§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:But, having regard to the confusion and uncertainty which exist in the agricultural industry due to the Government's vacillation, humbly regret that the Gracious Speech and Command Paper No. 8989, since issued, contain no proposals adequate to restore confidence to farmers and farmworkers and so to ensure the continued expansion of agricultural production.Since this debate was arranged, the Government have seen fit to produce a White Paper. After what some people have described as dawdling for 12 months, this White Paper seems to have come just in time.
This effort of the Government to do two things which are mutually incompatible has caused psychological havoc in the countryside that is perhaps more intense and furious than any I have seen in the 30 years I have been in this House. I doubt whether the temporary schemes outlined in the White Paper will do anything to dissipate the havoc that has been caused; certainly, there is nothing in the White Paper to invalidate our Amendment, and there is no doubt at all about the confusion and uncertainty in the countryside.
I think even the Government would not doubt the possible adverse effect it may have upon the food production campaign. 608 I must say at once that those of us sitting on these benches are as keen on expanding food production as we were back in 1947, and we know full well that the basis of any expansion must be the confidence of the producers themselves. After all, there are nearly 360,000 of them. They might be led, but I doubt whether they could be driven, and anyone who knows anything at all about agriculture must know that the key to higher output or higher farming efficiency is much more psychological than technical.
It affords us no pleasure, therefore, to see this Government, through perhaps inertia on the one hand and premature action on the other, losing the confidence of producers which we built up so patiently between 1945 and 1951—a confidence that brought this country a steady increase in production of something like 4½ per cent. per annum over the five or six years.
There is no doubt about the origin of the uncertainty and loss of confidence. While the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Agriculture have been assuring producers from time to time of their devotion to the principles and guarantees of the 1947 Act, the farmers have seen the Minister of Food, who seems indecently anxious to get rid of his responsibilities and hurriedly to dismantle the controls which provide the guarantees, before any long-term alternative schemes have been worked out. And no one, except perhaps the Minister of Food, will under-estimate the difficulties of working out such schemes in the new circumstances that have been created.
So farmers, large and small, all over the country began to wonder, not without reason, what the future held in store for them. Theirs is, after all, a long-term investment and at least they need to know something about future markets and prices. Some of the sceptics dared even to remember 1921 and some of them came a little nearer home to the '20s and '30s. I can understand their point of view. The very famous Lloyd George was Prime Minister in 1921 and there were Tory Governments in the '20s and '30s.
§ Mr. Williams
The big question asked all over the country, including East Aberdeenshire, was whether a repetition of those times was possible. This alarm and despondency was not confined to a few disgruntled farmers, as the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford (Captain Soames) will understand. I can quote many statements, articles and speeches. I content myself with just one. The quotation happens to be of a Yorkshireman, as hon. Members would expect from me. He is a one-time successful industrialist, and now a highly efficient farmer respected throughout the area where he farms. The "Farmer and Stockbreeder," of Monday, 28th November, reported:'Never in the 14 years I have been associated with farming have I known such a complete lack of confidence in the future by farmers as a whole,' said Sir William Prince Smith on Monday of last week. Sir William asked Sir James Scott Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry, to convey to the Minister the misgivings of the delegates at the lack of policy on agriculture. He went on, 'We are beginning to want something more than pledges, something concrete.'It must have been very embarrassing for the Chief Scientific Adviser to convey that message, but I am sure that he did so.
When he met the National Farmers' Union Executive in Worcestershire with two Conservative colleagues the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) reduced the matter to a few words and said:There does come a time when you must say to the Minister, 'Is it not about time that you told us where we are going?'These statements are fairly representative. They have been more colourful here and there perhaps, but that is the sort of feeling in the countryside.
Some hon. Members may argue that the farmers are a little too touchy, but I have been here for longer than I care to remember and, having regard to what I have witnessed in this House and the country, I feel that they have every reason to mistrust the Conservative Party where agricultural policy is concerned, and every reason to bless the Government that passed the 1947 Act. Where they would be at this moment were it not for that Act I leave it to their own imagination. Certainly they would be gloomier than a London fog.
610 The Prime Minister did not help to remove alarm and despondency last Tuesday when he said:The House knows that it is our theme and policy to reduce controls and restrictions as much as possible and to reverse, if not abolish, the tendency to Stale purchase and marketing which is a characteristic of the Socialist philosophy. We hope instead to develop "—the House should listen to the language—individual enterprise founded in the main on the laws of supply and demand and to restore to the interchange of goods and services that variety, flexibility, ingenuity and incentive on which we believe the fertility and liveliness of economic life depend.He went on:For our farmers, the abandonment of controls will bring great opportunities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 26–27.]Those are typical phrases right out of the text-book, which are calculated to frighten the very life out of any farmer who lived through the '20s and '30s. In making that part of his speech last Tuesday, the right hon. Gentleman must have thought that he was in the Manchester Free Trade Hall.
The Prime Minister made plain that this Government hate the idea of planning for feeding the people or anything else. Well, he cannot blame others if they envisage the old policy of drift, fluctuation, uncertainty, gluts followed by shortages, leading to limited production and restricted consumption. As for the abandonment of controls bringing great opportunities for farmers, it is a most curious sort of welcome that the farming community are giving to this new-found freedom.
I come now to my second point—that the Government seem to misunderstand completely the mood and the outlook of the present-day farmer. So far, the Prime Minister is only a part-time farmer, but there is time for him to learn. Perhaps he will have a chat with the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford some time. Those farmers who remember the '20s and '30s when there were plenty of liberty, no controls, and few forms, are not terribly enthusiastic about another dose of that sort of liberty, even if presented free of charge by Conservative Government. They recall that conditions in that period were so bad that millions of acres of land went out of cultivation. They recall that bankruptcies were far 611 too numerous, that 250,000 workers left the land, that farm incomes were exceedingly small, that agricultural wages were little less than a scandal, and that production reached almost its lowest level for about 50 years.
Those were the days when there was plenty of freedom, but to listen to the Prime Minister and other Government spokesmen one would imagine that unrestricted freedom, flexibility, ingenuity and so forth would bring forth bounteous harvests and the maximum amount of food. The very opposite was the case between the wars. Indeed, we reached rock bottom in those halcyon libertarian days. I hope that the Prime Minister will not quote the United States against me, since all their prices are under-pinned.
I should like to give a few figures to fertilise my argument and to show that all this high falutin' talk about liberty and freedom, when applied to the inter-war period, produced nothing but disaster for the countryside, whilst the planning that we did in the post-war period has been of infinite value to the last Government, the present Government and the nation as a whole. These figures are a pre-war average of about five years' production of certain commodities compared with the production of 1950–51. I take only five commodities.
The pre-war average for cereals was 4,442,000 tons and the 1951 average 7,781,000 tons; pre-war, potatoes averaged 4,873,000 tons, and the 1950–51 average was 9,500,000 tons; sugar beet averaged 2,741,000 tons before the war, and in 1950–51, 5,216,000 tons; milk before the war was 1,563 million gallons, and post-war 2,013 million gallons; eggs were 385,000 tons against 488,000 tons. With all the rigidity, inhibition, cobwebs and controls, the Departmental estimate for 1951–52 was 47 per cent. up on the pre-war average—and in 1950–51 we did not have the advantage of unlimited imports of feedingstuffs. Those figures can be found in Command Paper No. 8789, produced by the Minister himself. What becomes of the argument of the anti-planners—
§ Commander J. W. Maitland (Horncastle)
I am obliged to the right hon. Member for giving way. I was hoping that, when delving into the past, he would 612 explain to us, particularly in regard to cereals, why he voted and spoke so vehemently against the Wheat Act, and why so many of the marketing Acts were opposed tooth and nail by his own party?
§ Mr. Williams
That is typical of many interventions I have enjoyed over the last 20-odd years. I voted against almost every expedient which the Conservative Government produced because they never produced a policy for agriculture. There were a whole series of bits and pieces which resulted, I repeat, in millions of acres of land going out of cultivation. If I voted against those oddments, which nobody could call a policy—
§ Mr. Williams
Yes, both spoke and voted against them, and I would do the same in similar circumstances.
What becomes of the argument of the anti-planners when they see what happened in those full libertarian days and in the days when we tried to plan for the maximum production of food in this country? Obviously they have not got an argument. But that is not the end of the story. Between the wars, with all the liberty in the world, efficiency was at a very low level indeed. Low farming was the rule; high farming was the exception. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will not disagree with me on that. In the post-war years, since we have planned for high production, with the good will of the farming community, efficiency has increased at a more rapid rate than ever in the history of this country. We have had higher yields of milk, cereals potatoes and sugar beet. In fact, we are producing, even at this moment with a Conservative Government in office, more per person employed than almost any other country in the world.
Perhaps I ought to break off here to correct a statement of the Minister when he spoke at a place called Carlton Town Hall, Yorkshire, quite recently. Referring to the broadcast of the Leader of the Opposition, he said:By 1949–50 production had reached 43 per cent. above the pre-war level. Unfortunately, there it stuck. In some respects it was beginning to slip back by the time the Conservatives took office. Now, in two years, production has climbed from 43 per cent. above pre-war to … 51 per cent.613 What are the real facts? The right hon. Gentleman produced the Annual Review and the fixing of farm prices for 1952 in Command Paper No. 8556. There the figure is given for 1951 but the figure for 1949–50 does not appear. Excluding allotments, back gardens and the rest, the increase over pre-war is 40 per cent. The provisional figure for 1951–52 was 41 per cent. It did look, therefore, as though production had come to a full stop; but in the White Paper of 1953, after the Annual Review of Farm Prices—Command Paper No. 8798—the provisional figure for 1951–52 given in the 1952 White Paper had gone up from 41 per cent. to 47 per cent.
Actually between 1950–51 and 1951–52, which could be called the Labour Government's farm year, output increased from 41 per cent. to 47 per cent., or by 6 per cent., while the provisional figure given for 1952–53 in the same document was 50 per cent. Compared with an average of 4½ per cent. to 5 per cent. increase under the Labour Government, output for 1953 might be 3 per cent. more. I do not think that is a lot on which we can congratulate the Government. I thought that figure ought to be corrected so that it will not be repeated in any part of the country.
The question before the House is whether, in the sacred name of so-called liberty and freedom, or Tory ideological dogma, we shall lose the gains we have so hardly won. In 1953, and in all the years that follow this country will need the maximum production of food. I say that despite temporary surpluses in North America. No one knows that better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He will have something more to do than merely to keep an eye on the anti-planners in this Government if we are to succeed. He knows better than most Ministers that, unless producers have confidence in Government policy so that they can plan their breeding and cultivations well ahead—sometimes three, four, or five years ahead—production is much more likely to fall than it is to rise.
Unless I am mistaken, the Minister of Agriculture and the Chancellor have only just scrambled home in a photo-finish to get this White Paper. Even now it is a mixture of improvisation and compromise. To use the words of the 614 "Daily Telegraph," which no one would call a Socialist newspaper:Now that this point has been belatedly reached"—that is now, when Government decisions have been taken—many of the decisions are anything but firm and producers and traders in vital sectors of the food industry are left in continuing uncertainty.If hon. Members who are faithful, loyal, devoted readers of the "Daily Telegraph" agree with that statement, which has just about the same words as our Amendment, we shall expect them to vote for our Amendment. Any reading of the White Paper makes that transparently clear. There is no uncertainty at all about the first paragraph of the White Paper, which says:In addition, marketing, distribution and selling prices have been kept under complete control. It is the Government's policy to bring these controls to an end as soon as practicable. Direct Government purchase of home-produced food can no longer be the sole or main instrument for implementing the Government's guarantees to farmers.That is clear enough—first things first, away with controls over marketing and distribution and no more Government purchase of home-grown food, although, curiously enough, I notice that the Government will continue to import bacon. Perhaps either the Minister or the Chancellor will tell us, since the Government are not to trade in meat, to whom they are to sell this bacon, and at what price?
This forthright decision to remove all controls and damn the consequences, seems a trifle too drastic—to put it mildly—except, of course, for the very kindly, saving words which perhaps will lull rural Members of the Conservative Party into a false sense of security—"as soon as practicable." It looks as if something is reserved for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister from the wreckage. Perhaps, we shall see.
When we talk of agriculture we are speaking of an iudustry which last year produced £1,120 million worth of food, and for the Government to say that at no stage would any control be exercised over marketing or distribution is simply to abrogate their functions. Quite obviously no one wants controls merely for the sake of controls, and nobody wants rationing when supplies are plentiful. But we do need concrete schemes for providing guarantees to producers if we are to restore 615 their confidence, and the consumer is equally entitled to expect safeguards from the Government.
I still cannot believe that either one or the other can be permanently provided without some measure of control at some stage of the operations, and here, I imagine, is the cause of this delay in announcing their intentions. There was a raging battle between the semi-planners and the anti-planners and those who would abolish the 1947 Act altogether. For despite the frequent assurances of the Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, there are still enough backwoodsmen in the Conservative Party who hate both Part I and Part II of the Agriculture Act. Fortunately for the Minister and the Government, the Conservative Party Conference came just at the right moment. When they heard there was a possibility of losing 30 or 40 rural seats even the backwoodsmen began to sit up and take notice, and so the semi-planners sitting on the Front Bench gained a very temporary victory.
§ Sir R. Boothby
Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that the backwoodsmen live on agriculture.
§ Mr. Williams
I need not worry about that interjection. I do not think it means a lot.
I said that the semi-planners had won a temporary victory. I said "temporary," of course, because all the schemes, with the exception of wool and sugar, are purely temporary and can, or must, be modified at some later date. There is an interim scheme for eggs, and for cereals; and a temporary scheme for potatoes. For meat and bacon a plan has been devised to meet the immediate situation. It may be modified for better or worse. That is not a very thrilling document to put before the country. It is not even likely to capture the imagination of the good old Tory farmers. All the important problems have been shelved.
I doubt whether even these temporary expedients are sufficiently attractive to restore 50 per cent. of the confidence of the producers that so far has been lost. Paragraph 6 of the White Paper refers to eggs. It states: 616The present interim arrangements will be continued until a more permanent system can be introduced.Therefore, any permanent scheme is still in the lap of the gods. It could emerge as a scheme in which eggs were so dear that the consumer could not afford to buy them, or so cheap that the producer could not afford to produce them; we have to wait and see.
Reference is made to cereals in paragraph 4 of Command Paper No. 8947, which states:This arrangement is made without prejudice to the form of any permanent organisation including the sources of funds for the implementation of Part I of the Agriculture Act.So again we shall know the best, or the worst, in the sweet by-and-by, but we do not know much about it yet. What we do know is that there is no absolute guarantee of a market for cereals, although they ought to be readily consumed. Perhaps the Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer will tell us what is meant by, "the sources of funds." I am sure there is an explanation, and it is as well that the House should have it.
For potatoes there is something different. A producers' marketing board may turn up in 1955. However, it is a temporary scheme.
With regard to milk, full powers will be restored to the milk marketing boards in 1954. It would almost seem as if the Minister or the Government are shuffling everything on to the marketing boards so that if anybody makes a mistake it will be the board and not the Government, forthe exercise of these powers"—the milk boards' powers—must, of course, be subject to necessary safeguards for the Exchequer, the consumer and other interests.And while there is the continuance of an element of consumer subsidy, the Government must approve of the level of prices and distributive margins. May I ask the Minister and the Chancellor whether it is the case that, in any event, they would have to fix the annual price in the February Review?
It does not seem to me that the restored powers of the milk marketing boards will make any change. If, however, any change is intended, perhaps one or other of the Ministers will tell us what it is to be, because if there is a change it must 617 be a change from the present 1947 Act. We are given so few details that we are left completely in the air. All we know is that the powers are to be handed back. We are left just to fear the worst. With the Ministry of Food anxious to shut up shop I suppose this may have been inevitable, but we are certainly entitled to know many more details than are given in the White Paper on such a vital commodity as milk.
It will be noticed that all these schemes can be changed or modified in 1954–55. One begins to wonder whether the Government are losing confidence in themselves, and are simply handing on the solution of these problems to their successors. If so, they are probably right, since we could not make a worse job of it.
Finally there is the meat and bacon plan, which is open to modification in the light of experience. The ingenious plan for providing financial guarantees to producers may or may not work out. That will have to be seen. But I cannot believe that the only practicable course to meet the immediate situation at the end of rationing is to restore private trading in livestock; at least, in so far as that involves adding one more margin to the price of meat. Even the Government admit in paragraph 14 of Command Paper No. 8989… that the pre-war fatstock auction system was unsatisfactory in certain respects.They why return to it? We have all seen cattle driven many miles to market in prewar days and then driven back home when bidding was weak or non-existent because of price rings. It may happen again, unless the auction system and slaughter-house administration is revolutionised. It would be no consolation either to me or to hon. Members on this side of the House if the Treasury had to foot the bill. I notice that the agricultural correspondent of "The Times" this morning very rightly draws the attention of the House and the country to the possibility of abuse, and says that unless very careful safeguards are devised at the auction marts it is just conceivable that the whole scheme may break down and be followed by another 1921—but for very different reasons.
This doctrinaire onslaught on planning and controls could cost the country and 618 the producer very dearly indeed. It is my personal view—and I stress the word "personal"—that a livestock marketing authority acting for the Government would be the most effective instrument to administer grading centres and slaughterhouses. At least they could safeguard the interests of the Treasury and the producer, avoid an additional margin for wholesaler—whom we have managed without quite nicely for 14 years—allow the retailer to buy off the hook what his customers prefer and the producer to sell by private treaty if he wishes, while reserving the right for a producers' marketing board to market from the farms to the abattoirs on behalf of its members.
That, perhaps, is not a carefully worked out scheme, but at least it would be, or could be, preferable to a reversion to the old auction mart as we used to know it. The White Paper gives no clue about how the new scheme will work, who will run the slaughter-houses and on what basis, and what safeguards will be provided at the auction sale. It is a thoroughly bad, ill-digested scheme which ought not to have been brought to the House.
The promise to give every facility to the National Farmers' Union to try out their scheme will deceive nobody, and I attach little or no importance to it. It is merely a face-saver that means nothing at all. I cannot see how, once that auction system gets back into harness, there will be any chance for an even test of the National Farmers' Union scheme: nor do I think we are under any obligation, either in honour or for any other good reason, to bring the wholesalers back.
For 14 years they have been living happily on compensation for doing just nothing. They have had a good time at the nation's expense. I hope that either the Minister of Agriculture or the Chancellor will tell us just how much compensation has been paid during the 14 years. I have heard various figures of £4 million a year and £8 million a year. I do not know whether the figure is £1 million or £6 million, or what it is: but we ought to know how much has been paid in compensation, for that at least allows reasonable judgment on that point of honour. It should be remembered that many of these wholesalers were given good jobs by the Ministry of Food when 619 the Government took over, and they have continued for 14 years to draw their salary and compensation at the same time.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
I know that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to be fair. I should like to ask him whether he is aware that the Ministry of Food in 1940 were only too pleased to make use of all the powers of distribution of the meat marketing officials. Since that time these people have asked time and again to be released, but the Ministry of Food would not release them.
§ Mr. Williams
Yes, but they have happily drawn compensation all the time. After 14 years it seems to me that they have been paid reasonably well, especially those who were 60, 70 or 80 years of age and who retired happily on this Government pension.
There is one question I wish to ask arising out of the example on page 7 of the White Paper. I know that this will be simple and easily understandable to hon. Members who have read the White Paper. In it there is reference to an individual guaranteed price, the average market realisation price and the standard price. In the example, the individual guaranteed price is 120s. per cwt. and the standard price is 130s. per cwt. But if a person sells an animal and gets less for it than the individual guaranteed price of 120s., the figure is made up to 120s. Then, of course, on top of that he gets the difference between the average market realisation price and the standard price—5s.
If the seller of an animal realises that, because of the weakness of the bidding, his animal will not fetch 120s. per cwt., he will have no further interest in what price he actually gets for the animal—whether it fetches 108s. or 100s., or whatever it may be—since he knows that the Treasury very kindly will make the price up to 120s. I should like to know just what sort of safeguards the Government have in mind to cover that sort of transaction. I know, and I am sure that the Minister also knows, that the producers themselves are not anxious to inflict burdens upon the Treasury or the consumer which would endanger their whole livelihood. Anything that we do that breaks down because of excessive charges on the Treasury might endanger the guaranteed price and the price for the producer.
620 It seems utterly useless to probe further into these interim, ill-digested schemes, because so few details are given and many hon. Members want to speak. There is no doubt that the confusion was caused by the Government trying to do two things at once which are mutually incompatible—to bring freedom into farming and the so-called healthy wind of enterprise, and at the same time to fulfil their pledges under the 1947 Act. This dilemma is also the dilemma of the industry. The Government have certainly lost the confidence of producers and they have endangered our food production campaign.
I should like to warn the Minister of Agriculture or any other Minister that it is no use quoting to this House either the June or the September returns of the prices of livestock, and the rest, because these livestock were bred under the old guarantees and under a multiplicity of pledges from the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Agriculture. All we have now are a series of interim and temporary schemes, none of which is sufficiently firm to restore confidence, and producers and traders are left in a continuing state of uncertainty. In other words, the Government have fallen down on this very important job.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Sir Thomas Dugdale)
The House is always pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) in an agricultural debate, but I am amazed at the speech to which we have just listened. The gist of the right hon. Gentleman's argument has been to compare the circumstances of the 20's and 30's with those of the present day but the House will realise that they were entirely different. I do not propose to go into details about those days this afternoon, but I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to refresh his memory as to exactly what was the part played by his party during those years.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to use the argument that recent times have been much better than those times and has talked of what his party did, but does he remember that his party voted against all Measures which the Government of the day introduced in those times to try to help the farmers? Those Measures 621 included the Wheat Act, to which the right hon. Gentleman today refers as "one of the oddments." When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking on the Second Reading of the Bill, he described it as the worst piece of legislation which had been introduced in the last 10 years, and added that his party regarded the Bill as the worst possible form of protection without a single redeeming feature.
All sides of the House today will agree that the Wheat Act, 1932, was the forerunner of the system of guaranteed prices in the agricultural industry. It was consolidated by the Coalition Government in the 40's, and confirmed by the right hon. Gentleman in the Agriculture Act, 1947. In addition to that, the right hon. Gentleman's party voted against various other agriculture Acts.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
The answer to that question provides no reason why the party opposite should oppose every Measure which was introduced to help agriculture and then come to the House in 1953 and use the circumstances as an argument against the present White Paper.
To come to more recent times—
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Very recent times. Has the right hon. Gentleman refreshed his memory? I believe he has; but he has got the implications wrong. I am referring to Appendix I of the 1953 White Paper following the Annual Review. When the present Government became responsible for our affairs two years ago, the whole trend of production was, in many important respects, downwards. Of that there can be no shadow of doubt, and we must start from that fact. But today, again with no shadow of doubt, the trend is certainly upwards. In the closing part of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said it was no use referring to the September agricultural returns—
§ Mr. T. Williams
Before we come to that, I should like to get this clear in all parts of the House. I should be the last person on earth to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman. He knows that the 1953 622 White Paper, Command Paper No. 8798, shows the output for 1951–52 as 147 per cent. compared with pre-war, excluding allotments and private gardens. The farming year is from May to May. The right hon. Gentleman had been in office for only seven months in 1951–52 and, consequently, the output for that year must be credited to the last Labour Government. The Labour Party must be credited with the 147 per cent. and not the 143 per cent. to which reference has been made.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I cannot accept that. Let there be no confusion about this. In the case of the 1952 White Paper the figure for the big increase was provisional, but in the 1953 White Paper the figure was actual, and the actual increase that we got was largely due to the spring sowing, which was due to action taken by this Government.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I urge the right hon. Gentleman to look carefully at the September returns. The House will note from the September returns that all kinds of livestock show increases in total compared with September, 1952. The right hon. Gentleman will note in particular that the young stock show increases all along the line. If there was the lack of confidence which has been alleged, people would not increase their livestock in that manner. I am glad that in his amendment the right hon. Gentleman recognises and agrees that we want a continuation of the expansion which is now going on and upon which all parts of the House are agreed.
To turn to marketing, with which the White Paper particularly deals, it is true, and I accept it at once, that during the last two years the agricultural marketing policy has been passing through a period of transition. I realise that during this time there has been some anxiety, which is quite understandable during a period when we are moving from a rigid to a freer economy. But I should like the House to realise that such a transition would have been inevitable whatever Government had been in office, unless we as a nation were prepared to continue rationing indefinitely, and this Government 623 most certainly were not prepared to do that.
Since 1939 food shortages have made it necessary for successive Governments to adopt the system of State purchase for many of the principal foodstuffs, whether home produced or imported, and, in addition to that, distribution and selling prices have also been closely regulated. Since the present Government came into office two years ago there has been a steady improvement, and we can now see the end of the transition period and food rationing is to end next year. The foundations have been laid on which a new structure of marketing arrangements and price guarantees can be erected, and these are the provisions which have been explained in the White Paper, Command Paper 8989, which was issued last week.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I should be grateful if the Minister would deal with one point which I consider to be of very great importance at this stage. Reference has been made to loss of confidence by producers. I can say with some authority that the men working in the livestock industry are concerned and view the proposals with consternation.
I wish to ask the Minister as courteously as I can why he went out of his way on 30th October, only a week ago last Friday, to stay away, with his other colleagues in the Government, from the meeting to which members of the Trades Union Congress were invited. On 21st October, three Members of the Cabinet, the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Food and the Lord Privy Seal, met the producers in this House, and yet on 30th October, not a single Minister—not even a Parliamentary Secretary—was present to meet the representatives of the workers in the industry. I should be glad if the Minister would give the House an assurance on this matter, because the men in the industry are in a state of consternation.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I shall deal with that point right away, although it has nothing to do with the debate we are having or with the policy of the Government. I shall try to make clear what the position was. I had agreed to meet representatives of the T.U.C. on a particular date, but Government business intervened and I had to put the meeting off for a fortnight. That is all that happened, and 624 I am looking forward to having the meeting at the earliest possible moment.
I was saying that since the present Government came into office there had been a steady improvement, that we could now see the end of the transitional period, and that food rationing would come to an end next year. The foundations have been laid upon which a new structure of price guarantee can be erected, and they are set out in the White Paper which was issued last week. There is much work to be done, but the basis of policy has been determined.
The criticism is made in the Amendment that these proposals are inadequate in themselves to restore confidence and that they have taken too long to prepare. I hope to deal fully with those points, but first I would give a brief indication of the issues we have had to face and the ways in which we have approached them. I think that many people have believed it is possible to abolish rationing and to maintain State buying of farm products at fixed prices. But State trading cannot continue when rationing ends, except with very great loss to the Exchequer. Let me explain this to the House. Under the rationing system, food is not sold but allocated. The housewive and the distributor have to take what they are given at a fixed price and, owing to shortage, they are glad to take whatever is available at those prices. They have Hobson's choice, and no more.
As soon as supply and demand approach balance, rationing starts to crack, and eventually breaks down. Let us take the example of meat. This is a highly perishable commodity in a multitude of cuts and qualities. When rationing ends, meat has to be sold to the best advantage, not allocated, in a way to satisfy the widest variety of demand. Government Departments cannot attempt such a task except at great risk to the taxpayer or, alternatively, with great restriction of consumer choice. We have therefore decided that Government purchase of agricultural products must end with rationing.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
Is it not possible to do away with allocation and still give a choice to both trader and consumer by the scheme which my right hon. Friend mentioned this afternoon?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
Not without huge risks to the Exchequer and the taxpayer. 625 That is the problem to which the Prime Minister referred in his speech on the Address last week, and it is the only point where there is great divergence of view on the question of marketing. The suggestion that State buying might continue is very largely inspired by the wish to continue fixed prices, but the right hon. Member for Don Valley himself foresaw this difficulty arising. When he introduced the 1947 Agriculture Act he realised that at some unknown future date fixed prices would not be the right method by which to implement that Act. That is set out quite clearly in the Explanatory Memorandum which he published at the same time as he introduced the Bill. The Act wisely made provision for a variety of methods of guarantee. The fixed price method is therefore not the only way in which effective stability of return can be assured to farmers.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Did the right hon. Gentleman consider the recommendations of the Lucas Committee, which were precisely of the opposite effect?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
All those recommendations were considered. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument. I was saying that the fixed price method was not the only effective way of assuring a return to farmers, as they have recognised in accepting for the 1954 harvest the deficiency payment system for cereals. I will deal with this point later. The House will see from the White Paper that we have provided for a diversity of methods, taking into consideration the circumstances affecting each commodity. They are designed to give the greatest freedom and satisfaction to consumer and trader, effective guarantees to the producer and adequate safeguards for the Exchequer.
This has been achieved with a substantial measure of agreement among all the interests concerned. The commodities which are the subject of price and marketing guarantees vary greatly. Some are perishable, like milk, and others are infinitely varied, like meat. Some are normally sold in a market, like wheat, while others, like oats, stay to a great extent on the farm. Those are the kind of factors of which account has to be taken.
As is stated in paragraph 4 of the White Paper, it is the policy of the Government 626 to consider sympathetically proposals for the establishment of producer marketing boards. In working out new marketing and guarantee arrangements, the Government have linked them closely to the difference in nature and the economic factors of each commodity. No single method can possibly suit every commodity nor solve the problem of them all.
We have shown in the White Paper that we contemplate the use of marketing boards in various ways. Our decision to restore the powers of the Milk Marketing Board will be welcomed, I think, by all farmers. We have also indicated our view as to the place of marketing boards for wool, potatoes, eggs and fatstock. In each case the arrangements have to be carefully adapted to the circumstances. In addition to that, we must always be watchful to establish the necessary equity among producer, consumer and taxpayer. That is the general approach which we made to the various problems.
I shall now answer the specific question regarding the delay, which is included in the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman. I realise perfectly well that the study of these questions has taken a long time, and I admit at once that it would have been possible to have reached decisions on some of the commodities and to have announced them earlier. But that would only have been possible had the Government been prepared to take these decisions without full consultation with the various interests concerned. I take full responsibility for this delay. I have done it deliberately, because I have held the view throughout, and I still hold the view, that, despite the urgency, it has been worth while taking time to reach such a large measure of agreement. We have reached a large measure of agreement—not complete agreement, but a large measure of agreement.
In dealing with the White Paper itself, I do not propose to deal in detail with each of the commodities mentioned. I will say a few words about cereals and milk, and then rather more about fat-stock. As far as cereals are concerned, the Government published during the Recess a White Paper which set out the arrangements for the 1954 harvest which had been agreed with the farmers and the trade. This White Paper explains the system of deficiency payments to be 627 operated for next harvest, and sets out the guaranteed standard prices for the four cereal crops for 1954.
It was important that these prices should be published in time for the autumn sowing, and there will naturally be further discussions about arrangements for future years. The Government, as is stated in the White Paper, hold the view that the deficiency payments system is the right one for cereals. I appreciate that in certain parts of the country there have been difficulties with this year's harvest, but they arise from the very fact that if the growers are to obtain the benefit this year of the guaranteed prices, they have to sell to the Ministry of Food. In other words, they have to move grain off the farm in order to benefit.
After next year's harvest, they will be able to sell to merchants at the market price, or, so far as oats and barley are concerned, retain them on the farm, and in both cases receive the price guarantees in the form of a deficiency payment. It was precisely because the Government foresaw the difficulties that would arise under the present support price system, if—and this is the important point which I hope the House will appreciate—the guaranteed minimum prices were above world market prices, that they decided earlier in the year that different arrangements were required. That is exactly why we introduced the new arrangements for next year.
I now turn to milk. The Government have decided that the powers of the Milk Marketing Boards should be restored in full. The Milk Marketing Boards were operating successfully many years before the war, and, like other people whose businesses were, in effect, taken away from them under the emergency powers, the Government think that the Milk Marketing Boards have the right to have their powers restored. The conditions in which they will operate will be different from those which existed before the war, and safeguards are necessary for the Exchequer, the consumer and other interests.
There is now, for instance, a consumer subsidy on ordinary liquid milk. There is a very much larger milk-in-schools and welfare milk scheme than in pre-war days. There is also a clean milk policy which will be maintained. As regards 628 the details, much work remains to be done concerning how the Milk Marketing Boards will operate in these changed conditions. It is sufficient to say that now that the decision has been reached negotiations will take place at a very early date.
In addition, we have the new Agricultural Marketing Act, 1949, on the Statute Book, which was passed by the party opposite and supported by hon. Members on this side of the House. It gives wider and more effective powers to Ministers than they had before the war, and that is another factor to be considered in returning the powers to the Milk Marketing Boards. I have no doubt at all that the decision to restore these powers is clearly a necessary and proper one, and will be widely welcomed.
§ Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)
I am indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for clearing up an important point. But I understand, with regard to the welfare milk scheme, that before payment is made, the distributors' accounts have to be audited by the Ministry of Food. Is it now proposed that the Milk Marketing Boards should have access to the accounts of the distributors in order to to verify what subsidy shall be paid?
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
Can my right hon. Friend say what opportunity this House will have of considering the safeguards mentioned in paragraph 10 of the White Paper before the Defence Regulations and the Statutory Instruments are revoked?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
That matter would have to come before the House, and, in the new circumstances, any amended scheme would have to come before the House for debate before it passed into law.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether it is the intention of the Government to maintain the consumer subsidy on milk at the level at which it is now running?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
That is an entirely different question, and my right hon. Friend is going to reply later. As I said, 629 the consumer subsidy is on, and, as far as I am concerned as Minister of Agriculture, that is the position in which I find myself.
I now turn to fatstock. We have set out our decisions about fatstock in the White Paper and explained the scheme in some detail in the Appendix. The foundation of the whole scheme is, of course, the success of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food in bringing us to the end of meat rationing next year.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
It is the Government's decision that State trading must not continue beyond that date. The plan which we have worked out gives all concerned what we believe they want, although, I admit at once, not in every respect the whole of what they may wish. In brief, it returns to the auctioneers, the wholesalers, and the butchers the freedom to buy and sell, and allows the housewives to express their choice through the prices struck in the market. At the same time, it gives to the farmers the two things which are essential for the expansion and maintenance of production, namely, an adequate foreknowledge of the return to be expected from the sale of an animal, and a reasonable assurance that production of good quality animals will be duly rewarded.
Without the individual price guarantee, we should not have achieved the former. If we had not provided the collective guarantee as well as the individual price guarantee, we should have removed the incentive which our plan offers to the individual producer to study the market directly. I am satisfied that this plan is a fair and full implementation of our obligations under the Agriculture Act, both in the spirit and the letter.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the extent of the Exchequer's commitment. No doubt my right hon. Friend will refer to this again when he comes to wind up, but I will say this at once. The cost depends not on the scheme—and this is important—but on the relationship between the level of returns which the farmer must be assured and the level of market prices. The first is a consequence of the provisions of the Agriculture Act, which all parties in the House support, 630 and the second can only be determined by the market when rationing and allocation come to an end.
That brings me to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that when, and if, the market price falls below the individual guaranteed price, the individual farmer might not worry about the extent of the fall, and, in consequence, the Exchequer would suffer very considerably. That really is the example given in paragraph 2 (iii) (c), at the top of page 7 of the White Paper. This could only happen if the auction is not a real market, that is, if there is no real competition between the buyers. We do not think that absence of competition will be general, but, if anything of this kind does develop, the Government will certainly take special steps to deal with it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Such as?"] Naturally hon. Members say "Such as?", but, if they and the right hon. Gentleman will look at paragraph 14 they will see that it is part of the Government's plan to issue an invitation to all concerned to co-operate immediately in finding methods of improving auction markets. Auctioneers will be as anxious as anyone else to preserve their markets as real markets, and naturally, the whole of this subject will come up for discussion at those talks.
The House may recollect that among the suggestions made before the war by the Bingley Commission was the suggestion that there should be some kind of reserve buyer ready to step in to break attempts to form a buying ring—[An HON. MEMBER: "In the auction rings?"] That is certainly one of various suggestions which, no doubt, will be considered between now and when this scheme comes into operation.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am not sure I understood what the Minister has said. Does he say the Government undertake this unlimited liability because they think there will be no rigging of the market at the auction, but that if there is he will call together all the people who control and run these markets, as well as the other people? And then—what? And then close them down? Is that what he meant? If not, what does he propose to do?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
No, we shall call in these people right away to try to see if they are true markets before opening them.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I want to say, quite definitely, that the Government will take action. [HON. MEMBERS: "What action?"] That is as far as I am prepared to go this afternoon. It is a perfectly definite answer to a very definite question, and I should have thought that the House would be quite ready to accept that answer at this particular stage.
Various suggestions, which could be implemented, are made in the Bingley Report, and will be considered. All I am telling the House today is that we do think the point put to us by the right hon. Gentleman is a valid one, and if such a situation does materialise the Government have given the House the assurance they will deal with it.
I must refer to the marketing of pigs, because it does present particular problems upon which I ought to dwell. It has been argued that all pigs should be sold through a single board which would allocate supplies between the pork market and the bacon factories. The Government, naturally, have considered this, but the difficulties at this stage would be insurmountable, if for no other reason than that the physical facilities for selling, as opposed to allocating, pork pigs on a deadweight basis through a central agency simply do not exist.
Special arrangements will be necessary for the marketing of pigs for bacon curing. Such pigs will continue to be bought on a grade and deadweight basis. This could be done through a producer's marketing board with compulsory powers. All pigs sold for bacon curing would have to be sold to the board, who would then send them on to the bacon curers on contracts negotiated between them. I think the House will agree that, looking into the future, it is most important that the quality of our pigs for bacon should steadily improve, and a producers' marketing board could play a very useful part in this. Consideration will also have to be given to the position of the existing Pigs and Bacon Marketing Boards, which are at present in suspense, and also to the Bacon Development Board set up under the Bacon Industry Act, 1938.
632 In addition to pigs, the Government are also prepared, immediately, to give every facility for the establishment of a marketing board which would develop the voluntary marketing of fatstock, either on a liveweight or on a grade and deadweight basis, and I do, myself, see a great future in such a Board, if the producers see fit to put forward a scheme on those particular lines.
§ Mr. Desmond Donnelly (Pembroke)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of pigs, can I ask what was the real objection to reviving the existing Pig Marketing Board, which has been suspended?
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I am sorry, I thought I made it quite clear. I said they would have to be considered and discussed with the industry. These are problems which must be resolved in discussions with the National Farmers' Union and the Pigs and Bacon Marketing Boards.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned to me the problem of slaughterhouses. The Government are pursuing a policy of moderate concentration of slaughterhouses, but, during an interim period following de-control, it will be necessary to reopen some hundreds of slaughterhouses to cope with the increased demand on slaughtering facilities when the flow of animals is no longer controlled by allocation. Quite clearly, de-control cannot wait on the construction of new slaughterhouses.
§ Sir T. Dugdale
I made it perfectly clear. I said it would be necessary to reopen some hundreds of slaughterhouses. The Government do intend quite definitely, to carry out their long-term policy steadily and effectively, and an inter-Departmental committee, whose report we are now awaiting, is sitting and taking evidence on this particular problem. The Government will take such powers as may be necessary to carry out the Government's policy of moderate concentration of slaughterhouses.
633 I apologise to the House for having delayed hon. Members for so long. I now turn to the question of confidence. I said earlier that I realised that anxiety existed as to marketing, but this kind of anxiety can, as I think the House will agree, be very easily exaggerated. In fact, any uncertainty that may exist has not halted the upward trend of production which was re-established by the beginning of last year as a result of the policy of the present Government. Since then, not only has the net income of the industry been well maintained but there is no evidence of a lack of confidence among the ordinary farmers on their own farms as opposed to those who talk and study these problems on paper.
As the House knows, total production is now well over 50 per cent. above prewar, and it will interest Members also to know that there are positive indications that farmers are looking forward with confidence to maintaining and increasing the volume of production. I could give any number of specific figures, but I have selected only one or two. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that one can refer to special sales, which are quite out of keeping with the trend of general sales, but by and large, throughout the country, from Land's End to John o' Groats, store prices have been kept up, and have been increasing during the present year.
An example I have chosen is the average price of yearling Shorthorn steers, as reported in my Ministry's returns. It has continually gone up during recent years. In 1951 it was £24 a head, in 1952 £28 a head and in 1953 £32 a head. That does not look as if there is any loss of confidence there because these are yearlings which will not be marketed as beef for another two years at least. If one takes other beasts one will find an equivalent price rise.
At the same time one finds that long-term improvements are increasingly being made to the land itself. The figures for the application of lime will interest the House. Last year, 1952–53, 4.9 million tons of lime were used; this year, 1953–54, it is estimated that 6¼ million tons of lime will be used. Field drainage, as reflected in the amount of grants paid out, is increasing. The hill farmers share the confidence of the industry as 634 a whole, and large numbers of new hill farming schemes continue to be submitted.
If I had time I could give other examples. The House will agree that it is abundantly clear from all the evidence that the ordinary farmer has not lost confidence. He now knows from reading the White Paper that his confidence has been fully justified, and for that reason I hope that the House will vote against the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The Minister has made the amazing assertion that the farmers have confidence in his policy. Surely he has read the "Farmers' Weekly" for the last few weeks. Surely he has read the resolutions which have been passed by National Farmers' Union county executives on this matter. Time and time again the farmers have expressed their criticism. I even have here a report of a conference of the Landowners' Association, reported in the "Farmers' Weekly" of 30th October. It referred tothe present lack of confidence amongst farmers.That was from a large non-political organisation which is certainly not in sympathy with the Socialist views of the Opposition.
Over and over again we have examples. Indeed, in Suffolk one branch of the National Farmers' Union passed a resolution a week or two ago that the Minister should resign. More than that, in the Press this week the Government proposals which the Minister has been trying to explain today have been condemned by responsible opinion all over the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] An hon. Member says, "No." Let me quote the farmers' organisation in Yorkshire, where the Minister comes from, as reported in the "News Chronicle" on Saturday, 7th November. It says:Farmers in the West Riding of Yorkshire reacted swiftly yesterday to the Government's statement that it will hand back the handling of meat to private traders next year when rationing ends. Meeting in Leeds, they passed a resolution calling on the National Farmers' Union to refuse to co-operate in the fat stock marketing scheme unless the union is offered a definite grade and deadweight scheme as an alternative.The Minister must bear in mind that the assistant general secretary of the 635 National Farmers' Union said at that meeting:The Government is wrong in its present proposals.We believe that this White Paper is a miserable document, that it offers no long-term solution to our agricultural production, particularly from the point of view of fat stock. I am certain that if the White Paper is explained to the farmers by the Minister and any Conservative Members who are here today, if they explain the Appendix, the arrangements, the two-fold price guarantee, the decision to sell on a free market—to quote the document—mainly by auction and by private treaty sales.I believe that they will receive total opposition from every farmer in the country.
I have consulted farmers in my own constituency. [Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members will be able to produce evidence to the contrary and I hope they will have an opportunity to do so, but I have spoken to farmers in my constituency, in West Cumberland this weekend, and there is concern, make no mistake—
§ Mr. Peart
May I give my example, and then I will gladly give way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman? They are afraid that there will be a repetition of dealers' rings. That policy did operate in the pre-war period.
I had cases presented to me by farmers who have bought sheep from Scotland and from the Cumberland Fells which were then fed on the lowland farms. Six months later, after fattening the sheep, they received a lower price than they paid for the original sheep because of the operation of a ring. That happened all over the country, and farmers in this country know it.
§ Major McCallum
If the farmers in West Cumberland have lost confidence to the extent which the hon. Member asserts, how came it that they were paying, in Carlisle last month, £38 a head for weaned calves?
§ Mr. Peart
The reason for that is because the farmers, since the war, have been in a much better financial position because of the policy which we on this side of the House pursued from 1945.
636 I am saying that these proposals will harm that position and that we shall have a repetition of what happened when the party opposite was in power from the period from 1920 right up to 1939, except for a very short period. One has only to read the "Farmer's Weekly," the reports of meetings up and down the country, and the speeches of spokesmen at the annual Conservative Conference at Margate to see that over and over again the farmers have condemned the failure of Her Majesty's Government to produce a long-term policy.
I believe that this is a miserable document, and I am surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I quoted on a previous occasion, defends this policy, because he wrote a wonderful document on agricultural marketing which was produced by the Conservative Central Office. He said in that document:To be acceptable, a marketing scheme must fulfil certain basic requirements. First, it must command the confidence of the producers, so that they are encouraged to maintain and, if necessary, increase the volume of production. Secondly, it must command the confidence of consumers, so that they are satisfied that the produce is being brought to them as cheaply and efficiently as possible.He goes on, in this document, to condemn the private auction system which his own Minister is now introducing. If the Parliamentary Secretary really believes in the proposals which he put forward in his marketing pamphlet, he should have the courage to resign from the Government now as a protest against this miserable policy. I will give the Parliamentary Secretary an opportunity to deny it.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
Since the hon. Gentleman has been good enough to quote from the pamphlet, I would hesitate to ask him to weary the House by reading all of it, but I think he should certainly read the conclusions on fat stock marketing. Evidently he has not reached that part of the document, but when he does get time I suggest he reads it through carefully, when he will see there expressed considerable doubts on the universal operation of a fatstock marketing scheme, whereas my views on other subjects, such as the Potato Marketing Board and the Milk Marketing Board are specific.
§ Mr. Peart
I have read the document. I have marked it, and I will pass it to the hon. Gentleman. Over and over again—on pages 41 and 42, for instance—he is in favour of a producer scheme, with certain safeguards, based on the old marketing Acts, and, of course, on the improvements to the marketing Acts which we later introduced during the period of the Labour Government. He condemned right through this document a return to the private auction system and he criticised specifically dealers' rings.
It is no good the Minister running away from his document. He ought to be proud of it, and he ought to condemn this shilly-shally policy which we have had so far. I am amazed that he should try to get out of it like that. I will certainly give him his pamphlet. I hope he will read it through carefully and that he will compare it with this White Paper which has been issued.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Is not the relative portion to be found on page 41, where the hon. Gentleman says:To summarise, it is in the public interest that the pre-war boards be restored to their full trading powers without further delay, with the proviso that the restoration of the Pig and Bacon Boards wait until producers have decided whether they will propose a comprehensive Livestock Board or individual Meat Boards.
Order. The Parliamentary Secretary must resume his seat if the hon. Member does not give way.
§ Mr. Peart
I would give way, but for the fact that I remember that when I wanted to interrupt the Parliamentary Secretary he refused to give way on a specific question. If he can be rude then, I am going to be firm on this occasion. [HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Gentleman is afraid."] To show that I am not afraid, I will not be rude; I will give way.
§ Mr. Nugent
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy. May I put the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) right? What my right hon. Friend is suggesting is that the producers should now 638 have the opportunity to promote a fat stock marketing board with voluntary powers relating to fat stock marketing generally and specific powers regarding bacon marketing. It is perfectly obvious that it is a matter for the producers to decide whether or not bacon should be included in an overall board like that.
§ Mr. Peart
The Parliamentary Secretary has not answered my right hon. Friend, who was a Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. I hope he reads his own proposals again; he cannot get out of his difficulty like that. It is no good coming to this House and denying responsibility for an important document which was published before he became a Minister.
We condemn these proposals. They offer no long-term solution. As I have said over and over again, the weakness of the Minister has been that he has dithered on this issue. Only last weekend there appeared in the "Observer" a statement on this subject. The "Observer," which is not a paper in sympathy with the Opposition, contains the following remarks in an editorial:A closer examination, however, suggests that this is a stop-gap scheme, open to serious criticism on several grounds. It revives the absurd guessing-game of livestock auctions and underwrites them with an unlimited Treasury guarantee, thus throwing the meat market open to the speculators, dealers, and price rings which battened on the industry before the war. Such a scheme can only discourage the much-needed expansion of our livestock industry, and would be likely to put such a burden on the Exchequer that ultimately the whole conception of stable prices for farmers might be discredited.I could quote from many other papers in the country to show that the proposals of the Minister and his failure to produce a long-term policy have caused concern in the farming world.
But this is not the only issue on which there is a lack of confidence. This is not the only issue where there has been a speaking of two voices. My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who was Minister of Agriculture in the Labour Administration, illustrated some of the general fears in the farming community. There are fears that we will return to a policy of cheap food, which was previously pursued. They see in the world today the accumulation of surpluses of agricultural 639 produce on the great American Continent. I see that in the United States of America over the past two years, those accumulated surpluses have reached a figure of £1,000 million.
Our farmers are afraid that history will repeat itself. We know that the 1931 crisis was caused partly by the dumping of an excess of wheat and grain on the markets of the world because of a large accumulation on (the American market in 1929. The farming community are concerned about that, and they are afraid. They believe that a policy of "setting the people free" and a return to the old price mechanism could mean a return to that situation which we had in the 1930s. Because the Government fail to give a clear decision and the Minister shilly-shallies on this issue and fails to produce long-term proposals for marketing, there is, naturally, concern in the country.
The leaders of the Government opposed Part 1 of the Agriculture Act, 1947. I have with me speeches by many hon. Members opposite who criticised Part I of that Act. Indeed, they voted against it in Committee. Time and time again hon. Members opposite, including Ministers in key Ministries in the present Administration, said that Part I of the Act was meaningless and that the guarantees meant nothing to the farming community. Is it not understandable that because of the past record of hon. Members opposite when they were in power, and because of their opposition during the passage of the Agriculture Act, the farming community should feel a lack of confidence?
It is all very well for the Minister of Agriculture to jibe at my right hon. Friend for voting against Measures that were put forward by Conservative Administrations in the 1920s and 1930s. I would ask the Minister whether those Measures were successful. A predominantly Conservative Government took away the minimum security given to farmers in the First World War in the Corn Production Act, which was repealed in 1921.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I know that the Wheat Act was a success, and so does the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Peart
My right hon. Friend has said that he voted against the proposals 640 put forward by the Conservative Administration because they were only piecemeal. What were the results of their former policy? There was ruin for British agriculture. The simple fact is that the policy of the Government is causing concern, because farmers and small producers believe that they will be let down as they were before the war.
The Government have spoken of priorities. The Minister has mentioned his regard for drainage measures and similar things. I can remember when, in April last year, on a Friday, he announced a 30 per cent. cut in materials for farming. If he looks up HANSARD he can see the speech he made that afternoon. I shall not weary the House by reading it in full, but he announced a 30 per cent. cut on agricultural equipment which was urgently needed for our farms.
I hope that the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary will obtain a copy of that speech, because what I have said is quite correct, and it does show that the Government cut down in that period. I am prepared to read it, but I hope that the Minister will be given a copy for the sake of veracity.
One of the first acts of the Government when they came into power was to impose a tighter credit policy, which had its effects on agriculture. In January, in one of his first speeches, the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked the industry to make certain sacrifices. He pleaded for a cut in capital expenditure, which would affect the agricultural engineering industry. He said that this was a tragedy because of the great contribution which the industry was making.
There has been a terrific decrease in manpower since this Government came to power. On that issue the Government has spoken with several voices. I challenged the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this issue in a debate, and he said that the decrease in the labour force was due to mechanisation, but when I put down a Question to the Minister of Agriculture he gave another answer. When I challenged the Minister on that issue he said that it was due to the call-up and other factors. Even the Minister was not quite certain, because he later went to a meeting in Newcastle and said that the decrease in the labour force was not due to the call-up but to the lack of amenities in the countryside, and he quoted 641 figures concerning the age groups of the men leaving the rural communities. This Government, which have given priority to agriculture, saw a decrease of 20,000 in the male labour force last year.
What about credit? Time and time again the Chancellor has promised to do something on this question. When he was criticising the Agriculture Act of 1947, as the main spokesman of his party, he pleaded with my right hon. Friend, the then Minister, to consider sympathetically the giving of credit to our farmers. He became a Minister later and, at a meeting—and I have the report of his speech here—he promised the farmers that he would consider sympathetically the question of credit facilities. The report of his speech is contained in the "Farmers' Weekly," of 12th December, 1952. The Chancellor waxed very eloquent on the question of freeing agriculture, and told the farmers at a dinner that he was fully aware of the problems of agricultural credit. He would simply say, without wishing to forestall the Budget, that he would go on examining this question with sympathy.
We have had a lot of sympathy. The reaction of the Government was to restrict credit. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Sir A. Braithwaite), in a recent debate on agriculture, condemned the Government for its credit policy. He made a very strong attack on the policy being pursued by the present Administration. Hon. Members opposite must remember that in their miserable document called "The Agricultural Charter," which was the basis of their opposition, they promised adequate credit facilities. Now that they are in power they have forgotten about it. I indict the Minister of Agriculture for his complacency, and I indict the Government because they have failed to give agriculture top priority.
Time and again during the past two years we have pleaded with the Government to put the Minister of Agriculture in the Cabinet. Time and time again Questions have been addressed to the Prime Minister on this issue, but there was always a refusal. Now, the Minister has been put into the Cabinet. I believe it is too late. I regard the Minister as a good, kindly and decent man, but the niggers in the woodpile are the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the man who is waiting to take over the Ministry of Agriculture if he can—the Minister of 642 Food, who is now giving up his Departmental responsibilities. They have let down agriculture over and over again.
I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give us a statement about the long-term policy of the Government. I hope that he will give us adequate reasons why there has been a decrease of manpower on our farms, adequate reasons why he has not fulfilled his promise to give credit facilities, and why he has not produced a proper marketing scheme or a full-time policy. For that reason it is right and proper that we should oppose this miserable policy, which is a short-term expedient. It reflects the growing opposition from the farmers, whom the Government think they can still satisfy merely by mouthing slogans as before. There is growing opposition in the countryside, an opposition which, unfortunately, could have disastrous results on the agricultural production which is so essential to this country.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I have never heard such a lot of disappointed people in my life as the Opposition are today. They started with the idea that they would deliver a crushing attack upon a non-existent policy. First, however, they had to explain away the fact that agricultural production has been going up. "Oh," they said, "that is because of the great mistrust of the people in the Government." Then they said, "We do not believe that the Government are going to produce anything which will reassure the farmers." Now that they have heard the policy, they know that it will reassure the farmers and they are more disappointed than ever before.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) is himself a kindly man. His kindliness keeps breaking through. He does his best to work up this raging, tearing, vehement denunciation, but he finds the greatest difficulty because, every now and again, honesty compels him to admit certain very damaging facts. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), the ex-Minister of Agriculture, had to admit these damaging facts. He had to admit that production had gone up—only recently, he said. What becomes of this argument about the growing 643 indignation of the farmers, the growing difficulty of agriculture, the growing general uneasiness? Is it not odd that as this agricultural uneasiness grows, so agricultural production increases?
§ Mr. T. Williams
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will not carry that too far. I made it clear that we were pleased with any increase in production there might be, but I suggested that the Minister should not accept credit for existing livestock which were bred under the 1947 guarantees, and the promises made by the then Government.
§ Mr. Elliot
No, the right hon. Gentleman does not remember what he said. If he will look at HANSARD he will see. He agreed with the Minister about a 3 per cent. agricultural increase. Now he disagrees with it. That was not entirely due to an increase in livestock, although the increase in livestock is very creditable and is a good thing. Believe me, the increase in the prices of yearlings and of young stock that the Minister quoted are not due to the policy of the Labour Government two or three years ago. This increase is due to transactions taking place today, and taking place on the basis of what the growers think that livestock will fetch when it goes to market in a year or two years hence. That is what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley had to explain away, and unfortunately he did not succeed in doing it.
The difficulty we are in, of course, as the Minister said, is that we are passing from a period of scarcities to a period of surpluses. It is not so much a case of making a decision to deration meat: meat is derationing itself. These surpluses are appearing, and the House, not one side or the other—the hon. Member for Workington is right in that—has to consider how agriculture is best to be steered through this period of surpluses. They may not be permanent. I do not know. However, they do exist at present in huge quantities, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, on the other side of the Atlantic—£1,000 million worth it may be.
As against that, we know that there is a 25 million a year increase in the world population; and sooner or later that population will bring to bear pressure upon surpluses, upon even the greatest 644 agricultural increase we can get. That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) and those who say that we should cut down on agriculture in this country, let it rip, and let us bring in stuff from overseas.
§ Mr. Elliot
That is the effect of his statements. I shall come to the hon. Gentleman before I finish. He is the real opposition in this case. He is the person who is the danger. Undoubtedly, we have to deal now with this temporary glut of agricultural production; but we know that in the long run we have to look towards a world deficiency of agricultural produce and consider how we are to get through that.
We cannot get through it by maintaining rationing now in this country. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley himself said so. I wrote down his words. I thought they were most interesting. He said, "No one wants rationing when supplies are plentiful." Undoubtedly we are in that position just now. Supplies are becoming more plentiful, supplies not merely of the immediate foodstuffs for human beings, but of the gross feedingstuffs for animals.
The Board of Trade Returns show that if we take the imports for 1950 as 100, the imports for the third quarter of this year were at the rate of 244. This is simply an index of the way in which these agricultural surpluses outside of these islands are beginning to press upon us. How are we to deal with that? I think certainly upon the basis of guaranteed prices and upon a policy of organisation—not organisation for organisation's sake—for producing the maximum return to the producer compatible with reasonable freedom of choice and quality for the consumer.
No one is going to accuse me of being lukewarm about Marketing Boards. I am the only begetter of all the marketing boards in existence just now. I am very glad to see they are getting back their powers again. But marketing boards must be combined with the guaranteed price. Yes, and when the right hon. Gentleman says, "I voted against the piecemeal policies of prices and conditions 645 when I was in Opposition and the Tory Party were in power before the war," I would remind him that he did a great deal more than that. He voted against the guaranteed price whenever and wherever it appeared. When I was putting through the guaranteed price for wheat he voted against it, and on purely doctrinaire grounds. He said:We entirely disagree with the principle … our policy … would be … to nationalise the land."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1932; Vol. 264, c. 423 and 424.]He was not for any guaranteed price.
That was not an isolated instance. There was the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Act, bringing in a guaranteed price there, or rather guaranteed assistance—and he backed up the late Sir Stafford Cripps, who said:We object very strongly to this method of unregulated, unqualified dole for an industry … we object to the subsidising of private enterprise and private individuals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1934; Vol. 292, c. 1308.]And they got the party solidly into the Lobby, of course, against that. They voted against my Milk Act, although it provided milk for schools. They were so prejudiced against the whole principle of the guaranteed price that they brought their men solidly to divide against the Bill including milk for schools.
§ Mr. T. Williams
I have not the slightest objection to the right hon. Gentleman quoting me. I said earlier on that I did what I did for very good reasons.
§ Mr. Williams
In similar circumstances, again. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Milk Act. The right hon. Gentleman knows that our objection to the Milk Bill that was brought in was that it embodied a £1 million payment for advertising the consumption of milk, which, he will recall, we said people could not afford to buy anyhow, and we much preferred that a goodly part of the £1 million should go for cheap or free milk for those families who could not afford it.
§ Mr. Elliot
Really, the right hon. Gentleman is too old a Parliamentary hand to bring forward that excuse. This was the Division on Second Reading. For the sake of £1 million he voted against milk for the children. For the 646 sake of £1 million he voted against a guarantee of milk prices for milk chocolate and manufacturing milk. The right hon. Gentleman cannot ride off on that, and it is well known that he and those with him are very much ashamed of their vote on that occasion and do their best to get out of it whenever they can.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am coming to that. I am certainly not going to shirk it. I have a lot of things to say, though I hope I shall not be quite so long as the hon. Gentleman. I shall do my utmost to restrain my remarks, but I shall have something to say about the system of auctions for meat. I was simply dealing first with what the debate was all about, guaranteed prices, and pointing out that the right hon. Gentleman voted against guaranteed prices for wheat, voted against a guaranteed price for milk, and voted against a guaranteed price for sugar when those Measures were brought forward. His Amendment to the last of these was to the effect thatThis House cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill which perpetuates the subsidy payable in respect of sugar instead of providing for its progressive reduction …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1936; Vol. 308, c. 606.]
§ Mr. Elliot
That is quite true. We have taught the right hon. Gentleman a lot about agriculture, and we shall teach him a little more. We are only at the beginning of what we are going to teach him. We are now going to teach him, having knocked him out of the Marxist way, modern 20th century economics. These are different from the economics of Marx, which he brought up when he only wanted to nationalise the land and voted against the Wheat Act because it did not do so. He is the penitent sinner, sitting on the penitent bench.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Is the right hon. Gentleman using his expert knowledge of agriculture in dealing especially with the "flowers that bloom in the spring "?
§ Mr. Elliot
I think that the right hon. Gentleman might quote the rest against himself, and say: "The flowers that bloom in the spring have nothing to do with the case." Of course, there may well be difficulties about bringing the new policy into operation; but we have all agreed that the new policy is necessary, even the right hon. Member for Don Valley in his admission that no one is in favour of rationing so long as supplies are plentiful. Supplies are plentiful. Rationing is no longer possible. Therefore, we have to face some new approach.
The hon. Member for Workington made great play about a resolution passed by some friends, or enemies, of his in Yorkshire, on the occasion of the publication of this new policy. Let the Ministry not worry too much about that. I was burned in effigy for introducing the Milk Marketing Board. I know a good deal about what happens to a Minister of Agriculture who produces new policies. Now everyone in this House and in the country hold up both hands in favour, when it comes to the continuance of the Milk Marketing Board. In my case, the farmers made a bonfire, stuffed a good suit of clothes with straw, labelled it "Elliot" and put it on the bonfire, just because they disliked the policy so much at first sight.
I wish to pass on to deal particularly with the meat scheme. We have all agreed about the potato proposals—yes; the Milk Marketing Board—yes; by the way I think that my hon. Friends who have put down an Amendment to bring in further consumer control if the Milk Marketing Board is to be restored, should read very carefully the most extensive safeguards which exist in the Marketing Act in favour of the consumer if he is in any way aggrieved, or if the trader is aggrieved, which were written into the original Marketing Act, and written in with increasing strength in the amendment to the Marketing Act passed by the Labour Government when they were in power.
But the crux of the matter is the meat trade; and the difficulty in the meat trade may be boiled down to the single slogan: "On the hook or on the hoof." Admittedly the present rationing system has broken down and will increasingly break down as supplies become more plentiful. The important point about the 648 problem which the House has to face tonight is this: We know where the hooves are; they are on the animals. But where are the hooks? They do not exist. It would take 10 years and £20 million to put through the scheme outlined by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition. What is to be done during the next five or 10 years while this enormous re-organisation of the livestock trade of the country is going on?
We should have to have new lairages, depots, meat stores, and refrigerating plants. It would cost millions upon millions. No one suggests that this scheme could be brought into existence by a wave of the wand. Therefore, we have to return to the pre-war channels of trade; with safeguards for the producers. Those safeguards have been given in ample, and, one might say, in some cases in over-ample, measure. That is the only real danger. It may be claimed that these safeguards have been given in over-ample measure. The system of auction was attacked by the "Observer," and the hon. Member for Workington quoted their description of it as a "guessing competition." Everyone who has ever examined any live creature is taking part in a guessing competition. There is only one certainty with regard to a live animal and that is the dead certainty after it has been killed.
I declare here that I have a certain interest in the meat trade. I put up a boast on behalf of the Lanark Market with which my father was associated before me and with which I am associated today. I am not apologising for anything done there, and I can only say that when it comes to suppressing any improper practices my father was very much more competent to suppress them than any Government official who ever lived. I remember a man bringing forward a consignment of stock during the war, when prices were high. He got a top price and shouted, "Good old war." My father hammered on the rostrum and said, "No trade! Take your beasts out of here; never let me see your face here again." That was the sort of man he was.
That is the sort of man we shall need to rely on, so that these market rings do not take place. We shall get these safeguards by giving responsibility to responsible men; not by pretending that the whole thing can best be done by some 649 enormous concentrated system of temples of death to slaughter a few thousand or a million or two of the livestock of this country, and then having butchers brought in, to walk down the aisles of the mortuary to see which of the beasts are those that they would best like to buy.
The auction mart system has great advantages; but it has also disadvantages, which may be against the producer. There are two guarantees in the present scheme against that—the average price for the grade, and the special provision against loss on the individual beast. It may be asked, "What is the safeguard of the Treasury in all this?" There are two safeguards. The first is the safeguard of the grader. If it is an inferior beast and does not make the grade, it will not get the guaranteed price. There is a further guarantee, that improper practices will be watched for and checked. Improper practices are not difficult to deal with. Procedure may be elaborate, but it is not difficult. The technique of the Government broker still exists. Do not let anyone regard this an an exaggerated or a fanciful solution.
It was not only the solution of the Bingley Commission. I also discussed this with J. M. Keynes. It was his solution. There are many good ways in which this can be dealt with, to avoid what we all fear, namely, a hole in the market, whereby an individual beast may get the deficiency payments although it has not made anything like the proper price, in which a ring of dealers, perhaps in conjunction with a consignor, has produced a fictitious sale. You might thus get a knockout in favour of a combination of a butchers' ring and a fraudulent consignor. This can be dealt with by the grader, by the supervision of the market, and finally, if necessary, by the use of the well-recognised technique of the Government broker.
I do not bother about the Opposition Front Bench. A solution has been produced now which has been accepted and will be increasingly accepted, when understood, by the agricultural industry throughout the country. The Opposition Front Bench are in a quandary; they do not know which horse to back. The danger is not in the Opposition Front Bench but in the hon. Member for Wednesbury who says, "You are feather-bedding the farmers." He makes the 650 comparison with Denmark and says, "I only want Britain to be as good as Denmark." But consider this. We have been attacked by the hon. Member for Workington, and the point he made was that 24,000 people had left the land in this country in the last two years.
§ Mr. Elliot
The last two years. I have the figures here. I shall not weary the House with them. The interesting thing is that during that time in Denmark, with a population of 4¼ millions, 14,000 people left the land. If the same proportion were reached in England and Wales, the figure would be not 24,000 but 140,000. That is not a figure which any hon. Member would like to face if it came to the bit.
§ Mr. Elliot
That makes it all the worse. If there are many industries in this country into which people can flock from agriculture, and few to which they can flock in Denmark, then the fall by 14,000 in Denmark is all the more remarkable.
In the face of the general world situation, we cannot afford a reduction in our agriculture. We must do our utmost to avoid a decline in the number of people working on the land. These proposals are directed towards that end. They are directed to the expansion of agriculture. The Government truly say they have secured the expansion of agriculture in the most recent period to which we have reference. They have now brought forward proposals which, for meat, will fully implement the guarantee which they have given. This should continue the increase in meat production which is going on in this country. For those reasons, I ask the House to reject the Amendment.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) has sought to convince himself that the White Paper which we are discussing contains a series of long-term 651 proposals for the marketing of agricultural produce. He cannot have listened very carefully to the Minister, who spoke a little earlier in the debate and who made it quite clear that, although we are restoring the powers of the Milk Marketing Boards, we are doing so with certain modifications. The Minister said he could not tell us what they would be, for there would have to be discussions about them. The Minister went on to tell us that the proposals for the meat trade are purely interim proposals and that there will have to be further discussions upon them. So he spoke about every commodity.
The right hon. Gentleman, however, has assumed that the White Paper contains long-term proposals for agriculture which will lead to the creation of great confidence amongst fanners and thereby lead to increased production. He said that the pre-war channels of trade are being provided, with adequate protection for the producer, and in his view that was the right step to take. Surely the criticism of these proposals is that, although they seek to give a measure of protection to the producer in the short term, many of us feel, and the farmers must feel, that as the burden falling upon the Treasury becomes greater so will the tendency increase on the part of the Government, and in particular on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to withdraw the protection altogether. It is easy to give the protection when it does not cost anything, but as the cost increases so does the burden upon the taxpayer and the more inclined the Chancellor of the Exchequer becomes to take away the protection altogether.
One finds that some responsible journals take exactly that view. I quote from yesterday's "Observer," which says that the schemerevives the absurd guessing game of live stock auctions and underwrites them with an unlimited Treasury guarantee, thus throwing the meat market open to the speculators, dealers, and price rings which battened on the industry before the war.
§ Mr. Fraser
The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to have read it, because he completely ignored it.
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not mind being challenged, but if I am challenged I think I have the right to reply. If the hon. Gentleman reads HANSARD, he will see that I went to some length to deal with that passage. If the hon. Member listened to a speech before he attempted to reply to it, he would be more successful.
§ Mr. Fraser
I was attempting to reply to the right hon. Gentleman. That journal, like many other journals and like many responsible people in agriculture, has expressed the view, which is based upon experience, that these guarantees are all right and will be accepted by the Government as part of their policy as long as they do not cost the Government anything, but that when they begin to cost the Government something we shall have a repetition, as one of my hon. Friends has said, of what happened in 1921.
May I ask at this stage whether the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove has spoken for the Government in regard to Scotland? We have had a speech from the Minister of Agriculture, we have been told that the reply to the debate will be by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and we wonder where is the Secretary of State for Scotland in all this business. We had a very interesting debate on agriculture some months ago—in July; it was a debate on United Kingdom agriculture, but there was no speech from a Scottish Minister.
§ Sir R. Boothby
If the hon. Member had his way, the whole debate would contain nothing but speeches from the Front Benches, with no private Member getting in at all.
§ Mr. Fraser
The Scottish farmers and the Scottish people have a right at some time or other to hear what the Secretary of State for Scotland has to say about important matters of policy.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)
Perhaps I may reply to the hon. Member in one sentence. As he knows very well, this is a United Kingdom policy and he can read, or should have listened to, the speech of the Minister of Agriculture. I am afraid my speech on the White Paper would be very largely repetitive of what the Minister 653 said and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) said, would merely take up time.
§ Mr. Fraser
Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer might well save another £4,000 a year by making the Minister of Agriculture Secretary of State for Scotland as well.
§ Mr. Fraser
This White Paper discloses a typical doctrinaire Tory approach. The Government say that controls must be scrapped and that the resulting chaos will be met and resolved as long as the solution does not traverse Tory prejudice and Tory doctrine. In a White Paper dealing with agriculture—Decontrol of Food and Marketing of Agricultural Produce—one would have thought some interest would be expressed in the need to increase production. What is the aim of it all? What is the object of it all?
There is no mention of the need to increase production, no mention of the need to bring into production land which is not now yielding food but which is capable of development. There is no mention of the decline in new capital in fixed investment to which I made reference earlier—and got no reply—and no mention of the drift of workers from the land. Incidentally, the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove has his facts wrong. The Digest of Statistics issued this year said that the loss of male workers from agriculture in the course of 1952 was no less than 23,500.
§ Mr. Fraser
I quoted from the Digest on 2nd July, which says that in the course of 1952 there was a loss of adult male labour from agriculture of no less than 23,500, which was 3 per cent. of the labour force in agriculture. That was in the course of 1952, which started on 1st January and ended on 31st December, much as that may surprise the right hon. Gentleman.
The fact is that with these declarations of policy the Government are running away from Part I of the 1947 Act as fast as they can. In 1947 it was generally 654 agreed that we should take away the market gamble. Now the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove boasts of having restored the market gamble but, he says, with adequate safeguards for the producer. The fact is that the market gamble is being restored. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East had something to say about this a few weeks ago. He is reported in the "Scotsman" of 10th October as making a speech in his constituency in which he said:I have represented one of the great beef-producing areas of the world in the House of Commons for narly 30 years "—
§ Mr. Fraser
—and if anyone thinks that I am prepared, at this stage, to sit back and see the livestock producers of Scotland thrown to the tender mercies of the wolves of Smithfield in the name of a free market, then they have misjudged their man.
§ Mr. Fraser
No; but if the hon. Member does not go into the Lobby with the Opposition tonight, he is quite willing to see the wolves of Smithfield return to their operations.
§ Mr. Fraser
Oh, yes. The proposal is that the wolves of Smithfield will have their freedom returned to them.
§ Mr. Fraser
That is what the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove means when he talks about the normal channels of trade returning to the auction market. The Government, in their White Paper, have said, "Ah, but in future, if there is not realised at the auction sales the minimum price, or the standard price, guaranteed by the Government, the producer will not lose because the Government will make it up." My right hon. Friend said that if the minimum price is not being realised at the sale, the producer has no interest in maintaining the price at the highest possible level under the minimum price, because it will be made up by the Treasury in any case, and he asked for some assurance of what would happen in such circumstances. The 655 Minister said, "We will get over that stile when we come to it; we will examine that position when it arises," by which time, of course, the wolves will have got away with the plunder.
During the years of control and fixed prices, we had greatly increased production, but in particular we had greatly increased production in the remote areas far removed from the market; and when one sees that the controls and prices are going, one wonders what the effect will be in those remote areas. That is why this policy is of much more importance to Scotland than to England, because agriculture is a bigger part of our economy than it is in England and Wales. So much of our land is marginal land, we have the sparsely-populated north of Scotland and we have the Islands, and it is inexcusable that in a debate of this kind the Secretary of State should come to the House unprepared to say a word in defence of the application of this policy to the remote areas in the north of Scotland and in the Islands.
§ Mr. Fraser
Or to explain it, as my right hon. Friend says.
In the "Glasgow Herald" of 12th August, I noticed an interesting article about the drift from the farms in the northern Islands, the Orkneys:Nevertheless, there is one fear that the Orcadians share with their neighbours in Shetland and the true crofting counties to the south—the fear that if the parishes at the perimeter go empty there can be neither health nor prosperity at the centre … As the farmers on the mainland here take off for Moray or Aberdeenshire their places are filled toy families from the farms in the north. Now the North Isles show a record of migration as daunting in its way as the drift from the crofting townships of Sutherland or Ross-shire.The Secretary of State has been to Orkney since then. I do not know whether he knows the cause of all this, but I suggest it is probably that the cost of providing fixed capital equipment out in these remoter parts is much greater than on the mainland, particularly near the sources of materials and skilled labour.
It is an incentive to the farmer to get away from those remote parts, but when the method of taking produce off the farms and the giving of guarantees under 656 the 1947 Act are changed so that the farmer will take the best he can get in the market gamble and be made up to the minimum price instead of being guaranteed a fixed price at the point of production, those people find they are much worse off than those who have the good fortune to be farming on the mainland. Bear in mind that those Isles of Orkney are fertile islands; those farmers have been prosperous in recent years. If we want to maintain the highest possible production, we would wish to maintain those people on their fertile farms in those Islands, in the North of Scotland, and elsewhere.
Under the present egg scheme, the farmer who is producing next to the big consuming market gets a much higher price for his eggs than the farmer who produces in Orkney, where during the days of control we built up the biggest egg collecting station in Great Britain. But now the farmer producing eggs in Orkney cannot expect to get the same for eggs in the open market at Kirkwall as farmers get for their eggs in the Lanark market of the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove. They cannot expect to get the same for them, because whoever buys the eggs must bring them to Glasgow and Edinburgh and sell them in competition with the other dealer who buys the eggs in Lanark. When this sort of policy is extended to beef it will be exceedingly difficult to maintain in those remote areas our present agricultural population.
I have in mind also a speech made by the Minister of State, Scottish Office, on 12th June to the Highland Panel, when he talked about the extension in agricultural production in the Highlands, not since the Tory Government took over but since the end of the war. That expansion was made possible by the operation of controls and giving guaranteed prices at the point of production. When those people must bring their livestock down to Lanark or to Stirling or Perth, or when they have to market it at some small market nearby, and take the best price they can get, production will lag and those people will get away from those areas as quickly as they can.
Of course, those who believe in laissez-faire believe that it is quite unnecessary and unprofitable from the nation's point of view to keep those areas in production at all. But if that be the viewpoint of the Secretary of State, if he thinks we should 657 have food production only from the best acres in Scotland and that those remote parts, and particularly the marginal lands, should go out of production altogether, let him say so; but do not let him pursue a policy that makes it quite impossible for these people to live decently and to enjoy a standard of living comparable with that of farmers in other parts of the country.
§ Major McCallum
Surely the hon. Member will agree that the remote areas to which he refers are concerned only with the store market. They have nothing to do with guaranteed prices except in so far as these affect the Scotch store market.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hill lands, of course, are concerned only with the store market, but it goes without saying that if the realised price in the fatstock market goes down, the price to be paid to those who raise stores will come down correspondingly. The price paid for stores has gone up in recent years only because the end-product earned for the feeder a higher price than hitherto.
The whole of the farming community—indeed, the whole of the country—has learned to appreciate that the planned economy as applied to agriculture has been a success, but as a Socialist philosophy it is therefore unacceptable to the Tories and must be scrapped. These prices will be maintained so long as they are not costly but when they become costly and, therefore, of some value to the farmers, there is not the slightest doubt that a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer will step in and quash them. One remembers what happened in 1921.
In these plans the Government have favoured the meat wholesalers and the butchers at the expense of the farmers and the consumers. There is the pretence of protecting the farmer, but there is no pretence of protecting the consumer. We are going back to the conditions of the 'thirties when 60 per cent. of the children in our industrial areas in Scotland suffered from under-nourishment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove boasted about his milk scheme and his Wheat Act, but the plain fact remains that in those days of plenty 60 per cent.—that is, six out of every 10—of the children in the industrial areas of Scotland suffered from malnutrition.
§ Mr. Fraser
I do not have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I did not vote at all. As a matter of fact, I lived in a very humble, poor working-class area where six out of every 10 of these children were suffering from malnutrition under a Tory Government. And that was in those good old days of plenty. Of course, those children, like the old people for whom the Government have so much thought and sympathy at the present time, were being slowly starved to death.
Under controls in the war years and post-war years new health records have been announced by medical officers of health throughout the country. Indeed, we have been told by visitors from overseas that we now have the healthiest children in the world. But the Prime Minister said, "We will set the people free." The profiteers have been set free and, to borrow the words of the hon Gentleman the Member for Aberdeenshire, East, the wolves of Smithfield are going to be set free, while the children and the old people are left to starve. All this, too, without any mandate and with the support of a diminishing minority of the electorate. One might ask, is this democracy?
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
I am glad to have the opportunity of replying quite briefly to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who made some play at my expense. This has been a lively and interesting debate. I want to make it a little less lively, but, I hope, not any less interesting. For the short time for which I will speak, I want to consider the future of meat marketing, a subject about which I think I know something.
I do not think it is desirable, in the long run, for this question of agricultural policy to become the sport of party politics. I see the point of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), whom I am glad to see in his place. He has got a view which we all understand; but I do not think there is any great division of principle between the rest of us in this House. The hon. Gentleman's point of view is not shared by many of us, but he expresses it very well and no doubt we 659 will hear from him later. Quite frankly, I do not see where the division between the rest of us exists.
During the last 10 years our farmers have accepted prices for their products below world market prices. That was their part of the bargain incorporated in the Agriculture Act, 1947. Under these proposals the Government have implemented their part of the bargain, which was that when farm produce became more plentiful the farmers should not be sold down the river as they were after the First World War. That is why I am happy about these proposals, because the farmers have not been sold down the river as some of them thought they would be, and as the hon. Member for Wednesbury hoped they would be.
§ Sir R. Boothby
I would never do that, because it does not apply in my own case. The problem confronting the Government was to reconcile the prices of imported and home produced supplies; and in order to do this they have given the only possible answer, namely, producers' subsidies in one form or another. From the long-term point of view there is no other answer. It is not for nothing that farmers' organisations all over the world have come increasingly to recognise the value and importance of wholesale price stability, even though it involves, as it has involved, the farmers of this country forgoing profit opportunities in periods of scarcity. But food production is a long-term business with a slow turnover, and the opportunities for farmers to exploit market fluctuations are limited indeed. It is other people who exploit market fluctuations.
I want to say a word about cereals before I go on to say what I have in mind about meat. I have no doubt myself that straight deficiency payments on a fixed yield per acre is the best method, and for my part I am particularly pleased—and this, Mr. Speaker, may conjure up distant memories of the past in your own mind when I used to talk in this House about oats and barley, because I always felt that neither of those two great cereal crops enjoyed the status that they deserved, and I hoped that before I died 660 I would see them placed on an equality with wheat—that the day has now arrived when they have come into their own, and I am full of thankfulness.
I want, also, to say a word about milk. I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite have any complaint about the Government's decision to revive the Milk Marketing Board and restore its powers. I think that that is what they would have done themselves, and I am delighted that Her Majesty's Government have done it because it will be warmly welcomed by the agricultural community as a whole.
I should like to ask the Minister to say a word about the administration of the National Milk Scheme in which I take a slight personal interest because in 1940 I had the opportunity of recommending it to this House from the Treasury Bench. That is the scheme which gives mothers and infant children a guaranteed pint of milk at 2d. without any means test, and I think it has done a lot of good from the point of view of the nutrition of this country. I want to know whether it is to be continued, and how it is to be administered.
Broadly speaking, the same argument applies to wool, eggs and potatoes. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) rightly pointed out, the delay has been caused because of the difficulty of dealing with meat. Meat is a complex commodity, highly perishable, highly variable in quality, and one for which it is difficult to devise any scheme at all. I notice that the White Paper says:… the pre-war fatstock auction system was unsatisfactory in certain respects.It certainly was. Indeed, I think that perhaps it is putting it a little mildly. So were the dead meat markets. I do not think I should say any more about Smithfield, because if I do they might take me there and burn me at the stake. I had better shut up on that subject. I will content myself by saying that from Aberdeenshire it looked like organised chaos, and I am confirmed in that by what the Lucas Committee reported, namely, that the marketing of meatwas, on the whole, extravagant and inefficient.A long-term marketing scheme in this country cannot be devised in a short time for the reasons which have been pointed out with remorseless and relentless logic, 661 which I accept, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove. We have not got the hooks today to start off with, nor have we got the cold storage space.
We have to accept the fact that this is a temporary scheme, designed primarily to give us time, but not at the expense of the farmers. I think myself that it is not a practical proposition, as a long-term policy, to pay a large subsidy indefinitely for years and years in respect of a particular commodity without any control over imports, or any organised system of marketing in this country.
I do not believe that this will stand as a long-term proposition. The way is open to rings and malpractices, especially at some of the smaller markets. Keen as I am on my right hon. Friend's idea of Government brokers, there are possibilities that some of the boys will get together. The auctioneers and the farmers might say, "Come on, let us keep these prices quiet because, after all, the Chancellor pays"; and cut the cake afterwards. I am not saying that this would be widespread. I am only suggesting that it might be a thought which would cross the minds of a few people, and we certainly do not want to have malpractice on such a scale as to get a repetition of the Corn Production Act; and what happened in 1921.
As I see it, the choice does not lie between an omnipotent marketing board on the one hand, and a completely uncontrolled market on the other. It lies ultimately in a compromise designed to reconcile the vital importance of the stability of wholesale prices with a revival of consumer's choice at the butcher's counter. I do not see why these things should not be reconciled, with care; but it will take time.
Nobody pretends, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be the last to pretend, that this scheme is the final answer to the problem of meat marketing in this country. Indeed, the White Paper makes it quite clear that it is not. Ultimately, our system of meat marketing has to be modernised and rationalised, with the object of getting the meat from the farms to the butcher's counter as expeditiously, as efficiently and as economically as possible. That is the answer to all marketing.
662 From every point of view our farmers should be encouraged to organise the marketing of meat as the farmers in practically every other country in the world—including that great free enterprise country, Canada—have already done. In this country we are miles behind in that matter, and I find in this White Paper encouragement for that point of view. For example:The plan described above does not exclude the possibility of a Producers' Marketing Board for meat as a long-term solution.And again:The Government will also be ready to consider proposals for a Board or Boards with wider functions.Before I sit down, I want to make a few suggestions from the long-term point of view. Sooner or later—and I hope sooner rather than later—there must be a meat marketing board or boards. Perhaps we can get on a little faster in Scotland in the first phase, because we are keener on it and we have been working on it rather longer, and we are slightly more intelligent. I am sure that, if we can make a success of it, the English will follow suit.
One question I ask myself is, is it really necessary to make it simply and solely a producers' board? Are we absolutely reconciled to the fact that a board for the marketing of livestock must necessarily be confined entirely to producers? Is it not conceivable, when they see the way the wind is blowing, that the other interests, the auctioneers and the dead meat salesmen, would be prepared to co-operate and to come in and help to operate these boards? I am sure that, in the end, the sale of meat on dead weight and grade, according to the quality of the carcass, is the best system—when the hooks are there. This will involve some kind of control over the dead meat markets, but there is no need to extend this control to the retail trade because the quality of meat varies and so does the service of distribution, and, therefore, the cost of both should vary.
What I have in mind as the ultimate solution and objective is a scheme with the farmer producing, the auctioneer collecting and consigning to centralised slaughterhouses, and the dead meat interests slaughtering and supplying retailers from depots at each slaughterhouse, with all the processing of byproducts carried out on the spot as far 663 as possible. That is the ultimate ideal, which would bring real efficiency and which will carry the meat from the farms to the butcher's counter as economically, expeditiously and efficiently as possible. Meanwhile, under this White Paper, it is open and up to the farmers to demonstrate that sales on the hook are better, both for the producer and the consumer, than sales on the hoof. They have the chance and, still more, the time to do it, which is perhaps the most important of all.
I believe that the price structure must, in the future, continue the premium on quality, retain it, and even emphasise it more than it is doing today. During the war we wanted quantity. Any old ewe or cow would do provided it made soup, even if we could not eat it as meat. Now, however, the time has come for the Government to consider whether, with ample warning, there should not be price reductions in respect of heavy, blubbery, unwanted stuff which makes one quite sick to look at it. We have had bitter experience of it lately in the form of ewe mutton, and we want to discourage the production of over-heavy animals which was necessary in war, but which is not doing any good to anybody at the present time.
Secondly, farmers who have to keep their beasts through the winter should not be unduly penalised. If they have to keep their beasts through the winter to the following summer, we can help them through the price structure but, of course, the best method of all is to provide adequate cold-storage facilities at the principal abattoirs. This will require a capital investment of millions of pounds, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove said.
We have to face the fact that whatever temporary fluctuations may take place—whether we have a period of glut for another year or not—the national economy demands that there shall be a sustained increase of livestock production in this country for 10 or 20 years to come, for the simple reason that we cannot afford, to buy food from abroad in any-think like the quantities we did before the war. If we are to do this, massive capital investment will be necessary in agriculture: and in no field could that investment be more profitable than in the 664 field of cold-storage facilities. I feel that strongly.
One other point. I see in the White Paper that the Government have adopted a policy ofmoderate concentration of slaughterhouses.I was slightly dismayed to hear the Minister refer to several hundred slaughterhouses. Is that not a bit over the odds? Can he not cut down a little more?
§ Mr. Baldwinindicated dissent.
§ Sir R. Boothby
No? We must have them all?
Well, I pass from that subject, with a sigh of regret, to say only that the Government, in my view, have adopted the right long-term policy for every commodity except meat. So far as meat is concerned, they have bought time for the creation and development of an efficient marketing system in this country, which can be made the best in the world, and in the making of which I hope and believe that Scotland will lead and show the way, as she has so often done in the past.
What gives me the greatest pleasure of all is that this time has not been bought, as some feared it would, at the expense of the farmers. I realise that this must be a great disappointment to the Opposition, who must have hoped until just the other day that the farmers were going to be sold down the river. However, while I am sorry for them, I can say with truth that I myself am deeply thankful.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
The House is grateful to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) for bringing the subject of the White Paper and its contents back to us. We enjoyed the knockabout turn of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), who reminded us of what people had said, or the way they had voted, on various occasions. It was left to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East to discuss quite seriously, and with much concentration, the contents of the White Paper which we are debating. Those of us who follow the hon. Gentleman loyally each Sunday morning in the more dreary parts of the "News of the World" were heartened yesterday when 665 he put his finger right on the weakness of this White Paper. He said:There is everything to be said for guaranteed wholesale prices, and a lot to be said for free markets and consumers' choice; but the price to be paid for these advantages must at some point, be limited. For my part I firmly believe that a Meat Marketing Board, with pretty wide powers and functions, is the only long-term answer.I agree with that.
The trouble is that as long as two years ago we were promised by the Minister of Agriculture that we would have a long-term policy for agriculture. We were promised this again in February, 1953, and the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East is perfectly right. A long-term policy is wanted. The trouble with the White Paper is that it is not a long-term policy. In the case of eggs, potatoes and cereals there is nothing in the White Paper that justifies the farmer planning his farming and rotations for the next five or seven years.
I should like to put this point also to the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) who argues that there is no uncertainty, unease or concern in the minds of the farmers. It is not that when the Suffolk and Essex farmers were passing resolutions demanding the dismissal of the Minister of Agriculture that they were worried only about what was to appear in the White Paper. They are worried by the way the Ministry are behaving today. They say quite fairly, "We have to judge what is the coming policy on the present performance of the Minister."
Let us examine that present performance and see what is happening in the case of cereals. The Minister said this afternoon that there was a difficulty about barley. I live among farmers in one of the greatest barley-producing areas in the country. We have a ridiculous price structure which the Government never ought to have permitted. It was agreed between the maltsters and the merchants that the price for malting barley should be 126s. per quarter with a maximum of 146s. I think that is the price but it is academic, for it is seldom reached. The Ministry gave tacit consent to that agreement. Meantime the price for feeding barley is 100s. a quarter. Many of these barleys are much better than feeding quality and almost as good as the minimum quality for malting barley.
666 Under this price structure this barley has to be sold to the Ministry for 100s. a quarter on an agreement that the Ministry will acquire the barley 28 days after they have bought it. The Ministry are not doing that. Farmers in East Anglia have their barns full of barley which they cannot sell and they have no ready money. The bankers in that area say that they have never known money to be so tight.
If they shift their barley every pretext is taken to return it. I sold 70 sacks of barley to the Minister at 100s. It was to be taken 28 days after it was sold. Seven weeks after it was sold the Ministry of Food sent instructions for it to be sent to one of their depots at Felixstowe. It arrived at Felixstowe where one sample was taken and then it was returned on the grounds that it contained 20.25 per cent. moisture. I took several samples and the percentage was no higher than 14. No commercial firm would return a consignment on the basis of one sample, but the Ministry of Food are playing a very dubious game with farmers and in the farmer's mind there is no difference between the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture. So the farmer says, "Is this an earnest of what we shall have under the White Paper?"
Because the farmer cannot get his barley shifted he tries to shift potatoes and today the London and provincial markets are glutted. "The Times" has said that this year we face a greater supply than demand. A simple ecological study in the spring and summer of the possible yield of potatoes would have shown the Ministry that this situation would have arisen. They could have applied the necessary controls to stop the shifting of part of the crop of potatoes and so prevent the glutting of the markets.
Merchants are breaking the law today in selling potatoes below the statutory price. It is done by asking the farmer to sell 21 cwt. to the ton instead of 20 cwt. or by some other means. The Ministry have failed to complete their bargain with the farmer for his barley. They are causing him to break the law by selling his potatoes below the legal price on there being a surplus of potatoes. This is all wrong and the farmer naturally says, "Why should I rescind the resolution passed in Suffolk asking for the dismissal of the Minister of Agriculture?"
667 There is such uncertainty among the barley growers of East Anglia that today the sugar-beet factories are inundated with applications for contracts to grow sugar beet next year. In Ipswich two weeks after the issuing of the contracts more acreage was offered than could be handled. In Kidderminster there was an offer of 50 per cent. more acreage than was grown last year. King's Lynn and Yorkshire were similarly overwhelmed. All the 18 sugar-beet factories in this country are working flat out to deal with the crop from the 400,000 acres that are now being devoted to sugar-beet.
The reason fanners are rushing to grow sugar-beet is that this is one of the last crops which give them a guaranteed price and a guaranteed market. This is their last defence. This is their last opportunity to say, "I know how much it will cost to plant and harvest and how much I shall get when I sell the crop to the factory." It is for that reason that the farmers are rushing to put such land as they can to sugar-beet at the expense of grains, and they wish it were possible for them to grow more.
It is not much use producing a White Paper of the kind that is now before us. It stops at the very stage where it should continue. Today the farmer finds that his price for some crops is reduced by the action of the retailer. We on this side of the House know that retail profits are far too high in this country. Because this Government refuse to apply the necessary price controls and reasonable profit margins farmers find it impossible to continue growing certain foods.
I should like to give an example. On 28th August I sent to market 171 bags and boxes of cabbages not one of which would contain less than 40 lb. of Christmas Drumhead cabbages, one of the best varieties grown in this country. They fetched an average price of 2s. 6d., which meant that the greengrocer was paying ¾d. per lb. After paying freight, commissions, tolls and the rest, I was getting 1d. for every 3½ 1b., roughly ¼d. a 1b. The greengrocer was paying ¾d. a 1b. and the price in the greengrocers' shops was 3d., so the greengrocer was making a gross profit of 400 per cent. On 3rd September, I sent 48 boxes to market. I got 9d. a box net, the wholesaler sold for ¾d. a 1b. to the retailers and they were selling 668 for 3½d. a 1b. in the shops, a 450 per cent. gross profit.
At one time it was quite possible to see that greengrocers and retailers generally marked down the price to the consumer when they were able to buy things cheaply, but today one may take a walk along any high street, particularly in the London area or in my constituency, and find that the prices of these products are practically the same in any of the shops. If the Government want to convince the farmers that they are on his side, they will have to do something about these fantastic and ridiculous profits which are being made by the retailer.
I am extremely glad that we have the return of the Milk Marketing Board to full powers. I say that as a milk producer and one who received an extremely impertinent letter from the chairman of the Central Milk Distributive Council, who hinted that if I did not behave in the way he wanted, he would have milkmen in my constituency going from door to door opposing me. I do not want a return to the situation where Mr. Maggs of the United Dairies could force an uneconomic price on dairymen and dairymen of East Anglia would have to pour milk down the drains, or go out of business. Why should the farmer suffer in that way?
I say to my hon. Friends who want reasonable wages for industrial workers and reasonable profits for industrial producers that I am asking the same for farm workers and fanners. I am glad that the Milk Marketing Board are to have returned their full powers. That is the only good thing I can say about this White Paper. If the Government want a return to good farming and want farmers to return to a proper rotation and improved production, they will have to do a lot better than this.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
The hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) has given us one or two most interesting examples of his difficulties as a farmer, and naturally those of us who also try to earn a living from the land sympathise with anything of that nature. But, when he was talking of difficulties with cabbage, and of the fact that the retailer was making such a high profit, and his opinion that the prices were high, I wondered whether he would consider 669 opening a shop in his own constituency to do the job for himself. I say that without any malice, because I was imbued with the same thoughts at one time. I got a little tired of that sort of thing, bought a shop and tried to operate it, but I was very glad to get out of it after two or three years. Since then, I have had a little more respect for retailers, although I am not here to defend their point of view.
In regard to potatoes, I was a little puzzled at the line of argument of the hon. Member when he said that the markets were glutted. He must know that that is always the case at this time of year. Farmers are having to "pit" their potatoes and are only too anxious to sell them so that they do not have the expense of keeping them. They try to put as many on the market as possible. I do not think the hon. Member can blame the Government for the fact that farmers are anxious to sell their potatoes.
§ Sir L. Plummer
I tried to make it clear that this was the first occasion in my experience of 12 years that they were being sold below the statutory price.
§ Mr. Godber
It may be the first knowledge the hon. Member has of it, but to many people it has certainly been a commonplace over many years. I sympathise with the hon. Member in regard to barley, but he should produce barley in Lincolnshire where we do not have the troubles that he mentioned because it is better quality barley.
I now wish to turn to the Amendment. I think this Amendment was drafted before the White Paper was published. The right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) gave away that point, I believe. The words "and Command Paper No. 8989" look as if they had been slipped in afterwards. Presumably, whatever the White Paper had contained, the debate would have taken place on this Amendment. Tomorrow we shall have quite a different Amendment, dealing with the price of food. Hon. Members opposite always seem to get into some difficulty over helping farmers on the one hand and wanting cheap food on the other. They cannot have it both ways. When they seek to have cheap food it means that it must be bought at the expense of the farmer or the farmworker. 670 I am sure the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) would agree with me.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been a little historical during this debate, and some have gone back as far as 1921. I do not propose to go back quite so far, but I wish to go back a little way. I have no desire to decry the achievements of the right hon. Member for Don Valley in placing the 1947 Act on the Statute Book, but I think it should be clearly recalled that in doing so he was bringing to its logical conclusion the work of the present Lord Hudson in the war years and with full Conservative support.
§ Mr. Godber
As I was not in this House at the time I cannot accept responsibility for what my hon. Friends did, but they certainly did not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Godber
I certainly did not do anything of the sort, and the hon. Member will no doubt have an opportunity of making his point later on. This Measure was merely the fulfilment of Lord Hudson's policy. I wish to quote the words he used on 5th December, 1944, because I think the right hon. Member for Don Valley a little unfair in that he claimed great things for his Act but did not say anything about the source of a great deal of it. We know that he was Parliamentary Secretary to Lord Hudson during the war years, and I have no doubt that he was a very good Parliamentary Secretary. I have no doubt that he took a great deal of his policy from the Minister. Lord Hudson said:A market will be assured throughout the four-year period for all fat pigs and eggs which are offered for sale. Prices will be considered at each annual February review and subsequently fixed by the Government. An assured market will be maintained for cereals, main crop potatoes and sugar beet up to and including the crops harvested in 1947. The prices of these crops will be considered at each annual February review and subsequently fixed by the Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 367.]671 I think it just as well to remember that at present, because we hear so much about the 1947 Act from hon. Members opposite and we should remember where it really started and pay tribute where it is due.
§ Mr. Williams
If the hon. Gentleman knows where it started, let him tell the House, but he will not object if I tell him where I think it started, will he?
§ Mr. Godber
No, but I think I am entitled to quote to the House those words used by my right hon. Friend at that time which I think very relevant—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where did it start?"] No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us. Even so, in moving the Second Reading on 27th January, 1947, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley made it quite clear that the form of the guarantee he was giving the farmer was liable to lead to a wide form of variation in changing circumstances. I think this passage has already been quoted on a number of occasions, but I should like to quote it again, because I think it is very relevant at the present time:The actual provision for any commodity may be a guaranteed fixed price, a deficiency payment related to the standard price, such as we had in regard to wheat in pre-war days, an acreage payment, such as we have for both wheat and potatoes today, or it may be a subsidy, or a price calculated according to a formula relating prices to feedingstuffs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1947; Vol. 432, c. 630–1.]Those are the words the right hon. Gentleman used, and they apply very closely to the position today.
I think it is quite clear that what he had in mind in the event of shortages being overcome was, for instance, something on very similar lines to the scheme for cereals we have had outlined in the White Paper, Cmd. No. 8947, published in September of this year. The only form of marketing which he did not specifically mention at this point was, in fact, producer-controlled marketing boards. I do not presume to know whether there was any significance in that omission, but, knowing the interest there is in this point at this time, I think it relevant to point it out.
672 It is clear that had a Socialist Administration been faced with a sufficiency of supplies of food, they would not have continued the same methods of marketing as before—though it is only fair to the party opposite to point out that had they been in power it is extremely unlikely that there would ever have been a sufficiency of anything, and the housewife would have been chained to her ration book for life.
What of the 1947 Act itself? It is true that it did give a valued sense of security to the farming community, but it should be remembered that since it was passed it has been the consumer or the taxpayer, who has benefited from the fixed prices far more than the producer. I think my hon. Friend made that point a little earlier, but I shall quote one or two prices in support of it. For example, there are the prices of wheat, the most important cereal. These are c.i.f prices taken from the Board of Trade returns compared with the home produced prices.
The average c.i.f. price for imported wheat in 1948 was 22s. 7d. per cwt. compared with 23s. 8d. for home produced. In that case the home produced price was a little higher, but it is only one instance. In 1949 the imported price was 25s. 8d. and the home produced price 24s. 4d.; in 1950 the variation continued, 28s. 6d. for imported and 26s. 7d. for home produced. In 1951 and 1952 the discrepancy had widened still further. In 1951 it was 32s. 8d. against 28s. 1d., and in 1952, 32s. 1d. against 28s. 9d., a very substantial difference. I think those figures show clearly the injustice of the charge frequently levelled against the farmer by the hon. Member for Wednesbury.
§ Mr. Coldrick
Is the hon. Member seriously suggesting that the consumers of this country have had to pay more for imported wheat than what they have paid the farmer for home produced wheat during the whole period he has covered?
§ Mr. Godber
For wheat, yes—either the consumer or the taxpayer. Those are the actual figures. They are the authoritative figures and the hon. Member can check them. I can see that he has been indoctrinated by his hon. Friend.
It is now, however, with world prices moving against them, that the farmers are entitled to expect some security for themselves and their workers from the 1947 Act, and it is at this very moment that 673 they find changes being made in the method of payment. It is undoubtedly this fact that has led to a great deal of uneasiness in the minds of farmers during the recent months, and to one like myself who was brought up in the farming industry in the years between the wars, this feeling is not difficult to understand.
§ Commander Maitland
Would not my hon. Friend agree that the real security which farmers have had between 1945 until the time when conditions are changing was due to the fact that there was a February price review and not because of the Agriculture Act and that the Price Review came during the time of the Coalition Government.
§ Mr. Godber
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for reinforcing my point.
It has not been sufficiently realised, however, that while the method is being changed the guarantee remains wholly unimpaired and the new systems, while giving greater scope to those with initiative, maintain full security to the industry as a whole. It must be realised by every farmer that systems of fixed price can only be operated alongside a system of allocation—I do not think that has been sufficiently realised—when one is dealing with perishable products. That allocation requires a system of consumer rationing, and once a sufficiency has been assured the housewife will rightly demand freedom of choice.
Once that state has been reached, and the whole country must be glad it has now been so nearly reached, methods of carrying out the guarantee to farmers must of necessity be changed, and it is here that the difficulty of relating a free market to the consumer with the guarantees to the farmer under the Act has arisen. No one can deny that my right hon. Friend has listened to the viewpoint of every interest concerned and that he has done his utmost to achieve a solution agreeable to all the various interests, from the producer to the consumer; and of course, most important of all, he had to satisfy the Treasury who will be called upon to underwrite the pledges to the farmer.
Of necessity these negotiations have taken time, and this has undoubtedly added to the uncertainty which existed. However, we had a White Paper on cereals in September, and now we have 674 a further one summarising the steps to be taken with regard to the rest of the Review commodities. I feel confident that these two, taken together, have been well worth waiting for and that they supply the farming community with the continuity and the security for which they have been asking. There are, of course, matters of detail which still need clearing up. And I hope shortly to mention a few, but I am convinced that on the questions of principle and method the decisions taken have been well suited to the changing conditions we are now experiencing and that they will achieve the object desired.
I wish to spend a moment on the general question of producer marketing boards, about which I know my Friends in the agricultural industry have been anxious. I share their feeling in many respects. Indeed, I am anxious to further the cause of these boards wherever they are suitable, but I do not consider them as a magic solution to the marketing problems of all agricultural commodities. I think it unwise to invoke them as a rallying cry to the emotions of farmers, just as hon. Members opposite in the not too distant past have been wont to rally their supporters with the word "nationalisation."
Nevertheless, I am all in favour of marketing boards being used where they are suitable, and I welcome most warmly the fact that the milk marketing boards are to be restored to their full powers. It is not before time. This is a most important and timely step which will be widely welcomed in the industry. I note that it will be in charge of the welfare and school milk schemes, and, of course, the present subsidy on liquid milk sales must be retained. I am glad to see also that the Potato Board is to be revived. It did useful work in the pre-war years and will obviously occupy a still more important position under the present guaranteed price set-up.
With regard to fatstock, I note the reasons that have led to a deferment of the possible setting up of a compulsory board, and anyone who stops to consider the complications of the subject must agree that there was no hope of getting such a board in being for a considerable period. I am very interested in the suggestion of a voluntary board for fatstock, and I hope every possible facility will be 675 given to it. If it is given a fair chance to operate alongside the auction system, it will show clearly the benefits and the difficulties which could arise from the operation of a board with full statutory powers and should help to resolve the doubts and hopes of those who have argued so hotly the merits and demerits of a board during these last few months.
Since the Government have turned down a statutory board, for the moment, I feel that they are under a clear obligation to do all they can to make this voluntary board work, and I welcome the assurance in the White Paper to this effect. The scheme finally evolved for fatstock is both ingenious and complicated, but I do not think anyone can deny that it gives the farmers security against the dangers they had formerly envisaged from a return to the auction market. In principle it is both just and fair, and it should do much to promote greater confidence.
Various points of detail emerge. Cattle once graded must be very clearly marked so that there can be no temptation to put them through a second auction and obtain a further payment. Pigs will require a clear delineation between porkers which will go through the auction and baconers which will go straight to the factory. Sheep provide a difficult problem. They will presumably be weight estimated and graded, as now, to qualify for their correct individual price deficiency payment. The graders will no longer have reports of the previous week's killings to guide them, as they now have from the Ministry of Food, and this will undoubtedly make their task more difficult. These and other such points must be cleared up before the scheme starts. In general, however, I am satisfied that the scheme will work and that it provides the necessary flexibility. That is the important factor.
While on the subject of auctions, I would comment that much has been said about the danger of price rings in pre-war days. Under this new system the main sufferer from such rings would be the taxpayer. I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is present. I hope that consideration will be given to withdrawing the guarantee system from any market which, without good reason, is consistently and substantially below the national average price. This would inevitably mean that 676 no more fatstock would be sent to such an auction, and the knowledge that it could happen would have a salutary effect on anyone trying to form such a ring. I hope that that suggestion will be considered.
Some difficulties about slaughterhouses may well arise as a large number of those now in use for the Ministry of Food are the property of individual butchers who may not be anxious to help their competitors, many of whom may no longer be in possession of the necessary premises. There should be a policy of developing a range of new abattoirs situated to serve the whole country. They could be municipal undertakings which could, if necessary, be taken over later on by a marketing board if one developed.
On the subject of cereals, I think that the new scheme is satisfactory. Under it the difficulties which have arisen this year would not re-occur. I have always, however, been a believer in the Wheat Act, and I should like to see it revived if only for this one cereal crop. I realise that there are considerable difficulties with barley and oats. Not only would it ease the burden on the Exchequer. Here I should like to quote what the Chancellor said last Friday. When winding up the debate he said:… the fail in the world prices of cereals has led to unexpectedly large expenditure in supporting the home harvest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c 557.]I am anxious to help him, as I am sure everyone is. I believe that it would help the sale of the newer heavy cropping wheats which may be difficult to sell under a straightforward deficiency payment in competition with imported hard wheats. But if this foreign wheat has to bear the cost of the deficiency payment, it would make the home-grown wheats more attractive financially. It is in our interests to continue to encourage the growing of these varieties. By so doing we step up output considerably and if, at the same time, we can keep down the cost to the Exchequer, this will add to the security of agriculture.
I should like to make a few comments on horticulture. That section of producers receives no benefit from guaranteed prices or deficiency payments. These producers have to stand somewhat enviously on the sidelines while the discussions on methods of fixing prices continue. 677 It is impossible to make the same form of provision for horticultural products, but undoubtedly many sections of producers have been going through most difficult times within the last few years.
The one form of protection that a Government can give them is in some form of control of imports. The choice is either quotas or tariffs. The quota system inherited from the previous Government is extremely difficult to work and is very productive of ill-feeling between countries, especially when quotas are abruptly terminated. It is very difficult by this method to safeguard the producer, and the consumer is often subjected to extreme variation in price. I am sure that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) will agree.
It is therefore particularly welcome that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has been able, as a result of two years hard work, to undo the harm done by G.A.T.T. under a previous administration. He deserves our congratulations. I hope that he will now speedily be able to revise these tariffs and thus help to provide a firmer basis for this section of our industry.
There is much more that I should like to say, but I have already trepassed too long on the time of the House. I conclude by saying that in my view these White Papers, taken together represent a determined, though perhaps a little belated, effort to relate guaranteed prices to conditions quite different to any that have obtained since 1947. However, I am confident that the farming community will now respond with a still greater effort in the realm of production, and in so doing they will continue to buttress ever more firmly the country's balance of payments on which the welfare of all, both town and country, ultimately depend.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) started and finished his speech in a spirit of complacency, but in between I thought I noticed a great deal of doubt about some of the ramifications of the scheme we are discussing. Especially when he was discussing the livestock situation he seemed to be in grave doubt about the success of the scheme because of the snags he enumerated.
§ Mr. Godber
I must make it clear that I am absolutely satisfied with the principle behind the scheme. I realise that there are some difficulties—obvious teething troubles, but I am ready to support it to the full.
§ Mr. Royle
The hon. Gentleman goes back to his complacency. There it is. We accept that, sitting where he does on the Government benches, he must try to show some complacency today. Obviously, opposition will come from this side of the House.
I was worried about the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby). After what we have read of his sayings in recent weeks, it was amazing to find him making the speech he made today. It was a complete volte-face from everything which he had been saying about the distribution and marketing of livestock.
The Gracious Speech was not very forthcoming on this question. Many of us wondered what the intention of the Government was, and when it was announced last week that we were to have a White Paper on agricultural marketing we had some hope. But I would say that the Government did not come forward with their deficiency payment in that respect. When we read the White Paper we found ourselves in almost as much of a fog about the intentions of the Government as we were after the references to marketing in the Gracious Speech. Many farmers are most dissatisfied about what the Government now propose, largely because they thought that a producers' marketing board was to be introduced straight away.
The scheme suggested in the White Paper plays into the hands of the big business middlemen, especially as it applies to meat marketing. We are going right back to the conditions which prevailed in the days before the war. I want to know why the Government, when they have for so long been talking about freedom, have been lacking in courage to go in for a free system of marketing such as they have always advocated. I wish to return later to the subject of the White Paper.
Meanwhile, I want to examine with the House the present situation. It may seem rather strange that a Member 679 of Parliament from an industrial constituency should endeavour to speak in a debate on agricultural and marketing questions. But I have always felt that there was a lack of association between town and country and that there should be many closer links than have existed. Also, in the past all of us have been very concerned about the drift from country to town, although since my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) became Minister of Agriculture in 1945 there has been a drift from the town to the countryside as well, even though it has only been on the part of stockbrokers picking up farms.
The towns know very little about the farmers' difficulties, but it is equally true that the farmers know very little indeed about the consumers' problems. The policy on both sides of the House has been that the farmers must have security at all costs. I am in favour of their having security, but not quite at all costs. I want the farmers to have security and, therefore, I am sometimes very concerned about the line we take to give them security. Farmers do not seem to feel that they have security at the moment, and as a result of the policy of the Tory Party during the past two years we now have a very perplexed agricultural community. The policy of drift, which is the policy of the existing Government, is fatal to the security of the farmer, to the future of the distributor and to the well-being of the consumer. But that was always Tory Party policy.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) made a very entertaining speech, which we all enjoyed enormously. It showed debating ability which I cannot hope to emulate. But we must remember that the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Agriculture during the inter-war years and that he did not solve many problems. I remember when the Tory Party, the Government of the time, almost as a last resort, appointed the Chairman of the National Farmers' Union to be Minister of Agriculture, and what a deplorable failure he was. During that period our farmers lacked prosperity and there was doubt everywhere, and that doubt was not fully removed until the 1940 Agriculture Act was passed.
§ Mr. Peter Legh (Petersfield)
The hon. Member has referred to a very distinguished constituent of mine who was formerly Minister of Agriculture. I can assure the hon. Member that that gentleman was not only held in the highest regard by the farming community in the days when he was Minister, but is still held in the highest regard by the farming community.
§ Mr. Royle
I appreciate the hon. Member's point of view. The hon. Member and I came originally from the same part of the country, and that gentleman was not so highly regarded in my part of the country as he apparently is in the hon. Member's constituency. Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith was certainly not regarded very highly in Lancashire, and I assert that he was not a success as Minister of Agriculture. The policy of the Government at that time was one of restriction.
§ Mr. Royle
When I have heard the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) in this House, I have never been prepared to go the whole way with him, but there has been a lot in what he has said. [An HON. MEMBER: "A lot of rubbish."] It has not been a lot of rubbish. If there had been more hon. Members prepared to take the guarded attitude which my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury has taken in the past about the money to be poured into agriculture, we should have been very much better off today. Any support which I may give to the line taken from time to time by my hon. Friend arises from certain figures which have come to our notice, particularly during the last few days. I refer, in this instance, particularly to livestock. It has been stated that in 1949 and 1950 store cattle fetched only £20 to £25 per head in the market.
§ Mr. Royle
I am talking not about this week but about 1949, and at that time store cattle could be bought for £25 each, and I could give hon. Members many 681 instances of that. At that time the Ministry of Food were paying prices which were not the prices of the present day, and after those cattle had been fattened they were making £60 to £62 for about 12 cwt.
The present situation is a dangerous one, because we are going too far with the prices. The reason why store cattle are fetching more money today is not that there is any confidence in the Government, but that excessive prices are being paid for fat cattle. I can quote the Agricultural Correspondent of "The Times" on this. None of us knows who the Agricultural Correspondent of "The Times" is, of course, but I quote what he said on 2nd November.
§ Mr. G. Brown
The Agricultural Correspondent of "The Times" is the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd).
§ Mr. Royle
Then I have the support of the hon. Member for Newbury. He wrote:… the prices being paid at the store cattle sales are higher than ever. According to the 'Farmer and Stockbreeder,' this year's prices for two-year-old store cattle average £56 a head and are £5 higher than in 1952, a reflection of the higher fat cattle prices back into the store market. Only last week at a Wiltshire farm sale farmers paid £40 and £42 for suckled Hereford and Aberdeen Angus calves of six months old. These will not be beef for another 12 months and probably longer. Today, £15 is regarded as a fair price for a newly-born calf likely to make a beef beast.It is utterly ridiculous. The prices now being paid for store cattle and the prices being paid to the farmer for the finished articles are out of all sensible proportion. For example, the top grade price for a 12-cwt. beast would work out at something like £90. It is crazy. I use that word deliberately, and I do so in condemnation not of subsidy but of the prices actually being paid to the farmer. If such ridiculous prices were not being paid, we could easily afford subsidies, and I put that forward for the Chancellor's consideration.
Today's price for a pig up to 115 1b. is 52s. 10d. a score, plus 4s. 6d. for pork pigs, which is 2s. 10d. a 1b. if the pig weighs up to 135, after which the price is 3s. 0½d. per lb. The butcher pays 2s. 2d. A pig weighing 120 1b., a pork pig, will, therefore, lose £5 for the Ministry of Food, and there are 4½ million of those pigs in the country at the present time. It is a crazy situation and calls 682 for re-examination before we go any farther. The price paid to home producers is rightly higher than world prices, but I sometimes ask whether the price that we pay at home is setting world prices against us and whether we might buy more cheaply abroad if we gave a less ridiculous price at home.
In the remainder of the time at my disposal I will concentrate on the White Paper proposals for marketing. I assert that producer marketing boards are selfish undertakings without regard for the consumer's point of view, and that deficiency payments as envisaged in the White Paper fail to eliminate the wasteful and superfluous units in distribution and marketing, but encourage rings, and particularly rings of dealers rather than of retail traders.
Further, I assert that the suggestions of the White Paper will encourage dishonest traders. What is to prevent a farmer friend selling to me at 100s. live weight when the standard price is 120s. or 130s., and my going into a shop and cutting the throats of my competitors because I have bought my cattle cheap? I should like an answer about this, because it causes concern to most of us on this side. We look upon it as creating chaos in distribution and fluctuations which are ridiculous.
Then, up conies the Chancellor of the Exchequer and pays the farmer the difference. The deficiency scheme as now envisaged is ridiculous. I know something about this "dodging of the column" in these matters.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus. North and Mearns)
The hon. Member must understand that the payment will only be made if the seller has been through the auction market.
§ Mr. Royle
I know all about that. I do not want to go into the matter very deeply but I can assure the hon. Member that there are ways and means, and that the deficiency payment will have to be made in the case where the beast is sold privately, because in many rural areas there will be a good many transactions of that kind.
§ Mr. Royle
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for supporting my argument.
I now turn to the question of slaughterhouses. The Minister said this afternoon that before the war there were approximately 16,000 slaughterhouses and that now there were between 600 and 800. In paragraph 12 of the White Paper something is said about the assurances that were given when control was imposed at the outbreak of the war and whenit was clearly understood that the private traders would have their businesses returned"—that is, the wholesalers—when the need for control had passed; and this obligation must be honoured.Something else has to be honoured. A pledge was given to the retailers, at the same time, that they would get their slaughterhouses back, and it was made in almost exactly the same terms.
It would be mad to attempt to do it and it would not be justified. The system of private slaughterhouses has gone; but one pledge is just as right to be honoured as another. Why are the Government picking out the wholesale meat traders and importers to honour pledges and not the smaller trader who lost his slaughterhouse at the beginning of the control system? It is absolutely dishonest to try to carry out a promise and a pledge given in the most difficult circumstances in 1939 to the wholesalers when we are not prepared to honour pledges given to other people at the same time. It is ridiculous.
Many slaughterhouses are run today by co-operative societies and the cattle of private traders is, through the Ministry of Food, being slaughtered there. Vice versa, the slaughterhouses of private traders throughout the length of the land are being used by the Ministry of Food and meat that goes to co-operative societies is slaughtered there. When the deficiency payments come into operation can we think that the private traders will pay co-operative societies under that system?
My criticism of what has been said from the Government side of the House today is that the only way we can deal with the present position in time is to open many of the private slaughterhouses, now in disrepair, under the control of local authorities. We ought to have taken greater time before bringing these matters 684 before the House, in order to build a sufficient number of slaughterhouses, each of which should serve a population of from 300,000 to 500,000, under modern conditions. Let me tell the House what I envisage as an alternative to what has been put before us in the White Paper.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was a member of a very important Committee, the Lucas Committee, which produced an excellent Report, which has been ignored far too much. Many of the recommendations in the Report should long ago have been brought forward in legislation, and I am disappointed that they have not been carried out. I speak as one who for many years has been engaged in the livestock trade and in marketing and distribution.
I envisage a Commission which would buy all our meat, both home and imported, in the case of home meat at the February review prices and in the case of frozen meat by the system of bulk purchase. This meat would all converge in the central depots of the various areas, and be distributed by the Commission. There would be slaughterhouses and depots for populations below 500,000. These transactions should be on a deadweight grading basis absolutely, because the live-weight basis is open to all manner of practices which are not straightforward.
I would then, through the Commission, distribute to the retail meat traders in three different ways. First, to the individual butcher who out of pride has always wanted to slaughter his own cow, I would sell cattle to be slaughtered in the central slaughter house either by himself or by his own man, and thereby retain the private craftsman. Secondly, for men who did not want that, I would let the Commission sell to them of the hook meat which had been slaughtered by the Commission itself. A very good third alternative would be the establishment of buying groups for retail traders, Co-operative societies, multiple firms, and the like.
By the adoption of the scheme recommended in the Lucas Report there would be no dealers' profits or auctioneers' commissions, and there would be a minimum of transport and droverage. The saving thus made would pay the administration costs. Indeed, it would go further—it would contribute to guaranteed prices. I 685 also believe that cold storage facilities should be controlled by such a Commission in order to prevent fluctuations between the autumn and the spring when livestock supplies are so different.
The pre-war system of marketing and distribution was prehistoric and completely out of date. The war-time system was dictated by shortage. We can now rationalise on the lines I have suggested, and I ask the Government to think again before legislation or Orders in Council are introduced to put this scheme into operation. There is a much better scheme, the adoption of which would not necessitate the sacrifice of consumer choice or of looking after the farmers' interests. We could adopt the scheme suggested in the Lucas Report and we could do it without punishing the producer, the distributor or the consumer.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Butcher (Holland with Boston)
It is some two years since I had the honour of addressing this House because, in the interim, I have been engaged in what is known as the Whips' Office. Therefore, hon. Members will appreciate that I speak today with very much the same feelings as we all experience when addressing the House for the first time. I appreciate, however, that while an hon. Member making his maiden speech receives special consideration, I, because of the length of time that I have been here, and my earlier occupation, am not entitled to any Parliamentary quarter at all—nor, indeed, do I propose to give any.
I hope that the hon. Member for Sal-ford, West (Mr. Royle), whose attractive speech the whole House listened to with thought and care, will not get into trouble with his own Front Bench, because I gathered that his right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) claimed that the system of fixed prices as introduced under the 1947 Act by the Socialist Government was right, just and fair both to the farmer and to the consumer, and that the system should be continued.
The hon. Member for Salford, West said, however, that the prices so fixed are ridiculous and that the high prices being paid at the present time for fat cattle were reflected right the way back to store cattle and inflated the whole system. In saying that, he joins with his hon. Friend 686 the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) in suggesting that the farmer is being feather-bedded.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Don Valley is not in his place because, if he were, I should have liked to ask him why on earth there was any reference in the Amendment he moved to the farm worker. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech with the greatest care and to the other speeches made by hon. Members opposite to see how the farm worker would be referred to in them. I realise for how little the farm workers of this country have to thank the Socialist Government. We on this side frequently pleaded with the party opposite when they formed the Government to increase the meat allowance to the farm workers. Under the Socialist Government, farm workers had to look elsewhere for their mid-day meal. They were offered whalemeat, snoek, imported Australian rabbits and boneless New Zealand cow.
As a result of the present Government's policy, food is more plentiful today, and thus it is necessary to bring in a revised scheme for marketing our food. Although this scheme was late in being introduced, I quite understand the reasons for that, and I appreciate the courage of my right hon. Friend in delaying its introduction so that all the interests concerned could be consulted. I am satisfied that it fulfils the promise of guaranteed prices and assured markets.
§ Mr. I. O. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman says that the Government consulted all the interests concerned. Can he say whether they have consulted the farm workers, and, if so, whether they have paid any attention to opinions expressed by them?
§ Sir H. Butcher
I am sure that all the people concerned have been consulted. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have further details, he can put down a Question to the appropriate Minister.
Referring to the Milk Marketing Board, paragraph 10 of the White Paper says that "full marketing powers" will be re-established, but I wonder whether it is wise to give the Board all the power it possessed before the war. I refer to the fining of producers which used to take place. In the early days of the Board, questions were asked in this 687 House on that point, and a promise was given by the then Minister of Agriculture in July, 1938, that he was investigating the whole question of the imposition of penalties by marketing boards.
It is interesting to reflect that the then Minister of Agriculture was our present Speaker, and, in passing, it is also interesting to note that on 7th June, 1937, the Right Hon. David Lloyd George, referring to our present Speaker, said:I was charmed with the form and style of his speech. I listened to it with great delight."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th June, 1937; Vol. 324, c. 1481.]Care must be taken to see that, with the re-establishment of these boards, there is no punishment of the Queen's subjects, except by the Queen's judges in the Queen's courts. We are not prepared to accept again the imposition of such punishment by people who are at once prosecutors, judges and the receivers of the fines they impose, and who sit in a back room in Westminster without the public or the Press being admitted.
While I think that the Central Milk Distributive Council were very unwise to send to the House of Commons the very silly letter they did send, nevertheless there is a case for the further representation of distributors on a board dealing with the distribution and marketing of milk, particularly when we bear in mind that so much money is now being spent on welfare milk, milk in schools and milk used in hospitals. Nor do we want a return to the pre-war policy of subsidising the manufacturers of chocolate and milk powder at a time when there is no price reduction to the ordinary consumer.
Coming from South Lincolnshire, which is definitely the most important potato-growing area in the country, I would not like to pass from this question of marketing without saying a word about the proposal to revive the potato marketing boards. I think it is right. It can be done in time to deal with the 1955 harvest, and I believe the transitional arrangements to deal with 1954 are adequate and fair. But, in dealing with those commodities, we should pass from the idea of the producer-controlled board to a board discharging marketing functions, a more broadly constituted board, but serving at all times the interests of the producer and the consumer.
688 Every speech in this debate so far has dealt with this question of fat stock. In my opinion it is a great pity that the leaders of the National Farmers' Union have given such whole-hearted devotion to the idea of a producer-controlled marketing board for fat-stock at the present time, because this White Paper is, really, the rejection of the idea of the monopoly, compulsory, producer-controlled marketing board. The reasons have, in part, been given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), himself a former Minister of Agriculture, who made a most attractive and brilliant debating speech from this bench. He said that the real argument is between hooves and hooks and that it was well known where the hooves were, but not the hooks. That, of course, is acknowledged. [An HON. MEMBER: "We know where the crooks are."]
It is exactly that point, and those arguments and reasons, which have led my right hon. Friend, at the present time, to abandon the idea of organising this industry in that way. It would take too long, years and years, to organise such a scheme, to put up the buildings, to equip them. The plant we have at present is insufficient and the expenditure would be colossal. Even when we had the equipment, and the buildings, where is the skill, from the producer-controlled marketing board available to decide on which hook should be hung which joint? It is because that there is not this skill available to such a board that I think the Government have done wisely in not opting for a compulsory scheme but, instead, allowing a marketing scheme to be established on a voluntary basis.
Perhaps the best reason against the compulsory scheme is that fresh meat is infinitely variable in type of animal, in size, quality and cut. If an additional reason is required, it is that a single seller, whether a meat marketing board or a Government Department, is always in great difficulty. It is either under the greatest possible pressure to dispose of its commodity, in which case it is in a weak position or, alternatively, by its very monopoly powers, it can take too strong and dictatorial a position against the producer, and thus defeat its own object.
689 The only way in which a monopoly can function, whether a Department or a marketing board, is by allocation. That is what has been done, with quite considerable success, by the Ministry of Food, but their times of greatest success have been times of scarcity. When they start allocating meat in time of plenty there is an enormous rumpus. Not long ago we had all the storm and controversy about ewe mutton. Why? Because, when the shops were full of meat, no one wanted to take ewe mutton; when there was little meat, the ultimate consumer was perfectly happy to take what was there.
Let us accept that a single producer cannot possibly give the consumer adequate choice. The only way in which to give the consumers the choice to which they are entitled is the system by which thousands of ordinary individuals take their own decisions, and their own risks, which brings freedom of choice to the consumer: a real choice must be available, so that the price paid by the ultimate consumer, the housewife in the town, works steadily back, and influences the producer to produce the joints, the beasts, the cattle, that she needs.
And, from the point of view of the producer himself, how really satisfactory that is. Why should a producer of really first-class, prime beef receive a fixed price for his product and then see it sold in the shop at the same price as the poorer quality stuff that has received exactly the same fixed price? He would be disgruntled, and rightly so. I believe this livestock scheme put forward by the Government discharges, and honours in full, the pledges which this Government gave to the farmers and to the consumers. If that was not my opinion, I would not be supporting it now.
Under the scheme, the industry is getting an adequate guarantee, in that the difference between the average realisation price and the standard price would be paid to everyone, no matter what the market yield were. But added to this there is an individual guarantee to every farmer, for every individual beast by which, if his beast realises less than a minimum price, it will be made up to the minimum, while also receiving the general deficiency payment under the main scheme.
With this thought I conclude. This may cost the country a substantial sum 690 of money. Much of the criticism of the Government's White Paper, appearing in "The Manchester Guardian" and other papers, has been based on the heavy burden this would probably impose on the national Exchequer. I believe the Government have entered into that with their eyes open. The Chancellor is prepared to support this White Paper, because it fully honours the pledge the Government have given to the farmers. But it brings a corresponding duty and obligation upon the farmer to ensure that by skill in breeding, and in management, he shall proceed as fast as possible into the production of the kind of meat—whether it is bacon, pork, beef, mutton, or whatever it may be—of a kind and quality that the consumer desires to buy.
In that way, the town and country, the consumer and producer, will find their way back from the days of shortage and allocation, towards the time when the consumer pays a fair and honest price for the produce of the countryside and the producer, for his part, strives to make sure that the food he produces is that which is required by the worker in the town.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
I have listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher), and particularly to that part where he said the Socialists had done nothing for the farm workers. In that regard, I can only say that no farmworker will wish to go back to the conditions which existed under a Tory Government. Perhaps he will remember those conditions, or, if not, will make some inquiries about them. He will find that after the First World War, in 1921, the farmworkers' wage dropped to 33s., and after a further period under the mainly Tory-dominated Government in 1926, in such counties as Suffolk the wage dropped to 25s.
The only way in which farmers could keep the workers in their employment was by the simple expedient of getting the Governments of the day to ensure that farmworkers were left outside the unemployment insurance part of that insurance scheme. That was the curse; that they could not go on to unemployment rates, because of the careful work of the Government of the day in preventing them 691 from having an opportunity of getting an unemployment rate of pay rather than the miserable wage that was being paid at that time. By 1939 the wage was 35s. a week. Contrast that with the position which the farmworker occupies today in relation to the industrial worker and I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the farmworker has something for which to thank guaranteed prices and the 1947 Act, the Act of the Labour Government.
§ Sir H. Butcher
Will the hon. Gentleman give the figure in 1937, when I was first elected by a majority of the farmworkers of South Lincolnshire.
§ Mr. Champion
What does that mean? That here was an adjustment between 25s. and 35s. What a miserable wage it was. The hon. Member has talked in terms of trying to drive a wedge between the National Union of Agricultural Workers and the Labour Party, and I do not think that he will succeed.
The hon. Gentleman, the Government and the House must remember that the effect of this White Paper will be another step towards reproducing the economic and social conditions that existed in the inter-war years. It seems to me to have no other meaning than that, a step back towards the so-called freedom which resulted in misery for the farmworkers and poverty in so many cases for the farmers and their wives. This is important.
The trouble with this Government is that they have a policy of looking backwards, and even worse, working backwards, working towards those things which resulted in the sort of misery which caused farm people to be coming here on demonstrations week after week. One has only to look at one's newspaper at the photographs of demonstrators from Suffolk and elsewhere asking for justice. From whom were they asking this? From the Tory-dominated Governments of the day, and from the Tory Ministers who, as the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) reminded us, were sacked for the policies they produced and for the miseries which they brought to the industries for which they were responsible.
There were others. We have heard of Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, who went the same way. Another very much 692 esteemed right hon. Member of this House also lost his job because of the failures of the Tory Governments of the day to deal with this great cancer at the heart of our economy, which was agriculture in those years between the two wars.
Farmers are at the moment worried and apprehensive—of course they are. Some people say "No." I understood one hon. Member to shake his head and say "No," but I prefer the carefully thought out speech of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who made it quite clear that there was tremendous uneasiness within the farming industry. It is true that he said that this White Paper might go some little way towards removing it, but he said that the uneasiness was there.
§ Mr. George Lambert (Torrington)
Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that the fact that the price of livestock has gone up continuously each year does not show that the farmers are suffering from a lack of confidence. Again, look at the number of applicants for any farm which is put up for letting—60 or 70 applications. Does that show lack of confidence?
§ Mr. Champion
It is a fact that the executive of the National Farmers' Union in Suffolk, composed not of people who do their planning on paper, as the Minister said today, but of people who farm their own farms and who understand what they are talking about, are so disgruntled with the Tory Party policy in this connection that they called for the Minister's resignation. If anyone imagines this this White Paper is going to remove that feeling he is living in a fool's paradise. The repeated assurances of the Minister and the Tory Party, and even the speech of the Prime Minister at the Farmers' dinner last year, and the gramophone records that were sold as a result of that, certainly did not produce a feeling of confidence in this industry. The very reverse actually happened.
The farmers have, through the National Farmers' Union, from time to time expressed their difficulties and doubts about this Government's policy. It is true that the president has not been quite so forthcoming in this regard as in some others. He said, I think approvingly:We are entering a new and uncharted, though admittedly adventurous phase, in the agricultural industry.693 It is certainly adventurous in some respects; it is certanly not new and uncharted because the farmers experienced this policy being pursued in the inter-war years. It certainly brought them the misery about which I have just spoken. It certainly brought it to their families.
This White Paper is one which I should call "the meat spivs' delight." I believe they welcome this White Paper because they are the only people who will get anything that really matters out of it. It certainly is an attempt in some ways to recreate the pre-war organisation. It is certainly an attempt to bring into being something which as far as I can see, looks like profiting in the main some of the worst elements in our economic life. I believe that it will bring profit to the speculators, to dealers, to the price-ring arrangers.
If I were to put it a little more mildly than that, I would say that the butchers and the wholesalers are to be put back into an unduly strong position vis-à-vis the farmers. The whole scheme—the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) may laugh at this—is designed to underwrite some of the worst features of so-called private enterprise.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I was really laughing at what the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) would think about the hon. Member's statement about the butchers.
§ Mr. Champion
I cannot answer for my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, but I am hoping that my hon. Friend will get a reply from the Chancellor of the Exchequer tonight. The right hon. Gentleman has not been here to listen to much of the debate, in spite of the fact that he is to reply. I hope that he will answer the salient points put by my hon. Friend about the possibility of a nice little carve up between unscrupulous farmers and dealers, etc.
That is an extremely strong point in this connection. We want to know who is to benefit from this White Paper. The Minister of Works wrote something for the Conservative Party during the war period. He said:Control by Parliament is also essential because the public is no longer protected against excessive costs of marketing by the old safeguard of fair and vigorous competition among distributors. Of late, two factors have blunted the keen edge of this salutary weapon. In the first place combines, in which the financier 694 gives orders to the trader, have secured such a grip on certain products and certain markets that competition is in danger of being stifled. Against these unwholesome growths farmers and consumers should rise in their wrath, and through the medium of Parliament stamp out their anti-social activities.I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman said about this scheme when he saw it, as he must have done, as a Minister of the Crown; what he thought of this as an attempt to stamp out some of the worst activities of combines who forced their policies on traders in respect of agricultural marketing.
We are all anxious to hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to say also in respect of the Treasury guarantee. The Treasury are guaranteeing a certain amount of support, but how much is it guaranteeing? What steps is it to take to ensure that it is not bled unduly? We know the Treasury is pretty good at that sort of thing, but I am not sure whether this scheme will enable the Treasury to safeguard the taxpayer's money. I think this scheme will have two effects; it will bleed the taxpayer and will rob the consumer, both of whom are of vital importance here.
I am bound to say that it is time something was done about meat marketing, as I think most of my hon. Friends will agree. Up to now we have had a wartime hotch-potch arrangement which has led to costly pensions for importers and wholesalers who went out of business when the Ministry of Food took over. It is time that was ended; as my right hon. Friend said, it was a method which provided pensions to people who did not necessarily deserve them. But somebody should have been thinking all the time about what was to take the place of this arrangement, for no one can be satisfied with the arrangement which existed in pre-war days. If they had been satisfied with it, the Government would not have included paragraph 14 in the White Paper.
No one can be satisfied with what is proposed in this White Paper and no farmer, I think, would pretend that the system suggested by the National Farmers' Union was the best that could possibly be devised. I am sure we have a tremendous amount to learn, on this whole business of the marketing of farm produce, from New Zealand, from Canada and from Denmark, and if they have something to teach us—as I am sure 695 they have in this connection—it is time we began to learn from them. Certainly the whole of our marketing organisation requires thoroughly re-equipping, and, indeed, a complete re-organisation.
Despite what little deal there may have been between the Government and the National Farmers' Union over the restoration of the powers of the Milk Marketing Board and over this meat scheme, I believe the scheme will do little more than annoy the farmers. Certainly it will not produce the sort of marketing which we ought to have here. It is important to us to remember, both as representing farmers and as consumers, that the marketing systems which have been produced in New Zealand and Denmark have enabled them to put meat on our markets at a price something like £100 a ton cheaper than that at which our own farmers have been able to do it. The answer, surely, lies partly in marketing—not wholly in marketing; I do not pretend that for one moment—and certainly we ought to be prepared to learn from them.
It is the job of the Government and of the Minister at this time to give the nation a policy which will ensure both a reasonable standard of living for the farmers and farmworkers and food for the people at reasonable prices by seeing that there is no waste in distribution. Here I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), or anyone else, that I hope this party of which I am a Member will never again stand for cheap food, because cheap food can be a disaster, never mind from whence it comes. It means that the primary producers are not able to purchase the products of the town, even if we look at the matter from that comparatively narrow angle. If we entered a period of cheap food we might be starting another slump, beginning in the food-producing areas and running rapidly through the whole economy not only of this country but of the world.
When, finally, the Labour Party wins the countryside, as win the countryside it will, we shall tell the story of the two Toms—and it will not be a catty story; it will be the story of one, a man, the son of a miner, who gave to the farming community and the farm worker reasonable conditions and hope for the future, 696 and the other a gentleman farmer who finally proved that the Tory Party fail miserably to understand 20th century conditions and what they mean in terms of government—a man who brought dismay, doubt and despondency to the whole of the farming community.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Phelim O'Neill (Antrim, North)
I am sure the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his arguments. In the course of his remarks, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said that agriculture in Scotland was a more vital industry than agriculture in England because it represented a much higher proportion of industry there. We in Northern Ireland, of course, are even more vitally concerned with agriculture than is Scotland. Whenever we discuss any problem relating to agriculture we all have a feeling of deep responsibility, and my hon Friends and I, who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, feel this responsibility very much indeed, because in our speeches we probably speak for far more individual farmers than any other hon. Member in the House.
Virtually all those whom we represent have a direct interest in the land. If I may give a few figures, I would inform the House that in the six counties of Northern Ireland we have no fewer than 83,000 farms, over 78 per cent. of them being under 50 acres in extent. Only 6 per cent. of them are over 100 acres. This figure compares with approximately 20 per cent. in England and Wales and in Scotland. Our average acreage is only some 25 to 30 acres.
Every time I fly from here to my constituency I am reminded of our problems and difficulties, because I pass over the comparatively broad acres of the Midlands, over the Irish Sea, and then see laid out below me a panorama of the English scene in miniature—small farms, small fields and small houses. Even during the last 15 years some of our smaller farmers, in spite of their exertions, have found it difficult to provide themselves with a reasonable standard of life.
We are now departing from the fixed prices and guaranteed markets which, wherever we may sit in the House, we might reasonably say have served us well. 697 Under them, production has been increased since before the war by no less than 50 per cent., which has been no mean contribution to our balance of payments problems and no mean feat in itself. Guaranteed prices and markets have given stability to farming which has enabled the farmers to concentrate on production, while the Government have been enabled to guide the pattern of production in the Annual Price Reviews. These are positive achievements which we should all remember, but we must face the fact that times are changing and we must not be too conservative in our ideas. We must adapt ourselves to a situation which is now arising, where scarcity is being replaced by plenty and the abolition of rationing is in sight.
In Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, there has been considerable apprehension and alarm about the Government's White Paper, but having studied it I can say that this misapprehension and alarm has largely been unfounded. I should like at this juncture to ask my right hon. Friend a question. Paragraph 16 of the White Paper, which refers to Northern Ireland, states that special provision will be made for Northern Ireland with regard to marketing and prices of meat. What about milk? We have never had a Milk Marketing Board as such in Northern Ireland, and there are one or two matters on which we could not be quite on all fours with the rest of the United Kingdom. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend will clear up this matter.
There is no form of agricultural production which has such a slow turnover as the production of meat. The meat which we shall eat in 1954, under the new system of marketing, will have been planned by the producers either in the winter of 1949–50 or in 1950–51. As far as I can see, no alteration in price structure can be reflected in the butchers' shops to any great extent until 1957. I hope that the Government, in conjunction with the farmers' unions, when they fix their annual prices will bear in mind the long period of planning that is necessary in this form of production and do nothing to discourage it in any way.
I should like also to refer to the timing of the introduction of the new scheme. The White Paper says that it will be 698 introduced in the summer. If one were altering a system of selling which had been in force for a long time in any business, one would not normally choose the Christmas rush to do it; it would be bound to lead to inconvenience. Whenever the Government do decide to change the system of purchasing, I hope they will give the farming community as long warning as they possibly can and, if possible, defer it until after the peak production period is over.
As many other hon. Members wish to speak, I conclude my remarks by reverting to paragraph 16 in the White Paper, which shows that, as far as we in Northern Ireland are concerned, there are still a number of outstanding points to be cleared up. I ask my right hon. Friend to do his best to have these matters completed as soon as possible. This is of great importance to us.
There have been occasions during the last year, but only after 3 a.m., when it has occurred to me that perhaps the Government had more interest in our votes in the Lobby than in our problems. These occasional fleeting doubts have been banished by paragraph 16, and although I and my hon. Friends have to take a certain amount on trust, we do so knowing with confidence that the Government are aware of the peculiar and special problems and difficulties in this our most important industry. We also hope that, in conjunction with the Government of Northern Ireland, they will resolve these difficulties in a way that will enable us to participate in the increased production which is so urgently needed by the nation.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. S. N. Evans (Wednesbury)
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. P. O'Neill) has pleaded the cause of Northern Ireland with eloquence and tenacity. I hope it will not be considered improper if I proceed to plead the cause of the citizens of Wednesbury with equal vigour. The farmers have had a very good day today. They are very well represented in the House, as they should be, but there is another side to this meadow, In my view, we are apt to discuss the farming problem in isolation from other and very important conditioning factors.
Our living standards, our place in the world, depend on a very delicately poised 699 triple alliance of industry, farming and invisible exports. These three should be complementary, but the triple alliance, as I see it, consists, at the moment, of two partners and a pensioner. That is very bad. Where I come from there are 72,000 hard working Black Country folk, the type whom Cromwell described as the best and finest in the world.
§ Mr. Evans
My hon. Friend has anticipated what I was going to say. These people get a living making and selling everything from nuts and bolts to railway carriages, and their three meals a day depend on their ability to find a market for them. The question of whether they can find a market depends on the price at which they can market their railway engines, their nuts and bolts and the rest, and the price at which they can compete depends largely on the cost of the contents of the housewife's shopping bag.
Do not let us think that the influence of the high prices paid to British farmers ends at the English Channel, because it does not. When we talk with the Argentine people or with the Irish—as I have with both—the first thing they say, no matter what commodity is being discussed, is: "What are you paying the British farmers?" That becomes the shillelagh with which they beat us over the head during the negotiations.
Where I come from there is no ill will for the farmers. We wish them well. We are anxious to have a square deal for the farmers, but we also think that a square deal for the housewives is getting overdue. I am not happy about handing the Milk Marketing Board back to the farmers' control. The Board did very well for the producers. Nobody is going to contradict that, but even those with the keennest eyesight have some difficulty in discerning any marked advantage flowing from it for consumers.
What is the situation now about milk? The price of 3s. 2d. a gallon is ludicrous. It compares with 1s. 9d. per gallon which the Dutch fanners get, and, of course, there is a reason for that. A Dutch cow produces 808 gallons; ours produce 609, or a difference of one-third. The Dutch sell their milk at 1s. 9d., whereas we sell it at 3s. 2d.
700 It would not be so bad if the circumstances were not that in 1939 there was a very marked difference between the efficiency and competitive force of the Danish and the Dutch and the British dairy industry. We had considerable leeway to make up. The staggering thing is that in relation to the Danish and the Dutch we have made no progress at all in efficiency and productivity. It should be remembered also that those countries were occupied by the Germans for six years. Many of their best cows were commandeered and sent to Germany. Furthermore, nobody is going to kill himself to step up productivity for the benefit of an invader.
So we have the position that since 1939 our dairy fanning industry has had a wonderful opportunity to close the gap in part between the Dutch and the Danish. But what has happened? Taking the 1939 figure as 100, today it is 109 for all three industries. The Danish industry, the Dutch industry and the British industry are the same, so that we have made no headway at all, despite the occupation suffered by these other two countries.
Therefore, I want to discuss more fully this question of handing back the Milk Marketing Board to the farmers before I can consent to it. I want to know what is going to happen to the milk if the industry is going to improve itself. We must hope it will, and many will think that it is about time it did. But what is going to happen to the milk? Last year 45 million gallons less of liquid milk were sold in this country than in 1950, despite the fact that 15 per cent. of the liquid milk distributed today in England and Wales is either given away in schools or sold at 1½d. a pint through the national milk scheme. There is another market for about 5 per cent. in the hospitals and public institutions of one kind and another, including the gaols.
This means there is a fairly constant market for 20 per cent. of our liquid milk, and yet sales last year were 45 million gallons less. No one should be surprised at that, because ever-increasing prices to ensure that the high cost producers get ever-increasing profits inevitably means that the industrial worker and his wife and family consume less.
§ Mr. Evans
Therefore I want to know something about the general situation. It is not any act on the part of the Government which is breaking the 1947 Act down; it is because Mrs. Jones, who lives in Wednesbury or some other industrial centre, is getting fed up. She is not only fed up with the prices.
§ Mr. Evans
She is fed up with big joints from 14 cwt. bullocks carrying three quarters of a cwt. of unsaleable fat apiece, for which the butchers have to pay. Let nobody kid themselves that the butchers are winning any medals at the moment. It is a wonder to me that they do not go balmy. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are."] I can see I shall get my licence renewed. The housewife is fed up with old cow beef and with 120 1b. tegs grown for an extra shearing, and she is fed up with ewe mutton that before the war was made into soap. This is what is causing the 1947 Act to come into the front line: prices on the one hand, quality on the other.
I want to say this to the farming community, that no Government-dictated, shot-gun marriage between themselves and the housewives can be brought off. It cannot be achieved. The future salvation of the industry lies in its own hands. It rests, and can only rest, on a determination to get back to the imperishable golden rule of all business, whether that business is farming or selling dolls' houses; it is to give people what they want, when they want it, at a price they can afford to pay.
In return for the 1947 Agriculture Act we were promised a revolution in agriculture. I must say it has been a very one-sided revolution. The people of this country have been very tolerant and very generous towards the farmers. In the first four years following the passing of that Act home-produced food cost the taxpayer £1,200 million over and above what the housewife paid over the counter—£1,200 million in four years. Farm profits were £56½ million in 1937 and 1938. Last year they hit the jackpot at £390 million. That figure of £390 million is from the Blue Book "Income and Expenditure, 1948–52," published in August. Expenses were £883 million, and they are contained in the last White Paper dealing with the February Farm Price Review.
702 That means that for every £ the farmer spent on labour, rent, interest, machinery, feedingstuffs, fertilisers and other expenses he collected 8s. 10d. profit. He collected 8s. 10d. profit on every £ spent in his business, according to the Government's White Paper. I want to say to the Chancellor in passing that I hope that next year this figure of £883 million, or whatever takes its place, will not include an item of "other expenses" of £152,500,000. I have always had a very healthy respect for money. I find it a most inconvenient thing to be without, and therefore I hope that we shall have this figure "other expenses" broken down on future occasions. I admire the stark simplicity of it—"Other expenses, £152,500,000"—but it affronts my sense of what is right in money matters.
It has been suggested today that this is not a party matter at all and it has been said that we should take it right out of the party political arena. I have been urging for a long while that we should have an impartial inquiry into this industry. After all, we have had an inquiry into the National Health Service and we are having an inquiry into the publicly-owned coal industry. Why cannot we have an inquiry into this industry, into which has been poured these vast sums of public money for so many years, the return for which I can only describe as meagre?
In part, at any rate, the present situation must be attributed to a lamentable failure of leadership within the industry itself. Just as a regiment is as good as its officers so is an industry as good as its leaders, and what this nation owes to a handful of men in the aircraft industry we shall never know. In the same way, if that same type and quality of leadership had been forthcoming from the National Farmers' Union this nation's struggle for economic independence would be much nearer journey's end.
The plain fact of the matter is that these people are too obsessed with feeling sorry for themselves, too bemused by their propaganda, which acts like an in-growing toe-nail, to have time for the quality of leadership which the industry ought to be given. And, of course, these people with their £250,000 a year for administration and propaganda, have plenty of piastres with which to play about. I think that probably self-pity 703 has become the tsetse fly of Bedford Square. This Dr. Barnardo's psychology paralyses all rational thought.
I do not disagree with those who say that this industry should be lifted out of the party political arena. I want an impartial inquiry for a number of reasons which I will set out very briefly. In the first place, I want this question of marginal farming examined by an impartial body. If it is decided that farming bad land at high altitudes is socially and strategically desirable, O.K., let it be defended on those grounds and I promise not to be unsympathetic, but do not let us defend it on economic grounds, because it pays no economic dividend. I am not against hill farmers farming at high altitudes with assistance. Let the Government make proposals to this House and let them defend their proposals on social and strategic grounds and I shall not be unsympathetic.
What I cannot agree to, and what the House will not agree to much longer if we do our duty by our constituents and by the nation, is this policy of fixing prices for the United Kingdom as a whole, including 20 million fertile acres, on a basis which enables these chaps farming poor land at high altitudes to make profits. That we cannot abide. It presents to the lowland farmer, farming fertile acres fairly well, windfall profits which, in turn, attract high taxation souring his whole attitude to production. I want this impartial body to examine that problem.
What worries me is that the 1947 Act, while it has cured the symptom—low income—has not cured the disease—low productivity. That is the only way we can create a healthy, stable, self-reliant British agricultural industry, which I want as much as the next man. Only when we can bring up our standards of farming to the standards of continental competitors will this industry be able to feel safe.
The question of marketing has to be examined very critically, and I should like it examined by an impartial body. I want to know when the British agricultural industry is to start talking about butter. When any milk surplus is discussed we hear from the leaders of the National Farmers' Union that henceforth 704 we shall be able to enjoy lashings of ice-cream and plenty of milk chocolate. That is not agreeable; we want to know about having some butter. Last year this nation had 229,000 tons of butter and, of that, 7,000 tons were produced in this country. If the productivity of our cows is going up and if, as promised by the N.F.U. President, in five years we are to have 375 million gallons more milk without any increase in the number of cows, what is to happen to the milk? If we cannot have some good Cheddar cheese and some butter, what is to happen to it? The milk will have to be sold at a different price from 3s. 2d. a gallon because, with the raw material at that price, the butter would be something like 8s. a lb., apart from manufacturing or distributing costs, yet the Danes sell 1 1b. of butter for 3s.
These are the questions to which the industry should address itself and, most of all, to which the leaders of the industry should be addressing themselves. A regiment is as good as its officers and an industry is as good as its leaders. What frightens me is the ability they have for deceiving themselves. If you ask the N.F.U. leaders how they account for the fact that the Danes sell milk at a price which is 74 per cent. less than us and supply us with bacon at 1s. a lb. less than British farmers, they point triumphantly—I think that is the proper word, I can think of no other—to the happy alliance between Danish pigmeat and butter production, as though it were an act of God and nothing to do with man, as if it were one of the things insurance companies will not insure against. If you attempt to pursue the subject you become a social outcast. Any such attempt is met with a pained and frosty silence.
But this is it. This is the problem which has to be faced. We have a lot of loose talk about expansion. You can grow grapes on Ben Nevis and make wine out of them if you want to. It will be very middling stuff, and cost about 30 times as much as French wine, but you can do it if you want to. Do not let us have this loose talk about expansion. What we want is economic expansion. Therefore I am suggesting to the right hon. Gentleman that he should consider very seriously this question of setting up 705 an impartial inquiry to go into all the aspects of this matter.
There is a lot of interest in it. The National Farmers' Union pretend there is not, but I have been invited to five universities in the last 12 months, and I have been to four of them—I can get an audience of farmers at any time. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that this is a subject on which I agree with nobody, and nobody agrees with me—except all the housewives, 95 per cent. of the rank and file of the Labour, Co-operative and Trade Union movements, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and half the farmers. [Laughter.] Yes, I shall get my licence renewed now.
I appreciate the importance of this industry and I understand the feeling in the countryside that the chilly winds now blowing through the countryside are not due to an early winter. I undertsand that, but at the same time I must say that it is no good for any of us to pretend that the housewife will put up any longer with what she willingly tolerated during the siege economy forced upon us by Hitler's blockade. It is she who will have the last word.
As I said earlier, this 1947 Agriculture Act is in danger of breaking down precisely because the housewife is fed up, not only with high prices, but with the very poor quality of what she is called upon to put up with. Therefore, I say to the Minister that he really should consider this suggestion of an impartial inquiry. I believe that only out of such an inquiry will come the necessary information to enable us to lay the foundation of that stable, self-reliant and healthy British agricultural industry which we all desire.
§ Mr. Donnelly
On a point of order. I know that this has nothing to do with you yourself as an individual, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I should be glad if you would report this matter to Mr. Speaker. Several hon. Members from Scotland have been called to speak in this debate. The only hon. Member from Northern Ireland who has offered himself to the Chair has been called, and several hon. Members from different parts of Britain have also been called. Not one Member from Wales has been called. 706 Both my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) and myself have been here all day. I should be glad if you would report to Mr. Speaker that, as Wales is a very large meat-producing country—
There can be nothing further to a point which was not originally a point of order.
§ Mr. Donnelly
On a point of order. I should be glad if you would report to Mr. Speaker that we would like a proper representation in future.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
We are approaching the closing stages of a most interesting debate. Until my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) spoke, the benches opposite looked extremely unhappy. This began with the opening shots in this debate. There has been no defence at all on the other side of the House of the situation in which the food-producing industry has been placed by the actions of the Government. A number of hon. Members opposite have sought to defend the White Paper by re-writing it as they made their speeches. A very good example was the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. P. O'Neill), who said that we must take a little on trust but that he was very encouraged by what he had found in the White Paper. When I looked at the paragraph to which he referred, I found that all it said was that there are peculiar conditions affecting marketing in Northern Ireland and that special arrangements will be made. It does not say anything about the special arrangements.
It is true that the hon. Gentleman has taken a little on trust, but he is happy about it. The same is true of other speeches by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The impression made on me is that there was last-ditch determination 707 by hon. Gentlemen opposite not to read the White Paper as in fact it is written. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are hoping to heaven that in fact the White Paper may get them out of an extremely difficult situation.
We on this side believe that this is not a matter of politics in the sense in which my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury used the phrase just now. We are not playing about with votes here. We are playing about with the people's food. We are playing about with the solvency of this country. Therefore, it behoves all hon. Members to pay a good deal of attention to the situation we have reached and to what the Government now say they propose to do about it.
I listened with the greatest care to the Minister of Agriculture at the beginning of the debate. Most of his defence of the White Paper was based either upon saying that the White Paper meant something different from what it says or, when forced into a corner, merely saying, "When we get round to that, of course we shall have to say something else about it and do something about it, but I am only the Minister of Agriculture and this is all I can say now." That is not a good enough basis on which to try to "sell" the White Paper to the House and to the country.
The right hon. Gentleman ended his defence with a most astonishing declaration. He said that he understood that there had been some anxiety but that the loss of confidence could be exaggerated. He said that it did not exist so far as the ordinary farmer was concerned. A Minister of Agriculture who at this stage believes that there is not complete unrest, unsettlement and disquiet throughout the industry cannot know the industry with which he is supposed to be dealing I do not know who "ordinary farmers" are in the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They may have their own definition. I have with me just a few of the farming journals which I happened to have available when the Minister made his speech. One need only look at any one of them. For instance:Never less confidence in the future of farming.That is the headline in the "Farmer and Stockbreeder" on 27th October. Another is:Shaken from top to bottom with doubts.708 That is the "Farmers' Weekly" of 25th September. A third is:The counties warn the Government, 'Keep your pre-election promises or lose our votes'.That was on 2nd October. On 16th October there was:'Stop the drift' call by Tory Conference.There would be no ordinary farmers there, but there would be some chaps who should know something about it. On 29th September there was:'Militant action' possible. N.F.U. puts questions to Minister. …So we could go on, and the Minister knows it. Any county branch is full of it, and so is any farm market. It is no use pretending that it is not there simply because it is politically more convenient to behave like an ostrich. We have to recognise that it is there and find out what we can about it.
Why are the Government under attack in the House, in the industry and in the country? In the first place, they are under attack for their shilly-shallying over the last two years. That is partly due to the high-pitched statements and high promises of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were sitting on these benches before the General Election. They then knew all the answers and produced pamphlets on them and talked about them in the country. They made all the promises, and they knew what to do about production, marketing and all the rest. Part of the unrest has arisen from that fact. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must not complain about it. As they knew all the answers before they began, they are bound to be suspected when for two years afterwards they do nothing about it.
It goes further than that. Unless one is completely clueless, two years is a period in which some sort of policy ought to have begun to emerge. The real cause of the trouble is that Ministers have been unable to agree among themselves about what the long-term policy for agriculture should be. I do not jump on the bandwagon of the attack on the Minister of Agriculture. The "Dugdale must go" movement which one sees referred to in the headlines is not only unfair but is actually cloaking the real problem. As Mr. Speaker will know, many Tory Ministers of Agriculture were sacrificed before the war. A number of 709 Ministers of Agriculture who were at one time regarded as future Prime Ministers went down at the Ministry of Agriculture.
The problem is not that the Minister of Agriculture is not a good man. The problem is that there is a Minister of Food whom the "Evening Standard" the other night credited with determination and obstinacy, saying that he had changed the Government's farming policy. There is also the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, I am sure, does not really know whether he should play on the wicket of home food production or on the wicket of world surpluses. The Government have been unable at any stage to make up their mind where they stand.
The Minister of Agriculture said easily this afternoon that it had taken a long time and that he admitted it and took full responsibility, and then he said that it had taken all that time because of the number of consultations which had had to take place. But they were no consultations with the industry or with the trade interests. They were consultations on the Treasury Bench. It has taken the Government all this time to consult among themselves, and the consultations with the industry are only now about to begin. That is the first part of the attack, and no defence has been offered.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Sir R. Boothby) this afternoon spoke up for the Government Front Bench, much to its relief, and said he was now happy. There has not been a conversation like that since a long time ago on the way to Damascus. Before the hon. Member saw the light and was converted, he talked in an altogether different way. He told his people in East Aberdeenshire that the real problem was that the Government were so long overdue in making up their minds what to do. That is the first part of the criticism to which the Government must plead guilty.
The second part is that they could not even rest content with not being able to make up their mind. If they had done nothing the situation might have been bad but it would not have been nearly impossible. While the Minister of Food was determinedly and obstinately preventing the Minister of Agriculture from announcing a farming programme, he was busy making announcements 710 which created unrest and unsettlement at every stage. All the mechanism by which we administered Part I of the Agriculture Act the right hon. Gentleman has either been tearing up or announcing every other day that he was about to tear up. It is the premature statements as well as the premature actions and the inactivity of the Government which have produced the unrest.
I stress this, not because it is politically comfortable for me to do it—and, of course, it is—but because I regard this matter as tremendously important in this country. I shall say something about world prices and the world food situation in a moment, but I do not believe—and I invite the Chancellor to say whether he agrees with me—that Britain can rely upon the importation of world food surpluses, cheaply or in any other way, in the future. Unsettlement in the industry and in home production is bound to have a very bad effect. That is why I want to be understood what has happened.
Of course it drifted on, despite the Minister's declarations today, and it drifted until the Government had the agricultural industry in a mess. The Government could no more avoid these headlines, or the letters they got and the telegrams they received than I could avoid them. So the Minister went to Bingley, a very ill-starred visit, and made a speech in which he tried to put it all right. The Minister had declared in December, 1951, that he would produce a long-term policy, and the only qualification he made was: "As soon as I can get my colleagues in the Government to agree on the details." That put quite clearly what has been wrong in the meantime. The right hon. Gentleman could not get his colleagues to agree on the details, so he decided to go to Bingley and tell the producers that they were expecting too much too soon. The British farmer and the farming Press gave him a very rough handling for it. Some back-benchers tried to stave it off by attacking the N.F.U., but that did not work either, because the disease went so very much deeper.
All this time the effort on home-produced food was going down. It is easy to play about with figures of food production. One of the things which misled by hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury is that you need to know the 711 jargon in order to understand the different sets of figures that come out. The Minister understands, for example, that there are all sorts of different "years" involved. I have been looking at some of the figures, which I hope he will accept, because they are taken from his own White Paper. They give the production of livestock from September, 1949, to September, 1953.
The interesting thing is that we have already begun to produce less. We would hardly expect that in two years there would be an actual reduction, because at this stage the animals that were bred in our time are only half-way through the cycle. What has happened—and this really is shocking—is that the rate of increase of production has dropped to about half that which was operating under us. In two years we have halved the rate of increase, and that was before all this recent trouble blew up. In two years more, even at that rate, we shall be absolutely down.
Take cattle and calves. The increase from September, 1949, to September, 1951, was about 113,000. From September, 1951, to September. 1953, under the present Government, the increase was 65,000. I shall give the figures for sheep and lambs because they tell us a bit the other way round. The increase from 1949 to 1951 was 409,000, and from 1951 to 1953 1,300,000. Remember that in 1947 we had a flood that drowned several million sheep and that by 1949 we had barely begun to recover. [Interruption.] Yes, indeed; we lost three million sheep. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) must not always try to be an expert on figures. We lost three million.
§ Mr. Elliot
The right hon. Gentleman has challenged me. I absolutely deny that. No flood in this country ever drowned three million sheep.
§ Mr. Brown
No, I do not give way to men who come in after dinner making silly little points like that. That really is absurd. It was 3 million, and, therefore, that is the answer to why this comes the other way round. But if one takes the increase which I am taking—not the best years when the Labour Government were in office, because if I took the five years of the expansion programme they would be better—the numbers of pigs, for example were up by 1,214,000 under the Labour Government as compared with 898,000 under this Government. Poultry, also, were up by 3,200,000 under our Government and by 1,629,000 under the present Government.
The real point is that the rate of increase has dropped to about half what it was, and that, in fact, is what this Government are doing. Indeed, production is well on the way to going down unless we can halt the tendency. Men are continuing to leave the land. We have not yet stopped the drift from the land. Last year 20,000 left the land, and this year another 12,000.
Investment is falling off, and here I wish to draw to the attention of the Chancellor and the Minister a letter which I received only to day from a farmer in Caernarvonshire. For obvious reasons, I shall not give his name, but as proof of bona fides, if the Chancellor or the Minister would like to see the letter later on they can. The letter talks about the lack of farming knowledge shown by the Government, and in it I am asked to read a letter which the farmer encloses from his bank, one of the big five. It expresses the regret of the controller of the bank that the farmer has not reduced his overdraft by one-sixth. The letter goes on:They now state that unless you are able to bring down this present level by one-sixth by the end of January they will have to ask for collateral, but they would much prefer to see the account reduced and with this in view it is stressed on you that capital expenditure must cease.They then go on to explain why. They say:You will be the first to agree that conditions for farmers are possibly not now as good as they have been in recent years."—This is one of the big joint stock banks talking—It is reasonable for us to suppose that in many cases the profit margin will continue to decline, making it more than ever necessary to keep a close watch on expenditure.713 That is the situation. Expenditure is going down, and the confidence, not only of farmers, but of those ancillary to farming, those who lend and those who supply the farmers, is shaken. Where have we got to now? [Interruption.] I do not think that sort of thing helps, but if it pleases hon. Members opposite to treat the matter in that way, they are entitled to a little pleasure at the end of the day.
What have the Government done now? They have produced a number of White Papers explaining their policy. Not a long-term production policy; there is no long-term policy for agricultural production out yet. Not one. There is no White Paper yet published which refers to a long-term production policy, or even to a short-term one. What the Government have done is to produce a number of White Papers dealing with marketing.
There have been lots of quotations about what people did or did not say in bygone days. I amused myself earlier today looking up what hon. Gentlemen opposite said at the time of the 1947 Act when, as the Leader of the House will remember, they voted in Committee against Part I of that Act. They voted against it because, as the Leader of the House explained in Committee, they did not think it strong enough. The right hon. Gentleman asked us to say whether we did not consider that the British producer should have first place in the home market, and he said that the Minister must answer that in the affirmative.
Is there any one of these White Papers which gives the producer first place in the home market today? Has the producer of cereals today got first place in the home market? He is landed with barley and grain on his farm which, in many cases, he cannot move. Of course, for this year, and for this year only, he is covered by Government guarantee, but whether or not he gets it depends on what condition the grain is in. Their whole complaint, at the time of the passage of the 1947 Act, was that my right hon. Friend had not made it strong enough. The present Minister of Agriculture then said:Will the Government give an undertaking that, no matter what pressure there may be, in years to come, upon our markets to absorb the export surpluses from overseas countries, British agriculture will be adequately protected?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1947; Vol 432, c. 871.]714 That is exactly what he has not done himself, what he could not do himself. He could not have foreseen what would happen in the exact year when he would come into power.
Cereals are the first class on which we have to take issue. These imported stocks are piling up. Nobody knows exactly how much we are spending, at a time when we have difficulty in moving our own stocks, on importing cereals. I want to ask the Chancellor a question, and if he cannot give the figure required tonight perhaps he will give it later. Since control came off in April, how much foreign currency have we already laid out to import barley and maize, to take the place of the grain we have already grown here and cannot move? In particular, how much dollar expenditure is involved, and what is the dollar limit to all this?
It is very difficult to understand all these figures, but I was looking at the Trade and Navigation Returns for 1953, and I see, for example, that we imported £358,000 worth of Canadian barley in 1951, and in September, 1952, we imported £1,974,000. In the nine months ending 30th September, 1951, we imported under £500,000; last year, to September, 1952, nearly £1 million worth, and this year nearly £12 million worth—all for dollars—at the very moment when our farmers cannot shift much of the barley they have grown.
How can we expect there to be anything but discomfort and disquiet and for people to be worried, because next year they know there will be no residual buyer. Next year there will be a deficiency payment scheme, but heaven knows how low the market will go, heaven knows if there will be a buyer for it at all. It is not only a question of the producers getting the ultimate value but getting the cash. They want to get shot of it. That is what is making for so much unrest at the moment.
But what is causing the Government to allow this to happen? Why are the Government taking it so easily? Is it because they really believe in their hearts that these world surpluses are with us to stay? Is it because they believe that Britain will be better fed by playing the market in this way, hoping to do well in the good years and just risking that there 715 will be never any bad years? Of course there will be some bad years. There have been good harvests recently in other parts of the world, but that will not go on and we shall be badly caught out. I believe the Government really like the idea of letting the thing rip, because, on the Treasury Bench there are many right hon. Gentlemen who believe that this is the traditional British pattern of trade, and would like to see it back again.
Let those who talk about surpluses remember the backward areas. We have all talked so much about them and we must have found out from recent political events that that subject is most important. We have talked so much about raising the standards of these people so that others will not find it so easy to sell them unpalatable ideas. What is the use of talking like that, and then taking the surpluses that ought to go to those people? If we let them have the surpluses, there would be no surplus for us to count on, and the sooner we realise that the better it will be.
That was the unhappy build-up. Then, literally five minutes to the twelfth hour, having drifted on like that, the Minister produces this masterpiece "Decontrol of Food and Marketing of Agricultural Produce." As I already said, it is not a long-term policy. It does not say a word about agricultural production from paragraph 1 to paragraph 17, where it ends. It concentrates wholly on one phase of the industry's difficulties—marketing—and all that it does is concentrate the mind of the producer on just the thing on which it ought not to be concentrated.
The producer's job is to produce. I know of no other industry in which a board of directors select the same people to organise the production and to organise the selling as well. They are different jobs; producing is one job, selling another. Here we are turning the whole attention of this industry on marketing—distribution—away from production, where it should be.
This White Paper is no more than a somewhat sordid attempt to try to do a deal with conflicting interests. The farmers are upset, the trade is angry. The Government, instead of deciding their line and sticking to it, have tried to do a deal between the two. These deals never survive. It is interesting to note 716 how much matter is coming in to one giving people's reactions to the White Paper. Has the Minister seen the Yorkshire farmers' resolution in which they urge their headquarters to refuse to cooperate unless they are offered their alternative scheme? Has he seen the statement of the National Union of Agricultural Workers? It says:We cannot continue to go on in this vague and haphazard fashion. If the production drive is not to receive a serious setback it is essential that definite long-term plans be evolved in the very near future for both marketing arrangements and increasing production.Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the N.F.U. statement from Bedford Square, which says about the livestock scheme:This is presumably held to preclude the system of actual fixed prices known in advance, which the Unions regard as fundamental to expanding production.Has he seen the statement of Mr. Harold Green, the Warwickshire Farmers' Union council delegate? He says:This is the most dreadful thing that could have happened to the country. I cannot believe that anyone would be so foolhardy as to make—these proposals.
The Minister has not seen my next quotation. I have only received it myself today. May I read to the House a telegram? It says:White Paper disappointing. Some parts helpful.
§ Mr. Brown
Hon. Gentlemen should not cheer too soon. It is not all so good; I should not be reading it if it were. I continue with the quotation:Way of dealing with pork pigs disastrous to producers consider that part of it auctioneers' and wholesale butchers' paradise leading to dearer meat. All must come under Board. Government's disregard of their Election manifesto regarding marketing boards and absence of long-term policy bound to lead to lower production and further loss of confidence.It is signed:Ford, Chairman, West Sussex Farmers' Union.He is not particularly on my visiting list.
Then there is the "Observer" leading article—
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
As the right hon. Gentleman is referring to one of my constituents, it might be of help to the House if I were to say that 717 he spoke to me for a half an hour on Saturday and told me that, apart from small points, he thoroughly approved of the scheme.
§ Mr. Brown
I think that the most charitable comment to make on that is that it was before he talked to the hon. Gentleman; this is what he thought afterwards.
What does the White Paper amount to? It amounts to a settlement of no single thing. Hon. Members like the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who ease their conscience about the marketing boards, thinking that the White Paper promises these things to them, should read it again. Every single reference to marketing boards is hedged about with "ifs" and "buts" and future talks and the settling of future problems. Even the Milk Marketing Board is contingent upon that, and it is the best of them all. The others are very much worse. There was nothing in the Minister's speech about slaughterhouse policy and nobody knows which slaughterhouses are being reopened. Are they to be the good ones? Are they to be the old ones? Where are they to be? We know absolutely nothing about that.
The Minister cannot cavil about questions on this matter, for he ought to know by now what the White Paper means. It is no use taking two years to announce a decision and then not knowing what is in it when he announces it. Look at the section dealing with livestock, which is the hub of the whole question: what does that mean? It does not provide a guaranteed market, nor does it provide a guaranteed price. There is a standard price and there is this individual minimum, and in a leaflet issued this morning by his Department the Minister says that this individual minimum is to be fixed in the spring after the February Price Review—apparently not at it—for 12 months ahead. But producers have had a minimum guarantee ever since 1946 covering them for four years ahead.
I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, does this take the place of the guaranteed minimum covering four years ahead? Is it in place of that? Do we leave behind the four years' guarantee and come to an annual guarantee? Does it go with the four years' guarantee? How can we 718 have two different minima operating at the same time? We have had no reference to this all day today, and I think we ought to have had it from the Minister this afternoon.
Of course, the real point with this individual guarantee, as so many people have said, is that it can either be so low that it means nothing at all to the farmer or it can be so high that, as "The Times" agricultural correspondent and others have said today, it will cost the country so much money that the Government will have to do away with it and let the Act go, as they let the old Corn Production Act go. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us what is the estimated liability under this scheme. This is not a subsidy to farmers, this does not put the farmers on easy street. This makes the taxpayer give an unlimited guarantee to the middle man. In fact, to take the Minister's own example, even with this grand two-fold guarantee the farmers will be worse off than they were under the fixed prices, known in advance, and the guarantee which we gave them.
I should like to continue but I must leave time for the Chancellor to reply. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite may provoke me to continue if they wish; it is their risk. We, as much as other people, want to hear the Chancellor's answers because so far we have not had an answer to a single point. Until we have a long-term production programme with at least guaranteed prices fixed and known in advance, with at least the production programme for which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East asked, with at least credit facilities—which at the moment do not exist for many people—with at least an investment plan; until we get all those things, the industry will go on being unsettled.
The production of a wishy-washy White Paper like this, leaving every single question unanswered, leaving everything to more discussions in the future and dealing with livestock in a way which can only give the taxpayer the maximum amount of liability and bring the consumer the minimum return, is bound to leave the producers in a considerable state of unrest. Unless the Chancellor can answer some of those questions we shall certainly vote for this Amendment, and if hon. 719 Members opposite from rural constituencies can put agriculture above party, they will join us.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. R. A. Butler)
We have had a useful debate, in which a great many hon. Members have taken part and, unfortunately for themselves, several hon. Members have been unable to get in, including representatives of the agricultural districts and, no doubt, others who have followed the noble lead of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans); but those who have spoken have contributed a great deal. Before I deal with the speeches of the right hon. Members for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and Belper (Mr. G. Brown), I should do well to remind the House of one or two speeches we have heard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. P. O'Neill) referred in particular to the problems of Northern Ireland. I cannot go further tonight than to say that those problems are being dealt with in order to suit local conditions—[Laughter.]—and while I cannot make any further statement tonight, my hon. Friend is right in anticipating that the Government will look after the special interests of agriculture in Northern Ireland. I say to hon. Members opposite, who have been convulsed with laughter at this, that if they had been into this subject as much as I have, they would have realised that the particular difficulties of Northern Ireland are certainly very peculiar.
We have had specialised speeches from the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion). We have had a speech from the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), in which he illustrated how much money he is losing as one of my constituents in my constituency. I am obliged to him for losing money without making any reference to me as being responsible for it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) made a particularly useful contribution to the debate to which I shall be referring in due course, and we were very interested and, indeed, moved by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot). Not only did he illustrate—this 720 is my first answer to the right hon. Member for Belper—the unanimity of support which the Government have received on this side for their proposals, but he also was able to bring in evidence of a tradition, not only of his father, but of his family, with one of our oldest markets in the United Kingdom and to illustrate the value of markets to our economy.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury has started a new coalition of all the housewives, including the Housewives' League, 95 per cent. of the Labour and Cooperative movement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and half the farmers. If he will come behind the Chair after this debate, when we have radically defeated the party opposite, we will draw up a little Government of our own and get on quite happily.
The thing which impressed me most about the speech of the right hon. Member for Don Valley was that it was almost exclusively devoted to a party political attack with a view to gaining votes in the rural districts. The speech of the right hon. Member for Belper was not quite so remarkable for its politics, but it had a certain amount of politics in it.
It is vital to us in replying to this debate that I should go back to that early period of the inter-war years, to which the right hon. Member for Don Valley devoted so much of his time. He attacked this Government and my party for, he said, betraying British agriculture. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that on almost every single positive step taken by my hon. and right hon. Friends in those years, he and his friends either split themselves hopelessly, as they will do shortly in the future over agriculture, or voted dead against the beneficial Measures that we introduced.
Let me remind the House quite shortly. In 1925, over the first British Sugar (Subsidy) Bill, the Socialists were completely split; the Merchandise Marks Bill, 58 Socialists against; the Wheat Act, the right hon. Gentleman spoke against; the 1933 Agricultural Credits Bill—this was a point raised by one hon. Member opposite—107 Socialists against; the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Bill, the Socialists against; the second and third British Sugar (Subsidy) Bills, the Socialists against. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman when he tries to make 721 out that we have been against farming and he has been in favour of it.
I will go further. When the Wheat Act, which I regard as our sheet anchor, was introduced, it was welcomed in East Anglia, which I help to represent through the Saffron Walden Division. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on 6th April, 1932, said:We do not deny that more wheat should be grown, but we do not believe that under the present conditions of wheat production wheat can ever be a major crop in this country and we do not believe that the wheat area should be extended."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1932; Vol. 264, c. 200.]That is precisely the basis for a coalition between right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench and the hon. Member for Wednesbury. The hon. Member for Wednesbury disbelieves in growing grapes on Ben Nevis to make modern British wine, and the right hon. Gentleman disbelieves in the growing of wheat. That is the measure of the lack of confidence of the party opposite in agriculture.
I could go on indefinitely quoting similar observations by the party opposite, but in my view that disposes of the purely political speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Now that the right hon. Gentleman is leaving that point, I wish to say that I do not object to anything he might have said, but I have already said more than once in this House that invariably the Opposition votes, which are frequently opposed to the proposals of the Government, are on a reasoned Amendment because there has been no central, concrete agricultural policy. In our view a reasoned Amendment—and some hon. Members opposite will some time learn what a reasoned Amendment means if they have not learned already—is the method by which we state why we are opposing a certain policy.
§ Mr. Butler
If I may remind the right hon. Gentleman his reason was, as given in HANSARD on 7th April, 1932:Our policy, instead of the policy embodied in this Bill, would be, first of all, to nationalise the land."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1932; Vol. 264, c. 424.]Before I leave this story of the inter-war years, I should like to remind hon. Members on all sides of the House that 722 between 1931 and 1939, which was the burden of the song of the right hon. Gentleman, the total value of crops increased by £15 million sterling; crop sales increased by £6 million sterling; pig sales increased by nearly £8 million sterling; milk sales by £18 million sterling; and the total sales of livestock and livestock products went up by nearly £31 million sterling. That is an indication of the success of the policy which we previously followed.
The next point made by the right hon. Gentleman—and he is going to get back all that he has given—was that certain statistics in White Papers which he quoted did not show a decline in production just before we took office. I certainly accept the right hon. Gentleman's figures in those White Papers because they are accurately stated by him. But what we cannot get away from is that at the end of the period of office of the Labour Government, namely between 1950–51, tillage acreage declined by three-quarters of a million acres.
Also we cannot get away from the fact—and these are physical facts—that the number of calves kept for rearing fell from 2,385,000 in 1949–50 to 2,141,000 in 1951–52. Despite the floods on the East Coast, we have now increased the tillage acreage by 300,000 acres and it would have been 400,000 acres if it were not for roughly 100,000 acres which have been taken up by the floods, in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary have taken such initiative in order to help the farmers on the East Coast. I could quote similar figures for the calves and the cattle. This indicates that the story that this Government have not tried to help agriculture, that everything is in a state of ruin and decay, is really grossly exaggerated.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper paid a pleasant tribute to the Minister of Agriculture, and we thank him for it. There is no man who has laboured more as a farmer himself to help the farming industry than my right hon. Friend, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley will share with me in this personal tribute.
§ Mr. T. Williamsindicated assent.723
§ Mr. Butler
Leaving aside personal tributes, we know, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove said, that a Minister of Agriculture can well be burned in effigy and still survive; but leaving that aside, I should like to remind the House of the services rendered by this Government and the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland to the agricultural industry.
Since we have been in office we have not only reintroduced the ploughing-up grants at a cost of nearly £7 million, from which we have seen results in the actual acreage under the plough, but we have increased the hill cattle subsidy and have seen results in extra cattle on the hills. We have increased the marginal production grants and have seen an improvement in marginal land. We have reintroduced the calf rearing subsidy and have seen an increase in calves, which is vital to the future of our dairy and beef industry. We have reintroduced the fertiliser subsidy at a cost of no less than £13 million, which is, I think, the most efficient way of ensuring efficient production and puts money into the land in the best way possible. We have also reintroduced the spreading contribution as part of the lime subsidy and we have continued the water supply subsidy, the plough drainage subsidy and the subsidy for the rehabilitation of hill farms. It is all nonsense to say that there has been the slightest hesitation in dealing with the farming problem.
The result of this record of activity has been a total of no less than over £54 million for production grants alone, some inherited from the past administration and some added to and carried on by ourselves.
§ Mr. Butler
That concerns the capital investment programme and I am referring to the producer grants. Since that date we have decided to review the capital investment programme. There has been a tendency to improve investment in agriculture and, as I announced on Friday, in all production in this country, which is a wise step and is the result of our getting the economy safer and saner.
Now besides that considerable list of improvements in agriculture which we have brought in during our administration, and which have resulted in all the increases which I have shown, and particularly in the increase of acreage, the House must remember that there is a considerable area of the food subsidies which, in fact, amounts to a producer subsidy. I refer particularly to meat and part of the milk subsidy. We have every intention—I reserve this as an Exchequer decision, of course, at any time, but as the House sees from the White Paper, we have every intention of continuing this help with a view to keeping confidence in the industry.
So much for the story that we have done nothing for agriculture, which simply is not true. I now come to the dilemma with which we were faced in producing the White Paper which has been before the House. The dilemma was this: we had to ensure the maximum of plenty and choice to the housewife and the consumer for whom the hon. Member for Wednesbury spoke, and we were obliged to give stability to the producer. In fact, we had three major obligations: first to the ordinary citizen, second to the trade, and third to the farmers under the 1947 Act.
Now people will ask why we had these obligations. The position in regard to the citizen is a normal constitutional obligation, and I have to ask the House whether we would have been right to refuse the possibility of ending rationing next summer, knowing that plenty is more in evidence than it was. Were we justified in refusing to the housewife the chance of a choice of the type of joint she likes, and the opportunity of making consumer choice play not only upon the price but also upon the market? My answer to that is that it would be criminal for any Government to refuse that opportunity to the ordinary citizens of this country.
725 In any case, I take the words of the right hon. Member for Don Valley when he said this afternoon, "Nobody wants rationing when supplies are plentiful. People want guarantees to producers and safeguards to consumers and there must be some sort of control." That was about the only sensible thing that the right hon. Gentleman said. In every respect we are carrying out his wishes.
§ Mr. Butler
We are not continuing rationing and we are giving a guarantee to the producers and safeguards and choice to the consumer. And as will be seen in the course of my remarks, as is our general habit with the economy, we are not throwing the reins absolutely loose on the horse's neck. But I assure the House that if there is need for Government intervention I shall not hesitate to introduce it.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn, East)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is proposing to de-ration meat at a time when consumption of meat per head in this country is still below pre-war and that he has deliberately and artificially created the need for de-rationing by the steep increase in prices?
§ Mr. Butler
I am afraid that that is not the view of the Ministry of Food.
What about our obligations to the trade? Hon. Members may scoff, but those who have been in Government will realise that it is vital for any Government to carry out the obligations of that Government. On examining the position we have found pledges to the trade, dating from 1939 and 1940, when their business was taken over, that their trade would be restored to them. We have therefore regarded this as our second obligation and, in honour bound, we have had to frame plans to fit the situation as announced in 1939 and 1940 to the trade.
Our third obligation is to the farmers under the 1947 Act, and the method we have found for the fulfilling of this obligation, as the House knows, is to bring in a dual guarantee—a minimum guarantee to individual producers and a general guarantee to the industry as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper asked me whether we were going below the minimum which is required under Section 5 of the Agriculture 726 Act, 1947, or what was the position of this proposed minimum guarantee in realtion to the minimum guarantees under the 1947 Act. The answer is that we are not going to alter in any way the minimum guarantees under the 1947 Act.
In order to enlighten the House, I may say that in the case of cattle when the new individual guarantee under this dual system is fixed, it is likely that it will be fixed higher than the minimum guarantee at present given for cattle under the 1947 Act at the February Price Review. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that that lies at about 113s. 6d. per live cwt., and it is likely that, as hinted in the White Paper, the individual price under this scheme will be higher than that figure.
§ Mr. Butler
The other one will presumably carry on under Section 5 of the 1947 Act. We have no intention whatever of going behind the Agriculture Act, 1947. Indeed, we intend to support it and we regard this dual guarantee as fully carrying out the conditions laid down under that Act. It is, moreover, in harmony with the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley, when he said on Second Reading of the Agriculture Act that the method adopted might be a subsidy or a price calculated according to a formula—whichever method was effective—or a deficiency payment in relation to the standard price, or an acreage payment. In fact, our method of dual guarantee fully carries out the conditions of the Agriculture Act, 1947.
Therefore, when the right hon. Member for Belper says that farmers will be worse off, I think he is exaggerating, just as he was exaggerating about sheep alleged to have been killed by the flood. I have made rapid inquiries and find that the maximum number which could have been destroyed by both calamities, flood and frost, could be 2 million. If this is an example of the accuracy with which the right hon. Member handles figures, we must be somewhat careful about his remarks generally.
Let us examine whether the farmer would be worse off under the guarantee. In fact, the farmer who is successful will be better off, because he will not only 727 get his market realised price, but the deficiency payment paid to the industry as a whole, which is calculated on the difference between the average price and the standard price. Therefore, it is wrong to say that farmers will be worse off, because this scheme is an encouragement to quality. Not only will it give greater reward to farmers who are successful, but it will also buttress and support a farmer who is less successful, a farmer who is in need of help. That is typical of the philosophy of this Government and is likely to re-create confidence in the agricultural community.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Has the right hon. Gentleman thought of the point that the fellow who will be so successful and get more than he has had hitherto is the chap from the Western part of England, while the chap who will get less is the chap on a farm in Derbyshire working on altogether different land?
§ Mr. Butler
It is by no means certain. I do not think we can possibly foresee how this will work out. What is certain is that there will be a premium on quality and quality will be sought after by the growers of meat in this country. On marketing we have carried out—
§ Mr. Butler
I have been into the question of compensation since the right hon. Member spoke. I do not think there is a great deal in this. The trade's business was taken away. I am informed by the Ministry of Food that they have done vital work in looking after the business since, and I do not think there is any scandal at all.
On the general question of marketing, we have carried out what we have always undertaken in our pledges. The right hon. Member referred to pledges given at the last Election and before. The main pledge we have given on marketing was written in our own agricultural charter, which said:The basis of good marketing in the future should be producers' co-operation both through voluntary organisations and through statutory marketing Boards.We have offered to the industry a choice. It is refreshing to note, in answer to the many quotations read by the right hon. Member, that the Secretary of the 728 National Farmers' Union, Mr. J. K. Knowles, has said that this offer constitutes an opportunity and a challenge and gives the "green light" to a comprehensive system of marketing boards.
It indicates that our policy has in fact passed the crucial test of being accepted, at any rate as far as we have been able to go up-to-date. The problem I want to put before the House is whether the policy in fact imposes too great a strain upon the Exchequer and the taxpayer. The right hon. Member, as one of his proposals, put up an idea of a big producer board, but he did not say whether the board was to be buttressed by a guaranteed system of forward fixed prices. If that alternative be brought in, or if the only other alternative to this White Paper were brought in, namely, continuation of trading by the Ministry of Food with guaranteed fixed forward prices, it must be obvious to all hon. Members that the Exchequer commitment would be totally unlimited because the prices are fixed and the amount sold is unlimited.
I was and am unable to accept any such scheme, but, by introducing marketing into this and introducing the deficiency payment with a buttress to the individual, the Exchequer liability is moderated by the introduction of the market price. And in that way we are able to say that there is less Exchequer liability than in any other way that I can possibly see could be devised.
Hon. Members have asked what the liability to the Exchequer will be, and I am trying to answer their serious points. No one can say exactly what it will be, although there is a considerable liability running between £40 million and £50 million on the meat subsidy. That liability will continue to be incurred. Whether it is increased or not depends entirely on the market, and we shall have to see what the market price works out at.
There is a line of anxiety which hon. Members have raised, and that is whether it is right to open the market and give the opportunity to rings and auctions to operate both against the interests of the Exchequer and the individual farmer. The answer to that anxiety is this. We have deliberately introduced the individual support price so as to remove from the individual farmer the fear that he 729 may be knocked down by impossibly low prices. Therefore, from the point of view of the individual farmer, we have met his main anxiety.
Have we in fact done our best for the taxpayer? The answer to that is that when we were faced with this exceedingly difficult problem—and some of us who have represented agricultural constituencies all our lives are well aware of the trouble that there has been—and we have, I assure hon. Members, been extremely anxious about this—when we had to deal with this problem, we found a complete deadlock between the trade and the Farmers' Unions.
We have managed to find a scheme which shows a way through this and gives an opportunity for the future. But I would be less than frank with the House if I did not tell hon. Members that in my view, by publishing this White Paper, the main thing we have done is to settle the target towards which people must work. We have not solved the problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I must be frank with the House and impartial in the matter and fair to my right hon. Friend. The problem now remains for the interests concerned to get together, and in particular for the Farmers' Unions to come forward with a voluntary marketing scheme for selling by grade and deadweight.
Hon. Members have asked what is the proper way to stop the ring from so lowering the price that the taxpayer is ruined. The answer is, first, for competition, with a voluntary marketing scheme for stopping the ring closing up, and the second to reform the marketing system. In the White Paper we have deliberately asked the farmers to come in to frame with us improvements in marketing and to frame for themselves a proper scheme
§ for marketing boards to deal with any problems with which they are faced.
§ That therefore is the challenge which the Secretary of the National Farmers' Union has taken up, and which the Government are ready to face. We propose first that we shall examine the necessity of requiring farmers to give notice of presentation.
§ We shall require the market authorities to advertise with fairness. We shall require auctioneers to follow good trade practices, and, finally, in answer to the hon. Member for Grantham, we are perfectly ready to look into his proposal that a withdrawal should be made of any local market in which the average price consistently maintained is at a definitely low level.
§ That indicates that in this marketing we are determined to push ahead and get the right solution. That means that hard work has now got to be done, we have to push through the gap which has been made. We have to go forward and find a solution for the most difficult problem in modern times, and that is to reconcile the absolute need to reintroduce consumer choice and plenty for the consumers of this country, and to give stability to our producers.
§ I say, in conclusion, that those of us involved in this game—[HON. MEMBERS: "Game?"]—this task, have been devoted to agriculture all our lives. We are deeply involved in it, and I will say this to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, that if they had their way and we were rejected from public life, the first thing many of us would do would be to take up farming and then we should be grateful for the policy of this Government.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 275; Noes, 311.735
|Division No. 1.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Bence, C. R.||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.|
|Adams, Richard||Benn, Hon. Wedgwood||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Benson, G,||Brown, Thomas (Ince)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Beswick, F.||Burke, W. A.|
|Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Burton, Miss F. E.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Bing, G. H. C.||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Blackburn, F.||Callaghan, L. J.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Blenkinsop, A.||Carmichael, J.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Blyton, W. R.||Castle, Mrs. B. A.|
|Baird, J.||Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G||Champion, A. J.|
|Balfour, A.||Bowles, F. G.||Chapman, W. D.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Chetwynd, G. R.|
|Bartley, P.||Brockway, A. F.||Clunie, J.|
|Ballenger, Rt. Hen. F. J||Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Coldrick, W.|
|Collick, P. H.||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Cove, W. G.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Ross, William|
|Crossman, R. H. S||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Royle, C.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Daines, P.||Keenan, W.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Kenyon, C.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W||Short, E. W.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||King, Dr. H M.||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Kinley, J.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Deer, G.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Lewis, Arthur||Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||Lindgren, G. S.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Edelman, M.||Logan, D. G.||Snow, J. W.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||MacColl, J. E.||Sorensen, R. W|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||McGhee, H. G.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||McInnes, J.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Steele, T.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||McLeavy, F.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.|
|Fernyhough, E.||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Fienburgh, W.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Finch, H. J.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Follick, M.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Swingier, S. T.|
|Foot, M. M.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Forman, J. C.||Manuel, A. C.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Freeman, John (Watford)||Mason, Roy||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Mayhew, C. P.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N||Mellish, R. J.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Messer, Sir F.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Glanville, James||Mikardo, Ian||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Gooch, E. G.||Mitchison, G. R.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Monslow, W.||Thornton, E.|
|Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Moody, A. S.||Timmons, J.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Wakefield)||Morgan, Dr. H. B. W||Tomney, F.|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Morley, R.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Grey, C. F.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Griffiths, David (Rather Valley)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||Usborne, H. C.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mort, D. L.||Viant, S. P.|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Moyle, A.||Wallace, H. W|
|Hale, Leslie||Mulley, F. W.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Murray, J. D.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Hamilton, W. W||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Hannan, W.||O'Brien, T.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Hardy, E. A.||Oldfield, W. H||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Hargreaves, A.||Oliver, G. H||West, D. G.|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Orbach, M.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John|
|Hastings, S.||Oswald, T.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Hayman, F. H.||Padley, W. E.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Healey, Denis (Leeds S. E.)||Paget, R. T.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Wigg, George|
|Hewitson, Capt. M||Palmer, A. M. F.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Pannell, Charles||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Holman, P.||Pargiter, G. A.||Willey, F. T.|
|Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Parker, J.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Houghton, Douglas||Paton, J.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Hoy, J. H.||Peart, T. F.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll y)|
|Hubbard, T. F.||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Popplewell, E.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Porter, G.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Price, Joseph T. (Westhoughton)||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Proctor, W. T.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Pryde, D. J.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Pursey, Cmdr. H||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Reeves, J.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Janner, B.||Reid, William (Camlachie)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T||Rhodes, H.||Mr. Bowden and Mr. Pearson.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Richards, R|
|Aitken, W. T.||Erroll, F. J.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Fell, A.||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Finlay, Graeme||Lindsay, Martin|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Fisher, Nigel||Linstead, Sir H. N.|
|Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Llewellyn, D. T.|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Fletcher, Sir Walter (Bury)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Ford, Mrs. Patricia||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Fort, R.||Longden, Gilbert|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Foster, John||Low, A. R. W.|
|Baker, P. A. D.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Banks, Col. C.||Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O|
|Barber, Anthony||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||McAdden, S. J.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Gammans, L. D.||McCallum, Major D|
|Baxter, A. B.||Garner-Evans, E. H.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Godber, J. B.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||McKibbin, A. J.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Gough, C. F. H||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Gower, H. R.||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Graham, Sir Fergus||Maclean, Fitzroy|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Macleod, Rt. Hon. lain (Enfield, W.)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Grimond, J,||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Birch, Nigel||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Black, C. W.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horneastle)|
|Boothby, Sir R. J. G||Harden, J. R. E.||Maitland, Patrick, (Lanark)|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Hare, Hon. J. H.||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E|
|Bowen, E. R.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Marples, A. E.|
|Braine, B. R.||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Maude, Angus|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. G. (Bristol, N. W.)||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Maudling, R.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hay, John||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Medlicott, Brig. F|
|Brooman-While, R. C.||Heald, Sir Lionel||Mellor, Sir John|
|Bullard, D. G.||Heath, Edward||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Higgs, J. M. C.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir Thomas|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Mott-Rayclyffe, C. E.|
|Campbell, Sir David||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Carr, Robert||Hirst, Geoffrey||Neave, A. M. S.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Channon, H.||Hollis, M. C.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Hope, Lord John||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P|
|Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Cole, Norman||Horobin, I. M.||Nutting, Anthony|
|Colegate, W. A.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Odey, G. W.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hurd, A. R.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Crouch, R. F.||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Osborne, C.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Darting, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Peyton, J. W- W.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Jennings, R.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|De la Bére, Sir Rupert||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Donner, Sir P. W.||Kaberry, D.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Keeling, Sir Edward||Profumo, J. D.|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Kerr, H. W.||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lambert, Hon. G||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)||Lambton, Viscount||Redmayne, M.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Lancaster, Col. C G||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Langford-Holt, J. A||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir O. M.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Leather, E. H. C.||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Robertson, Sir David|
|Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)||Vaughan-Morgan, J K.|
|Robson-Brown, W.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)||Vosper, D. F|
|Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||Wade, D. W.|
|Roper, Sir Harold||Storey, S.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Ropner, Col, Sir Leonard||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Russell, R. S.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Studholme, H. G.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Summers, G. S.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)||Watkinson, H A.|
|Scott, R. Donald||Teeling, W.||Wellwood, W|
|Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Shepherd, William||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Thomas, P. J. M (Conway)||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)||Wills, G.|
|Snadden, W. McN.||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Soames, Capt. C.||Tilney, John||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Spearman, A. C. M.||Touche, Sir Gordon||York, C.|
|Speir, R. M.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Turton, R. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard||Tweedsmuir, Lady||Mr. Buchan-Hepburn and|
|Stevens, G. P.||Vane, W. M. F.||Sir Cedric Drewe.|
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ It being after Ten o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.