I said that by June, they would be down to the lowest level compared with prewar.

Sir A. Salter

I am sorry if I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. By June they will be down to the prewar minimum. Was the Prime Minister referring to wheat, or food in general?

The Prime Minister


Sir A. Salter

I was stating what I consider to be the defects of the White Paper. It does not even give us the most essential facts that have been made public in a series of other documents, though one of the main purposes of such a White Paper should have been, not merely to add to our information, but to make the information that has been published available in an accessible form. As an illustration, there is exact information here as to the extent of the increase in the livestock of North America, but as regards our own, there is a casual reference to our reduction of pigs, poultry and sheep, and one has to search in the Monthly Digest to find what that reduction is. I might continue with many other defects, but there is one in particular. There is, in this White Paper, what I regard as a rather sinister suggestion—that it is only as diets fall below the 1,000 calorie mark that real trouble must be expected. Our calorie level is 2,850 We know what that means, and I say, and challenge contradiction, that a diet of 1,000 or thereabouts means real starvation, perhaps slow starvation, but starvation. I was a little sorry that the Prime Minister, when making what would have been an almost platitudinous remark, if the underlying factors were different, that we must give a preference to our friends and ourselves, over our ex-enemies, did not seem to have in mind the fact that we are dealing with the difference between not, say 2,500 and 2,000 calories, but 2,850 and 1,014, which is the unsupplemented ration of 10,000,000 people, half of those in the British Zone of Germany for whom we have a direct administrative responsibility. I will not press my criticisms of this White Paper further at this moment, for the reason that I have a promise from the Foreign Secretary, of which I would like to remind the Government and the House, that this White Paper is to be followed by periodical summaries keeping the information up to date. There will, therefore, be an opportunity, as there is certainly room, for improvement in future.

Anyhow, scattered about in this Paper, and previous Papers, there is, at least, enough information now to enable us to assess the true gravity of the world situation. Take, for example, the position in India. Little is said here, but in his earlier speech the Minister of Food referred to a shortage of wheat and rice amounting to several million tons. We must, therefore, realise that there is likely to he a famine on a scale largely exceeding that of 1943, and possibly involving as many persons as all those involved in the European countries, put together. I do not know whether that position is still capable of remedy and, in particular, I do not know whether the allocation to India, to which there has been some reference in Press reports from across the Atlantic, will substantially alleviate the position. The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) asked the Prime Minister a question on this subject and the Prime Minister said it would be possible, in the course of the Debate, to give us information of what was then allocated to India. I do not know whether he could do so now, or whether that will come later. All of us in this House are very conscious of our special and direct responsibility in regard to India and the fate of the millions there. We have many of us been proud of the achievement of the administration in India, that for so many years it was able completely to end the recurrent famines of the past, and we all hope that the lustre of the settlement which we are awaiting will not be tarnished by a great catastrophe.

I would like to refer to the significance of some of the figures of the European situation. The report of the Emergency Economic Committee for Europe published in February included one extremely striking figure which has now been confirmed in the White Paper. It said that no fewer than 100,000,000 people in the part of Europe covered by the survey, which does not include Russia, must be expected to have no more than a diet of 1,500 calories or less. And we have, as I have already mentioned, been informed that in the British zone of Germany there will be 10,000,000 people who will have no more than 1,014 calories. That is an extremely grave position, and I trust that in considering our own food restrictions and in determining our future policy, we shall always bear in mind that we have in Europe these vast numbers of people only having between one-half and one-third of the diet now available for the British public.

I now want to turn to the responsibility of the Government for the present position, and my accusation is not of ill will; it is that they failed to foresee in time and to act in time. I do not think that we must allow the Government to find in the perspective of world shortages an alibi for their failure to do what they could have done. I would like to refer particularly to the Minister of Food. I do not think he is on the Bench and I do not know whether he is coming in, but I would like to say something which I would sooner have said in his presence.

I do not join with those who taunt him or chide him on the muddle about his questions last week. He added something to the gaiety of nations, or at least to the gaiety of the Opposition, and it was not really his fault. The trouble, I think, is not the Minister's inadequacy in the defence of his record; it is in the inadequacy of the record which he has to defend. We all of us in the House appreciate the likable qualities of my right hon. Friend, but I do not think they include all the qualities that are required by a Minister who is responsible for foreseeing and preparing for a time of approaching disaster. I say this without any tinge of political bias, and I would illustrate that by saying that the Minister reminds me remarkably of another Minister, in a Conservative Government, who was responsible for food defence plans in another period of approaching disaster. So much so, that I could apply to the present Minister the very words I then used about his predecessor: Massive in figure, impressive in delivery, imperturbable in manner, he was helped by his obvious sincerity. Others might be accused of deliberate self-deception; but not he. He could look with a frank and fearless gaze at any prospect, however grave, and fail to see it I suggest that is very much what we complain of in the Minister of Food in this crisis. I had intended to demonstrate the fact that the Government could have known and should have known at least as early as October and, indeed, as early as September enough to foresee the disas- ter impending to warn us and to warn the world. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has, however, demonstrated that so conclusively and in fact so devastatingly that I certainly need say no more on this. I do not accuse the Minister of Food of deliberately deceiving either himself or us, but I do acccuse him of failing to foresee, when he should have foreseen, in those five crucial months from September onwards, failing to warn his colleagues, failing to warn us, and failing to warn the world. As I say, the point has already been demonstrated, but it was perfectly obvious on 14th February that he not only surprised us but his colleagues and his supporters as well. Only a few weeks before he had given us a very cheerful Christmas card. On 14th February, St. Valentine's Day, the valentine he presented us with was the more disconcerting for that reason. Now, in the middle of Lent, he has given us a document which is certainly appropriate to a period of fasting, though a few sentences in the Prime Minister's speech gave a little mi-carêmerelief. As recently as December, when the world was asking for bread, the Minister of Food did not even give us a visible stone; he gave us what looked like a coloured lollipop until it had to he taken out of the shop window.

I would like to ask the Government—[An HON. MEMBER: "Send a Whip for him "]—I wish I could have asked the Minister of Food —[Laughter.]

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

What is so funny about it?

Sir A. Salter

I would have liked to ask what he did, not this year, but last year—

Earl Winterton

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Would you accept a Motion, which has often been done in these circumstances, for the Adjournment of the Debate, to call attention to the prolonged absence of the responsible Minister in charge?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I certainly cannot accept that Motion now.?

Earl Winterton

With respect, Sir, such Motions are constantly accepted by the Chair. Without disputing your Ruling at all, might I ask for a Ruling on that?

An Hon. Member


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I cannot accept such a Motion—

Earl Winterton

I was interrupted—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the noble Lord would be so courteous as to allow me to do so I was about to say that I appreciate that such a Motion has been accepted in certain circumstances but, in my view, those circumstances do not exist on this occasion.

Earl Winterton

On that point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am extremely obliged to you, but you misunderstood from which direction the interruption came. It was the Minister of Health who shouted at the top of his voice "Outrageous."

Mr. Nicholson

On that point of Order. Is it not a fact that everybody is used to a Minister being absent for necessary refreshment, but it is now 7 o'Clock and the Minister has been absent for some time, and the House is being treated with disrespect?

The. Prime Minister

This is really quite extraordinary. My right hon. Friend was here up to quite a short time ago. He went out for some necessary refreshment, and will be here for the rest of the Debate. There have been Ministers on the Front Bench during the whole Debate. I have never known such an instance of discourtesy as this.

Earl Winterton

On a point of Order—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Prime Minister is speaking on the point of Order.

The Prime Minister

The Minister withdrew for a short time, and the Front Bench is fully manned. It is a reasonable thing for a Minister to have a little refreshment in the course of a prolonged Debate. I have never known such a case that has not met with reasonable courtesy.

Earl Winterton

I am in a slightly difficult position. The Prime Minister under the guise of a point of Order has made an attack on me. I submit to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that such a Motion has been moved from front and back benches many times—although it has not always been accepted by you—to call attention to the absence of a Minister. No act of discourtesy is involved and I am sorry the Prime Minister is not able to keep his temper.

Sir A. Salter

Perhaps I might say have made no accusation of discourtesy against the Minister. I merely mentioned his absence because I wanted to express regret that I was going to say something that I would sooner have said in his presence.

There are a few questions I would like to ask the Minister now he is here. The first is, What did he do last year, not this year, to warn his colleague the Minister of Agriculture, when it was still possible to get extra sowing? Did he do anything to replace barley by wheat? What did he do then to ensure the adequate supply of agricultural labour by retaining prisoners or by deferment and release such as has been arranged this year? Did he really do all he could in conjunction with his colleagues to expedite conversion and equipment of trawlers in the way suggested by the right hon. Member for Southport? Why has he excluded, by refusing licences, the importation of fruit and vegetables which people wish to buy? Previous Governments have been heavily attacked for dealing with real over production by a restrictionist policy, but can a Socialist Minister of all people think of no better way of maintaining' prices for the home producer than actually excluding much needed food in a time, not of over production, but of scarcity? In answer to an earlier question as to whether there was a currency or dollar reason, I was told that the reason for excluding tomatoes, for example, was the encouragement of the local producer.

Turning from the past to the present, are we to be told something about our real stocks position? Is the Minister considering whether he can draw further on our food stocks between now and the harvest? Is he considering raising the rate of extraction still further? Is he doing anything to enlist the aid of great external organisations and also women's societies and magazines in a "Save bread "campaign? Is he preparing, in case the situation gets worse, and in view of our grave responsibilities abroad as well as at home, if the hopes for economies are not secured, a system by which rationing could be quickly introduced? We cannot make any definite and re- sponsible recommendations, because we are still denied many of the essential facts required. We do not know our wheat stocks or our general food stocks in comparison with a comparable season in peacetime. We do not know what is the future United Kingdom import programme. We do not know what decisions were arrived at at the recent Washington Conference. Without these and similar facts, I do not feel that any of us can do more than throw out tentative suggestions. It is not possible for us to recommend a definite programme and policy.

I have said certain things by way of criticism, but I realise fully the limitations on any possible action by a Government of an importing country with restricted resources like ours. I greatly welcome the conference that is now taking place in London, and I trust that the delegates will be able to find resources to meet immediate needs and to stimulate production in Europe, with possible aid from countries with a food surplus, such as Denmark, possibly with the financial assistance of countries like Sweden. I greatly welcome the extended agenda of the Food and Agriculture organisation represented by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr) for its conference next month. I trust that it will be able to deal effectively with the future long-term situation in a way and on a scale completely beyond the resources of the Government of this country. I realise that if Europe and the Far East are to be saved it must be mainly by the action of other countries although I still think possibly we might still be able to do something, and the value of what we can do is not to be measured purely by the quantity directly involved.

Those of us who criticise the Government, at the same time have a very sincere sympathy with and good will towards the efforts on which they are now engaged. We have tried to make some constructive suggestions. If further sacrifices are necessary, our help may be welcome and it will be forthcoming. We realise deeply that on what is done by this country and by others on a larger scale, the fate of many millions depends and perhaps with it the prospects of the form of Parliamentary democracy for which the Western Allies have fought and stand.

7.10 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Hanley)

I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking in this Debate. The fact that we are debating the subject of the world food shortage gives one some conviction that, at long last, the world has become aware that this is a world problem, and that perhaps for the first time in our age, we are prepared to solve the problem by means of world organisation. It would be a mistake to believe that all was well in the past, as many hon. Members have already suggested. Before the war, both the quantity and quality of food consumed in the world left much to be desired, and if an estimate were taken of the total weight of food consumed, on the average it would have been apparent that at least 60 per cent. consisted of grain foods and only 40 per cent. of other kinds of food, including meat, fish, fruit, nuts and nut products etc.

In the past many expediencies and devices have been used by different countries and great Empires to avert hunger, and these have had different types f success. If the House will be patient with me, I would like to refer to some of them. Primitive man could not possibly exist and multiply in the places where he lived, if he did not resort to hoarding for the winter and for hard times, and some kind of primitive barter. Abortion and infanticide were commonplace as means of keeping down the number of mouths that needed food. Later on, with a more metropolitan type of society, we find that Egypt, China, Greece and Rome all followed roughly the same course in protecting themselves against hunger. There seem to have been five principal usages common to them all. All of them set up storehouses for the storage of grain. All of them resorted to expansionist tactics, by way of colonisation of new areas, and these, in the areas that were found desirable, were inevitably followed by military acquisition. Fourthly, for those who had to bring their food across the sea, it was essential to build up powerful navies to protect the grain ships. As a result there was always a tendency for the State to interfere, and to take over a monopoly of the storage and distribution and sale of corn.

I need hardly mention what happened in Egypt, for every one knows that the first great Minister of Food was named Joseph. In the China of the fourth century B.C. rice was graded and stored, and prices were already being fixed by the Government, in order to protect their people against exploitation. In Periclean Greece there were careful checks upon the black market, and the Government we're intimately concerned with the food supply of Athens and of its Empire. There was first, in the fifth century B.C., direction and encouragement of private enterprise. One hundred years later, it had been found necessary to nationalise the whole of the grain supply, including its storage and distribution. Rome was successful in supplying itself with considerable amounts of food, and was able to export to Greece until about the second century Then, probably due to soil erosion and her increasing population, Rome too had to follow the expedients I have already mentioned.

Everyone recognises now that the Punic wars were fought for the Sicilian cornfields, and the fact that Fabius was so successful, by reason of his tactics, enabled Rome to continue her existence and career. It has been suggested to me by hon. Friends who sit behind me that Fabian tactics have been successful on other occasions too. After the Sicilian episode, Egypt had to be conquered, Spain and the Pontus, and so important was that source of food to Rome in the eyes of its Government that Senators and knights were not allowed to go to Egypt without special permission. Many hon. Gentlemen know that Tacitus said it was an open secret that the reason for this was that the Caesars could not allow any tampering with the food supply of the Imperial city. The advances made throughout the Middle Ages in Europe were due, firstly, to the influence of the Christian ethic in bringing about the abandonment of infanticide, and, secondly, the institution of the manorial system, which gave a certain kind of stability to our methods of agriculture, enabling food to be given at least to those people who were sheltered in the manor itself. Even in Tudor England, controls were found essential. Licences for imports and exports were granted, and I understand that the burgesses of London were not satisfied with the national control of the day, and instituted one themselves to make certain there should be no tampering with corn supplies.

From what has happened in the past, it is possible to gain some benefit today. Nobody can possibly exaggerate the ill effects of world starvation and world hunger. War itself can never alone in any circumstances, create the misery or even the number of deaths that hunger can. The fact that, in all cases, hunger and war ride together, does not alter the fact that the abolition of hunger may well give us the abolition of world war. The principle in the White Paper can be summarised even more simply than it is enunciated there. It is apparent that there can be no solution unless there is a virtual doubling, throughout the world, of the quantities of grain foods that were produced before the war, and every other type of food requires a proportionate increase. It is apparent that countries like our own, that have been accustomed to import vast quantities of food, must produce for themselves much more than they have done before, and that those countries which normally export a great deal of food, must look carefully at the needs of their own population, and be certain that the food they export is a true surplus, and that those exports are not to the detriment of those who live in those countries.

Hon. Members have referred to the plight of India. I would like to mention a specific instance of man's hunger which occurs regularly in many parts of the world, but particularly in India in times of drought. The only staple food is the lathyrus pea which will thrive in drought. The natives know that they must die in a short time if they eat it for more than a few months. That death is a horrible and slow one, by progressive paralysis. In 1936, a typical bad year in India, 60,000 people died from lathyrism in one Province. First, they stumble with the aid of one stick, then two are used, and the victim shuffles on his way. Ultimately, no longer able to stand, with wooden shoes on his hands, he propels himself forward for the last few weeks or months of his life. It is only by remembering and recalling such catastrophes as a regular peacetime event, that one can realise the enormity of the problem.

I have heard suggestions made which have seriously insinuated that one individual in this country, or one individual on the Front Bench—the Minister of Food—could possibly be responsible for some of the things we are describing now. As one who has been interested for so very many years in nutrition from a scientific and social point of view, I must say I find myself entirely in disagreement with that suggestion. I find it is nonsensical to suggest that a few months in point of time could have made the slightest difference to world events as they now stand. As some of the critics of the Ministry's policy know very well, the reason why one could not go out into the market and force up the price of certain staple goods by suggesting there is going to be an immediate shortage of a world nature, is that we are desperately short, and must have the food, and we know very well that there would be a tendency to put the price up against us immediately. All of us are, however, agreed about one thing. It is that the contribution made by this country is indeed an heroically great one. We are satisfied that every effort will be made, and indeed must be made, to carry on with the work that has already been begun, and to see to it that the problem is tackled at its source and dealt with as a world problem.

7.22 p.m.

Sir David Robertson (Streatham)

The Prime Minister said he was glad that he had resisted the attempts that were made to have controls removed from food and food prices. He did not say who made the clamour, but I want to make it perfectly plain that it was no Member on this side of the House. We do not like controls unless they are necessary. We realise that food controls are essential and every Conservative candidate said so at the Election. I took the opportunity at every meeting I attended to make that clear. I am glad to say that now, in case there is any misapprehension in the minds of anyone here, or elsewhere, that the Conservative Party wish controls removed from food until food is in sufficient supply not to need controls. The Prime Minister also said today that there were many causes of world food shortage outside the control of the Government. I do not think there is any dispute about that at all. I will confine myself to matters that are within the control of the Government, and particularly the Minister of Food.

In the food Debate on 14th February last, the Minister of Food said: If I could have another ten refrigerator ships, I could make a good deal of change very quickly in this country, but, unfortunately, I have not got them".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 580.] Prior to that Debate, and realising that lack of shipping would be used as an excuse for failure, I met the official in charge of the United States shipping in the United Kingdom and Iceland. I inquired whether refrigerator ships were available for urgent British use.

Sir B. Smith

American ships, I think.

Sir D. Robertson

As I said, it was an American official in charge of United States shipping in the United Kingdom and Iceland. It was, of course, United States shipping we were speaking about. I was told that vessels of the C.2 reefer type, the largest and most modern, each capable of carrying 6,000 tons, were becoming available as their duties in transporting frozen foods to United States overseas bases, were finishing. I was told that if the British Government sent a strong minute to the United States Government a number of these fine vessels would be loaned to us at a cost equal to the actual cost of the operating of the vessels. Unhappily, I failed to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in that Debate although I sat throughout, and, therefore, I drew the attention of the Minister of Food by Question to the availability of these refrigerator ships. In spite of his great need the Minister sidetracked my Question by turning it over to the Minister of Transport, who replied in a written answer. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Food answered Questions early on that day and if he had replied to me, of course, the House would have known about this. However, my Question was numbered over 100. It went to the Minister of Transport and I got a written answer to the effect that they were always in touch with the United States shipping administration but would make inquiries. The House has not yet been told the, result. I now ask the Minister who will wind up this Debate to state what success has been achieved in securing these essential vessels. At the same interview, I inquired whether the United States were in a position to loan us cargo vessels. I was told that 50, or even no, of the most modern 10,000-ton Liberty ships of the oil-burning type were available on request, if required.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

If we had the dollars.

Sir D. Robertson

I realise we are short of dollars, but the amount required to pay for the use of essential shipping could not be regarded as an obstacle in these days of world food shortage. We could find the dollars by cutting out some of the worst of Hollywood's exports. I now want to say a few words on the subject of meat. The White Paper published two days ago acknowledges that livestock production has increased greatly in the United States and Canada, and is still 40 per cent. over prewar production. Since the ending of Lend-Lease I understand that exports to this country have ceased. In view of Britain's great need I suggest that these should be resumed. When the American loan comes through it will provide some of the dollars and I hope our exports and passenger shipping services will provide the remainder. I shall be glad to hear tonight what the intentions of the Government are about immediate imports of meat from the United States and from Canada. The White Paper also states that meat production in southern hemisphere countries is greater than it was before the war. I was informed yesterday by one of the leading importers that the present rate of killing in New Zealand is higher than ever before, that cold stores are laden with mutton and lamb awaiting shipment. Another speaker in this Debate referred to that and said the killings had stopped because the cold stores were incapable of taking any more meat.

I ask the Government spokesman tonight, whom I presume is my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, to state the steps he is taking to bring supplies of mutton and lamb to this country. I hope he will bear in mind the United States refrigerator ships to which I have already referred. We have an abundance of empty cold storage space in this country for these cargoes which will be a welcome addition to our meagre rations next winter. If the long haul to this country is a deterrent, I suggest that New Zealand supplies of mutton and lamb should be shipped to the United States and/or Canada for consumption in those countries in exchange for equivalent quantities of their meat production. Such an exchange would effect economy in the use of refrigerator ships. For the Minister's information, may I say that a similar project was carried out in the last war and with the same object of saving refrigerator shipping? As meat production is up in the Argentine, Brazil, Uruguay and Australia, will the Government state the tonnage which they expect to import during the coming summer?

Next year's grain harvest has no hearing on the supplies of meat available now in those countries, and all the White Paper talk about the failure of harvests has no bearing at all on the stock killed or ready for killing, and it is the responsibility of the Minister to bring shares of that meat to this country as quickly as possible to eke out our rations. We have heard a lot today about men in heavy industries working hard on 1s. 2d. worth of meat a week, and I agree about the difficulty of making exhortations on increased production to men who have to labour on that small quantity of meat per week.

Australia has a superabundance of rabbits, and there are also a number of freezing plants to freeze them. Do the Government intend to bring large quantities of rabbits here? They would be very welcome, and are good, wholesome food for the people. The White Paper makes no reference to the importation of butter and cheese from New Zealand and Australia. Why not? It makes no recommendations as to what is going to be done, but here are two of the most valuable, life-giving foods, and, having regard to our great need, I hope some indication will be given tonight of the imports which the Government intend to make of these essential commodities. Does the same situation prevail there as is the case with lamb and mutton? Are the cold storage places bulging with cheese and butter, and is the whole trouble the question of refrigerator ships?

I must press this point, because the words I used in the opening of my speech were the Minister's. The right hon. Gentleman urged upon the House the transformation that he could bring about if he only had ten more ships. I have told him where he can get them. I hardly think it is the duty of a Back Bencher to tell the Government where to go in order to get these ships, but the official whom I saw was the top-ranking official in Europe, who was flying back the next day to New York, and who gave me permission to say in this House what I am saying tonight — that the United States has ten of these vessels at the service of this Government. I want to know tonight what is the position, and I venture to say that this comes as no surprise to the Minister or to his Parliamentary Secretary, because I put down a Question about it which is on the records of this House, and I regard this matter as the key to the whole situation and must insist on receiving an answer tonight.

The White Paper makes very brief reference to whales, and, having regard to the importance of whale oil for margarine, that is regrettable. In the February Debate, the Minister referred to our Antarctic expedition and spoke of delays in the arrival of the expedition at the grounds. I suggest that these delays were entirely due to the Government's failure to get crews and whale-catching vessels released from military service. The Minister must know that the season only lasts from December to March, and that whales will not wait while he gets men out under Class B. It is no good sending out an expedition too late. We lost a month's valuable time, and we only had an expedition of three little ships. Our contribution was three ships and they arrived late.

The Minister also said in the February Debate—and the point was referred to by the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) in his powerful speech— that the expectation, on 14th February, was only 100,000 tons of whale oil, against the 135,000 tons which had been hoped for. I got the information last night from the principal Norwegian whalers in this country that there was an improvement in the latter part of the season. I want the Minister tonight, if he will, to give me the latest figures, including the Norwegian and the Argentine production, and to tell me what the combined total will be. This is essential information, and I am asking the Minister to give it to the House tonight, because he can do so, as it does not concern something outside his own powers, but is something within his powers. Whale oil is the base of the best margarine. The Minister painted a pretty dismal picture in February. I want to know whether it is any better today. I am told that it is better, but I do not know to what extent. Can the Minister give the combined totals from the Norwegian and the Argentine expeditions and from the British and Norwegian shore plants? What is the total volume of oil coming to this country, and how much of it are we to get, because it has a tremendous bearing on the fats situation?

There is another consideration in connection with the manufacture of margarine, and that is Norwegian herring oil. Will the Minister tell the House how many tons of Norwegian herring oil have been produced and hardened for the margarine industry? The Norwegian herring catch in the past few months has been one of the greatest, and it may be that there is a huge increase in the supply of oil that is equally suitable for margarine production as whale oil and might well save the situation. Will the Minister tell the House tonight the real position? I hope he has not heard of this for the first time, but I have some doubts about it.

In conclusion, I want to say a few words about fish. The White Paper on fish would be laughable were the food situation not so serious. It is palpably untrue in its reference to the high priority for the reconversion of trawlers. The assumption in the White Paper is that that priority has been on for a long time and still exists, but, of course, that is not so. The priority was only given for a few brief weeks and then withdrawn, and the result of it is that almost half of the vessels released by the Admiralty are lying idle and unused, awaiting repairs or conversion from miniature war vessels into fishing trawlers. What is the good of releasing boats and leaving them un-repaired? That is the unsatisfactory situation today. It should be within the power of the Ministry of Food to bring pressure on the Ministry of Labour in order to provide the essential labour to get these ships to sea. How much longer does the Minister think that the people of this country are going to put up with these appalling fish queues? They are a disgrace at this time. There is an abundant harvest waiting in the sea to be gathered, and the seas have had six years' rest from fishing, and one trawler could catch in one hour as much fish as the Minister is importing from Holland in a month. I said a great deal about fishing in the Debate a fortnight ago, and I suggest that, if the Minister has not read the speeches of other hon. Members and myself, he might find in them material which would help him.

Mr. Harold Davies

Does the hon. Gentleman know whether, for this kind of fishing, the seas have been completely swept clear of the mines which have infested the entire fishing areas off our coasts?

Sir D. Robertson

With very great respect, I should imagine that that is a question which the hon. Member might address to the Minister concerned, but I, as a citizen, know that mines have been drifting up on the South coast recently and have been exploding and damaging property. I am certain that the Admiralty are doing a very good job. I have asked the Government a number of very important questions. The House is entitled to answers to all of them, and I hope they will be forthcoming tonight.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)

I do not complain that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) has found it necessary to depart for refreshment, although he certainly took part in a strong protest a little while ago when the Minister went out of the Chamber for a similar reason, because there are one or two remarks I would like to address to the points he raised. He referred to the crypto-Communists who were supporting Mr. Victor Gollancz in the national campaign which has now persisted for a number of months to make known—what the right hon. Gentleman stood up in this House and said at the conclusion of his speech—the necessity for our taking into account the 10,000,000 now assailed with starvation in Germany. I gathered from the conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech that he was taking a paragraph out of some of the notes which Mr. Victor Gollancz's friends make available for those carrying on this propaganda. I hope the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members opposite will continue to benefit from that propaganda. I agree with what the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) said that, actually, that propaganda has been carried on very largely by the representatives of the Churches of this country instead of by crypto-Communists. The appeals they have made have been similar to that made by the hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) tonight—to listen to the voice of One who said: "If thine enemy hungers, feed him." Those demands are taking hold of the minds of our people and there arc many in this country today who are prepared—and thank God it is so—to sacrifice much, though the sacrifice has already been heavy, in order to meet the terrible situation that faces Europe, India and many other parts of the world today. Before I leave this point may I say that I think it is the more necessary to say it, and to say it with all the earnestness we can, when we remember that our soldiers in those parts of the world where the hunger is to be seen are doing the right thing, whatever we may be prepared to do.

Earl Winterton

It is only fair to say that two years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), the present Minister of Health and myself raised this matter with the then Government, because we did not think they were keeping the country sufficiently informed. Therefore, it would not be fair to say that this matter had not been brought up before.

Mr. J. Hudson

Although I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman, I think his record in this matter is a good one. I stand to be corrected in so far as I throw my accusations over too broad a field, but I still maintain there is need for it to be said in this House that there is a great case to be made for further sacrifice, despite the many sacrifices this nation has already borne, in order to meet the general situation in the world today. I was going on to remark that the soldiers who have seen for themselves the hungering people in Europe have, again and again, responded in a fine spirit of humanitarianism. I have had a letter this week from one of the commanders of a brigade in Austria telling how a whole mass of troops gave up their allocations of sweets, biscuits and cakes in order to make them available in the festive season in Austria, so that every child might at least have a little of the pleasanter things of life. That is a thing to be proud of in connection with those men. I only hope that every hon. Member in this House will feel that he wants to express the same sort of attitude with regard to this matter.

I rose however to give attention to only One part of the demand that we are making to the Minister of Food today with regard to the steps we think ought to be taken in this present crisis. It is the one thing that no one else has yet specially mentioned except, curiously enough, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport. He just touched upon it and immediately skated off it, as if on thin ice, and left someone else to deal with it. It is the question of the relationship of barley to brewing, and the possibility of the use of barley as food in the situation that has now to be met. The late Minister of Agriculture wanted to know from the Minister of Food what he had to say about quite a number of other matters, but when he had raised the point about barley he had nothing further to ask, such as what was proposed to be done on the question. I observed that yesterday my lion. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. P. Freeman) asked the Minister about stocks of barley and other grain actually available in the storehouses of the liquor trade. He referred to nearly half a million tons of grain in that position and asked the Minister what he proposed to do about those stocks, and whether he would devote any of them to ease the situation that now faces us. The Minister said he had no intention, at present, of reducing the brewers' stocks and, worse still from my point of view, that he had no intention of touching the stocks he is allocating to the distillers. I think the Minister has a little credit for good action in this matter which, in some quarters, goes farther than he quite deserves. A few weeks ago he made a speech over the radio which gave the impression that he was going to put an end to distilling.

Sir B. Smith

I say quite frankly that there was an allocation of 330,000 tons of barley to the distillers. They have received 110,000 tons, and I have no more for them.

Mr. J. Hudson

I am glad to have that news and I thank the Minister very warmly for having taken that step. I have been misled about the matter, but the White Paper does refer to a further use of 130,000 tons for use in the manufacture of distilled liquors. A step in the right direction has been taken, and I thank the Minister for it. The position with regard to brewing still remains very much where it was. An hon. Member has elicited from the Minister that in 1945, 879,000 tons of barley were used for brewing, but in the year 1945–46 it went down to 808,000 tons. If I represent those figures correctly, that is something to be satisfied about, though the reduction is very small. At the moment the amount of beer being drunk in this country, according to a statement made in the "Brewers' Journal" last month, is 40 per cent. more in actual bulk barrels than the bulk barrels produced in 1939.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

Yes, but it is all water.

Mr. J. Hudson

No, it is not all water. The right hon. Gentleman forgets that the alcohol it contains can be measured exactly. If it were all water a great many people who are satisfied with it would not buy it at all. There is still a considerable quantity of alcohol in the beer that is being sold.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

It is very good food.

Mr. J. Hudson

The right hon. Gentleman says it is very good food, but I will show him what good food there is in the beer after the brewing is finished. Actually, there is extremely good food in the barley before it undergoes the brewing process. During the last war the Minister of Food issued a special pamphlet called "Food and How to Save it," in which some valuable references were made to barley as a food. It has not been issued since. The right hon. Member for Southport when he was Minister of Agriculture had not the benefit of the advice; I wish he had. I wish Lord Woolton had known about it, and I wish the present Minister of Food would look at that pamphlet and read the facts about barley as a food. This is the statement on page 18 of the pamphlet: It is an error to suppose that barley is only fit for feeding animals and making beer. It is good human food. Its fuel value is close to that of wheat flour, and after grinding nutritious barley flour or meal is obtained. It should be used one-third barley meal and two-thirds flour. The whole grain makes good soup or pudding. There we have an official statement from the Ministry of Food as to what could be done with barley if it were dealt with in the right way. The right hon. Gentleman, who prefers to have his food in other forms, takes it as a liquor and believes that the food is there. What are the facts about that? Some years ago the late Lord Stamp gave his views of the amount of alcohol in beer and the amount of actual food, including proteins, carbohydrates and fats, left in the beer after brewing. He said that on very good scientific evidence—and I have never seen his statement contested—only 8 per cent of the food of the barley was left after the brewing process was finished. One of our greatest biochemists, speaking about the same question on which the right hon. Gentleman is entirely misled, said he had hardly patience to consider this question of the amount of food that existed in beer after brewing, and that the claim, if it was not insincere, was entirely ridiculous. That was the view of Professor Gowland Hopkins, our greatest biochemist. The chairman of the Council of Agriculture has stated that after the brewing process the amount of food value in beer produced from barley in one acre of ground is equivalent to 10 days' protein ration, as against 126 days of protein ration if it had been kept as barley or if the same acre had grown wheat. That is to say, according to that computation —and surely the right hon. Gentleman will accept that view—

Mr. R. S. Hudson

indicated assent.

Mr. J. Hudson

The right hon. Gentleman nods his head. It was a very authoritative view from his own Department, and the right hon. Gentleman may read it in the "Journal of Agriculture." According to that statement, a great deal of the food value in barley is entirely destroyed by the brewing process.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

There is a very old saying which, no doubt, my hon. Friend knows, that man does not live by bread alone.

Mr. J. Hudson

That may be, but in these days when men are starving—I am bearing in mind the right hon. Gentleman's peroration earlier today—bread is a very important factor from the point of view of whether men are to live. It is because we see this first-class food being spoiled in this way that I make my protest, and I beg the Minister to take some effective action to cut down considerably the amount of barley which the brewers are taking.

My final point arises out of the challenge which now confronts this country as a result of the step already taken by President Truman. President Truman, in a country which is equally fond of its beer as this country, has announced that as from 1st March he will cut down the amount of barley and other grains used for the manufacture of intoxicants by an amount equivalent to 20,000,000 bushels for the next four months. I was hoping very much that as the result of the visit of the Minister to America, and the fact that he could have been in touch with President Truman, he would have come home with the statement that in this country some large reduction would be made in the amount of first class grain made available for the use of the brewers. At any rate, I beg that this question may be carefully considered by the Government, and I hope the Minister will find it possible at an early date to make an announcement similar to that which President Truman has made in America.

7.59 P.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Byers (Dorset, Northern)

It may be within the recollection of the House that during the last three weeks of Business my hon. Friends and I have been demanding a Debate on this subject. I am very grateful indeed, even at this late hour, and with so few minutes allowed to me, that I should able to say something on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself. As we see it, this is a world problem and must be treated as such. I was very glad to learn that the Prime Minister accepted that view, although I was dissatisfied with the steps which he outlined as to how the Government intend to treat it as a world problem. It is also an emergency and must be treated as such; and it is not just an economic problem but a great social problem, too.

In these great problems it is important to consider the attitude of mind which one brings to bear upon them. I believe that a great deal of the trouble in the international sphere today is due to the abandonment of fundamental Liberal principles. I do not wish to make a party speech, but there are two fundamental principles which must be accepted in dealing with this problem. The first is that all action in the political, social and economic field must have as its object the promotion of the best interests of the whole community. and by that I mean the community of mankind, irrespective of class, creed and colour. The second is that men and women have the right to develop to the full their own personalities, and that means the right to the necessities of life for every individual before anyone is allowed to live in luxury. I ask the Prime Minister to remember those principles. One cannot apply priorities between friend and foe until one is satisfied that every individual in the world, because he is an individual, is given the necessities of life. When that has been done, apply the priorities between friend and foe. But let us first try to distribute what there is in the world so that everybody has the necessities of life before anybody is allowed to live in luxury. I would say that particularly to our friends in America.

I hope the Government will accept that principle. If they do, I ask them what they intend to do to persuade other Governments to accept it also, and to set up such machinery as will ensure that that principle is adequately applied. I know that these things are easier said than done. I know that well from my experiences in the Army during the war. But these things can be done, and I believe they should be attempted. This is a great social problem which demands live world leadership from this country. It is a problem of the magnitude of the abolition of slavery, in which we set a very great example to the world, an example which was speedily followed by others. I will not refer to the various places in which I think the Government have given an inadequate lead, except to say that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) that the production of the White Paper in October would have had a tremendous effect in making the other nations of the world realise the situation. I believe it was our responsibility to produce that White Paper then, if only because no one else would do so.

If we want a solution to this problem, which very largely is a problem of distributing what is available, we must examine the machinery that exists today. What do we find? There is the Combined Food Board, and there is the Food and Agriculture Organisation. We welcome the initiative which has been shown by a distinguished Member of the House, the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr), in calling a conference in May. There is the London Food Council and there is the Economic Emergency Committee for Europe. But the significant fact about all these organisations is that they are all advisory. There is not a single organisation in the world today with mandatory and executive powers. That is no way to deal with a world problem or with an emergency. There is the key to the situation.

I appreciate the difficulties of achieving an international organisation with executive powers, because to some extent it means the partial, if temporary, surrender of national sovereignty, but we have had displayed in the House by all three parties the desire, if necessary, to surrender some part of our national sovereignty in the interest of world peace and in the interest of the solution of this great world problem. That was shown in the foreign affairs Debate before Christmas. I ask the Government to bring the nations of the world together I do not want hon. Members to say, "That is not our job." It is our job, because no one else will do it. We have the tradition of giving a lead in big world problems. We should attempt to bring the nations of the world together, and get them to agree that the combined Food Board or the Food and Agriculture Organisation shall have those executive powers. Since all the nations of the world are involved in this problem, it is our duty to bring them together. It is not a matter for the Minister of Food; it is a matter on Prime Ministerial level.

Will the Government accept the humanitarian principle that all in this world shall have the necessities of life before any are allowed to live in luxury? Will the Government give the lead to establish an authority to deal with this problem of food which has mandatory and executive powers to see that the available food—by which I do not mean surpluses, but the available food in all the countries of the world—is made available where it is most needed today? I regret that I have not been able to develop my argument to the length which I should have wished, but I look to the Government to give a real lead to the world in this great human problem.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid Bedford)

I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for North Dorset (Lieut.-Colonel Byers) for shortening his remarks, an obligation which will fall upon me in about half an hour's time. This has been an exceedingly good Debate. It has focussed attention on a matter to which the head and heart of hon. Members on both sides of the House should most properly be directed. We have heard, among many interesting speeches, two in particular which were of special interest to me, one from the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr), and the other from my right hon. Friend the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). To the former hon. Member I am sure the whole House will give best wishes and God-speed in the tasks which he has so bravely undertaken. As to the speech of the right hon. Member the Senior Burgess from my own University of Oxford, I think everybody will agree that it was a highly valuable intervention in this Debate. Not for the first time has University representation been justified, and there is no subject on which it could more properly be exercised than in a Debate of this kind.

I join with both hon. Members, and in the general feeling of the House as a whole, in rejoicing that we are not afraid to proclaim our intention to exercise the moral leadership in Europe at this time, and also to fulfil to the utmost of our powers our traditional and historic obligations in our Indian Empire. We must, unfortunately, remember, however anxious we may be to exercise a generous role in Europe today, that we in Great Britain have had six years of rationing. We must also realise that our consumption of consumable goods and services in England during the last six years has gone down by no less than 21 per cent., while in the United States of America it has increased by To or 15 per cent. This obviously puts an inescapable ceiling to the scale of our help in Europe or elsewhere. But we will do all that we possibly can—and the Government need not fear that the Opposition will be lagging in this respect—to see that we give all possible help to Europe, not excluding our own zone in Germany, for which we have taken full responsibility in the very difficult decisions that lie ahead. No one in the House has quarrelled with the large cut in the Combined Food Board's allocation or in the voluntary cession of some 800,000 tons of cereals which the Minister of State announced for Europe a few days ago. The country will make any exertions and undergo any sacrifices if it is told the whole story.

I had the good fortune in the early days of the war, before I went off on other activities, to serve as the first Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, first under my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkes- bury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) and later under my Noble Friend Lord Woolton, and I know how extraordinarily easy it was to get the good will and the backing of the mass of the British people because they believed they were being asked to contribute to something which touched their imagination, the victory of the Allied arms. For that they were glad to make sacrifices and undergo privations. Also they know definitely, from daily illustration, that the Department was brilliantly administered by a Minister who was master of his job.

We appreciate that the present Minister, whom I succeeded in the latter end of the war in the Ministry of Aircraft Production—a fact which tempers my criticism— has lost a considerable proportion of those private business peoplecapitalists—who came into the Ministry during the war, and have given their services, often freely, for the last five years, because they have now returned to their businesses, or such of their businesses as the Socialist Government will allow them to administer. The loss of those people represents a very real loss to the Ministry of Food as a whole. It is a loss which, I hope, is not altogether overlooked by those Ministers who are now in temporary charge of that great commercial Department. Even in spite of that loss, which we all regarded as inevitable, we are entitled to say that there has lately been a most astonishing change in the confidence and respect which the Ministry of Food, and the Minister, command in the country as a whole. There is no longer a readiness to accept their estimates as being accurate. No longer do people feel that promises will be honoured. People are beginning to think twice about everything that they hear once from the right hon. Gentleman.

We appreciate that it is very hard for the Socialist Party to tell the people hard, unpalatable truths. After all, they won the last General Election by playing upon prejudices and grievances, by stressing rights and never facing duties—[An HON. MEMBER: "No."]—and by letting it be suggested to people that if we only changed our political system overnight all would be well with everybody in the country. What was printed on the top of nearly every Socialist leaflet distributed in the constituencies? "Plenty for all" There was no sign then of what the Home Secretary said recently, which was: Anybody who believes that we can get out of our difficulties in two years should go to a lunatic asylum. They appear at the election to have got a sufficient number of people to believe that, without that necessary corollary. It is true again that the Minister of Transport, in his own election address—and I hope the Minister of Food is constantly reminding him of the fact—told this to his electors: Housewives should vote for me "— that is to say, for the Minister of Transport— against further lowering of the standard of life through reduced food rationing. The Minister of Transport is now very busily engaged in overhauling the road transport industry including that section which is largely engaged in the distribution of our food.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, even last Christmas, at a time when troubles in India and Europe were clamouring for attention and should have been known to everybody in the Government, announced in a public speech: The extra food this Christmas is just a taste of things to come. It makes it a little difficult for the Government now to tell the people hard and unpalatable facts, but even when they tell the people facts, unfortunately, they tell them only half the facts. When we had the withdrawal of the dried eggs, the Socialist Party issued to their speakers and canvassers in the country, "Hints for speakers," in which they stressed that shell eggs would come along largely to replace the loss of the dried eggs. People no longer believe them. People do not, and cannot believe, with the loss of feeding offals occasioned by the raising of the extraction rate for flour, that the Government are going to be in a position to honour that promise for very long.

On this side of the House we are seriously disturbed at this loss of public confidence in the Ministry of Food. We believe that it must have that confidence if we are to have a healthy, well-fed and contented people, and are to play our part in Europe as a whole. I have not the time to read something which otherwise I should like to have read, a Press statement which I recently had from Australia, in which it is stated that the Australian people are very puzzled indeed. All their hopes that by accepting a butter ration they would be helping Great Britain have been upset by the conflicting and disheartening statements of the Minister of Food, and the matter has now been removed from the realm of practical politics That shows that the loss of confidence has spread beyond Great Britain and has reached even to the Dominions.

We do not believe that the Socialist Government are willing to tell the people these hard and unpalatable facts, nor the facts in regard to the food subsidies, about which I feel very strongly. Are they going to tell the people that the real cost of what the country is now consuming in the way of food is £380 million in subsidy, over and above the cost of the goods? That is our food bill, because of the very necessary wartime subsidies. There is the point stressed so strongly and successfully by my right hon. Friend the Senior Burgess for Oxford University and my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson). The Government should have known what was going to happen long before they warned the country. The Government always have an alibi ready. Those who have served in the House with a Socialist minority Government have known a good deal about Socialist party alibis. This time their alibi has been debunked by the Senior Burgess for Oxford University. In India, the South-West monsoon failed in the late summer and autumn, long before any consequences were apparently known or any action was taken by the Government. The Madras cyclone, to which the Prime Minister referred almost as if it happened quite lately, actually happened last October. In India the main damage was done by the autumn. On 10th December the Under-Secretary of State for India said that he saw no cause for apprehension of famine, either in Bengal or elsewhere in India. In the White Paper we are told that the drought in Europe was in the summer of 1945, that the drought in North Africa was in the Spring of last year and in South Africa over a prolonged period.

The country is also very seriously disturbed by the different pronouncements made by various Ministers. The House will recollect the complete lack of coordination recently exhibited between the Ministries of Food, Agriculture and Labour. It was shown on the two days, 5th and 6th February. On 5th February, half an hour before the Minister of Food and his no doubt unwilling seconder the Minister of Agriculture, made their moving statements, the Minister of Labour announced that 8,000 agricultural workers were going to be called up. On the next day the Prime Minister was compelled to acknowledge that that decision had been abandoned. It is interesting to see in the White Paper, on page 18, the abandonment of that decision included under the heading, "Measures taken by the Government to meet the crisis," as if it were due to the up-and-doing attitude of the Government. The Minister of Agriculture could not possibly have known what was happening. I remember how close indeed the liaison was in the Ministry of Food in the old days. If the Minister of Agriculture had known it he could not have waited to make his statement on 5th February to the war agricultural committees.

Some experts believe that we are facing the smallest wheat crop we have had since the 1930's, and that at the best it will not be more than 70 per cent. of what we had at the peak period of the war. The Minister could not have known the facts or he would not have allowed the agricultural labour forces to be so depleted that by the end of next June probably about 40,000 farm workers would still be serving in the Armed Forces.

Throughout the country there is a feeling that the Government are absorbed in theories and in long-term plans to revolutionise the country, and are not engaged in the day-to-day tasks of feeding and housing our people properly. The Lord President of the Council has boasted of the great legislative record that is going to be set up, by which Ministers are to be overwhelmed with all sorts of functions. The President of the Board of Trade should be engaged in selling our goods overseas in order to be able to buy foodstuffs in return. The Lord President should have been presiding over the Home Affairs Committee of the Cabinet. Both have been working on plans to nationalise the iron and steel industry. It took the industry, working out its own plans for reorganisation, 18 months to prepare their plan. All these things are happening at a time when Ministers should be concentrating on immediate problems. The Minister of Transport is engaged in something which Lord Leathers would rot be doing in this present situation, fiddling about with small bus owners and proprietors of private lorries in order to threaten them with expropriation. What would Lord Leathers be doing now to help the food shortage if he had the ships the right hon. Gentleman enjoys?

Private importers, who did not make these ghastly mistakes about foreign crops and markets, see themselves being gradually ironed out in favour of State trading. I have in my pocket a letter from Denmark, which I will give to the right hon. Gentleman later, which describes the difficulty of selling food to England. It is a shameful document, which I would have given him before but for the fact that it arrived only a moment ago. When thee right lion. Gentleman was in America he used to make a lot of good speeches. I remember one in particular very well, when he told the story of the Hyde Park orator who was interrupted by a Socialist heckler.

Sir B. Smith


Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Communist heckler; I hope the House will forgive me if I tell it. When interrupted, he said: "When the day of freedom dawns, brother, you will be able to live in the Dorchester Hotel. You will be able to have a large car." "I do not want to have that," said the interruptor, "I want to have what I have got." " When the day of freedom dawns, brother, you will damn well do what you are told." That's what we are doing now. That story was a great success in Wall Street, but we want some food.

The Opposition will do all we can to help. We will certainly help the right hon. Gentleman in trying to persuade the United States to feed less of their bread cereals to cattle. It is obviously wrong that 6,000,000 tons more bread grain should be consumed by animals at the moment, in the four major producing countries, than was consumed before the war. We will do all we can to help. We will also do all we can to see that what the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) called food politics or hunger politics are kept out of this business, and that food goes where it is most needed and not where the political feelings of the producing country may suggest it should go. This means that the Argentine should be discouraged from sending wheat to Spain or Portugal, and equally that countries which can give the Argentine fuel should be persuaded to give it and prevent the Argentine from not being able to deliver the grain or using it as fuel. It means also that the Russians should be discouraged from sending wheat to France at a time when there is strong reason to believe there is an urgent need for it in the Russian occupied areas of Eastern Europe. They should also be discouraged from seizing land in Austria where, according to the American representative of U. N. R. R. A. last week, they have taken enough land lately to produce grain and flour for 25,000 people. A distinguished British representative on that Committee said: "I thought we had gone to liberate these people and not to feed on them."

Equally, I hope they will stop happenings of the sort that occurred only a week or two ago, when a shipload of goods sent out by U. N. R. R. A. to help agriculture in Poland, landed at Gdynia 1,500 crates of tractors arid spare parts. According to an exemplary authority, 75 per cent. of the whole consignment was immediately shipped to the Soviet Union. If we drive hunger politics out of this business we hope that we shall no longer have the Indian Congress or other people refusing to cooperate with the British Government of the day, or the Government of the day, in the task of food distribution in India. Only a week or two ago Lord Wavell suggested that the Nawab of Bhopal, and Messrs. Gandhi, Jinnah and himself should form an ad hoccommittee to deal with India's impending famine. The Congress have just indicated their answer: "The Working Party does not intend participating in the committee suggested by the Viceroy on the grounds that no useful purpose can be served while negotiations are pending on the constitutional issue." That sort of nonsense should go. We all should eliminate such difficulties when dealing with the fate of millions of starving people.

There are a number of questions which have emerged in the course of this Debate which were not even answered in the last Debate, or in the Debate in another place. We want answers to them. I must apolo- gise to the House for the herculean speed with which I have made this speech. I want to finish before half past eight, because I want the right hon. Gentleman to answer these questions, and I am not going to detain the House because we particularly want answers. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will regard the fact that I am in possession of the Floor at the moment, and am about to sit down, as an earnest of our desire to have answers now to these matters which affect the livelihood of millions of people.

First, are we going to have a statement on our stock position soon? There is no possible reason why we should not, Very many people in sellers' markets, about whom we hear so much, know about it; hundreds of Members of Congress in the United States know about it; surely, the House of Commons might know about it. Secondly, are we to have a statement about the import of Argentine maize, a question which was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) some weeks ago, and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport this afternoon? Thirdly, what about the ground-nuts position? The Prime Minister said that other sources were being tapped. What about West Africa? I remember when I was Parliamentary Secretary under Lord Woolton, he said to me one morning, "I think that in about six months' time there may be a shortage of fats," and he is a prudent business man who has been accustomed to running a concern which, if he had run it badly, would have led to his own personal bankruptcy, an altogether unusual situation for a Socialist Minister. Lord Woolton made his own inquiries in West Africa through Lord Swinton, who was then Minister Resident. There was a great display of loyalty on the part of the West African chiefs, and I think a quantity of 2,000,000 tons was laid down immediately and produced, which was all that was needed then under the prudent management which we enjoyed at that time. Is anything being done in West Africa now? Are they being given the consumer goods to encourage them to sell the goods as we understand is being done elsewhere for goods to be sent to Burma. Is anything being done to tap the vast resources of soya bean in the Soviet Union which could be shipped from Vladivostock and sent to India?

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us a pledge, not one of his more recent pledges but a pledge in the old tradition of the Ministry of Food, that we shall be able to enjoy our present fat ration throughout the summer and winter months? Lord Llewellin, even when fighting an election, when he had to face unexampled misrepresentation, in his own constituency, as I know from my own experience, a few weeks before the election reduced the fat ration because he thought it a prudent thing to do when vegetables were in plentiful supply, so as to conserve fat for the country for the winter months. He lost the election but obtained the personal esteem, goodwill and respect of the country as a whole, which are more enduring than the results of a General Election. We would like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman if he really believes we shall be able to keep our fat ration for some time.

What about the allocation to India? It is a thing on which we must have information. Incidentally, there is nothing in the White Paper about action taken in regard to fats under the heading: "Action taken by His Majesty's Government to meet the crisis." Is there anything significant in that? Lastly, what about the Washington conversations? We put up with not getting this White Paper for a long time, because we believed it would include the results of the right hon. Gentleman's tour. The meagre paragraph dealing with that adds nothing to our sum total of knowledge. All we know is from the Press interviews he gave as he was about to step into the aeroplane to take him from Washington, that he was very satisfied with his mission. We want to know about the practical consequences, other than the cementing of personal friendships, which I am sure takes place whenever he goes to the United States. Will he let us know in fact what happened? What drop in the feeding of cereals to their livestock did the American Government undertake? These are the sort of questions we ask in the name of the people of this country, which demand answers. We ask the Government to deal with the practical day-to-day questions of that kind. In all conscience, there is enough, on the desk of the average administrations of the world today to keep hard working and intelligent people very busy, without undermining the structure of the State and indulging in widespread experiments with social and economic questions in an old commercial country. There is a great deal they can occupy themselves in doing. I think the country, as a whole, would prefer this rather than those excursions into State ownership, with which we have been more recently blessed.

8.30 p.m.

The Minister of Food (Sir Benjamin Smith)

I am very glad to hear from the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) that he, and I imagine he is speaking for his Party too, will be willing to help. Up to now I had seen no evidence of that, either from the hon. Member or from the Members of his Party. I seem to remember also that the hon. Member himself has been guilty on occasion of making speeches for which he was a little sorry afterwards.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I acknowledged it in the House.

Sir B. Smith

Certainly, but only after a very long time.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The next day.

Sir B. Smith

The hon. Member has been guilty himself. I will begin by reporting on my visit to Washington. As the House will remember, I reported at considerable length on the result of my earlier visit. The situation that I have to deal with—despite the remarks of the hon. Gentleman on the dates of the various harvests—depends on the crops. The need for my return to Washington is best expressed by the fact that, when I first went there, there was a known deficit of 5½ million tons of wheat in the world which had increased to upwards of 8 million tons. India, whether the House will believe it or not and whether the date is right or wrong, has lost, by a tidal wave, 740,000 tons of rice between those times. The monsoon in India had failed completely, and the total stock position of the whole country had fallen by 25 percent. When I was in Washington in January the Indian claims were for half a million tons of rice or wheat. I was successful on that occasion in getting an allocation of 400,000 tons, at the same time surrendering approximately a quarter of a million tons of the United Kingdom's wheat allocation. When I returned to Washington the claims of India had risen from that figure to upwards of 4 million tons for the rest of this year. When I say, as I say in the White Paper, that I am not at all dissatisfied, the reason is that the 400,000 tons has been raised to 1,400,000 tons, with a rice allocation of between 145,000 and 150,000 tons, out of a world pool of just over half a million tons.

Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)

What about Siam?

Sir B. Smith

If the hon. Member will give me an opportunity to continue—in Siam, if we are correctly informed, there is approximately one and half million tons of rice.

Mr. W. Fletcher


Sir B. Smith

I said, if we are correctly informed. The problem is that of getting that rice out of Siam. They have no faith in the currency, called the tical; they have gold, they have dollars; what they need are consumer goods and agricultural implements. On top of that, the rice is mostly in the hands of Chinese merchants, who are holding out in the hinterland, and because of lack of internal transport we are finding difficulty in getting the rice to the coast. When we get it there, because we have no barges, it has to be hauled 34 miles in a 14-ft. deep waterway, to be transhipped from the L. S. T. s which we are trying to use to the ships which will take it to foreign countries. In Burma, where they had a rice harvest before the war approximating to 6,250,000 tons, the total is down to 3,000,000 tons. Burma assures us that she cannot export any more rice to India.

The claims on rice, of course, come not only from India; there are Borneo, Malaya, Hong Kong, Siam, the Philippines, Porto Rico, Cuba—one could go on, there is a whole list of countries. South Africa also is another claimant. Yet despite this shortage, I was successful in getting an allocation of 145,000, and possibly 150,000, tons of rice for India. I was successful in maintaining 90,000 tons of rice for Ceylon, where for four years the people have been living on 4½lb. of cereals weekly. For Malaya and Hong Kong we got the best possible allocation that we could.

Sir A. Salter


Sir B. Smith

Would the right hon. Gentleman please allow me to continue—

Sir A. Salter

It is reported that the Indian representatives who visited America said that they had been granted about 60 per cent, of their requests. Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether that is true?

Sir B. Smith

The claim of the Indians was for 2,000,000 tons for the first half-year. I was successful in getting within 5,000 tons of an allocation of 1,550,000 tons. The Indian delegation, although dissatisfied, nevertheless went out of their way to pass a vote of thanks for the work I had done. but of course I have not done enough. That was repeated here in London at the Food Council this week.

Sir A. Salter

I think the right hon. Gentleman gave the wrong figure by mistake before.

Mr. Nicholson


Hon. Members


Mr. Nicholson

I was promised a reply—

Sir B. Smith

I cannot give way. South Africa—

Mr. Nicholson


Mr. Deputy - Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

I think it is only fair that the Minister should be allowed to continue his speech without these interruptions.

Mr. Nicholson

I was promised this answer in the course of the Debate. I am not attempting to be rude to the Minister, I just want to get an answer.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Minister should he afforded an opportunity of giving that reply.

Sir B. Smith

As I was saying, we did get the best possible allocation for India and the various Colonies in the Pacific. With regard to the allocation of wheat in general, it will be known that it has been agreed that, because of the short supply of wheat, in the enemy occupied territories there is to be a uniform system of rationing. I hope it will be agreed quite shortly, and it will be based, as I understand at the moment, on a minimum of 1,000 calories per day. I am sorry, but the House must go with me along this road. In a world of deficit one must give the fairest possible allocation, especially to our friends, but of course nobody would ever dream that I, through sheer malice or spite, would keep a German or any other person short of reasonable food if we could only get that food. [An HON. MEMBER: "Incompetence."] We shall perhaps deal with that at the end of my speech.

As we say in the White Paper, on the whole we got a fair allocation. When I left Washington on the last occasion, having had discussions with the President and with the Secretary for Agriculture, Mr. Clinton Anderson, I impressed upon them the necessity for increasing their extraction rate from 72 per cent. to some higher figure. To their credit they, immediately on my leaving, increased the extraction rate to 80 per cent. They also issued what I call the "39 Articles "—39 different methods of saving cereals which, if successful in reducing the amount of food grain eaten in America, will save approximately 2,000,000 tons in the 120 days for which it is being imposed. One can only hope it will be successful, and if it is successful, then that 2,000,000 tons will reduce the deficit by exactly that much.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

Why does the right hon. Gentleman not answer the question? It is fundamental. It would have saved time if it had been answered. The question I asked was whether, when he was at Washington, he got a specific promise to achieve this or merely an expression of a pious hope? It would have altered the price structure. Did he get any promise on that?

Sir B. Smith

America is a sovereign country. It is not my business to ask America to increase the price of wheat in America. What I did do, however, was to get an allocation. Please do not let the House be misled. That allocation is agreed. It then goes to the Exporters' Committee, who have to find the ships, and ultimately, I hope, get it to its destination. There was one outstanding point. Because of the difficulty of reconciling the final figures, I think, to something like 500,000 tons—please do not hold me down to a ton or two on that —the Combined Food Board will meet at the end of this month to go into the question of what savings there are, and how best that small deficit in America can be wiped out. If this economy campaign is successful, if they do achieve the saving of 2,000,000 tons that they are hoping to achieve, the deficit will be lowered by that amount. In other words, instead of getting from America alone 5,500,000 tons we shall be getting something like 7,000,000 tons. That is hypothetical. I hope the cut in the consumption of bread grain will be successful. So when I say in the White Paper that we are more or less satisfied, that is exactly what I mean, and I mean no more than that and no less than that. We had to cut the ration or the allocation for every country in the world.

One change that took place between my visit and my report to this House after my first visit to Washington was that two Ministers flew over from South Africa—I reported it to the House at the time—saying they would have no wheat at the end of the month. I immediately diverted 10,000 tons to South Africa. On top of that, their demand—I speak from memory—for something like 50,00o tons in January, had risen to 230,000 tons through the complete failure of the wheat crop in South Africa. What is so much worse, not only has the crop been lost but the rains have not come, and they are not in a condition to plant for the next harvest. I was successful in getting —I am challenging my memory on this—for South Africa 170,000 tons out of their demand for 230,000 tons. That is another reason for saying that we are fairly satisfied with the result. So I think that it is a fair statement that the result of that visit, on the whole, was much better for the countries of the world that have suffered so much as a result of droughts and various.other difficulties.

Another factor is this, that the number of claimant countries today is so much greater. The Government stated in the White Paper that Europe before the war was yielding 60,000,000 tons. That was down to just over 30,000,000 tons last year. That means that all the countries of Europe, at any rate, from Poland westwards—are now claimant countries. India was never a claimant country, but because she lost her rice by a tidal wave, and through the failure of the monsoon lost her wheat in the Punjab, she has just become a claimant country. A surplus existed in the world in 1944, and it was a large surplus, 174 million bushels of which were fed to cattle in the United States of America. I think I am right in saying that something in the order of approximately 184 million bushels were used in the conduct of the war for making industrial alcohol. It does not take long, in talking in these stupendous figures, for surpluses to become deficits quickly. Those are the facts.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport asks why we do not discuss the prices. Does he know the prices at this moment? We are paying one dollar 55 cents., over double the prewar price, to Canada. Here let me pay Canada a great tribute. She could have exploited this market or any other market in the world. But because she is with us she has maintained that figure at one dollar 55 cents. I turn to the United States of America. The wheat price there is one dollar 84 cents. a bushel. Think in the terms of the millions of bushels I am taking from Canada, and work it out at 29 cents. saved on each bushel, and see what a saving we are getting from Canada. I think it is a great tribute to our Canadian relatives that they have held the price where it is. Nevertheless, it is a price that ought to get wheat out of the ground. The House must know this, that the more wheat you determine to take for human consumption the less wheat will go to animal feeding, and the result will be less eggs, less bacon, less cheese, less meat. That cannot be denied. It is all part of a vicious circle. That is why I am looking ahead and saying the things I have said in the White Paper. On the whole, I think, the House will agree that I, on behalf of the Government, did make a fair contribution to the world situation.

I have not a word of complaint to America as to their desire to help. I ask the House to visualise this. To be successful in getting 6,000,000 tons out of the United States of America we have got to ship over 1,000,000 tons a month to get it out. If the Exporters' Committee are successful in allocating and getting the sources of supply, if the internal transport is efficient enough to get the wheat down to the docks and into the ships themselves, I doubt whether India would be able to absorb through her ports the 1,400,000 tons of wheat I was able to get allocated to her. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport, by ignoring the essential parts of the White Paper, endeavoured to argue that this Government attributed the present shortage of surplus to droughts. He knows much better than that. He does not want me to tell him. If he had only read the White Paper in a constructive and not in a critical way he would have seen that large quantities of grain had been fed to animals, and that we have more claimant countries. But I do not mind. I do not blame him. The duty of the Opposition is to oppose. Whether that is the right way or not, I leave to his judgment.

He argued also that the wheat crop does not vary from year to year, but that the shortages in one part of the world are offset by surpluses in another. That is very good prewar economics, but I beg the House to believe that lots of things have intervened to check that. War devastation of countries, lack of transport, and lack of internal transport, and all those other factors have entered into the problem. It is not only the droughts which have had their effect, but all these other factors have had their effect upon the movement of wheat—getting the seed down, getting petrol to run the tractors in war-devastated countries, finding horses to plough and food for the horses, and, finally, having to use the hand-plough and drag it through the furrow. All these things have militated against the right hon. Gentleman's prewar conception.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

The right hon. Gentleman did not say that in the White Paper.

Sir B. Smith

The fact remains that the crops in the four main exporting countries fluctuated from a maximum of 51½ million tons, in 1942–43, to 40,000,000 tons, in 1943–44. The right hon. Gentleman has also completely ignored the enormous decline in European production. It is idle to compare the postwar wheat harvests with prewar harvests. The essential part of the problem is human need. Europe is in desperate need for food The Far East has suffered from an acute shortage of rice, including China and Japan. Japan is claimant for upwards of one million tons, and that demand has come from the military representative as a demand upon America. China is asking for rice, wheat or flour. All the countries which are failing to get rice because of devastated conditions, the Pacific Islands included, say, "If we cannot get rice give us wheat." These are all claimants on the stocks of the world. I have dealt with the price of wheat. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that one can wander around the world picking up wheat wherever it is. I have dealt at some length with the Combined Food Board who deal with allocating but not with procurement. Had it not been for that body, dealing with wheat rice and other things in short supply then the right hon. Gentleman would have had the greatest joy in his life, because prices would have risen and inflation would have followed. Would he not have had great joy in pointing to this Government, saying, "You are responsible for this inflation "?

The right hon. Gentleman had two solutions for the problem. He suggested that we should persuade America to reduce feeding grain to animals. I have done my best, and the Government have done their best, on more than one occasion. The Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, has cabled to his opposite numbers in all the main exporting countries of the world trying to get them to cut down the feeding of grain to animals. I am not sure whether it was the right hon. Gentleman who said in the course of the discussion that the Argentine were not burning cereals, but, if so, I can assure him that they are. I met an ex-civil servant, a chairman of the railways in the Argentine, three weeks before I left for Washington. He is now in the Argentine. He has oil and he is hoping to get coal from South Africa by direct purchase. He told me that it breaks one's heart to see mountains of wheat and maize outside frigerificos and electrical undertakings being burned daily with the world dying for the need of grain. Those were his words.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

I have checked up on this today. I had a telegram sent from the Argentine I am told that they have the oil and coal and that they stopped burning a month ago, and all the new crop is now available.

Sir B. Smith

All I am saying is that at that time they were burning it. I am trying to get the wheat and other cereals out of the Argentine. With regard to maize, South Africa, which seldom imported this commodity, are now a claimant on the world's supply to the extent of no less than 700,000 tons. Never before has that demand been made. She is shipping coal against the maize. They are taking approximately 25 per cent. of the shipment, and I am taking approximately the same amount. I cannot take more than my allocation under the Combined Food Board. With regard to Russia, it was decided in Washington that U. N. R. R. A. should appeal to the Soviet Union to allow them to buy wheat. Already I understand that the Soviet Union have agreed to sell to France 400,000 tons of wheat and 100,000 tons of barley. Immediately that became known, we excluded France to the equivalent value of half a million tons of cereals, and added the amount to claimant countries.

The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the fat position. It is one of the great difficulties, when cereals are in short supply, that other people hold on to any foodstuffs they have. What is the result? In India the allocation of groundnuts for this country is 600,000 tons. I had tentatively bought something like 570,000 tons. I have shipped 200,000 tons, and there is now a complete embargo on Indian groundnuts and rape seed, and they are discussing placing an embargo upon linseed. That is the position so far as India is concerned. In West Africa there is a fairly good crop, and we are doing our best to lift it. Mention has been made of the whaling industry. It is all very well to say that we did not do this and that we did not do that, but the fact remains that the moment the war ended every effort was made, and by the Coalition Government I may say, to get the ships out to the whaling stations. We got them out to the stations, but, as I have already reported to the House, we have had a very poor catch. We have decided to fish beyond 24th March, and I can only hope that they will continue until May, which will be the latest possible date owing to weather conditions.

The whaling position is not good. We estimate that by extending the period we may get 5o per cent. of what we had in prewar days. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are for ever telling me what a clever gentleman my predecessor, Lord Woolton, was. Just think of it, he started this war with four years' supply of whale oil. He was using whale oil to the extent of 4,000 tons a week. I cannot use whale oil to the extent of 2,000 tons a week. Right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite must know that at the time when Lord Woolton was the reigning—one almost said deity, having regard to the love and affection displayed towards him by hon. Gentlemen opposite in this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "And by the country."]—he did have the food supplies. He had all the exportable surplus of food from America, and from other countries. The only difficulty which he had to deal with was the shortage of ships. That was got over valiantly, I think, by the shipyard workers of this country. The facts are that he did not have to buy a pennyworth of food; it all came over on Lend-Lease. With the end of the Japanese war, Lend-Lease ceased altogether. It became dollars immediately. The more countries that were liberated, and the more countries that were defeated, the more claimants there were on the total supplies of the food of the world. You cannot run away from these facts. It is idle for the right hon. Gentleman, or any of his friends, to say that he is comparing like with like. They are two distinct problems. His was an easy one; mine is a difficult one.

Sir A. Salter

The submarine was a very heavy factor in the balance.

Sir B. Smith

I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman thought it necessary to interject that. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport also predicted a catastrophic fall in the milk supplies of this country. As a matter of fact the milk supplies are quite as good as, if not a little better than, they were last year.

Mr. R. S. Hudson

I did not say that. It was the Parliamentary Secretary who said that.

Sir B. Smith

Even though the supply of feeding stuffs will have to be reduced, the Government are quite satisfied that we shall maintain the milk supply of the country.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the export of herring to Europe. We will be able, during 1946, to send 500,000 barrels of herrings abroad. I know that that is nothing like equal to the 800,000 to 1,000,000 barrels before the war. He was complaining that we were not doing enough with our trawlers or with the fish supplies of this country, Yet, on the whole, we are releasing every month—I think I am correct in saying—20 trawlers as they come off mine sweeping. As quickly as they can be repaired, they are going into service, with the result that I am already lifting licences, at least temporarily, to allow fish to be more widely distributed. We shall take every possible advantage, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, of getting all the exports of herring that we can possibly get.

The hon. Member for Cathcart (Mr. John Henderson) dealt with the very interesting subject of eggs. That problem is now becoming one of stating which claim should come first—the shell eggs or the dried eggs. He referred to my statement that I expected to distribute 40 shell eggs to each consumer by the end of May. That was based on the best estimate I could make. I did my best to get the facts of the situation. As far as I can see, it will exceed 30 That is no fault of mine. I am not a chicken and I do not lay eggs. [An HON. MEMBER: "Chickens do not lay eggs."] With regard to the storage of eggs, my problem is that we have to consume the eggs as they come along. They are issued as they come in. We try our best to keep the allocation up to about the figure I mentioned. I doubt if we shall quite achieve that, but, nevertheless, by the time that period has arrived the dried eggs will be in this country as a substitute once more. The hon. Member also talked of the rations for heavy workers. Of course, he ignored the fact that for every undertaking or business which employs 250 or more, there are extra rations in the canteen. They are based on 1½d. worth of meat and they are additions to the ordinary ration. In those canteens the workers can get sugar for their meals and they can get fats and all that in addition to the rations.

He also asked whether I am endeavouring to obtain supplies of food from other sources. I beg him to believe me when I say, if I can quote an old colleague of mine in this House, that I am leaving no stone unturned. One of my representatives is travelling Europe and it is a sad story he has to tell. The hon. Member will know we imported from various countries in Europe something like 70,000 tons of bacon a year excluding Denmark. Those sources have completely gone from us. We imported millions of dozens of eggs from Rumania and countries like that. That source has completely gone from us, and nothing I can do can bring these sources back at the moment.

The hon. Member also mentioned Denmark and stated he had a letter which said that it was shameful. At the very least he might have been kind enough to say what the cause of the shame was and what was the reason for it. I am buying from Denmark all I can possibly get out of that country. I cannot do more than offer to take from them the whole of their exportable surplus of butter, eggs and bacon, but please understand that every time I get 10,000 tons of butter from Denmark it is part of my allocation from the Combined Food Board, and the only addition that I get is what comes in addition to the common pool as a whole. I have already dealt with the hon. Member's suggestion of carrying eggs. He will know most of the spring eggs are in storage in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. They are shipped by refrigerated tonnage to this country. They are not re-stored here, but they are immediately distributed to the public.

Here I would like to say that when one reads those marvellous captions in the newspapers that 34,000,000 eggs have arrived in this country—the largest consignment that ever came from Canada—it is perfectly true but what does it work out at? Three quarters of an egg per head of the population. The tremendous figures that are put about are misleading. I particularly welcomed the speech of the Member who spoke about the F. A. O., which, I believe, has, potentially, a great opportunity in the world. Speaking for this side of the House, I want to say that we shall offer every possible facility to assist him in the work he is doing.

The hon. Member for Ealing (Sir F. Sanderson) gave me a lot of figures about oils and fats. I want to assure him that I knew them already. I had occasion to meet Dutch representatives this week, and they told me that before the war they exported 220,000 tons of palm oil, and 570,000 tons of copra. None of that is coming into the world today. They say, "We do not want money; we want consumer goods." Well, the world wants consumer goods. It is not a question of only this country or that. Before the war, I was assured, the Dutch East Indies imported 670,000,000 yards of textiles. Today, all that is in sight is 4,000,000 yards. Nobody can be blamed for that position; it is one of the repercussions of the war. I am doing my best to get oil from the Dutch, sugar from Java, herring oil from Iceland, herring oil and whale oil from Norway, and all the lard and fats I can get to make up my allocation from the United States—

Sir F. Sanderson

What about Egypt and Brazil?

Sir B. Smith

The right hon. Gentle-in, in the Senior Burgess for Oxford University returned to his pet subject, the revelation of stocks. Unless specifically ordered, I do not propose to give figures of individual commodities in this country. But I will say this, that at the end of December, 1944, our stocks stood at 6,221,000 tons, arid that by the end of last year they had fallen to approximately 4,821,000 tons. The best estimate I can make of the present position is 3,940,000 tons.

Sir A. Salter

What I was asking was—

Sir B. Smith

I cannot give way now, because time is short, and I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to blame me for not answering points which have been raised. Between 50 and 60 per cent. of this total is made up of wheat, flour, coarse grain, and animal feedingstuffs. The comparative figures I have given of the Ministry's owned and controlled stocks of food and feedingstuffs do not, however, include stocks on farms. They do not include stocks held by secondary wholesalers, and certain manufacturers. Everyone knows that these stocks are moving all the time, that they have to be kept up from my stocks. I have given the right hon. Gentleman the large figure, but there is that addition to it. The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) asked me about refrigerated tonnage, and assured me. through an American friend, that I could take all the refrigerated tonnage I needed—

Sir D. Robertson

I never said "friend." I said a top ranking official in Europe, Eisenhower's righthand man.

Sir B. Smith

I accept that, but I want to assure the hon. Member that I cannot hire those ships. It is all a question of dollars. It is all a question of dollars, and that goes also for a good deal of dry goods tonnage. The Americans, of course, would be glad to let us have them on their terms, but until this Government has the exchange with which to meet those demands it is futile to ask me or anybody else to hire the ships. I need them, for with their help I could lift the whole of the exportable surplus of the Argentine, of Australia and of New Zealand, and could collect the 40,000 tons of apples I have bought.

It is almost a quarter past nine and my time is up. All I can say to the House is that I have done my best to reply to the questions. [Interruption.] No party has a right to call this Government to account or to spread despondency throughout the country as a whole. After all, whether we be Opposition or Government, we are the people of this country. We have to serve the people, and I think we on this side should have the commendation of the Opposition for our work.

It being a quarter past Nine o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.