§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Eccles
I was referring to a practical, as opposed to a Socialist set of priorities—food, work and homes. I was saying that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford with great prescience put food first. What emerges from this present crisis is that this Government have never given food a high priority at all. It is very curious that the 584 Chancellor of the Exchequer should have tolerated so expensive an error. Years ago when I did my best to look up to the right hon. Gentleman he seemed to me to be a most able economist. I would, therefore, have expected him to draw the right conclusions from three salient features of our postwar economy.
First, we are a debtor nation on a colossal scale; secondly, as all the experts told as away back in the summer, the world is in for a food famine for several years; and thirdly, in a period of full employment, the dirty jobs like farming only get done if the pay and conditions of masters and men are more or less on a level with other industries. These are obvious facts but they do not seem to have had any effect upon the Chancellor. He does not seem to have been stirred either by a desire to save foreign exchange, or by a desire to make the maximum contribution from these islands to the food situation in Europe and Asia, or by a desire to put the finances of British agriculture upon a healthy basis.
These are all serious criticisms but I hope to show the House they are all equally valid. I must begin by asking the Chancellor a question about imports. Obviously, if we could easily obtain more food from abroad it would be wrong to divert exceptional resources to increasing the production of food at home. During the war the Coalition Government kept the United Kingdom import programme under continual review. When I was a servant of the then Minister of Production, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), I had a hand in framing the import programme. I well remember that Lord Woolton's minimum demands for food had absolute priority over everything else. Raw materials and munitions, which were the concern of my Minister, had to wait their turn. Food came first. Now, I want the Chancellor to tell us what sort of import programme has been worked out for 1946 and, inside that programme, what priority has been given to food.
§ Major Poole
How does the hon. Gentleman substantiate his statement that food was of a higher priority than munitions, when men were recruited from the land to work in munition factories and mines?
§ Mr. Eccles
The hon. and gallant Gentleman perhaps did not follow me. 1 was talking about the import programme of the United Kingdom. Shipping being short, we had to allocate the tonnage available. One cannot allocate anything which is short without a system of priority. The minimum demands of food came before anything else. [Interruption.] But I am not talking about production. Has food the same priority now in the import programme which it had during the war? This is a very proper question to ask the Chancellor, because, as the House well knows, the limiting factor on the total amount of the United Kingdom imports today is no longer shipping but foreign exchange. The Treasury are now the masters of the import programme.
We must know the answer to this question in order to see upon which horn of the dilemma the Chancellor is hooked. This is the dilemma. If the right hon. Gentleman tells us that food has not the highest priority inside the import programme and that if he so chose to use his foreign exchange resources, we could have bought more food, then why has he gone on importing the same quantities of tobacco, films and other articles which are secondary to the health of the people? If, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman says food has the very highest priority and not for love or money can we secure any more, then he must tell us why the Government have done nothing, absolutely nothing, all through the autumn to stimulate food production at home. There will not be much argument that the Government have failed in their duty in not stimulating British agriculture. It is a more difficult matter to decide whether films and tobacco should give way to additional food from the United States of America.
Here again the Treasury are the villains of the piece. The right hon. Gentleman will have been advised that the vast sums which the British public spend upon films and tobacco, and, I may add, upon beer, are twice blessed: first, they bring in a lot of revenue; second, they mop up huge amounts of purchasing power against a comparatively small expenditure. of labour. These three taxes, films, tobacco and beer, are the three pin-up girls of the Board of Inland Revenue. The Commissioners dote on them. They will not have a word said against them. We are now in 586 a state of emergency. With the American credit hanging in the balance, is the Chancellor right to forswear any considerable saving in foreign exchange simply because he has not got a ready made alternative for gathering in the taxes or for keeping inflation at bay?
Is he right to put tax-gathering ahead of the health of the people? Of course, the right hon. Gentleman has also been advised that the difficulties of rationing tobacco, films and beer are beyond solution. We have heard that sort of advice before. The tired and overworked civil servants are quite right to use that as the opening gambit upon their Minister, but is the House right to tolerate administrative convenience at the expense of the people's food? Because that is what is happening, and on that we must have a clear answer from the Chancellor.
I turn to the production of food at home. This Government have done nothing serious to stimulate food production since they came into office. Other hon. Members will go into further details on this point. We, on this side of the House, have continually told the Government that if they did not make an all-; out drive for rural housing, which they have not done, if they did not look urgently at village amenities, which they have not done, if they did not restore the wheat payments,which we asked them to do and which they have not done, and, above all, if they did not settle the labour crisis on the land, not only would our farms not produce the same amount of food as last year but production would sharply decline.
For 100 years, the towns of this country have looked to the fields for a new supply of labour. Now, suddenly, in 1946, the position is exactly reversed. Unless the fields can attract from the towns sufficient workers, nothing can stop a decline in the production of British food. I have told the House more than once that agriculture is in a unique position. It is the only great industry which has to expect that, as demobilisation proceeds, its labour force will be reduced. The prisoners of war and the Women's Land Army will go, and the men coming out of the Forces will not make good the loss. That has been common knowledge for months, but the Government have done nothing at all about it until last week, when, at our request, they cancelled the 587 call-up of the 8,000 young men. All through last autumn we pressed the Minister to widen Class B releases to agriculture. These releases were confined to an absurdly narrow range of specialists. In spite of all the efforts of the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut. -Colonel Corbett) and others, at the end of January, only a fortnight ago, only 1,200 men had been released to agriculture under Class B. Let the House compare this figure of 1,200 with the number released to the building industry. I ask the House to consider why there should be a scheme, which we heard about today, for miners to come out of the Forces at once if they are willing to go back into the pits? Why is there no such scheme for agriculture? Is food in the stomach any less needed than coal in the scuttle?
Right hon. Gentlemen opposite hardly ever give us any facts or figures of importance, and I venture to tell the House what is the position in regard to men in the Services who before they joined up were registered as workers on the land. All through the war,the number of farmers and farm workers in the Services was about 120,000. There are in the Forces today about 90,000, and, if the present demobilisation time-table is adhered to, there will still be, at the end of June next, well over 40,000 farmers and farm workers in the Forces. That is a disgraceful fact. Ministers have no right to go on the wireless in the evening and make high moral appeals to the people to make sacrifices when their own Government are doing nothing to produce more food. It simply does not square to ask the housewife and her family to go on tightening their belts while the common sense remedies for the situation in our own agriculture have not been tried.
One more point about wheat, and I put it now because it has something to do with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am certain that, knowing, as the Ministers of Food and Agriculture did, that the cereal situation was getting worse all over the world, they must have pressed the Cabinet to restore the wheat subsidy from£2 to£4 and that the Chancellor must have turned it down. In February last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), who was then Minister of Agriculture, made a bargain with the farmers. On his side, he took off the cropping directions; on 588 their side, they accepted a 50 per cent. cut in the wheat payment. The result of that bargain was that, last autumn, very much less wheat was sown than previously, and—and this is the important point—farmers put into operation long-term plans to turn back from cereals to livestock and dairy production. The Minister of Food said that the decision of my right hon. Friend was right when he made it.
§ Mr. Eccles
Yes, but I would remind the right hon.Gentleman that we, on this side, as soon as the House reassembled after the Summer Recess, knew that his decision, in the changed circumstances, was wrong, although we never had the information which the right hon. Gentleman had, and we frequently said so.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he and his friends, as long ago as the first assembling of this Parliament, in the changed circumstances, would have restored that subsidy, and, if so, do they still claim that they were kept in the dark?
§ Mr. Eccles
My right hon. Friend the Member for Southport. If the Minister will read Hansard for 2nd November, 1945, he will find it in the Debate on the Adjournment. We are now asked, in February, 1946, and I speak for the farmers, to plough up as much as we can. The point I would put to the Minister is this. If a farmer ploughs up now, he is not just going to make a loss, if there is a loss, on the spring cereals crop; he is certain of interference with his long-term plan to turn back to livestock, which he put in hand as the result of a bargain with the former Minister of Agriculture. I have dwelt on this point because when, last Tuesday, I asked the Minister of Agriculture to restore the deficiency payments, he gave me a most unreasonable answer, and said that farmers should do 589 it out of loyalty. Would he go to any other industry and ask them to upset their plans and work longer for less pay? It is just possible that, if he were dealing with one large firm, the Minister could get hold of the managing director, and might make an arrangement whereby he adjusted his production programme, but nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that we are not dealing with one large firm, but with 200,000 farmers. He must use methods that are suited to such a wide range of temperaments and financial circumstances.
I have one further point to make to the Chancellor. When Lend-Lease stopped, the right hon Gentleman came to the House and made a most serious statement in which he said the food subsidies would have to go up by something like£100 million; he was not sure of the exact sum, but it was a very large sum of money. That was the red light Surely, any ordinary man at that time would have seen that his foreign exchange resources were going to be strained and would have pressed his colleagues to do something to stimulate food production at home? But nothing has been done. Here we are in a crisis of national and international proportions. The Government have failed in their duty; they have landed us in a predicament, and it will be difficult to get out of it because the time has gone by when we might have made satisfactory arrangements.
Hon. Members will agree that we must all do our best to help get the food. I can only speak for myself. I know my farmers and farm workers, and I think they will pay attention to what I say. I will go back to Wiltshire this weekend; I will ask them to plough up as much as they can and to cast on one side their long term plans. But upon one condition—the Government must swallow a large slice of the only food that will always be unrationed. Ministers must eat humble pie. They must admit the long catalogue of their errors and omissions. They must go all out for rural housing and village amenities. They must restore the wheat subsidy; they must settle the wages. issue on the basis of a fair minimum and rates substantially above that minimum for men of different skills. If they do that, I am certain, speaking for my own constituents, that the farmers, farm workers and their women folk will respond, and the Government will get the food. I hope they will 590 get more food from the Empire as well, and many more tons of dried egg, but I must tell right hon. Gentlemen opposite that, whatever they do, they will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty back on his wall, and they will not be able to reconstitute the right hon Gentleman the Minister of Food.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
I am amazed to hear, for the first time, the anxiety of hon. Members opposite at the food situation. I imagine that every black disaster that faces this country, through storm and hail, will be blamed on the advent of the Labour Government. The newspapers which represent hon. Members opposite have been telling us that it is impossible to exaggerate the disasters that are going to occur in this country because of the Labour Government. It may be impossible, but no one can deny that hon. Members opposite have been doing their best. War is usually followed by famine and pestilence. After the last war we had pestilence. We thought we might have it this time, but "it looks as if we are having famine instead. That is so unusual that no one could have expected it or predicted it. The harvests have always been plentiful. The people of this country have always known that the earth yielded up her increase, that bountiful Nature provided amply for the children of men, and the people of this country have always wondered why there was never sufficient food for their children. It was in 1840 that the great Carlyle said:Parliament will absolutely, and with whatever effect, have to uplift itself out of the deep rut of ' do nothing doctrine ' and learn to say something more edifying than ' laissez faire.' If Parliament cannot learn this what is to become of Parliament?Eight years after the passing of the Reform Act, Parliament went on the down grade for one hundred years—not merely laissez faire, but putting the screw on the working classes and depriving them of the means of life itself.
§ Mr. E.' P. Smith (Ashford)
If the hon. Lady would allow me to interrupt, may I ask her whether it is not a fact that food was cheaper in this country in the year 1900 than it had ever been? [HON. MEMBERS: "Wages were low."]
§ Mrs. Mann
I am probably the only person in this House who has had handed 591 to her by Parliament one shilling a week for each of her boys. After the last war we were told there would be homes for heroes. When my husband came home after the last war I had three sons. At that time we were getting 2S. for each of them; the unemployed were getting 2s. on which to bring up each of their children. I think in the Elizabethan period, 2s. was the amount for an illegitimate child. Nevertheless, the 2s. was considered too much by Parliament at that time. After the last war the harvests were plentiful. We sent our children to church and to Sunday school to sing the harvest thanksgiving hymn:Come, ye thankful people, come,All is safely garnered in.God our. Maker doth provideFor our wants to be supplied.Come, ye thankful people, come,Join this song of harvest home.What did we see? We saw the deliberate restriction schemes being imposed at home and abroad. We saw the Stevenston restriction scheme. We saw one restriction scheme after another. It made us wonder, and it made us doubt even if our religion was not wrong.I have been young and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken.But surely the righteous were forsaken when the mothers were given one shilling. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) says that his only concern is work, food and homes. In those days he was the Member for Dundee. When it was proposed to reduce the 2s. to Is., the people of Dundee wrote to him. There was no reply. They wrote again, but still there was no reply. They gathered together a deputation and came to Westminster to meet him, but he did not see them. How could we bring up the boys of El Alamein and the 51st Division on is. a week? Hon. Members opposite must surely be talking with their tongues in their cheeks today. I have often wondered how I should manage on my 26s. a week with three children. We could not afford it. Yet at the very time that Parliament so decreed we should have 26s. for a man, wife and three children, a White Russian refugee officer with a wife and three children was getting£3 14s. 4½d
I do not know how far housewives think the Minister is to blame. Personally, I. have every confidence that wherever food is to be found, the Minister will find it 592 and distribute it. I can recall the Minister reducing the fat ration a few months ago. There was no outcry about that He gave it back to us again. He lacked the Woolton technique. If he had studied the Woolton technique, he might have said to us, "My dears, it is wrong of me to withdraw dried egg, but I shall restore it and you must trust me. I am going to withdraw dried egg, but I shall give you shell eggs in its place." There is so much to be said for technique in approaching women. There is the man who, tiring of a woman and not wishing to keep on with the engagement, says to her: "I am tired of you, you bore me stiff, I do not want anything more to do with you." There is the other type who approaches her in. a different way and says: "My dear, I could never be worthy of you." It is just the same. It does not put a single packet of dried egg in the larder, and the women of this country know it. The women of this country are rather different now from what they were when Lord Woolton was handling them. I do wish hon. Members would realise that the days when a woman was expected to be "a ministering angel "have passed. They are not now dealing with women who, "in our hours of ease," are "uncertain, coy and hard to please." The days are changing and their mood is changing, and the Minister has to meet that situation.
§ Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury)
Could the hon. Lady indicate when these "hours of ease" to which she refers occur?
§ Mrs. Mann
I wish I could reply to that. So many people in this country said, "If we could only get over the bloodshed, we would not care if we went on half rations and starved ourselves." Let the women remember what they said when the bombs were falling. On the question of dried egg, Members have different opinions. Personally, I hate the stuff,. and those who buy it in restaurants must inevitably hate it because, cooked in bulk, it is very objectionable. But it is altogether wrong for my right hon. Friend to think that if he withdraws dried egg and gives us the 40 shell eggs he has equalised things. That is why I would like to take my right hon. Friend into my kitchen. With Is. 2d. worth of butcher meat, what are we to do? With dried egg we can make an omelette and chips. There is one meal a week. 593 No one would dream of putting shell eggs into a Yorkshire pudding, yet the. Yorkshire pudding helps the meat ration and makes it very attractive. That again requires dried egg. Stodgy puddings like semolina are greatly improved by the dried egg. We have to make dishes bright, attractive and imaginative, because so many people revolt at stodgy dishes. With lack of appetite, resistance to disease is lessened. Macaroni is in plentiful supply now, and with dried egg and grated cheese there is another meal. If fish is in short supply, and one is forced to take the less tempting variety of fish, it can be flaked with dried egg and flour and there is another meal.
My right hon. Friend told us that he was going to supply dried egg in bulk to the bakers. I often wonder if the. bakers ever put dried egg, or any other kind of egg, into the stuff they sell-the hard sawdusty things that are sold as pastry. Raisins, currants and sultanas are coming on the market, and with dried egg. the housewife has a whole armful of resources. My right hon. Friend also exaggerates the importance of containers, because I know that in my co-operative society, dried egg was on the counter in a 14I6. biscuit tin with a small scoop, and I could have eight ounces or only four ounces, just as I wanted. I am certain the housewife would be glad if my right hon. Friend could arrange for that.
I am going to waste bread. That is a dreadful statement to make, but I have to waste bread. I hate having to do it. I was brought up from infancy to realise that to throw away a crust was a wicked crime. Yet I have to waste bread because the bread arrives rough-handled. I do not know in whose hands it has been; generally it is dirty, and I have to slice off the dirt before I can use the bread. If my right hon. Friend could give us wrapped bread I could say sincerely that there would be no likelihood of it being wasted. Better still, if he could give us wrapped, sliced bread there would not be any likelihood of wastage, because so much is wasted by those who do not know how to slice bread properly. I have illustrated the variety that we can get into dull, wartime diet from dried egg.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)
Before the hon. Lady leaves her kitchen, may I ask whether she 594 has already forgotten the old diet which built up Scotland, of oatmeal, tatties and herbs?
§ Mrs. Mann
I would like to tell the hon. Gentleman we cannot even get oatmeal porridge, because we have not milk at our meal tables for the oatmeal. We are hoping to get a little extra milk which will enable us to put porridge on the menu again. If I had to choose between variety in diet and variety in films, I do not think there would be any hesitation on my part, or the part of the British housewives, as to the choice. I am really a film fan myself. I like to go at least once a week, if I can, to see good films. But in my constituency, the picture houses have to keep open six nights per week, and they have to provide variety. Here is some of the menu. Before I read it I would like to tell hon. Members there are grand people in my constituency, schoolteachers and others, who are very anxious that the youth shall be brought up to enjoy leisure as they ought. This is what the picture houses are serving up:Rollicking Civvy Street comic giving a series of crazy incidents pivotting on an ex-Home Guard father of quadruplets, who, notwithstanding his own staggering domestic responsibilities, successfully acts as match maker to the chequered love affair of his pompous boss's only son and a pretty evacuee.' Lady on a Train.' Gay, crime-comedy-melodrama, telling the adventures of a glamorous blonde addict who, after seeing a brutal murder, becomes a detective, and in face of stiff opposition apprehends the ruthless killer.I had better finish with this one:Psychological murder mystery, concerns. a subtle wife-killer in love with the younger sister of his wife, and to get her he disposes of his wife on their fifth wedding anniversary. Everything points to them being an ideally married couple and he remains unsuspected. There is an enthralling climax when, suspecting his own sanity, he goes back to the scene of the crime to make sure she is dead.[Laughter.] I cannot say I am amused that the children of my constituency should have that rubbish served up to them. If picture-house managers and cinema promoters have to fill in six nights, I think it would be much better if they handed over one night to some of the youth organisations, who could introduce our young people to good literature, starting with, say, the children from seven to ten years of age, introducing them to "Alice in Wonderland," Kingsley's "Water Babies," and as they get older, 595 if they want romance and adventure, what is wrong with Conrad, or Sir Walter Scott? I would prefer to see that than to see us sending money to America on the returns of this sort of thing. We ought to tell them to keep that sort of stuff, and to keep their boogie-woogie and let us have dried egg. I do not think the women of this country will object when the situation is presented to them. When they know the situation no one will stand by the nation more than the mothers. It is the mothers who have met this struggle all through these years when the harvests were plentiful and when the harvests have failed. I am quite certain they will respond now, and help the nation through again.
I would just add a word to my right hon. Friend. It may be better for him to adopt the cooing, dovelike notes of the radio doctor, or the technique of Lord Woolton—it will not make any difference which it is. We just do not like a left hook, or whatever it is an ex-boxer gives one. We do not like to be told, "As for dried egg, you have had it." That is not the way to woo the women of this country. I again emphasise that we have every faith in the right hon.Gentleman. We know it would not make a bit of difference how he said it, for his sincerity is not in doubt. I only think the technique might be altered. I am sure the women of this country will stand behind the Minister until we see this thing through.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)
In a serious situation, and sympathising, as all of us do, with the very real difficulties of the Government at this time, no one of us would wish to make any captious criticism. I can certainly assure the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), if I may refer to the earlier parts of her speech in which she made some reference to food, I do not propose to blame the Government for drought anywhere in the world any more than I propose to praise them for the absence, so far, of any serious world epidemic. Some hon. Members have particular points of criticism of the Government policy, and I shall have a few proposals to make myself in a few minutes. I think, however, that the main charge of the country, as of the Leader of the Opposition, against the Government is that they failed before last week to give adequate and early enough 596 information of the situation which was developing. It is mainly on that I wish to speak this evening.
I have listened with care to what the Minister of Food has just said, and I am bound to say that I do not think he has been able to give a sufficient answer to that charge. He said, in effect, three things. He said, "We have given 'warnings, and the intelligent public will have known that the situation was becoming grave for some months past." By diligently selecting from the past issues of HANSARD and, with the generous permission of the Chair, by delving into the records of another place, he was able to quote some cases in which he or his colleagues had indicated that there were bad features in the situation. True. But it is also true that a number of things were said and done over the same period that pointed rather in the opposite direction.
If we take the net result of all that Government representatives had said in the last four or five months, it is certainly true that the British Government have not led us to expect a situation such as was disclosed on Tuesday of last week. I have one comment. The Members of this House are not less intelligent than the public generally, but I would ask the House to recall the bewildered dismay with which we all heard the statement of the Minister of Food on Tuesday of last week. It is quite clear that this dismay was not confined to the back benches. It was obvious that the news had taken the Leader of the Opposition quite as much by surprise. It was obvious that it was not confined to people on this side of the House; the dismay of supporters of the Government was, if anything, even more obvious. Indeed, along the Treasury Bench itself, there were visible signs of disturbance. In fact, I would like to know how many days it was before even the Minister of Agriculture had been fully informed of what the Minister of Food was going to disclose. I spoke of the net result. of all the statements that have been made. Reference has already been made to the letter of the Prime Minister of 25th January— that is, after the Minister of Food had returned from Washington, where the whole world cereal situation had been reviewed. The "Observer "— not a paper which is normally unfriendly 597 to the Government— remarked on that letter that its general tenor was, "No more sacrifices by the British public. Perhaps some increase of rations." It really is not fair to say that the country as a whole, or this House, had had real warning of the grave degeneration in the situation that had been taking place for some time.
The second thing the Minister of Food said this afternoon was that he could not tell us more because he was buying in a sellers' market. That, really, will not quite do. He has, last week and this, given us some very serious figures about the position in regard to wheat—of which he is an important buyer. As to our stocks—the disclosure of which he has, until last week, consistently resisted—a global figure might have been given just as well some months ago. It would not have prejudiced his purchases of individual commodities, as indeed is proved by the fact that last Tuesday and Wednesday the figures for which we had long been asking were given, as the corresponding figures had been given by the late Prime Minister as far back as March, when we were still engaged in two wars. If the Government had only given us, month by month, information of precisely the kind which they have given in the last fortnight, the whole situation would have been immensely clarified and the public would have been less surprised.
The third thing the Minister did was to give a list of his recent difficulties. Here I must confess that he did recite a number of very unfortunate disasters for which he is not responsible. Indeed, the scene on Tuesday of last week, which has been to some extent re-enacted this evening, was astonishingly like the first chapter of the Book of Job. There was the good man in adversity, afflicted by an incredible succession of unmerited misfortunes. He was surrounded by his friends—true Job's comforters—who were obviously discouraged and, it seemed, rather obviously asking themselves whether Job was really quite such a good man as they had thought. He told us of the succession of messengers of woe, each treading on the heels of the other—and while he yet spake there came also another.He told us about droughts in North Africa and South Africa, droughts in the Argentine and Australia, miscalculations 598 of stocks in North America, bad weather in the South Pacific, monsoons and cyclones. All perfectly true. That was the picture presented to us as told in quick succession by the heralds of misfortune, just as in the case of Job. But were these disasters really so sudden, so simultaneous, so unpredictable, so unrelieved by any gleam of good fortune? I think not. Since last August the world has had pieces of good fortune, as well as bad. The early end of the war with Japan, and the consequent release of considerable resources; the discovery of unexpected stocks of sugar—
§ Sir A. Salter
The sugar to which 1 refer, which is considerable in quantity as the Minister knows, is in Java. There are at this moment difficulties about shipping it, but when it comes to a calculation of future world prospects, that sugar is properly countable. The world has had a rather exceptionally mild winter, which, in several ways, helps the food situation. And in the Autumn, America found that she had a good deal more meat supplies than she had earlier expected. She was able to make available for civilian consumption meat calculated officially at that time to be equivalent to something like 40 lbs. per head per annum more than the full peace-time consumption. Those were pieces of good fortune. Against them must, of course, be set the very real pieces of bad fortune which the Minister recounted to us. But neither the good fortune nor the bad came all in a lump. The truth is that there has been, for some time past, a deteriorating world food position. Why were we not told about it? Why was it not until the inescapable week of accounting came, when the hour of doom was struck—by Big Ben—that we were at last told what the real facts were? I think the Minister has shown that he does not quite understand what most of us mean when we say we want adequate information.
§ Sir A. Salter
It is not enough to give us occasional sentences in speeches, whether of gloom or of hope, either unsupported by facts, or supported by a few selected facts, and unrelated to any accessible body of information in which the whole position is fairly and compre- 599 hensively set out. The British public is not unintelligent; it knows that when a British Government—any British Government—publishes a White Paper summarising the main facts of a world position, it is authoritative and accurate within the limits of human error. Had we had a White Paper in which all the main facts were stated by which we could test and judge what has been said, it would have been most valuable. That is what we want, and that is what some of us, including myself, have been asking for for over four months. We have been persistently but vainly pressing the Government to publish a White Paper giving all the main facts of the world food situation.
§ Captain Francis Noel-Baker (Brentford and Chiswick)
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me? Supposing it had been possible to arrange for a weekly or daily situation report of the Ministry to be published, what practical effect would that have had on the food situation?
§ Sir A. Salter
I will come to that. I am saying that I and others have been, for four months, pressing that there should be a publication of such facts as the Government had, comprehensive and brought up to date as the situation developed. When I first asked for that I was told "No." Then I was told "I will reconsider it" Then, to cite only a few of the many procrastinations, I was told "The possibility is not excluded." Then I was told "Preparations are being made for consultation with other Governments." At last, only last week, when the hour of reckoning had come, were we promised the report of the Emergency European Economic Committee. Information did then begin to come in, but not until 4th February onwards. The hon. and gallant Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Captain F. Noel-Baker) asked me what practical effect it would have had. First, it would have prevented the British public from being shocked as they have been.
§ Sir A. Salter
I am about to answer the question already asked me by the hon. and gallant Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Captain Noel-Baker). The second effect it would have had 600 is that it would have revealed to America, the Dominions and the British public the gravity of the situation. The facts of the situation already grave ought to have been made available to the world, and had a White Paper been published they would have been made known through the hundreds of able journalists and broadcasters and commentators to the public of both hemispheres. Hon. Members have been told, and have been delighted to hear, what America is now doing, and the Dominions of Australia and Canada too. They know that President Truman has even talked of the reimposition of rationing, though it is much harder to reimpose rations than to retain existing ones. Is it not likely that if America had fully realised the position the American rationing would have been kept on longer with the important con-sequence in saving both meat and grain.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that all the information held back was the exclusive possession of the Government?
§ Sir A. Salter
No, Sir. What 1 am saying is that if action of that kind had been taken instead of merely sending private notes to the Dominion Governments and to the American Government, who had that information in their files, people everywhere would have better understood the situation that was developing. We in this part of the world are in a better position to provide such publicity than any other country, because of our central position and because of the reputation and prestige of British White Papers. That reputation has been maintained through every Government Administration. It is such that had we published fully and candidly the facts of the situation they would have been taken account of throughout the world. No one can state certainly, but I think it is extremely probable that international action of the kind now being taken might have been taken a good deal earlier with very great advantages to the whole world.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Devonport)
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the facts now made available, should have been made available at the time when America gave up rationing?
§ Sir A. Salter
The whole of the facts as they were known at the time. The situation was already grave before. All Governments and, perhaps, above all 601 the two great Anglo-Saxon Governments act more vigorously and quickly if they are acting in the environment of an interested and informed public opinion. Had the facts been published and known at the time to which I refer, although I do not say all the action that is being taken in the now graver situation would have been taken, I think there is a great probability that some measures would have been taken which would have made the position much easier. The right hon. Gentleman on Tuesday last made personal reference to myself which left certain hon. Members with the impression I had been asking him to reduce British rations—
§ Sir A. Salter
The right hon. Gentleman was speaking of suggestions about reducing British stocks for the sake of sending British supplies to Germany, and he mentioned my name in that connection. May I say, in the first place, that I have never spoken of sending supplies to Germany, as distinct from Europe as a whole? In the second place, and this is really the point to which I would direct his attention, I have never asked him ever to reduce British rations or to reduce stocks so as to endanger those rations. Indeed, I will say this categorically, if His Majesty's Government had accepted in full every proposal I have ever made, British supplies would not be less at this moment by a pound. I would ask the Minister to quote me any instance to 'he contrary. I have suggested that lorries should be sent from Army bases, but that would have helped Europe and not hurt us. I asked him, when it came to the question of increasing British rations, to consider the needs of Europe. Increase of rations, unhappily, is not the question now—
§ Mr. Speaker
How can the right hon. Gentleman answer if hon. Members on both sides will not allow him the opportunity?
§ Sir A. Salter
I have never asked that wheat or anything else should be sent to Germany at the expense of our rations or 602 at the expense of any danger to the stocks of this country.
§ Sir B. Smith
Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that he pressed upon me that I had much too great stocks in this country and that I could release wheat for Germany?
§ Sir A. Salter
No, Sir. On the contrary, after refraining from making any request—in this House, I went to the right hon. Gentleman afterwards and said to him in private—" I have refrained from asking you at this moment to draw from our stocks for this purpose because, as I well know, in the uncertainty and irregularity of our imports, you must have a larger margin than at normal times."
§ Sir B. Smith
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question? He came to my office with the late Miss Rathbone and said it there.
§ Sir A. Salter
No, Sir. I have no recollection of making any statement inconsistent with what I. have just said. I suggested that it might be possible to withdraw some supplies, without interfering with the' ordinary rationing system, from Army reserves. I asked him to try to get his colleagues to send some army lorries, and so on. I can quite specifically state that every time I have spoken in this House or elsewhere, I have said that I was against any reduction of British rations and any such reduction of our stocks as would endanger them.
1 am completely unconvinced by the reasons given by the Government for not publishing more fully and more candidly the information for which we have long asked I entirely agreed with the acting Leader of the Opposition when he referred to the well-known reluctance of Whitehall to give more information, as a possible basis for criticism, than they are obliged to. I have been acquainted with Whitehall for 40 years, sometimes as a civil servant and sometimes as a Minister, I know that there is this very natural disinclination to give information; I know that it is a recurring danger after a war, after a period of years when, obviously, information of vital public importance cannot be disclosed, and that it demands special efforts on the part of Parliament and Ministers to overcome habits and traditions of secrecy that grow at that time. I do not think that all Ministers have that habit of secrecy in the same 603 degree. I think that there is a difference between some and others.
It is a matter of great importance to us, as we go on from month to month and see all the things that we are not getting, to know whether, at least, we are going to have the facts about them. I said that there were differences. The Minister of Fuel is not getting his coal, but he is giving us the facts; the Minister of Health has, at least, promised to tell us about the houses he is not building; the President of the Board of Trade will, I am confident, tell us about the exports he is not getting—even with a certain relish. I do earnestly suggest that this is a matter of the utmost importance to this Parliament, not only in relation to food. The central treasure and main weapon of a free Parliament is its right to obtain information on everything of vital public interest of which no genuine public interest forbids disclosure. There are two things that would destroy this Parliament as surely as any Reichstag fire. One would be if Ministers came to believe that any reason or none for the policy they are pursuing, could be given to the House, because they have a disciplined and docile majority behind them. The other is that Parliament should ever relinquish this central principle, this fundamental right, to get information on anything of public interest except when public interest forbids. There have been some, if only occasional, signs recently of dangers in both those respects.
I well remember, when I was a young man, a colleague of mine writing a very reticent and rather evasive draft answer to a Question asked by a certain Captain Craig. A note which he wrote for a possible supplementary to the effect that there was more information but to give it might only stimulate Captain Craig to further inquiries was, through a clerical mistake, printed with the answer. Parliament was very much interested. The placards of London newspapers bore the words "Stimulating Captain Craig." I earnestly hope that if any. such danger recurs of the withholding of information, because it is likely to supply the ammunition that may be used against a Department, Parliament will be properly vigilant.
I come now to policy. There is little I have to suggest in the way of changes 604 in policy at this late hour, and I know the narrow limits in which any Government can move in a situation as grave as this, and in circumstances such as confront this country at the moment. There have been suggestions of one kind and another. On the larger issue, I do not regard it as to the discredit—I regard it as to the credit of this Government— of the three successive Governments—that British stocks were called upon to the extent of an average of about 200,000 tons a month, from March to December, very largely in Europe's and in the world's interest.
§ Sir A. Salter
I was taking the figures from two answers given last week. I agree with the Minister of Food that, in the present circumstances, with the uncertainties of finance, strikes and other difficulties, the present stocks, as given last week, are getting near the danger point. I do not dissent from that. I also congratulate the Government on taking every international means they can at this moment, such as bringing forward their resolution before U.N.O.; contemplating, as I think they do, a food conference, and on trying, in every way to see that every country with anything to spare is dealing with this not as a national problem, or British problem only, but as a world problem. I would say with great seriousness that I do sincerely trust that, grave as our position is, we shall not concentrate solely on the position in this country. We are facing scarcity; other countries in Europe and other parts of the world are facing not scarcity but starvation There are regions and industrial centres in Europe—Germany, Austria, Budapest, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Western Russia—where the food is hardly more than half ours at present, and where supplies, even to maintain that low level, are in danger. I trust that all the way through the anxious months immediately before us, that will not be forgotten.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that we should go back to the position he advised some months ago, and give some of our meagre rations for the people in Germany?
§ Sir A. Salter
What I have suggested is that I welcome the action of the British Government in joining with other countries in getting this treated as a world problem, so that the needs of other countries as well as our own will be considered.
I conclude with a few practical suggestions. I have already advocated that further allocation of food should be distributed in Europe by means of Army lorries. I believe that both in American and British camps there are lorries available, and in many of the worst regions transport is half the difficulty. I think the Government should go a little further in that direction and in searching military reserves. I know it has been done to some extent, and beyond this I will say no more at this moment. Next I was rather surprised that the Minister was so optimistic about fish. I think the present action is inadequate. But I believe that more fish could be obtained if priority is given not only in the release of more trawlers but reconditioning others, and to the manufacture of the apparatus that they require, such as nets.
§ Mr. Boothby
This is a most important point. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that the Government have stopped issuing permits for the purchase of nets?
§ Sir A. Salter
That reinforces what I am trying to say. 1 feel that more could be done by the Government in this respect. What could better compensate for the restricted supply of meat than an extra supply of fish? After six years of reduced fishing the seas around our coasts are teeming with fish. The men are available, given the physical facilities of trawlers and nets.
Next I am going to suggest that the Government should do everything they. can to encourage a greater importation of Continental fruit and vegetables. I am told that the importers of say tomatoes from the Canaries, are anxious to import more, and are prepared to take the risks involved in importing them and selling them within the retail price fixed by the Government. I do not know what it is that is causing the Government to restrict imports, but a very disturbing reflection occurred to me as I listened in this House on Monday to an hon. Member, a sup 606 porter of the Government, asking the Minister of Agriculture whether he would take careful account of the interests of the home producer in controlling the importation of market produce. I expected the Minister to say that whatever he would do for the home producer it would not be forcing up prices through scarcity, but what was the answer? It was that licences are required, and before they are given, there is a consultation between the Import Licensing Department and the Ministries of Food and Agriculture at which account is taken of the home producer before a licence is recommended.
In the past, members of the present Government and their supporters have bitterly accused the Members of the present Opposition of trying to cure a glut by creating a relative scarcity through restrictions. But is it not worse to aggravate a scarcity by doubling it? Why does the Minister of Agriculture think only of the interests of the home producer and not of those of the housewife? Does he think that prices are so dangerously low, that there is such a glut of food, that it is time for him to help the home producer by creating scarcity? I am surprised if he thinks anything of the sort.
The last among my immediate proposals is again to press for a White Paper of the kind I have been asking for for over four months. As I have spoken of that often before I will not press that suggestion further at the moment. I turn now to my final point.— [Hon. Members: "Lastly."]—I said lastly amongst my immediate proposals, but I am now looking beyond the immediate emergency. This winter emergency is still with us. During that emergency we shall have to do everything we can by whatever machinery already exists. But in time the winter will pass. Many will have died who need not have died, but the majority will still live and the problem of rebuilding the world is a problem not of months but of years. I again suggest, as I have often suggested before, with very considerable support, that there should be an improvement in the international machinery of planning publicity and co-ordination. A Supreme Economic Council, by which I mean a body more or less like the Combined Food Board in the countries composing it but with wider scope and greater 607 authority, should be brought into existence. The governments of the different countries of the world must not again be taken by surprise. If better arrangements are not made between now and next winter we shall again have a tragedy on a great scale which can still be prevented. I believe that if this Government and the other Governments mainly concerned, would improve their methods and their international machinery it will still be possible to shorten and reduce the human misery and the extra danger to world peace, that are otherwise inevitable.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) claims that the Government withhold information, but, as far as I have been able to observe since I have been in this House, that is inclined to be a habit with Governments. The Government of which the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was a Member withheld far more vital information from this country during the war, with the excuse that it was of military importance and must be kept secret. I continually sought information and the reply which I got was simply not true, because my right hon. Friend knows that the information I sought was not a war secret of vital importance and had nothing to do with the Army. I had every right to be given that information in public and not in private. That is a point which I may develop on another day. The right hon. Member for Oxford University disappointed me very greatly. I had hoped he would have developed much further the theme which he has so often developed in this House, sometimes supported by myself, on the food situation, particularly in Europe, but, apart from touching upon it, he did not impress the real facts of the situation upon the House.
I have listened, with some puzzlement, to practically every speech which has been made from the opposite side of the House. Members have complained that everything has been kept in the dark, and that there has not been sufficient information from the Government. Having said that, they went on to explain how they, individually, seemed to have many more facts than I ever knew, and were well informed on the 608 subject. The fact is that this has been another dishonest campaign of trying to discredit this Government. [Hon. Members: "No."] Certainly. Look at the Tory Press, and the ridiculous frame-ups which have been occurring in their columns every morning. I am not a person who suffers from no publicity. I have far too great a fan mail. The barometer of what is going on is revealed quickly in my post bag, and I can honestly say that except for half a dozen people, who write to me anonymously whenever anything happens, and blame it all on me, I have not had a single protest from anybody about the recent announcement of the Minister of Food. The whole campaign from the opposite side of the House is being made with the object of trying to create as much "stink" as possible.
§ Sir A. Salter
The hon. Gentleman has referred especially to me, and to a campaign from this side of the House. I suppose he refers to the campaign during the last nine days. He will do me the justice of remembering that not for the last nine days, but for the last four months, at least, I have been asking for information which I have not had, which the House has not had, and which the country has not had.
§ Mr. Stokes
Certainly, I will grant my right hon. Friend that; what is more, I supported him in asking for it, and it seems that we have had some of it today. But that is not what all the row is about in the Press. The arguments in the Press are based on quite different grounds, but I think the country has seen through them, and that the whole thing has gone off like a damp squib—
§ Colonel Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)
I would like to inform the hon. Member that it is not a damp squib, as he ought to know from housewives.
§ Mr. Stokes
It is a matter of opinion whether the squib is damp, dry or wet, but at any rate the whole thing has gone completely flat. I was astonished at my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University taking up the point of the Prime Minister's letter of 25th January. Both he and another Member tried to imply that into that letter could be read a promise that everybody would have better rations this year.
§ Mr. Stokes
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) not to go away.
§ Sir A. Salter
The Minister of Food said that Government warnings had been such that the country knew that the situation was very serious. On 25th January the impression made on the "Observer" was that there would, perhaps, be a little increase in the rations.
§ Mr. Stokes
All I can say to my right hon. Friend is that the acting Leader of the Opposition, opening the Debate today, referred to that same letter, and admitted that there was no right to read into it any promise of increased rations.
§ Mr. Stokes
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no right to read the implication I have just mentioned into that letter, but those behind him took the exact opposite view. That is a matter of opinion. As one of those who was responsible for causing the Prime Minister to make that statement, I can only say that, while we accepted it with some disappointment, none of us thought there would be any increase in rations, but only that there might be a different variety of food for the people. Great play was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, and another Member behind him, about the apparent representations they made to the Government about the importance of not calling up young men from the farms. I do not know whether they made representations or not, and I have not the slightest idea whether the Government took the action they did only because the right hon. Gentleman and his friends made representations. But I do think the Prime Minister acted with commendable promptitude in deferring those calling-up notices. Compare that with the representations made by some of us, in secret and in public, when we were in Opposition, to the then Prime Minister, that men 'should not be taken from the mines because it would lead us to disaster. Nothing at all was done then. If notice had been taken of our advice at 610 that time, the country would not have been in such a desperate position in regard to coal as it is today. I therefore congratulate the Government on the promptitude with which they acted in this matter. It is not often that I congratulate the Government about anything. I am particularly anxious not to take up more time than usual—
§ Mr. Stokes
There is at least some merit in being entertaining. The main reason why I rose was to point out that the whole of this campaign has really obscured the main issue, the main tragedy, which is in front of us. I refer to the situation outside this country. While we are thinking about ourselves I want to remind the House of the facts. A very important document was printed the other day, which came from the Emergency Economic Committee for Europe, and of which the Press took practically no notice. It was published an full in only one paper, the "Manchester Guardian," and trivially referred to in other newspapers, while all this "blah "was going on about dried egg. The report said that during the next six months or more 140,000,000 people in Europe would have a ration of a calorific value of less than 2,000 per day, that 100,000,000 people would have less than 1,500 calories, that there were groups of people who would have as few. as 800 calories, and that over 40,000,000 would have between 1,500 and 2,000 calories per day.
In my travels the other day I picked up a prisoner of war, a British officer who had been incarcerated in Germany for three and a half years. He said that he had had Red Cross parcels until the early days of 1945. Then the parcels failed to arrive, and his rations also failed to arrive to a considerable extent, and he told me that he reckoned that the calorific value of the food in his camp went as low as 1,500 per day. He said, "I got so weak that I went to bed, and stayed there until we were relieved later in the year by the entry of British Forces." I want to impress upon the House the situation which is facing 100,000,000 people at the present time, while we are squabbling about a bit of dried egg. That Committee's report went on to state that there are only four countries where the 611 calorific value of the daily ration will be above 2,500—Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The ration here, I believe, is of the order of 2,800 calories per day.
That is very nearly twice as much as 100,000,000 people in Europe have to survive on, and even the cuts in March will leave us better off than we were for six months after VE-Day. I have not heard any hon. Member opposite refer to the improvements that have been made. It is all very well to say that the cuts have horrified people; that is only because they have been presented the wrong way by the national Press. Nobody has mentioned the fact that suet is now obtainable on points, which makes a very considerable difference. Nobody has mentioned the increased milk ration, which gives more to adults earlier this year than last year. Nobody has referred to the fact that this crisis has at least brought us good bread and done down the millers' combine, which is most satisfactory.
§ Mr. Stokes
No; I mean that we have got back to where we were before the percentage extracted was reduced from 85 to 80. One day I would like to tell the House the story of how it was decreased from 85 to 80, quite contrary to the recommendations of all those who had anything to do with giving advice on nutrition to the Government. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) argued about conserving our dollar resources. I agree with him. I hope the Chancellor will take note of these remarks, because while they do not have any immediate bearing on the Debate, they have some bearing on the dollar exchange. The hon. Member talked about tobacco, a matter on which I have put questions to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I cannot understand why my right hon. Friend does not impose a restriction on the importation of American tobacco. I know his argument is that everybody likes the stuff the Americans send over here, but that is all a matter of education. No self-respecting American ever smokes a Virginian cigarette; he smokes a blended cigarette. America imports from Turkey something in the order of£10 million 612 worth of tobacco a year. No doubt they put some of it into their own tobacco and send it here, and we pay dollars for it. America never takes goods from us in any quantity worth speaking about. I have customers in Turkey who wish to buy machinery, and I cannot sell them machinery because they have no money. Why should not the Chancellor arrange this business in an orderly fashion so that we take£10 million worth of tobacco from Turkey and send Turkey£10 million worth of engineering supplies? Surely, that would be common sense. The Chancellor now has a magnificent opportunity, because we are now in the brave situation in which the country will take anything within reason, especially when people realise that it will be to our permanent good in establishing yet another important export market.
I wish the Minister of Food were here— it does not really matter. That remark was perhaps a little unfortunate. I see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food is present. I wish to refer to stocks, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University referred. I have been with him in pressing for knowledge of the figures. I should be most interested to know what stocks of food there were in this country on 31st December, 1938. We have been told that on 31st December, 1939, they were 3,000,000 tons. That was at a moment when we were expecting the war and the U-boat campaign, and our stocks had been presumably built up. On 31st December, 1945. the stocks had sunk from 6,000,000 tons, the figure on 25th March, 1945, to 4,200,000 tons, an amount still nearly 50 per cent.in excess of the stocks which we were holding at a time when we were expecting the war and the U-boat campaign. I would hazard a guess that in 1938 and before, the stocks were probably not more than 1,000,000 tons or 1,500,000 tons.
The probability is that we are now holding in the larder three times as much in reserve as we normally would in peacetime conditions. If that be so, I ask the Chancellor and the Parliamentary Secretary how in their own consciences they can justify hoarding this food when there are millions of people starving in Europe? There is no reason for it whatever. I understand the grain position. 1 am not speaking specifically of any particular type of food, but of the general stocks 613 which, the Prime Minister said, amount to 4,200,000 tons. 1 claim that we are holding in the larder nearly three times as much as we did in ordinary peacetime conditions. We have no right—and the British public, if they knew it, would not stand for it for one moment—to store that up against a rainy day when millions of our brothers and sisters across the' water are dying of hunger. I ask that that matter be looked into at once.
I hope that something more will be done to extend, and establish over a longer period ahead, the very fine work that is being done by U.N.R.R.A. all over Europe. That work is vital, and I do not think the House realises how insecure the whole of the U.N.R.R.A. organisation is. The funds will run out in about three months' time. The American contribution has not yet been re-voted to cover the period to the end of the year.
§ Mr. Stokes
Yes, I know, but I am ventilating this matter because it is important. Even so far as our bit is concerned, there is no certainty that U.N.R.R.A. will continue to function in Europe after 31st December of this year. From what I have seen, and I am sure from what every hon. Member who has been abroad has seen, it is obvious that the necessity for the work of U.N.R.R.A. in Europe will last for two or three years to come. It is impossible for the organisation to establish itself properly if it does not know how long it is to last and cannot plan ahead. I urge the Government to make the maximum possible representations to all the leading Governments concerned to put U.N.R.R.A. on a firm footing until at least the end of 1947, between now and which time we shall have an opportunity of looking round. U.N.R.R.A. is doing magnificent work and that work will be very greatly helped, and salvation brought into the hearts and lives of mil lions of people, if we ease the lock on our larder- door and let out some of the hoard of stuff which we are holding quite unnecessarily.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hare (Woodbridge)
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for calling on me in this most important Debate, and 614 I ask the House for its customary kindly indulgence to a Member about to undergo the ordeal of making a maiden speech. My only claim to fame, perhaps, is that geographically I surround the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). I would like to congratulate him on the fact that he is having no troubles in his constituency in the way of reactions as to what has happened in the present food crisis. Next door to his constituency there is considerable agitation on this subject.
I do not propose to express any opinion as to where the blame lies for our present grave food situation or to stress, as others have rightly done, the grave anxiety which the nation feels at the sudden and unexpected fashion in which these new hardships have been imposed upon it. This ugly situation is upon us, and whether we like it or not, we must accept it, and do our best to find constructive and practical ways out of it. I hope the Government will answer what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). We on this side are not approaching this matter in a partisan spirit. We are making a number of constructive suggestions, and I hope the Government will be prepared to accept these suggestions in the spirit in which they are offered, and take prompt action to make them effective.
Since the increase of food supplies from abroad must be, for some considerable. time, limited by the fact that supplies are scarce and our own financial position very adverse, I feel that the important thing we should do in this Debate is to satisfy ourselves that we are really taking all possible steps to produce the maximum amount of food that we can secure from the resources of these islands. The Prime Minister has called his new campaign "The Battle for Bread," and I consider that is a very fair and sound name. If that battle for bread is to be conducted efficiently it must be conducted with no less zeal than any military operation of the war. That means that higher priorities should be placed in the hands of the Ministries of Food and Agriculture than they possessed even perhaps during the war years.
I want to put four points to the House. Three of them have been touched on and will probably be developed further during the Debate. The fourth I shall dwell upon. 615 for rather longer. The success or failure of this drive for increased food production must depend ultimately upon the farmer. and one thing which I would stress is that the farmer is an individualist and very much of a human being He requires to be told what is needed of him and he needs considerable notice of what he has to produce. Anything more fatal than changing an agricultural policy halfway through a farming year, and expecting to get good results from a farming community, cannot be imagined. But that, I am afraid, is what has happened owing to the fact that the decision of the Government this autumn that extra wheat was not required has been followed, because of the grave situation which has come upon us so unexpectedly, by this last-minute, frantic appeal that the farmers throughout the country should grow as much wheat as possible. Secondly, it is obvious that if we wish to produce a particular commodity in agriculture, in greater quantities than other commodities, we must do what we can to make it attractive to grow that particular commodity. The failure of the Government to re-introduce the wheat subsidy of£4 an acre when they made this last recent appeal has, I think, been most unfortunate.
Thirdly, as the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) has said, anybody who has any connection with agriculture realises that the gravest threat to the industry is shortage of labour. Men are not coming back from the Forces in the numbers that we expected; new blood is not being recruited rapidly. There is a variety of reasons for that, but far and away the most important is that the countryside requires more modern cottages with modern amenities, and it requiries those cottages as quickly and as urgently as possible. I feel that one should acknowledge with appreciation the announcement that was made in another place that the Government are earmarking 4,000 building and engineering specialists for agricultural buildings. What I would like to ask the Government is whether they are prepared, at the same time, to release more building material, and to speed up the granting of the hundred and one licences which are necessary before any large-scale construction of country cottages can even begin. I am certain that if the Government really axe determined to ask for more food and to press 616 this food production campaign, they must take active steps to give the building of agricultural cottages considerable priority in their new housing programme.
Fourthly, and this is my main point, I want to ask the House whether it is satisfied that we are in fact making the maximum use of land that could be made available for food production. I think, if the question is examined even for a moment, that the answer is emphatically, "No." I maintain that there are thousands of acres of valuable agricultural land at the moment that are not being used for the purpose of growing food, and if the case I am making is borne out by the facts, I would appeal to the Government to make arrangements whereby the Ministry of Agriculture should be asked to absorb the large areas of surplus land that are at the moment held by the Ser-vice Ministries.
Let me take the War Office first. On 10th December last, the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for War, in answer to a Question which I put to him, stated that the War Office held some 5,000,000 acres of land for training purposes. Of that 5,000,000 acres, 1,000,000 was retained because of the presence on it of unexploded missiles, which had to be cleared before this land could be safely handed back for agricultural purposes. Another 1,000,000 acres was slowly being made available for release. The remaining 3,000,000 acres was being retained for current training purposes. The Secretary of State for War continued by saying that this figure of 3,000,000 acres, would be gradually reduced from time to time, as and when he was in a position to decide what the eventual training requirements of the new Army would be.
Here is a vast potential addition to the nation's agricultural holding, yet the process of handing over, despite the urgency of the limes, has been painfully slow, and perhaps the House will allow me to give one detailed example of the kind of thing that is happening. The Orford battle area in East Suffolk, which I happen to know well, was requisitioned in 1942. It consisted of 7,500 acres of land, over 70 per cent. of which was either in arable cultivation or under grass when taken over. It is typical of many similar areas throughout the country. From it, at very short notice, 480 men, women and children were evacuated. They were 617 evacuated from 150 habitable houses and, in passing, I would emphasise that those 150 habitable houses represent a very valuable housing asset today, especially when one reads that the London County Council, the greatest housing authority in these islands, has announced that up to the end of last week they have succeeded in producing only four new permanent houses since V.E. Day. Despite definite promises made to these good people by representatives of both the War Office and the Regional Commissioner that immediately the war was over they would be allowed to return to their homes, the War Office still retain the land, giving as their excuse the same reason given to me by the Secretary of State of War, namely, that the Government do not yet know what the final training requirements of the new Army are going to be.
I submit that such indecision in these urgent times of threatened starvation are indefensible, and I do not think that it can be upheld. I suggest that there are alternatives which can be easily gone into; that in this country there is sufficient moor and heath land that could be made available for Army training, and that provision for this could profitably be made at the expense of the grouse and stags which now inhabit these areas. In addition, in Germany, where our Occupation Forces must remain for some considerable time, large new training areas could be provided at no expense to the food production of this nation.
So much for the War Office. I now turn to the Air Ministry. I understand that that Ministry last year held 240,000 acres of land suitable for food production. This figure excluded all land on which buildings, perimeter tracks and runways have been constructed. At the end of November last year, out of these 240,000 acres, 40,000 acres, or one-sixth of the total, have been let for limited farming purposes, entirely for grazing. Since then, a further 25,000 acres, comprising 43 grass airfields and some 60 concrete runway aerodromes, may, I understand, be released for agricultural use. In other words, we shall see 65,000 of these 240,000 acres being farmed in some fashion by the summer of 1946. I suggest that the acreage which has been released is not adequate. We should remember that last year these Air Ministry holdings of agricultural land 618 were providing for the needs of our own Royal Air Force at the height of its striking strength. In addition to this; it was providing for thousands of United States' Air Force heavy bombers and fighters, which were based on this country. I submit that a far greater acreage could have been made available than is, in fact, now proposed. In addition, there are two hampering restrictions on the land which is handed over. I must worry the House for a few minutes by mentioning what these restrictions are. They apply to concrete-runwayed airfields. The first is that, if the airfield is let for grazing, it is the responsibility of the farmer who takes the grazing rights of the air-field to erect fencing to prevent any animal wandering on to any concreted or tarmac surface. The official mind has decided that manure is damaging to concreted or tarmac surfaces.
The effect "of the restriction, when worked out, is that about 15 miles of fencing would be required for an average airfield. Such a position is ridiculous. Owing to lack of labour and material the farmer cannot undertake such a task, and the result is that the maximum use is not being made of these airfields. [Laughter.] The Lord President of the Council may laugh, but this is a fact that I have discovered, and the figures are accurate. It is not a laughing matter. I would like to appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially those who have seen airfields in this country and overseas severely damaged by air attack. They will have seen gaping craters right across the runways, but yet with efficient organisation and hard work those airfields have been repaired overnight and made serviceable. The official mind ought not to allow the fact that cow dung corrodes concrete surfaces, to prevent the unfortunate British housewife being given more milk, beef and mutton.
The second restriction which applies to these large, runwayed airfields is that when the land is to be. ploughed a 75 yard interval must be left on each side of every runway, and a 75 foot gap must be left adjacent to every perimeter track or dispersal. The effect of that is that, when ploughing takes place, out of the total quantity of land which could be ploughed, a proportion varying from 90 to 50 per cent. is rendered completely sterile and is not used. The reason given is that top 619 soil, drainage difficulties and so on, make it necessary to impose a restriction, should the aerodrome need to be reclaimed at short notice for flying purposes. I am informed by responsible farming opinion that this is totally untrue. In actual fact, the majority of this type of airfield are probably better drained than the average agricultural holding.
I have tried, I am afraid very inexpertly and with far too much nervousness, to make one or two helpful points. I have tried also to show the Government that there are certain ways in which they could definitely help us now in this drive for more food. I have attempted to show that there is red tape and lack of direction in certain quarters which is holding up the maximum use of our agricultural land. It all boils down to the principle which my party is always trying to impress upon hon. Members on the Government side, that they should put first things first. I humbly submit that the status of the Ministries of Food and of Agriculture should be raised, in the Government's scheme of things. The Government have very great responsibility in this matter to the long-suffering and hard-pressed people of this country. They can do much to help, and I am sure that in any practical measures which they are prepared to take to that end they will receive the wholehearted co-operation of Members on this side of the House.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Byers (Dorset, Northern)
It is my very pleasant task to offer the congratulations of this House to the hon. and gallant Member for Woodbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Hare) upon the very excellent, able and constructive maiden speech which he has-just made. He referred to nervousness. I can assure him, as one who made his maiden speech nearly seven months ago, that if he suffers no more nervousness than he showed tonight, he will not have very much difficulty in the future. I do offer him the congratulations of this House on a most experienced, constructive and commanding speech.
Before he departed for dinner, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) referred to a dishonest campaign which had been carried on regarding the question of the world food shortage. I speak as a Liberal in this House, and I dissociate myself from 620 any such dishonest campaign, if indeed it exists; I am not sure that it does. We Liberals have the self-imposed task of attempting to take a balanced view of occurrences in the political field, and we will continue to do so. It is a very difficult job, but I think that hon. Members opposite will agree that we have carried out the pledge which we made at the beginning of this Session, that we would support the Government on all matters where we considered that they were working in the best interests of the community, and that where we criticised, our criticism would be constructive. I think that on the whole we have been friendly to the Government but I also feel that certain valid criticisms were made both by the Leader of the Opposition and by the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), which have not, in the main, been entirely refuted from the Government Bench. As far as the world is concerned, there is a food crisis, but as far as this country is concerned, there is more than that—there is, in our opinion, a crisis over the machinery of government. I feel that that must be recognised by hon. Members opposite. We do not seek to apportion the blame, but we do ask Members opposite to draw the lesson.
I do not doubt that the immediate problem of the food shortage can to some extent be solved by a series of hectic and unpleasant improvisations, or indeed by sacrifices on the part of the long-suffering British people and others. Many of those sacrifices would undoubtedly have been necessary, regardless of what had or had not been done by the Government. But I think that a case could be made that in the time at their disposal the Government could have done more to have prevented the seriousness of the food situation as it affects this country and other countries for which we are responsible. The question really is one of guilty or not guilty? Of what are the Government not guilty? I am quite definite about it; first of all, they are obviously not guilty with regard to the world food shortage. Everybody will agree with that. I do not think they are guilty of failure to issue general warnings to this House and to the country, but they have not always been given in the right way or with the right emphasis. We have not had the specific information which we require, though I fully appreciate that some 621 of the vital specific information only very recently became available. I fully appreciate the extraordinary difficulties, both economic and administrative, with which the Government have been faced by the abrupt end of lend-lease, and the dreadful possibility of even further delay in the ratification of the American loan. That is a very difficult problem. Apart from anything else, there is the uncertainty of knowing when the loan is to be ratified, and that is a psychological factor which must be taken into consideration.
On the other hand, the Government must accept responsibility for serious failure to co-ordinate certain important Government Departments. I put this forward in the hope that the lesson will be learned, not only on the question of food, but with regard to other matters. There is a failure to establish a flexible type of machinery which could act quickly, in order to keep pace with events, instead of lagging behind. I deplore the tendency of the Government to think that they can run planned economy with the old Conservative machinery which they inherited from 20 years of Conservative rule. I do not believe it can be done; henceforth much more attention must be paid to the machinery of government. That is why I said there is a lesson to be learned. There is a lesson in this very crisis.
I also believe that to some extent there has been a very serious mishandling of the public. As the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) said, "there are many ways in which one woos the opposite sex." There is also the attitude which Ministers in general adopt towards the public, and in that I think there is need for improvement. The public have put this Government into power, I do not argue the question of a mandate, but they elected the Government not as their masters but as their servants, and they do not expect a dictatorial attitude on the part of Ministers who say, "I have given you this, I have sent a ship here, I have done this." I acquit the. Minister of any desire whatever to be a dictator, but it is the impression which is created, and there is a great need for improvement in the relationship between the Government and the people. It seems a very odd thing to say of the Labour Party, but it is true.
622 There are many examples of lack of co-ordination. I would like to deal with one or two of them; some have already been mentioned. We have had repeated warnings, by the Lord President of the Council, the Minister of Food, and many others, that there was an impending world food shortage. I well remember those warnings, but we have not had specific information. With all those general warnings, issued from mid-1945 onwards, we have had the Minister of Agriculture taking at that Box what I would call a complacent attitude towards food production. That complacency is typified by the answer which he gave on 15th October, about the reduction of the wheat acreage payment from£4 to£2. This is very interesting when it is considered that the Minister of Food himself said that the gravity of the wheat position was not known until the autumn. It could not have been too late last autumn to do anything about the Spring sowing, but even so, on 15th October the Minister of Agriculture, in reply to a question said:I am anxious that all suitable land coining in turn for wheat should be so planted, and I should like to see the 1945 acreage maintained. But the growing of wheat on unsuitable land... would no longer be justifiable."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 703.]That is what I call a complacent attitude which could only have been due to one of two things, either ignorance or stupidity. Now the Minister of Agriculture is not a stupid man, therefore he must have been kept in ignorance. I can see no other reason. If he had known the facts about the food situation surely, in answer to this question, he would have given those facts and would have said, "Despite those facts, we are still convinced that our policy is' right." He did not, he merely said, "We are perfectly satisfied with the 1945 acreage." He had no right to be satisfied with it, and something should have been done about it.
Here I would like to deal with the lack of co-ordination between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture when there is a shortage of food, as there will be for some time in this country, because we cannot produce all the food we want. In those circumstances of food scarcity, the Minister of Agriculture is really the factory manager for the Minister of Food. We have not had that co-ordination which, to my mind, is vital between 623 the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture. I still think it is fantastic that we should find in the Cabinet the factory manager, but the boss himself is excluded from it. Therefore, I say, there is a serious lack of co-ordination. In fact, if hon. Members should get 'flu, it would be a very good thing to read through HANSARD while they are in bed and see, through a period of four or five months, the lack of co-ordination exemplified by the different answers which are given from different Ministries that should pull together.
I would like to turn to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Labour. They are two Departments very much interrelated at the present time. They must be co-ordinated, but I do not believe they have been. We have had continual complaints from all sides of the House that sufficient priority has not been given to the release of agricultural workers from the Forces. Yet it was only after considerable pressure that in December agricultural workers were included in the Class B scheme. The cream was knocked off that by calling up 8,000 of the existing workers. I think I am right in saying that agriculture has lost 100,000men during the war, and to call up 8,000 at a time when the country is being generally warned of a food shortage shows either a very bad decision or a tremendous lack of co-ordination. About a fortnight ago, on 23rd January, we had. the news from the Minister of Agriculture in answer to a Question that only 490 men had been released under Class B individual specialist arrangements up to 31st December. He went on to say that the ordinary block release system had not had time to operate. Only 490 men had been released under the individual specialist system, and all hon. Members know the continual demands coming to them to assist in getting men to get land into production to employ more men to get more food. I do not say this was a wrong decision, but I do not believe that there had been sufficient co-ordination before that decision to allow only 490 men out of the Forces had been reached.
I want to deal with the Prime Minister's deferment of 8,000 men. The Government have a case to answer there, that that should have been done when the Minister of Food knew that there was to be a shortage of food and on his own 624 showing he knew that at the end of last year. I do not know whether he advised the Minister of Labour, but it does not look like it to us or to the public, and we have a right to know. I think probably the best example of lack of co-ordination was displayed by the Minister of Labour himself on 5th February, which was the day on which the food statement was made Half an hour before statements were made by the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Labour announced in this House, in answer to a Question, that only 1,529 of the 18,000 agricultural workers had been released under the block system by 15th January. He then said that he did not think the block release scheme was going too slowly, and that every effort was being made to push it along. But, surely, if he had been in the confidence of the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food, he should have realised that it was going along too slowly—too slowly compared with the other events which were taking place. I do not believe the Minister of Labour could have given that answer if he really knew the facts, and, therefore, to us it appears as if there is a very serious lack of co-ordination between the various Government Departments.
I do not want to labour the question of the Treasury and dried egg, but I will say that the decision as to how dollars are to be spent is one which is far above the responsibility of the Treasury alone. We must ensure, particularly if we get this loan, that our dollar expenditure is very carefully co-ordinated, and that the decisions which are made as to how the dollars should be expended are taken after the most careful consideration and co-ordination. Furthermore, I think that, after what the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge said about films, there is a case for a serious revision of the present dollar expenditure to see if we cannot get more value for the meagre dollars that we have.
1 do not want to labour the question of the Prime Minister's letter. That has been dealt with, and it seems to have had a different effect upon different people. I think the Government can morally be acquitted, when one reads that letter, of having misled the people in that particular respect, but I do say that there is lack of efficient co-ordination and planning, and that insufficient attention has been paid to the needs of agriculture, so that 625 the farmer and the farm worker will now be called upon to make additional sacrifices. They are bound to, they will do it, but why have we to ask them merely because we do not get the co-ordination and the flexible machinery to keep pace with events in a modern world? It will call for hectic improvisation in many fields. Today, instead of having an orderly system to deal with these problems—in so far as we can deal with them we are not asking for miracles—we shall have a series of improvisations throughout the country.
I want to say this to hon. Members opposite—I am afraid they will not like it. I do not want to make party capital out of it, I merely want to try and draw the lesson of this crisis as it affects this country. I believe that the key to government in a modern State is comprehensive planning, with the emphasis on the word "comprehensive." I believe that we, as Liberals, approach planning from a different standpoint from hon. Members on the other side of the House. Planning to us does not just mean nationalisation and the day-to-day interference with Government Departments in the lives of the people. We do not call that planning. We support a great deal of nationalisation and public ownership, but we do not make the mistake of thinking that nationalisation is planning. It is not. Nationalisation is just one of many methods which are used to develop a comprehensive plan. I am not advocating the Conservative argument of putting nationalisation before everything else—I do not think that holds water for a minute—but I do say this: You can do two things at once, but if you are going to give the people of this country the sort of economic and social wellbeing they want—and that means food and houses and employment—then you must, first of all, have the comprehensive plan into which your nationalisation and your other methods fit properly.
It is the comprehensive plan that we are lacking at the moment. It is most important that we should not think, every time we pass a Bill nationalising something, that that means planning. It does not at all. We have not the framework yet, and it is the framework that we want. I believe it is on the comprehensive planning side that this Government at present are lamentably weak. There is a lack of breadth of vision which is desperately required to meet the problems of the modern 626 State. I am not suggesting that the Conservative Party would have done better. I am not even suggesting at the moment that we would have done better. I am merely pointing to the fact that there is this lack of breadth of vision which would be required from anybody occupying the Government Front Bench
Comprehensive planning means accepting full responsibility for ensuring the economic and social wellbeing of the people and giving them food, housing, employment and proper social services. And it means taking the people into the Government's confidence and telling them what the plan is. This is where I believe the Government have gone wrong, because they have told the people they are going to nationalise certain things—and have got a good cheer—but they have not given them a lead in the direction which they require. They have not told them what the whole plan is. That is where there is a very great weakness to which we have continually drawn attention. This comprehensive plan has never been developed and thought out for the simple reason that this country is being governed today by a Cabinet of Ministers who are over-burdened with departmental duties. It is like trying to run an army with a host of over-worked staff captains and no chief-of-staff. Nobody is doing the thinking. There are plenty of people doing the acting, plenty of people putting in long hours, and doing it extremely well and working as hard as they can. But who, while all this action is taking place, is thinking ahead? Where everything is in the hands of a Cabinet of Ministers who are over-burdened and over-worked and there is no one thinking ahead, rigidity is the rule and no longer is there a flexible machine which can deal with the various changes which take place and which have to be made as the exigencies of the situation arise. There is not the co-ordination which is necessary in order to plan the affairs of the country for the future.
We have continually drawn attention to the fact that there must be instituted—and this is really a most serious point— in the machinery of the Government, a small inner Cabinet of Ministers free from departmental duties and charged with the task of making a comprehensive plan, and of establishing machinery for coordinating the various Government Departments. They should have executive 627 responsibility for developing that plan, and, above all, for explaining to the people how the plan is to be developed. We have not got that at the present moment, and there is no one today who is doing the thinking. There is no one who is free from departmental responsibility. In times of scarcity the first essential is to have someone looking ahead and laying down the priorities. I hope that the Government will pay particular attention to the tremendous weaknesses which have been shown to exist in our national machinery not only for dealing with food, but with full employment. We are going to have a catastrophe from which the country will not recover for years, with no one sitting down and thinking and planning and too many people dashing about. I do not mind them dashing about, providing someone else is doing the thinking. That is vital if we are to play our part in any world organisation dealing with food, full employment, or the improvement of the standards of living of the people. They are the people who will know what is happening. They will have the large co-ordinated picture before them and be able to speak with authority in the various organisations to which I hope we shall commit ourselves. I am not going to deal now with the international side of the danger, but I would say to the Minister and the Members of the Government, that I hope they will learn from the mistakes which they are making. I believe that if they do that they will prove to be the most experienced Government we have ever had.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Webb (Bradford, Central)
The hon. and gallant Member for North Dorset (Lieut.-Colonel Byers) suggested that we on these benches might not like certain observations he was about to make on the need for economic planning. We found them quite acceptable, and in no sense did we dislike them. It is indeed accepted on these benches, and, I hope, understood on the benches opposite, that, nationalisation is only an element in a comprehensive economic plan. But his speech raised points of some substance and he made certain statements with which I hope to deal before I sit down.
I want to deal with certain points made, by the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). He is a man of 628 tremendous experience and quite considerable ability, to whom the House pays serious attention. But I am bound to say that on this occasion I felt he was less than just to his own high reputation. I just could not accept his thesis that in some magical way the comprehensive issue of information would have eased the problem of the lack of food. He based his supposition on the belief that President Truman evidently did not know what the Minister of Food in this country knew. One can hardly accept that. One must assume that the Government of the United States of America have at least as much information of trends and tendencies in these matters as our own Government.
The Senior Burgess for Oxford, I thought too, was unfair in comparing the Minister of Fuel and Power with the Minister of Food, to the disadvantage of the Minister of Food, in the matter of supplying information. He overlooked the fact that they are dealing in entirely different fields. The production and supply of coal are an entirely domestic matter. The Minister of Food has to deal with a situation which is international in all its aspects and consequences, and I thought it unfair of the Senior Burgess for Oxford to make that comparison, and wholly unconvincing.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Is the hon. Member being quite fair to the Senior Burgess for Oxford University? Surely he said that the Anglo-Saxon countries acted under the pressure of public opinion, much more so than at any other time. He made it quite clear to me that if this House, the American Congress and our people had known through the Press and the B.B.C., pressure would have been brought to bear for action to be taken. That is what he said.
§ Mr. Webb
I recollect that quite well, but that was only part of his case. The answer I am making is that even if that had been so," and I do not accept it as necessarily being so, it would not have grown one grain more wheat. That is the answer to the point made by the Senior Burgess.
I do not want to develop that argument. I want to congratulate the Opposition on their rather belated discovery that the State has some responsibility for feeding the people. It would have been better had they made the' discovery in the lean years between the wars, when the people 629 of this country were, as they are now, without sufficient food. Not for the same reason, not because food was not there, but because they had not the purchasing power to acquire that food. It is true that many millions of people in those years were without food, as they are now, but I have no recollection of any great agitation in the Conservative Party to remedy that. It is a matter of great encouragement to us to find that at this late hour they have discovered that the community, through the responsibility of Government, carries some degree of responsibility for the adequate feeding of the people.
I have no great complaint against the spirit with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) addressed himself to this problem. On this side of the House we appreciated the concession he made that this had to be approached in a non-partisan spirit. I am bound to say that his attitude was in stark contrast to the attitude adopted by many sections of his party, and many newspapers supporting his party, since this matter became a public issue in recent weeks. Some people seem to have seized on this situation as nothing more than a useful chance to "smear "the Government. I am a newspaper man, or was, and I hesitate to criticise newspaper policy, but in this business I feel that certain newspapers have been guilty of disreputable conduct for partisan ends. They have been seeking to exaggerate the situation for the purpose of bringing the Government into disrepute. I think their conduct in the matter is deplorable and brings our profession into great disrepute.
I have listened carefully to the whole of this Debate, and for the most part the complaint against the Government is that there has not been sufficient warning by the Government, that the Government have failed to provide adequate information of these tendencies. But I repeat what has surely already been made clear from this side of the House, that repeated warnings have been given, warnings that any person of normal intelligence could well comprehend, warnings that could easily have been seen by anybody but the deliberately blind. In August last, when the Foreign Secretary made his first speech in this House, he said that we were on the eve of a great world crisis in food.
630 It is complained that the language adopted by Ministers in these matters has not been blunt enough. I cannot think how the Foreign Secretary could have been more blunt in making a declaration of that kind. A month later he repeated his warning, and appealed to the Allies for concerted action to deal with this problem. Another month later the Foreign Secretary repeated his warning in quite unmistakable terms. The Prime Minister, on 16th August, in our first Debate in this House, said:It must be realised there is a world shortage of these "—meat, fats and sugar—due to a number of different causes."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 103.]The Minister of Food himself, as I think he has shown, has clearly acquitted himself of the charge that he failed to give the House a comprehensive general warning of the kind of situation that was developing.
Even if these warnings had not been given it does not, in my judgment, lie with the Opposition to bring charges of failure -to speak the truth, because we have had in recent weeks repeated attacks from that side of the House against the alleged gloom of Ministerial statements. Repeatedly we have had Ministers condemned because they were not giving the people that kind of scintillating and exciting oratory which Members on that side of the House believe to be necessary. They have pressed unceasingly for some relaxation of our Spartan standards. Their newspapers have excelled themselves in demanding a lessening or a relaxation of austerity. In view of statements made repeatedly from those benches, they should be the last to condemn any failure to make the warnings even more precise than they have been. The truth is that austerity is the product of inescapable and grave circumstances. It was not devised in the Cabinet room. It was and is compelled by 'the grim facts of a disturbed world, as we now clearly see. If certain hon. and right hon. Members opposite recollect now some of the statements they have made in recent months in this House they should hesitate to intervene in this Debate with any complaint against the Government.
But the problem before us is not to attribute responsibility. It is to find 631 remedies, to find solutions so far as they can be found. If the Opposition are, as they claim to be, the patriotic party, they will now apply themselves to that task rather than to the meaner task of making partisan points. It is necessary that we should get this matter in perspective so far as this country is concerned. It is true that our conditions are harsh. After six years of war it is a great burden—our housewives in particular find it a great burden—to face the daily irksome job of trying to get fresh meals and varied food. Yet we must remember we are better off than many millions of people scattered round the world. Over 130,000,000 people in Europe exist on two-thirds of our ration, and about half that number on about half our rations. We cannot dismiss these circumstances as irrelevant; we have to take them into account. Both honour and self-interest require that we in this country give them attention—honour because many of these people fought with us during the war, and self-interest, because clearly we cannot escape the consequences of pestilence if that were to follow famine. In our own Empire, for which we must take responsibility, there is a grave situation. As the Minister pointed out earlier today, the facts regarding India are almost staggering. It is to the credit of this Government that while not neglecting every opportunity to safeguard the rights of our own people, they have sought, in the true tradition of our democratic politics, to take the lead in securing concerted action. Even if others are more tardy, if others are not so forthcoming in these matters, it seems to me unthinkable that we in this country should sit back and say that we wash our hands entirely of what is going on in Europe and other countries.
On this matter of the overseas food position I would like to ask the Government one or two things. First, could we be told how far the Government have contributed to finding some solution of the transport problem in Europe? I understand they have done something, but so far information has not been available. It would be interesting and useful to have some facts on that point. Another question I would like to ask the Chancellor, who I understand is going to reply to this Debate, is whether there is 632 real equality in the distribution of supplies among the various European nations. Reports conflict on this point. There is some suggestion that some countries are far better off than others. So far there has been no authentic information, and if it could be supplied I, for one, would be obliged.
I want to turn briefly to our home problems. Like many hon. Members opposite, I wonder whether the Government's arrangements for the co-ordination of the work of the various Departments are adequate. I would not exaggerate the importance of co-ordination. I am sure we can have far too much co-ordination of Government Departments. Ministers are often far too busy being coordinated instead of being at work in their Departments. But it does appear on some aspects of the Government's work that it would be possible to improve the machinery of co-ordination. It would be possible in the light of experience to strengthen it and make it more flexible. We understand that a food committee of Ministers has been sitting with the Prime Minister at its head. It may be. that that food committee has been in existence for a long time, but we did not know. If it has been in existence for a long time it would perhaps have been better if we had known. If it were possible for that food committee to become a permanent feature, or at least for a long period, of the machinery of government it would, I think, be an advantage.
But I think that there is an even deeper problem here. Food is only part of the general economic problem. It is related, as we know, to currency, manpower, and to the general system of priorities. I am inclined to think that the Government will have a recurrence of certain troubles unless they set up some form of adequate economic general staff. There is machinery for economic co-ordination in Whitehall, but I am not at all sure—I may be wrong and I would like the Chancellor to answer this point if I am wrong—that the Cabinet has adequate and up-to-date economic information in all fields when certain decisions are taken. I may be wrong about that, but I am inclined to think if we had something in the nature of an economic general staff, comparable in status and size with the Imperial General Staff with which we conducted war operations, there would be some improvement in the work of the 633 Government. I would like to hear from the Chancellor what his views are about that and, if it is possible, some information of the extent to which such machinery does exist.
There are many other points that I wanted to raise but they have been gone over very fully by other speakers and I will not detain the House much longer. There is one last point I must make. I would urge the Minister of Food to make quite sure he has got in this country the maximum equality in the enjoyment of such food as is available. I agree that there is some exaggeration of the amount of luxury eating in this country. It is also true that if all luxury eating were cut down the amount of food thus made available would make very little difference spread over the whole country. But that is not the point. In a situation like this no section of the community should be seen to have any kind of physical advantage at all. In a situation like this it is important that the great mass of the people who are deprived of necessities, who have not got sufficient food, should not, even mistakenly, have the view that some privileged class is getting more food than that to which they are entitled. I understand that cuts are being made in factory and workshop canteens. That may not be so, and if the Chancellor can give reassuring news on that point I shall be obliged. I would ask the Minister of Food to try, if he can, to ensure more effective control over the distribution of non-rationed food so as to make quite sure there is a minimum of inequality and we all share what is going.
I will conclude with this general submission to the Minister of Food, that if he can find any device, if he can develop any means at all, if he can show any resource, any initiative, to secure as rapidly as possible some improvement of this situation, he can rely on the full, enthusiastic and confident support of the people on these benches. I feel, speaking for myself, that his speech today was a reassuring speech— [Interruption.] It was a reassuring speech in so far as his conduct is in question. No speech that is dealing with a great world situation of this kind can possibly be reassuring; of course it cannot; but so far as the Minister's handling of the situation was in question, I say that, so far as I am concerned, his speech was reassuring. If in 634 that spirit he can continue with his work he can count on the loyal co-operation of his colleagues on the back benches.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
In spite of the grave words which have been uttered this afternoon by the Minister and others, I wonder even now whether Members of this House and the general public outside are adequately aware of the gravity of the situation in India, and of the responsibility that attaches to His Majesty's Government, and, indeed, to the whole House, in that connection. A few days ago, with nine other Members from both Houses, I came back from India, having had the honour to form part of a Parliamentary delegation. As the House knows, Parliamentary delegations of that sort are seldom unanimous upon political matters, but upon the question of the food situation in India we were indeed unanimous. I know I speak for the whole delegation when I say we all feel ourselves under an obligation to direct, as far as we can, the attention of this House, and of the Government, to the situation out there.
In India they are not worrying about dried eggs and jellies. I felt a certain air of unreality about the Debate today. In India it is a question of death by starvation. I do not wish to exaggerate or to try and frighten the House, but it is a question of death by starvation, possibly for very large numbers of people. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food spoke about the grain shortage in India. I think he under-estimated it. The latest information last month was that the grain shortage was something approaching 3,000,000 tons. That is not all, because the situation is daily getting worse with the lack of rain in certain parts of the country. There are no reserves held by the Government and there is no carryover from past years.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke as if the news of this situation in India was of relatively recent date as far as he was concerned. I do not wish to make party capital out of it, but I think it will be found as early as last July— [Interruption]. I am not trying to make party capital out of it; I am only pointing out that as early as last July the shortage was stated to be 1,500,000 tons, since when the situation has deteriorated. One 635 may speak of millions of tons of grain deficiency. I think in order to bring it home to the people of this country it should be translated into other terms. Rationing takes place in India in the towns at present, and until quite recently the ration in most towns was I lb. per head per day. That is 365 lbs. per year. At that rate, every million tons of grain represents, if my arithmetic is correct, the annual ration for something like 6.3 million people, so that a deficiency of 3,000,000 tons of grain means that the rations for three times 6.3 millions, that is just under 19,000,000 people, are deficient. I see that, according to the evening papers, the ration in India, in the towns, has been reduced to 12 ounces per head, which brings the deficiency up to rations for about 24,000,000 people. The House will therefore see that the situation is indeed grave
At present, so far as rations in the towns are concerned, India is completely dependent on imports, and on imports for something far more important, that is, for the maintenance of public confidence. Without public confidence, there can be no procurement, because, in a country composed entirely of peasant farmers, as soon as confidence breaks down they hold on to their stocks and procurement ceases. I feel that anyone speaking on the Indian food situation has a heavy responsibility, because it is clearly one's duty not to create feelings of panic when unnecessary. It is equally one's duty to impress the gravity of the situation upon the House, and I hope that what I have said will be considered adequate. India has no assured imports of grain supplies. India does not know what she is going to be sent. She has been made various half-promises by His Majesty's Government, but nothing is assured and definite, and the first thing I ask on behalf of India is that she should know where she stands. The Minister of Food has said that, tomorrow or in the next few days, he would be engaged in talks with the Indian Food Mission. I want to let him know that those of us who have been to India on this delegation regard the situation as extremely serious and that we shall not leave him alone about it.
What are the Government going to do about rice? I intervened in the Minister's speech to ask a question about the allocation of Siamese rice. I have looked up 636 the figures and find that on the first alloaction of Siamese rice, Cuba gets 60,000 tons, and yet Cuba refuses to ration rice. It is alleged that all the South-East Asia Command area, excluding India, has been given preference over India so far as rice is concerned. These statements may or may not be true, and I do not vouch for them, but there are rumours going round and I ask the Chancellor to deny or confirm them. It would be an ugly thing if there is a food famine in India. We had one in Bengal in 1943, and we do not want it repeated this year in Madras, Mysore, Bombay and possibly elsewhere. We ought not to contemplate with equanimity famine over such wide areas. There is a political argument which also applies. It is not betraying any secret when I say that, in the next few months, India will be going through a very difficult political time—a time the gravity of which can hardly be exaggerated. If to these grave political difficulties are added conditions of famine in many parts of the country, the situation will hardly bear contemplation.
I want now to come to the question of responsibility. It is no good concealing the fact that His Majesty's Government are primarily responsible for food policy in India. We hope that very soon there will be Provincial Governments operating, but, under the present dispensation, the form of Government at the Centre, owing to the failure to arrive at Federation before the war, is the same form of Government as that which was laid down under the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, and it can scarcely be said that, so far as central food policy is concerned, India has self-government. Indian representatives on international food conferences are not chosen by the elected representatives of the Indian people. They are, in effect, nominated by the Indian Government, which means that their nomination is subject to the veto of Whitehall. We have in this House a direct responsibility for the food policy of the Indian Government. I urge upon the Government that this is not a party question. I shall not attempt to make party capital out of it. I urge the Government to face the fact that the gravest aspect of this food problem is the Indian one. I feel extraordinarily uneasy and anxious about it. The time has come when the most Herculean efforts must be undertaken to satisfy Indian needs. The organisation 637 is there and all that is needed are the grain supplies from the rest of the world. I most earnestly beg the Government to take the necessary action.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Macpherson (Romford)
I think I must be one of the last of the new Members of this Parliament to make my maiden speech. Up to now, I have been rather influenced by Disraeli's advice to a new Member who sought his views about addressing this House. Said Disraeli: "It is better the House wonder why you do not speak, than why you do." I feel I cannot rely on that subterfuge any longer, and so must ask for the sympathy and indulgence of the House in addressing it for the first time.
The disquieting news about the world food position, and particularly the inadequate cereal harvest, comes at a very unfortunate moment in our affairs. After the privations and hardships of the war years, our people, and the people of other countries too, were beginning to feel that they were just about due for a break. But, from the statement made to us today, it is obvious that that will not come about just yet. In fact, surveying the world food position, I am reminded of an old Scottish grace before meat:O, Lord, look o'er us a'There's four of us, but only meat for twa,And ane could eat it a'.I want to find out just what is the complaint or charge against the Minister of Food and the Government. I heard some complaint about delay in making a statement soon enough, about the world food position, but that was very satisfactorily answered, I thought, by the Minister himself during his speech. If the complaint relates to a shortage of wheat and rice as a result of recent news about world crop failures, then I think the Government have no charge to meet. It has been said, and on this side of the House as well, that the Government are at fault for the reduction of the wheat acreage in this country.
But arrangements for the British 1946 wheat crop were made in the early part of last year, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson) was Minister of Agriculture. The bulk of the wheat grown in this country is winter wheat and was actually sown during September, October and November of last year. So it should be obvious to the House that the arrangements for 638 this year's wheat crop were made before the present Government took Office. I am not saying that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport was wrong in the arrangements he made. Personally, I thought at the time that the decision to ease up on cereal crops and encourage a bigger production of meat, pork, poultry and eggs was a good one, and I would probably have done the same myself. But the point is that any criticism of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, or of the Government, because of our domestic wheat policy is quite unjustified. The wheat shortage is a world shortage and affects every country, but one would have thought from a perusal of the Tory Press this last week or two, and from speeches made in this House this afternoon, that the reason we have a wheat shortage is because we have a Labour Government. It is nothing of the sort; it is a world problem. I cannot read anywhere that the Government of the United States of America or the Government of Canada, France or any other country in the world—all of whom are affected—are today being arraigned on a charge of neglect and incompetence.
I have often heard it said by right hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is the duty of the Opposition to criticise. I am going to suggest that it is the prerogative of those of us on the Government benches to advise, especially when we have some specialised knowledge and experience of the subject to put before the House. It so happens that I have a lifetime's experience of the food business in a variety of directions, and I have one or two suggestions which I would like to press on the attention of the Government. First of all, in my view, the food problem has not hitherto had a high enough priority in the counsels of our Government. As a result of what has happened during the last week or two, Ministers should realise that this question of food and the feeding of the people of this country is the most important domestic question today. Just to give some idea of the magnitude of the food problem, may I remind the House that in prewar days we imported into this country 1,000,000 tons of meat per annum, 500,000 tons of butter, 400,000tons of bacon and 5,000,000 tons of wheat. That was the position before the war when, as Sir John Boyd-Orr has reminded us, 60 per cent. of the people of this country were not getting enough 639 to eat. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) amid the cheers of his comrades—if that is the correct word—was chipping the Government about our failure to give priority to the question of food. In those prewar days, when we had a Tory Government, 60 per cent. of the people of this country could not get enough to eat. So much for the Tory Party's idea of food priority. Any comparison with prewar figures will be quite invidious. Our imports and home production of foodstuffs for the future must be in very much greater volume than we have been accustomed to think about in the past. Despite the most intensive drive for home-produced food, our higher standard of living will be dependent, not upon the same imports as prewar, but a greatly increased tonnage and variety.
I agree, as has been said, that we have to give this food question a proper priority in the counsels of this Government and, indeed, any Government. As a first step towards putting food in its right perspective, I recommend that the Minister of Food should be a member of the Cabinet. I find that it is a surprise to most people that the Minister of Food is not today a member of the Cabinet. Also, I am not completely convinced that the immediate food problem is entirely one of currency and harvests. I think transport, handling and flexibility of policy are important factors. Handling and transport are vital. The Minister of Food should sit in the highest councils of the Government and, across the Cabinet Table, should press for the necessary currency, transport and manpower in order, effectively and satisfactorily, to feed the people of this country. I know that the Minister of Food and the Government are just as keen as I am, or anyone else in this House, to increase the present food supplies, but I would beg of them to re-examine their arrangements and to endeavour, at the earliest possible moment, to try and obtain greater quantities of food for the people.
This Government are out to obtain a higher standard of living for the people. Our plans to achieve this aim by the socialisation of basic industries and services in the national interest instead of in the interest of private profit are excellent, but it will be some time—in some cases a year or two—before the effect of these 640 policies will be felt in this country. In the meantime, we are faced with an immediate problem of doing something about the standard of living now. It should not be beyond the wit of this Government, in collaboration with the food trade of this country, to effect some improvement in the early future. The successful handling of this matter can play a great part in other directions in our national life and help to solve some of the problems which are baffling us today.
From several quarters we get reports about disappointing productive effort, absenteeism, lack of incentive and lack of interest. My right hon. Friend the. Minister of Fuel and Power, speaking last weekend in connection with the output of coal, used these words:It is alleged that men are tired, that they are not getting sufficient food, and that they do not get sufficient opportunity to spend what they earn on consumer goods.But we are warned that there can be no increase in consumer goods until there is greater production and a bigger volume of exports. On the one hand the workers say, "Give us more food and more consumable goods, and we will be able to give better work and produce more." On the other hand, we are told there can be no more consumable goods until people work harder and produce more. It is a kind of vicious circle. This vicious circle goes on, and it must be broken. The fact is that, as a result of conditions inherited by this Government, life today in this country is too drab, and I beg of the Government to make renewed efforts and concentrate upon endeavouring to increase the supply and the variety of food so that we can get this greater productive effort that we want.
In conclusion, may I say that 1 know from my personal acquaintance with the Minister of Food, and from my experience of him since he took office, that he took on this job imbued with a keen desire to obtain every ounce of food of every kind and from every quarter, in order to try to relieve the position of the long suffering and hard-pressed housewives of this country. I beg of him that, in carrying out that policy, if he is in difficulties or finds any frustration, let him come to this House and take us and the country into his confidence. Whatever the difficulty may be, I am sure that we in this House and the people in the country too will be behind him in helping him to solve those 641 difficulties in carrying out the great job he is doing in feeding the people of this country.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
Having heard that only one woman was to be asked to speak in this Debate, I am glad, even at this late hour, to have the opportunity of making a few comments. Before I do so, I would like to take the opportunity of complimenting my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. T. Macpherson) on his maiden speech. We on these benches know that in the party which has come into power in this country, there are many people who know their subject well and know how to express their views upon it. My hon. Friend has expressed his knowledge of the subject on which he was speaking, in a way that we all appreciate, and I know this House will look forward to hearing him on many future occasions.
My comments tonight on this matter in the short time at my disposal may become somewhat controversial, but, first, I want to say how pleased are the working class of this country that in a crisis of this sort a Labour Government are in control of the situation. I remember that in 1920 and 1921, when I took part in unemployment demonstrations, and, with thousands of other unemployed people in Liverpool, received the batons of the police in demonstrations against unemployment and hunger, when men who had fought in the1914–18 war were prepared to sell the medals they had won in. order to buy food, a Conservative Government had promised all sorts of things in order to gain a majority. They did gain it, and they never kept one of the promises they made.
I am delighted that in a crisis of this sort those of us who know the economics of our own people, those of us who understand what our own people have had to put up with, are in control of the situation and know exactly what they are going to do in relation to it. I am not going to say I am sorry that the whole of the facts were not given to us in the way the Opposition wanted. My people, the working class, do not understand when you talk of millions of tons, millions of bushels and millions of pounds They are only used to understanding an ordinary week's wages, which they are able to get from the employing class in order to obtain 642 such food as they are able to buy. I am not at all sorry that a lot of facts were not given. During the last 25 years corners have been established in markets, in order to put up the price of the foodstuff that was in short supply. The Government that we now have appreciate that position. I hope they will continue to keep the confidence of the people of this country by making certain no corners are established in any foodstuffs of the people.
I have here menus of some of the hotels in various towns, menus which show no shortage of any sort of foodstuff at all. In these places, if you can pay for it, you can get anything you want, and any amount you want. The people of this country are concerned about that aspect too, and they are wondering if the position is going to be similar to that which arose when fish was thrown back into' the sea because it was. caught in too large quantities for the middlemen to get the price they wanted. That is the sort of thing this Government have got to watch, never mind what effect it has upon those who have always had plenty and who, because they have the money at their disposal, will always be able to get plenty. As a Labour Government we have to see—and I am confident that the Government will see to it—that there is proper distribution of every type of food, and that when a certain type of food is in short supply, another type of food is transferred in order to meet the shortage. Had it not been that the hour is late, and that there are others who want to take part in the discussion, I would have read these menus. They would have looked very nice in HANSARD.
I did hope that I would have the opportunity, earlier in the Debate, of being able to speak at very much greater length than I am permitted to do at the moment. AH I want to do now is to draw a distinction between the types of food that people who have the money can get, and the types of food that people who belong to the working class have to put up with, because of their inability to put their hands into their pockets when they want to, in order to take their wives and families out to a restaurant. I want to draw attention—as I am entitled to do, representing an area where there is poverty—to the position in which for years working-class people have been 643 denied the night to work. 1 never heard any questions from the Opposition with regard to that position, when, in 1926, miners were locked out for six months, because they would not accept less money. They starved. In this country, at the moment, nobody is starving, and there will not be anybody starving because this side of the House controls the position. Had the position been the other way 1 do not know what the situation would have been at the present moment. I have some idea of this, because I went through the whole of the struggle of the unemployed, in Liverpool, between 1920 and 1921 and onwards. All I am asking is that this Government of ours should pay particular attention to the fact that the people of this country want to know that a watch is being kept upon all food supplies, irrespective of what they are, and that they will not be left without when other people have got too much. That is the sort of thing the workers of this country want to know.
I compliment the Government on their handling of this very difficult position, because it is not something that has been created by the advent of a Labour Government, as was suggested from the other side of the House. It is a world situation and must be handled carefully. It must be handled by people who understand what the workers of this country, and of other countries, require. They must watch carefully that no little pockets of private interests are created, that food is not drawn into a centre and controlled by separate interests, who, when a shortage arises, will demand whatever price they want for it. The workers of this country want to know positively that food is being controlled by this Government, that the only shortages there will be will be shortages applicable to everybody. I know the working class, being one of them and living among them, and they will be able to accept any shortage if they know that it is absolutely unavoidable. May I say in conclusion that I hope that all these movements which have been created within the last two or three days by the Conservative Party for their own political benefit will go out of existence, and that the situation will be judged on the facts as they have been given by the Minister of Food, namely, that there is a world shortage. The people of this country are assured that their own people 644 are in control, and they can be certain that every possible effort will be made to see that the shortage does not go any further.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison (Cirencester)
I should like, first, to add my personal congratulations to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. T. Macpherson) on his maiden speech. He quoted a maxim of Disraeli to us, and in the light of that,-and of his own words, I am sure that, if he keeps silence too obstinately in future, we shall all wonder what is the cause of it. I would also like to say how much I appreciated the maiden speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Woodbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Hare)—a most noteworthy contribution to our Debate I am sure we shall all look forward to hearing him again in the future.
I think this has been a very useful day, and I do not think anyone, in any part of the House, can complain at the temperate tone in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) introduced this topic. It is quite obvious that we are facing a grave situation in regard to our food supplies, and it is not a matter which any of us would like to exploit for party reasons. Though I must say that I was a little tempted by the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) to reply in the same vein as that in which she addressed us, I do not think that that would be quite the right way to handle it, and there is quite enough to say in my limited time to render that sort of speech unnecessary.
If this Debate has had one result that is clear to me, it is this: The Government must be under no illusion about the fact that co-operation in Parliament between the parties on matters of national importance must be founded upon the full disclosure 0f information. It really is not possible for us, or for any party, to give wise counsel without information, and what has clearly emerged today is that there has been a perhaps natural hangover, on the part of the Ministry of Food, from the war, when stocks were highly secret and were not disclosed as freely as peacetime conditions render both practicable and, I think, wise. I think that if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food takes that lesson away 645 from this Debate, the Debate will have served a useful purpose.
In spite of some of the speeches, and looking at the matter objectively, I think Ministers and, indeed, the whole House must realise that beyond doubt they are facing a very sharp explosion of indignation on the part of the housewives of this country at the present moment. The hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Webb) said he was fortunate' enough not to get any letters on this subject. [Hon. Members: "No."] I do not know, but, perhaps, they are very fortunate in his part of the world. But many people and many housewives—and this is not a party point—are feeling a strain after six years of rationing and of deprivation, not only of food but of household linen and of coal; and each new reduction, however necessary, however inevitable, is a matter for resentment. But I think it is fair to say that for the sharpness of that explosion hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have, in some part, themselves to blame. The suddenness with which the announcement was made last week created a painful impression. When that was combined with—I do not say any very definite promises of social amelioration in the matter of food—a general expectation that was. aroused throughout the country that the advent of those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to power would see an immediate improvement in all sorts of conditions, including food, it made the shock rather a painful one. As to that suddenness, a good deal of our time has been taken up today in discussion of what was and what was not said in the early autumn of last year and the early months of this. In the minds of the ordinary housewives, at least, the shock came as a complete revelation. The cat was in the bag too long. It is not a thing to be surprised at, that when it emerged it was inclined both to scratch and to spit.
I confess I listened with the utmost sympathy—having been in that position myself—as well as care to what the right hon. Gentleman said about this matter. It did seem to me, and it seems to me still, not altogether free from obscurity, because the right hon. Gentleman advanced two arguments at the same time. First of all, he said he had given a general warning in sufficiently clear and explicit terms to leave no one in any doubt that we were facing a serious situation. At 646 the same time, he excused himself from more explicit utterances by saying he was afraid of creating a sellers' market and, also, of inducing people to hoard grain. The two things seem to me to march very oddly together. If he were anxious to avoid by any utterance of his creating a sellers' market, then it would be understandable if he had given us no warning at all. But the more explicit he claims his warning to have been, the less value there is in his argument about the sellers' market. It must be clear to all of us that whatever he said on the matter the whole world knows it is a sellers' market, and he was doing nothing by any utterance of his to put prices up a cent a bushel against him. But I should like to make it clear that, for my part, I think he has given us a very careful speech today. He has given us a lot of information of which we had not possession previously
It would be a great mistake if thi9 Debate were to run away on the idea of what the right hon. Gentleman said at that time. The real point with which we are concerned is, What did the Government do? We ask ourselves, "When was it apparent that there was going to be this shortage at this time of the year? "It seems to me to be clear that the Ministry of Food, unless it has changed very much, must have had very clear indications of this in August or September. The real pity from the nation's point of view is that, when that shortage became apparent, steps were not taken to provide for the winter sowing of wheat in this country. It is true—I want to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman—that he could say, "I did not know the full effect until quite recently." It was not necessary to get a White Paper with every ton and bushel of wheat accurately computed in order to come to a decision. I should have thought that the general omens of wheat supplies in the spring and summer were by August and September sufficiently ominous for action being taken then, which is now being belatedly taken of diverting the call-up of men and urging an increase in the wheat acreage.
§ Mr. Tiffany (Peterborough)
Will the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that there was not much time to give warning, inasmuch as we were using 40 per cent. of English wheat in the mill grist during June of this year? When was there time to give warning?
§ Mr. W. S. Morrison
I do not think that is at all relevant. It seems to me that the more wheat we can grow in this 'country, the better our position will be. I would make it clear to the House, as some hon. Members may not be aware of our practice of agriculture to the same extent as others, their ways of life not having lain in these pastures, that it is the winter sown crop of wheat in this country that is the important one. Spring wheat is always regarded, in normal times, as rather a "chancy" crop. If you take 15 per cent. as the average for spring sowing and 85 per cent. for winter sowing, you have about a fair proportion. Nothing that has been said today has cleared my mind of the doubt that, if this action had been taken in the autumn, we should have got a good deal of winter wheat sown, and our position would have been to that extent improved. It does seem strange that the Minister of Agriculture should have written to county chairmen on this matter only last week. What has happened between the two Ministries for action to be so tardy and belated? I say nothing more about promises, and what has been or what has not been done. I would point out in passing, however, that it does show that the mere change of a system inside this Government according to some theoretical or doctrinal conception of Socialism is a very feeble instrument in the face of the world affairs through which we are passing today. I have now had the chance of sitting in the Opposition to two Labour Governments, and it is a curious thing that on both occasions I have had this same experience of a great deal of talk about what Socialism can do during an election and when the Socialists are in power they talk not of that, but of world causes. Leaving that alone, the Government today, with their disclosures, remind me of what someone once said was the function of a politician, namely, "Trying to explain to a sceptical and bewildered electorate the defects of an inscrutable Providence."
It would be a good thing if hon. Members opposite would remember this humbling fact, that even the weighty schemes of Socialism do require through Ministers to be supplemented by a good deal of practical wisdom and forethought if they are to be of any use to anyone at all. In making a fair summary of what we have been discussing today, it 648 does appear to me that something has gone wrong in the way that this matter has been handled, and I put it no higher than that, which is high enough for my purpose. Let us diagnose the complaint from which the right hon. Gentlemen are suffering. It is like being called to the bedside of a child who cannot describe the symptoms with coherence and clarity, and one must do one's best by calling on one's medical experience and knowledge of similar cases. It does seem to be a very remarkable state of affairs. I should like, first of all, to say a word about the Ministry of Food. I was honoured at one time by being connected with that Department. In fact, I was in charge of it from April, 1939, to April, 1940, and I left it with good stocks and a competent organisation. Under the inspiring leadership of my Noble Friend Lord Woolton it improved in organisation and in efficiency and rendered very great service to the nation in a time of stress. I cannot believe that this machine has suddenly lost its efficiency.
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not believe it has. It has now had nearly seven years to run itself in, and its main task in life is to forecast all supplies. I cannot believe that that machine failed to forecast the situation at this time and much earlier than we have been told. Therefore, I think that the information might have been in the hands of the Government in plenty of time for them to take those steps such as I have suggested, namely, seeing more winter wheat was being planted, restoring the acreage payment, and looking after the manpower in agriculture, all of which would have made a big difference at the present time. Neither do I believe that the right hon. Gentleman would for one moment withhold any information of that sort from us. I know him too well. I think the trouble lies in the Government as a whole, and in the way in which they are concentrating at the present time on Party issues, while neglecting the practical interests of the people.
The Minister of Food in the course of his speech today gave us an account of his missions at various times in connection with these matters, and my right hon. Friend the Senior Burgess for Oxford' University (Sir A. Salter) compared him to a Biblical character, namely, Job. He 649 seemed to me in his own account to be like blind Samson, eyeless at Gaza. There he was and he did his best, no doubt, but what were his colleagues doing? [An HON. MEMBER: "Cutting his hair."] I do not think the right hon. Gentleman's "thatch" suffered in the process in any way.
I want the House seriously to consider what is the position of the Ministry of Food. There is no Minister in any Government who needs so much collaboration from his colleagues as the Minister of Food. His Department touches our national life at every point. For example, he needs to collaborate closely with the Minister of Agriculture and we have seen a rather lamentable divergence of functions in this matter today. Only last week were instructions sent to the county war agricultural committees, when this thing has been hanging over our heads for three or four months. He needs also to collaborate very closely with the Minister of Labour. He needs manpower for his own task, if flour mills are to be repaired and managed, while if the queues in the shops are to be lessened there needs to be more assistance, and if the call-up of agricultural manpower is to be diverted or mitigated the Ministry of Labour has to assist. He needs transport for all his activities all over the world.
He needs, also, collaboration from the Foreign Office, and on that matter I would like to say a word or two on the question of stocks going to Europe. I think it is our duty to do what we can for people who are in a bad condition, but I think we should do it with our eyes open, measuring at the same time our own need, and our duty to our own people, and the extent of any amelioration in the position that any gift from us can practically bring about. I do not say that in any unselfish spirit. I believe that the recovery of Europe today depends on the recovery of this country. But it would be great folly not only to ourselves, but to the recovery of Europe as a whole, if we were to suffer our own population to lose their spirit and health in a vain endeavour to mitigate, in some fractional and mathematical proportion, the great tragedy- overseas.
More than anything, the Minister of Food requires the collaboration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We hope to hear from the Chancellor something about 650 the great controversy as to how it is best to use dollars—on dried egg, films or tobacco. For all these reasons the Minister of Food requires to be at the very heart of affairs, and I support wholeheartedly what was said earlier in the Debate by the hon. Member for Rom-ford (Mr. T. Macpherson), that he ought to be a member of the Cabinet. It is a very large Cabinet, and it is not at all exclusive. The right hon. Gentleman, whose task at the present time has acquired tremendous importance, should be in the closest touch with his colleagues. In this country we are fed and supplied by a vast, intricate organisation, whether by private enterprise before the war, or by the Ministry of Food during the war, and food has come so easily to the breakfast tables of the vast majority of the people that they think it gets there without effort. But it does not, and this has shown how small a matter can upset our supplies.
We should not take too light a view of the importance of food to our economy. I think it most important that we should improve our food supplies. We had a speech the other day from the Minister of Fuel and Power—I heard it myself on the wireless—in which he gave an adequate, if sombre, exhortation to the miners, and to the mining industrial in general, to get more coal. He said it was useless to talk of more food until more coal was produced. Personally, I do not think you will get more coal until you get more food as well. The melancholy position at the moment is that we are getting less food and less coal. Something must be done to break the vicious circle, and to re-stimulate the energies of the population. It is a task of the highest importance, but one which is well worth achieving. What is required is a greater incentive for the natural energies of men. They ought to get more real wealth. It is no good wages going up if those wages cannot purchase what is required. It is by the provision of amenities, comforts and more health and strength that the people of the country can be rewarded at a time when they are being called upon to help with the reconstruction of our beloved country.
This analysis leads me to the conclusion that Ministers ought to have known about this shortage in ample time to have taken more effective steps than they have 651 taken. Half the trouble is the tremendous pressure upon Ministers, pressure which they are largely responsible for creating. Ministers are tied up in Standing Committees when they ought to be attending to the heavy tasks of reconstruction which await us. We are also overburdened with legislation of a contentious character. I would like to know, if an answer can be given—I do not suppose it can—how many hours the Cabinet has spent in discussing food reports and how many hours discussing the repeal of the Trade Disputes Act or the nationalisation of coal. When Ministers take upon themselves the burden of this contentious legislation, it is no wonder they cannot pay attention to the warnings of the Minister of Food. Not only Ministers, but the people, are affected by this contentious legislation.
The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council reminds me, when I gaze at him, of the desire he expressed recently for first-class rows in Parliament. We have had some this week, and what good have they done the people of the country? The country is facing a very difficult time in this food situation, and my lament is that we are not facing it with the unity, with the subservience of all sectional interests to national interests, that we had when the lead was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill). We are not getting the right lead, and I regard this whole bungle about the food disclosures as evidence that the country in its need is not getting the lead which it requires. I ask the Government, in the days that remain to them, whether they cannot concentrate more on practical measures for the relief of necessity in the country and less on doctrinaire disputes.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Dalton)
I will at once answer the last question put by the right hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison). He asked me to reveal a Cabinet secret by saying whether the Cabinet had spent more time in consideration of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill or the food situation. The answer is simple. We have spent more time on the latter subject. The Cabinet did not need to linger long over the very simple act of justice 652 which it is seeking to perform and which was abundantly approved by the House last night. Food is more complicated. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Food dealt in great, but not, I think the House will agree, in too great, detail, at considerable, but I think the House will agree, not too great, length, with his stewardship. He gave a sturdy account of his stewardship, and he dealt with the affairs of his Department. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. M Webb, who made a very interesting speech later in the Debate, said—and the House approved him when he said—that on the whole he considered that, in spite of the manifold difficulties, not of my right hon. Friend's making nor of anybody's making, but of Nature's making, an act of God and so on, the speech of my right hon. Friend was reassuring.
There are two subjects which need to be very sharply and clearly distinguished. There is, on the one side, the international problem, the world food shortage. And there is another problem linked with it in practice, but yet quite separate—our own national position, not only as regards supplies but as regards finance, dollar reserves, and the like. On the international problem I propose to say relatively little, but to concentrate princi-. pally on the other problem, on which several hon. Members have asked me a number of questions which it is proper I should do my best to answer. On the international side we have a long series of terrible and unforeseen postwar calamities. I do not speak now of any of the shocking impacts of the war, of the acts of the enemy upon our friends and of the devastation of one country after another. I speak of this series of shortages, droughts, failures of the monsoon, and the like, which, I repeat, are nobody's fault. No human agency is responsible but they do constitute the world problem against which my right hon. Friend has been battling and of which he has been speaking today.
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) has just come back from India. He is not now here, I think, but he appealed in an earlier speech—a very moving speech—that we should do our best to assure the greatest aid which we could render to the Indian peoples threatened, through no fault of their own, with calamitous famine. I say 653 without any hesitation that His Majesty's Government will, of course, do all in their power to endeavour to stave off this shocking calamity now overwhelming the peoples of India. I hasten to add that even our utmost may, against this background, be terribly small. None the less we shall do our utmost, using to the full for this purpose the machinery, on the one hand, of the Combined Food Boards, and, on the other hand, of the recently set up and very hopeful new international organisation, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, to which we are deeply committed and of which a very distinguished Member from this House, the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr) is now the Chairman. We shall do our utmost. And let me say in passing, by way of linking this topic with the national aspect, that as regards India the problem is wholly one of physical supplies and of shipping to carry them, and sources from which they can be drawn. It is in no respect a financial problem. -There is no lack of capacity to pay in terms of money in India. On the contrary they have a vast sterling balance. It is a question of supply and we shall do our best to assist them.
I would like to turn at this point to deal with our own national affairs and to answer some of the points put by hon. Members on the other side of the House. I should like to speak of some of these financial questions connected with the general exchange position which must concern us in this country, and me in particular holding the Office that I now do. I would like also to say a word in reply to several Members as to how we are organising our import programmes, and on what principles they are compiled and executed.
One word on the American loan. On 13th December last this House carried, by a very large majority, 345 votes to 98, a Motion which I moved on behalf of the Government approving the proposed financial arrangements between the United States Government and His Majesty's Government. Discussions regarding these arrangements are now just beginning in Congress, where there are supporters of this arrangement and opponents. Until Congress has reached a decision neither I, nor any other spokesman of His Majesty's Government, nor, I am sure, of 654 the Front Opposition Bench, nor, I would hope, any other responsible Member of the House, would make speeches or say things which would in any degree influence the decision of Congress on this matter adversely to the desire of the great majority in this House. The House will, therefore, appreciate that at certain points I must bear that consideration in mind and exercise a certain reserve. I may not be able to speak with the completest frankness although on broad grounds, I agree that we should give the very fullest information to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite referred.
The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) asked me some questions as to our import programmes and how we operate them, to which I will reply specifically in a moment. But what I am about to say relates to the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Dorset (Lieut.-Colonel Byers). I did not hear his speech—I was taking a little light refreshment at the time—but I have been told the substance of what he said. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford referred to the same matter. I would like, briefly, to give the House an account of how this import programming is worked; and I will lift a little the veil which we generally keep discreetly drawn over the workings of the machinery of Government. It will do no harm in this case, and, indeed, I think it will be of interest to the House to know just how we carry out this work. This import programming began with the war, and it has been going on for years. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were Members of the Coalition Government, took part in it, and are aware, in general, how the thing works. They started working it in detail. The various Departments for which they were responsible carried out, at the beginning of the war, a system of import programming, primarily because there was a great shortage of shipping as a result of destruction by enemy action; and, secondly, because the needs of the war effort had to take precedence over the private profit priorities which ruled in this field before the war. We had to set private profit aside, and substitute public interest and victory in the great struggle. Therefore, we had to plan, instead of letting people do what they liked.
This programming was introduced even before the Coalition Government, in the 655 early days of what we called the "phoney" stages of the war. Import programming began even then. What happened? The available shipping space, which was the primary determinant of these arrangements, was shared out among various Departments who were interested in the matter. The Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Supply, who were responsible for raw materials, and other Departments concerned, put in their claims for tonnage. These were all reviewed and brought together. What was thought to be less essential was set aside. It is very remarkable to recall that, although, before the war, we used to require 55,000,000 tons of imports a year, we were able to maintain the national life and the war effort during the war, under a plan of this kind, with only 25,000,000 tons a. year, less than half the prewar requirement. We suffered restriction, of course.
§ Mr. Dalton
Yes, dry cargo. These are the figures, other than oil. The right hon. Gentleman took a very vigorous and creditable part in that planning, so he knows about it. Anyhow, we cut out half. That is my point. Planning succeeded in cutting this pre-war programme by more than half, yet we maintained the national life and won the war. We had to weigh one alternative against another. That planning process has gone on. The great change has been that, when the war ended, and when Lend-Lease ended—this point is important from that aspect—the programming went on, but the bottleneck was no longer shipping. It became finance instead. The question no longer was, "Can we find ships?" but, "Can we find money?" and in particular, "Can we find dollars, or the equivalent of dollars?" We have continued the same practice, subject to this new criterion since the war ended. The hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. D. Eccles) asked me a question. He also was mixed up most creditably with these matters during the war. He helped to administer this machine. He asked me whether some priorities still prevailed now, as then, in respect of food and other commodities. The answer to him is "Yes." They do, provided—I know he knows too much about the matter to go wrong on this 656 point, although some people outside might—we do not use the word "priority "in too absolute a sense. There was no total, absolute priority for food over tobacco, even during the war. We still were able to smoke. It would have been possible, no doubt, to have brought in less tobacco during the war and rather more food. That was not the decision of the War Cabinet or of the Government. I do not think there was disagreement.
§ Mr. Eccles
The Ministry of Food bid for tobacco supplies during the war; it was considered as a food.
§ Mr. Dalton
If my hon. Friend calls tobacco a food, there is of course plenty of priority for food; but I was speaking of food as distinct from tobacco, and in that sense food was not given the total and absolute all-along-the-line priority over tobacco, any more than it had a priority over manufactured goods or raw materials. What we really determined during the war, and are still determining, is not so much priority in an absolute sense, as proportions—the due and proper proportions of imports. We are now following, in substance, the same principle as we were following then. Food, and certain other very necessary raw materials, etc., the basic requirements in terms of food and raw materials, are given—I do not want to use the word "priority," which is a little misleading— but a very high place in our import programming, along with certain other things, to make up the total which we can bring in.
I would like to establish the right perspective in which to consider this programming. I will give some figures in a moment, but, before I do so, I think that the perspective is rightly given when I say that, owing to uncertainties of the American Loan and other factors, such as the whole world situation and the general shortage, it would be very unwise, and the Government have not committed that act of unwisdom, to fix our programmes too far ahead. We have, however, made programmes for the first six months of the year; and I will give figures presently. On the basis of the first half of this year, in the programme which we contemplate, imports of food will be larger in tonnage than they were in the later war years. As to the composition of the tonnage, the diet to be provided will be definitely better in some respects than it, 657 was in the later war years, though it will be worse in others. There will be less meat, and less fats than in 1944, but more milk, tea, fruit and fish—more of the variety foods. We are doing our best, as my right hon. Friend has said, to give greater variety and greater tonnage. That of course is additional to what will be procured from home production. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will speak tomorrow. I have had a few words with him, and he is aware of the points which have been put today; it would be a mistake and a duplication if I were to attempt to answer now questions which are addressed to him. But I emphasise—
§ Mr. H. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. It may cramp the style a bit, but it may be possible to get some of the points in. It is a fair point, as we are discussing long-term policy.
§ Mr. Dalton
There are great resources in the British Constitution. The right hon. Gentleman must not be downcast by technicalities of procedure. The Minister of Agriculture is desirous of answering a number of points which have been raised. I cannot answer points in detail which have been raised by his predecessor, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison).
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I only want to point out that the original arrangement was that we should have two days to discuss agriculture, and specifically the new policy, which is extremely important. I am not objecting, I am only entering a caveat now that in so far as tomorrow is to be taken up with something wholly irrelevant to the subject we are supposed to be discussing, it will give us a claim for asking for more than a day at a later date.
§ Mr. Dalton
My right hon. Friend the Lord President is always very friendly towards any suggestion put forward by the Opposition to make the best use of the available time of the House. Perhaps we can leave it there for the moment, and see how tomorrow goes; and, if it is not 658 sufficient, perhaps the matter can be taken up again.
May I say a few words as to the machinery by which this import programming works? My hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford, whose ears have perhaps burned outside at things I have said of him—
§ Mr. Dalton
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will get better value if he leaves me alone. I really want to go on. It may be that I shall say what the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to know. The arrangement is this: The various Departments first put forward their own requirements. My experience at the Treasury is long enough to know that they always overplay their hand to begin with. They all put forward their requirements, which add up, of course, to an impossible total, from a practical point of view. It is well known by everybody who has been in this show. They all come along, and put in their requirements, which cover—I am speaking of the present situation—both requirements for purchases on public account and requirements for private importers as well. These are all scrutinised by the Treasury; it is one of the things the Treasury is there to do. There is a high level inter-Departmental committee of officials, which meets not just once in a while but very frequently, and endeavours to bring all these requirements together, with a little peaceful persuasion, and to compile them into a total which is within the bounds of the possible.
The next step having got the requirements for imports a little compressed and reduced to a reasonable-looking total, is to look at the other side of the account and to consider—I have pointed out that the bottle neck is now finance—how much we can reasonably undertake to pay for in this postwar and post-Lend-Lease period. There, we have to look at the level of exports, to see how they are going on, and what other forms of receipts we are getting in. We also have to look—though the Treasury keep this information to themselves and I do not reveal it to my colleagues who are discreet enough not to ask me for it—at what is happening to our gold and dollar reserves, about which I shall say another word be- 659 fore I sit down. All these things have to be looked at, in order to consider how much we can reasonably spring for the import programme. There is a Committee on this Balance of Payments, balancing the demand for imports by the Departments, on the one hand, against the possibility of payment. This again is a high level committee of officials, doing this special job under the chairmanship of a senior Treasury official, with the permanent heads of the other Civil Service Departments concerned entitled to attend. It is, therefore, as high level a committee as the Civil Service can furnish. It is the duty of that committee to make recommendations direct to Ministers, and it is the responsibility of the Government, on that recommendation, to take it or leave it or change it. The Cabinet is the final court of appeal in these matters, and takes responsibility for the allocation as finally agreed.
That is the mechanism. I have referred to two official committees having their separate functions, and I repeat that these committees are constantly meeting. The thing is a continuing process. I would go on to say—
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
Did I hear the right hon. Gentleman say that his colleagues did not ask him what his gold and dollar reserves are?
§ Mr. Dalton
I did not exactly say that; what I said was that this was not a matter I was often asked to reveal; and I should have hesitation in revealing it in this House, indeed I would not do it. I also said that some of my colleagues had enough discretion not to ask too often what the figures are, Ministers have discretion in dealing one with another, and there are some things which are relatively secret. There are sometimes leakages, and we want to keep them to a minimum. We have to be very careful sometimes.
The serious point I want to make is that, were it not for the influence of the Treasury in these matters, the whole economic programme and economic life of the country would soon be completely "haywire," because every Department would seek to ask for very much more than it could possibly have. I have been describing this programming in detail, because I wish 660 the House to see just how it works. My hon. Friend the Member for The Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Brad-dock) said what a fortunate thing it is that we are not a doctrinaire Government, wedded to fatal theories of decontrol for its own sake, nurtured by the German theorists recently landed in this country like Professor Friedrich August von Hayek. We draw on the springs of British commonsense in the practical handling of these complicated problems and we have maintained, and intend to maintain, this control of imports, which has served the country very well in peace as it did in war. To depart from it now, would be a gross error which this Government would not commit.
May I give some figures of how this import programme actually works out now? The House cannot expect me to break up the figures—or as the rather horrible modern phrase has it, break them down—into special commodities, because that would be giving information which might be misinterpreted in our commercial dealings. But I think the House will be interested if I give the main elements in this import programme, expressing them in terms of prospective rates of consumption. These are the figures for the first part of 1946, as approved by the Government, following the procedure I have described: food and agricultural products£300 millions; raw materials,£180 millions; tobacco,£23 millions; manufactured goods,£23 millions; films,£9 millions; other items negligible. The percentages are: food and agricultural products, 56 per cent, in value of the total imports; raw materials 33½ per cent.— between them, therefore, that is 89 per cent., which does not leave very much outside—tobacco 4½ per cent; manufactured goods 4½per cent.; films 1½ per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Dried eggs? "] Dried eggs are food. [Hon. Members: "They were."]
There are those who say that we should have no tobacco and no films. I say that His Majesty's Government, having looked at these figures carefully and the possibilities behind them, have decided that as things are now—if we do not get the American loan all sorts of things would have to happen, all sorts of things would have to change, all sorts of things would have to be cut—this is not an excessive provision to enable people to smoke, or. if they wish, to go to the 661 pictures. In the maintenance of public morale both smoking and pictures are important to many millions. It is all very well for the Conservative Party to try to plan people's lives without consulting them. We believe in reasonable liberty to the consumer. If a man wants to take his wife, or anybody else, to the pictures, why should he not do so? We say that these proportions are so small, and the essential value of them is so large, that we are not prepared, in these conditions, to crush the people into any doctrinaire mould.
A word about our exports. I indicated earlier that, in considering how much we can import, we must take account of how our exports are going. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has authorised me to make public, a few days before he would have announced them, the figures for exports in January. The figures for November, December and January were respectively,£30,000,000,£43,500,000 and£57,000,000. The trend is up, in spite of all those who try to spread alarm and despondency in industry, and in spite of the fact that there was a dock strike in November, which left some goods lying on the quays rather too long, and is reflected in the December and January figures. The upsurge has now asserted itself, and I hope that before long we shall be able to point to even higher figures. I do not want to overestimate the importance of this but it is a movement, a relatively rapid movement, in the direction we shall all desire.
One word on the gold and dollar reserve. We had to announce, for the purposes of Bretton Woods, that at the end of last October our net gold and dollar reserves stood at£450,000,000. That was not, I said then, an excessive figure in all the conditions of the time, having regard to the many potential claims that might accrue against us, particularly if anything went wrong with the American loan negotiations. Through some queer trick of figures, we were represented as owing£3,500,000,000 to a miscellaneous crowd of people, some of whom are our very good friends and some—never mind. I must conserve these gold and dollar reserves; I must keep a watchful eye on them. The House will not expect me to say how much they are today, and if I were to do so the House would not expect to hear that they stood 662 at the same figure as last October. I must keep a watchful eye on them. If the Treasury intervenes, as it must sometimes do to restrain other Departments, it is purely in order that these reserves shall not be ran down at a dangerous rate.
I want in conclusion to say, and I think this is the sort of thing which I think it is proper for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to say, that I must warn the House—I am now on our national problems and not on the international side—that there must be great restraint in the circumstances in which we stand in continually practising generosity at the expense of our own people, even in very good causes. Many great demands are made upon us, and we make our contribution. I think we have made an exceptionally fine contribution to these world causes. Take U.N.R.R.A. for example. We shall have contributed soon£155 million to U.N.R.R.A., nearly half the amount at which our gold and dollar reserve stood last October.
Many others make claims upon us. The claim of India, as I have said, is not a monetary one. The Indians have plenty of money with which to pay; it is supplies they want. So far as money is concerned, claims are made upon us for loans, political and commercial, long term credits and all the rest of it; and we must go reasonably slowly in meeting these demands. We cannot meet them all. The general rule must be—there will be exceptions—we must get prompt payment for British services rendered, to whomsoever we render them. It is no good talking about long term grants.
It is, therefore, my duty to say to the House, and I think the House will agree with me, that although each particular item in a programme of generosity to others, taken in isolation,. will have its passionate advocates and a great case may be made for it, yet if accepted in the aggregate they would sink us; and we do not intend to sink. Therefore, there must be a strict limit from now on.
In conclusion, I would say this House has debated this matter in a non-partisan spirit and we appreciate the tone of the speeches made— [Interruption.] Well, I am thinking of the more important speeches. We appreciate the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who led off. After all, we stand here at this short interval after the war, not bowed down but 663 confronted with great problems and great difficulties. The British housewife has played her part magnificently right through the war. She has sacrificed, she has endured, and she has struggled and starved herself for the sake of her man and her children. To her all our sympathy goes out, and all our desire to do our very best to see that of whatever we can gather together in the way of food supplies she shall have her fair share. There will be no guzzling by a small number. How that is prevented is a matter for the Minister of Food to look after. He has got to deal with it. He has got to prevent it.
This House will, I believe, support the Government tonight in its decision that 664 we shall endeavour so to organise our food supplies that we get the best opportunities we can out of the limited facilities at present at our disposal, the best opportunities we can for a proper standard of life for our own people, while making our due contribution to this great international problem to which reference has been made. We shall continue, I believe, to show in peace, as in war, that, serene courage that carried us through in the face of many difficulties, though they are of a different sort which confront us now.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen minutes past Ten" o'Clock.