§ THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY rose to call attention to the prices of beef per cwt. fixed by the Food Controller. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have been told that I am flogging a dead horse, and that agriculturists have not much hope of getting any alteration made in the prices fixed. Therefore the first questions I should like to put to the Food Controller are these—Are the prices absolutely arranged? Have they received the blessing of the Board of Agriculture? Do the Board of Agriculture agree to them, and are the prices in accordance with their views? As I told your Lordships in the few remarks which I made on this subject on Thursday last, I address you on this matter not as a landowner but as a farmer. I farm and manage my land, and not a soul has anything to do with it but myself. If I lose money, it is my fault; if I make it, it is all the better for me. On behalf of my county, I tell the noble Lord that we are absolutely dumbfounded at the prices that are offered, more especially the prices after January 1.116
§ I would point out to the noble Lord that you cannot farm agricultural land without farmyard manure. There are, I know, scientists who think you can. Well you can, perhaps, for a little time and on certain land, but the majority of the land that grows wheat is of a strongish nature and demands that farmyard "muck" should be put on it. I want to know how you are going to ensure the necessary supply of farmyard manure next year if there are not a sufficient number of bullocks fattening. Next I would ask, What is the price of mutton to be? In Norfolk, not many days ago, some half-bred lambs fetched 82s. I asked the man who bought them how he could possibly make them pay. He replied that he would force them tremendously and sell them early as half lamb and half mutton. On the same day plenty of lambs were sold at 65s. and 70s. If the price of meat is cut down, they will all be sent off as soon as possible, because there is no profit left. The wretched farmer is therefore in the position that he takes to growing cereals, in respect of which he is offered a good price. He is not going to run the risk, not only of not making any money, but of losing money.
§ I could give the noble Lord the names of several large farmers who, since they heard of these proposed prices—I use the word "proposed" because I hope they are not finally fixed—have ploughed up the young turnips they had sown for cattle fodder. The land will be reploughed and they will put in wheat. And why should not the farmer do this? There has been a great outcry that we do not grow enough wheat. Yes. But I was once taught that man cannot live by bread alone. I have no doubt that we shall have plenty of bread, but we shall not have sufficient meat this time next year if something is not done. The noble Lord spoke of patriotism the other day, and suggested that people should not mind sustaining a slight loss. Norfolk farmers do not mind having a certain amount of loss, but a loss of £7 or £8 on a bullock after the January 1 price comes into force is too much to ask from them. There is another thing which has to be thought of. We have been asked to plough up a lot of grass land. Very often this grass land is of an inferior nature. Some people say that this land will grow wheat. In a very favourable season it might. But cold heavy land will want plenty of farmyard manure, and if it does 117 not get it that land will be absolutely impossible to cultivate. I am not one of those who think that it is wise to plough that sort of land.
§ Previous to the outbreak of war nearly all our bullocks came from Ireland. They arrived in enormous numbers from about October 12 until the end of November. The best came in October. Before the war, for a really good bullock a farmer would probably give £15, and it would cost him 10s. to get it home, and he would have to keep it for three weeks to acclimatise it, for a bullock looks a miserable wreck after the sea crossing. The farmer received the bullocks, say, in the third week in October, and would be able to put them into his yard in the third week in November. He could not possibly get a bullock out under sixteen weeks. The bullock would cost him during that period, say, 7s. a week. I never managed it myself for 7s.; the lowest cost to me was 7s. 6d. The cost of the bullock during these sixteen weeks at 7s. a week works out at £5 12s., and this sum added to the £15 10s. comes to £21 2s. Deadweight the bullock would hang up at 50 stone. The price realised before the war was about 9s. a stone, so that the farmer got £22 10s. The difference between £21 2s. and £22 10s. is not a large profit, but the farmer was quite content—and, of course, he might make a little more.
§ Now look at the picture to-day. In existing circumstances a bullock which before the war could be purchased for £15 will not be bought in October under £25. Feeding-stuffs certainly are double the pre-war price; they would cost during the fattening period quite £10 4s. This amount added to the £25 which the bullock would have cost comes to £35 4s. Say the bullock weighs the same—50 stone—and you add a third for live weight; this brings the bullock up to 66 stone. That is practically 8 cwt.; and 8 cwt. at the noble Lord's prices means £24. I am confident that no one can contradict me as to those figures. What then is going to happen? I have been flooded with letters on the subject. I received one last night from a gentleman who took the chair at a big meeting at Northampton. He says that those present were absolutely dumbfounded at the prices fixed by the Food Controller. He also states that the number of cattle in the market at Rugby was phenomenal. Why? Because people are 118 selling out. The noble Lord the Food Controller in his speech last week foreshadowed a possible reduction in the price of feeding-stuffs, but was unable to give any guarantee that a reduction would be effected. I understand that there are 600,000 tons of feeding cake in the market, and that 400,000 tons have been earmarked for dairy people; this leaves only 200,000 tons. Many men in my county fatten over two bullocks to the acre of roots. They do not give them roots only, but make up with meal. But if you cut off all meal and make no reduction in the enormous prices of everything required in this direction, you cannot possibly expect farmers, however much you may invite patriotism, to fatten bullocks at a distinct loss. Ireland will be asked to send over a great number of bullocks. My impression is that Ireland will not send over the good bullocks. She will keep those bullocks as store cattle till next spring, and then put them on her own good grass and fatten and sell them. We may receive a few, but we shall get west country ones that are not worth fattening.
§ I am told that the price of sirloin in London to-day is from 2s. 4d. to 2s. 6d. per lb. My housekeeper bought, in a little town close to where I live, a sirloin of beef, one of the best I ever had in my life, at 1s. 8d. per lb. The bullock from which this sirloin came cost, I have ascertained, £47 10s., and weighed, hanging up, 46 stone 8 lbs. If that man could afford to sell me a sirloin at 1s. 8d. per lb., I cannot understand why meat should be so much higher in price in London. Surely the carriage cannot make the difference. There must be something wrong. I fully sympathise with the working man at the prices he has to pay, but I sympathise much more with him in the fact that he gets such bad stuff for his money. If the noble Lord wants to control prices, he had far better do what he has done with the mills—namely, seize every butcher's shop and have one price, the same in Bond-street as in Whitechapel for the same class of meat. Then the working man could not complain, as he justly does now, that people in our station of life get better meat than he does. Of course, the working man could be helped to meet the higher prices by being given more wages, but even then I do not think he would get as good meat as he should.
§ I feel strongly on this subject. I do not pretend to speak on behalf of any other 119 county but my own, but I say it is not from lack of patriotism that the farmer of 300 or 400 acres complains. He complains because, at the proposed prices, he cannot possibly, without incurring a very big loss, turn out cattle that are fit to eat, and there is nothing so dear as bad cattle. The noble Lord the Food Controller, in his speech last Thursday, stated that it is only cattle required for Army purposes which will necessarily be weighed. How are the others to be purchased? Are they to be bought in the manner normal in Norfolk, where a man looks at the beast and guesses its weight? In my own county bullocks are frequently purchased fifteen or twenty together, the purchaser giving so much for the lot, some of which are good and some not so good. I hope that the noble Lord the Food Controller will be persuaded to re-consider the prices he has fixed. It would be a great pity if the country by this time next year found itself faced with a serious shortage. And what will the price be then? The supply will get so short that the price will go up, high though it is. I implore the noble Lord to consider whether the prices which he has fixed for beef cannot be readjusted. I suggest that he should consult the Board of Agriculture as to whether farmers can afford to lose such a large sum of money. I also ask him to remember that the whole secret of high farming is farmyard manure. Those who can afford them can put in artificials. But if you once let land go down, you will not get the increase of wheat that you desire and there will be a great deal of dissatisfaction.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord on the Front Bench (Lord Rhondda) will be glad that he has been given another opportunity of saying a few words upon this subject to the House. Those of us who had the advantage of listening to him the other evening could not fail to be struck by the considerateness of his tone and by his evident appreciation of the great difficulties which he would have to encounter in adopting the policy for which he is responsible. He gave us some idea of the reasons which had induced him to embark up in an enterprise which I think he must himself feel to be a somewhat hazardous one. We gathered from him that he intended to achieve more than one object by the measures which he has recommended.
120 It is the noble Lord's object, we understand, in the first place to keep down the price to the consumer. That at the present moment is a very natural object, but, of course, it does occur to one that the most obvious way of keeping down the price to the consumer is by bringing about economy in production, and I doubt very much whether the policy which the noble Lord recommends to us is one which in the long run will have the effect of leading to economy in production. Another object which I gather he has in view is of this kind. I understand that he desires during the coming winter to accumulate a reserve of imported meat, and that with this object it is intended to feed the Army during the coming autumn with British-killed meat, and in the meantime to accumulate the reserve which the Government desire to set up. In the third place, I imagine—although I do not think we have been told this—that there is some idea that the course recommended to us will effect a saving of foodstuffs, which are likely to be scarce during the coming winter. Those, unless I misunderstand them, are the principles upon which the noble Lord intends to proceed.
Let me note, in passing, that I heard with satisfaction the noble Lord's statement that, whatever had led him to embark upon this course, he had not been led to it because he had any reason to believe that there was anything like profiteering going on in the agricultural community. I believe that to be absolutely true. I believe that, whoever has made money out of this war, or whoever has attempted to reap illegitimate profits out of the war, neither the farmers nor the landowners are open to any suspicion of that kind. I rather dwell upon that fact. I also heard with satisfaction the noble Lord's admission that, whatever had led to the increase in the price of meat, he did not believe that a rising of rent accounted for it, or at any rate accounted for it to any extent. We note all these things because observations of a very different kind are sometimes made on this subject. Indeed, I have heard a measure which is now before Parliament and which will come before your Lordships next week described, by persons who must be singularly ignorant or singularly perverse, as a "rent production" Bill. People who are capable of making assertions of that kind are capable of any distortion of the facts of the case.
121 We understand that it is intended to fix prices for live stock by the cwt., not for all animals, but only for what may be described I suppose, as slaughterable animals. The scheme is to begin at 74s. per cwt. in September; then the price goes to 72s. in October; to 67s. in November and December; and it reaches 60s. in January. I should myself be inclined to describe this scheme as one which proposes for the producer of meat a price which will be tolerable in the autumn, but absolutely ruinous when we come to the beginning of next year. We all know that winter beef is always expensive to produce, but this year it will be more expensive than ever. For obvious reasons. There is a shortage of feeding-stuffs; and let us not forgot the rise of wages which is impending. Then I observe that these proposals do not touch store cattle at all. I suppose this means that it will rest with the Government or with the agent of the Government to decide whether a given animal is or is not an animal which can be purchased under these proposed limits of price. The noble Lord will perhaps enlighten us upon that point.
It seems to me that the effects of this policy are very easy to predict. They will be of several kinds. In the first place, it will have the effect of bringing into the market within the next few weeks a number of animals which are really not mature for consumption, and which, if they had not been hurried into the market in this manner, would have gone on adding to the food supply of the country. The next effect will be a very considerable diminution in what I may call the national stock of live animals, and this at a time when it is most necessary that the recuperative power of the country should not be diminished. My noble friend on the Front Bench opposite (Viscount Harcourt) dealt in a very interesting speech the other day with the shortage which was to be anticipated in his view after the war. Then, my Lords, this scheme will certainly bring disaster to those holders of stock who bought their store cattle dear; and a great many of them, because they could not obtain them except at high prices, did buy their store cattle very dear. These men may lose not only the profit which they would have made, but they may actually lose part of the capital value that they invested in the purchase of these store cattle. Then there is the point that my noble friend who introduced this subject dwelt upon with 122 evident knowledge of it. There will be a great diminution in the output of manure owing to the premature killing of animals which otherwise would be tied up and fattened during the winter. That is a very serious thing, because, as we all know, there is a shortage of fertilisers, and because it is of the utmost importance—again with reference to the recuperative power of the country—that the fertility of the soil should not be diminished. Finally, it seems to me that this policy will involve a most disastrous waste of keep—I mean by "keep" the after grass upon which it has been usual to feed stock during the autumn. The hay crop this year has been on the whole a disappointing crop, but in the part of England I know best there is a great promise of after grass, and it would be little short of a calamity if that were allowed to be entirely wasted.
These consequences seem to me to threaten the whole of the stock-raising community, from the man who breeds young cattle—we know what a large trade of that kind there is in Ireland—down to the man who finally finishes them for the market. Most of you have probably received information which goes to show that there is already what I may describe as something like demoralisation in the market, and it is within my own knowledge that in some cases, while fat or nearly fat animals have been unloaded with a certain amount of readiness, all animals of another description have been taken away from the market because nobody would look at them. In these circumstances the House will, I am sure, be glad to have any additional information which the noble Lord the Food Controller may be good enough to vouchsafe to us.
I think his statement the other day, although it was a very full statement, was not quite full at certain points. He made it clear that he was dealing in the first instance with what he called Army purchases—that is, animals to be bought and converted at once into beef. But he went on to show—I have his speech here—that it was by no means intended to stop at that point. He used these words—It would not do to fix the prices of cattle and to leave the profits of dealers and butchers uncontrolled in the case of civilian sales.Then he continued—Based on the price of cattle for the Army and the margins determined in this manner the wholesale price of beef will be fixed, and butchers and others will base their purchases of cattle on this wholesale price.123 But the Government are not going to stop at the regulation of wholesale prices. For the noble Lord went on—In fixing actual retail prices of meat the circumstances of each locality will have to be considered…It is proposed, after the limits of profit which the retail butcher may be allowed to make have been fixed, that the fixing of detailed price lists for the different joints should, subject to guidance from the Ministry and within certain limits, be left to the local food committee.So that you have there a policy which actually contemplates the control of the retail trade up to the point of fixing the retail price of joints under the guidance of the Ministry. That is a tremendous enterprise to embark upon.
It occurs to one, considering these statements, whether, if the main object really is to put down the price to the consumer by something like 6d. per lb., the simpler and more direct way of doing that would not be to concentrate upon that point and begin there. After all, this meat business is conducted by a kind of chain of people, as I said just now, beginning with the breeder, going on to the man who keeps the store cattle for a time and parts with them in a forward condition, then going on to the man who finishes them, and, finally, to the butcher. If you can deal with the thing at the end and fix the retail price to the consumer, is it not possible to leave the intermediate prices to adjust themselves by what is called, I believe, the chaffer of the market? I have no doubt that this has been considered, and I shall be glad if the noble Lord will tell us why this policy has been put on one side.
There is one other observation I should like to make. The noble Lord told us that it was his object, amongst other things, to eliminate the middleman so far as it was possible to do so. I hope that the noble Lord will not build too much upon the expectation of eliminating the middleman. The middleman, I think, is a somewhat hardly used person. In this business he is absolutely essential if the business is to be carried on at all; and although we should be glad to prevent superfluous profits being made by any one, I think we must dismiss altogether from our minds the idea that the middleman is going to be got rid of in this cattle business. I hope that the noble Lord will not take it amiss that we should ask him for further explanations upon a subject which he realises is 124 an extremely difficult one; and if he can tell us anything to-night to reassure the farming community as to his intentions he will do a great service, because it is no use disguising from ourselves that the farming community is profoundly alarmed by these proposals.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I desire to offer a few words to your Lordships on this subject. I have looked at the scheme of the noble Lord as he explained it to us the other night, and I regret to say that I cannot make out how it is going to work. Let me say, in the first place, that this scheme deals only with the year 1917, because the prices of which he spoke are fixed only up to next January, and he told us that after next January he can give us no guarantee as to what those prices are going to be. A considerable number of persons in the farming industry who have bought store cattle at very high prices—they bought them in the ordinary market, and could not get them for less—will, unless some special provision is made, lose very largely indeed. In the scale which the noble Lord has made of the prices of fat cattle he has endeavoured to minimise this loss as far as he can. The result of this will be that these cattle will be rushed into the market as fast as they possibly can be. For this reason. The price, which is 74s. in September, falls to 60s. in January. Of course, men who have cattle a half or three parts ready will cut their loss at the lowest figure they can. But there will be a very large proportion of those cattle which will not be ripe for market. The natural time for selling them will be in the early spring of next year. In consequence, however, of the maximum price after January 1 being fixed at 60s., people will endeavour to throw those animals into the market earlier, so as to get the higher price which the scale of the noble Lord will give them.
Let us now take the people who want to store cattle for next year's growth. How are they to proceed? They will have no means of making any calculation as to what price they ought to give for store cattle, because although the noble Lord has reduced the price to 60s. for January there is nothing to prevent him further reducing it to 50s. or even lower next year. A person who is buying store cattle at the present time will say, "What am I to give? I do not know. I have no idea what price I shall be able to get 125 when my cattle are ready for market." Therefore clearly he will put off buying his stores as long as he can. I say "as long as he can "because the turnips and the crops are growing, and if there are no cattle to put upon them the turnips and the crops and the straw will be lost. Therefore he cannot put off his purchasing beyond a certain time. What is that man to do? I am sure I do not know. Then with regard to feeding-stuffs, the noble Lord said that he hoped to be able to reduce their price. At the present moment feeding-stuffs are at an absolutely prohibitive price. The noble Lord was asked the other day how he proposed to reduce the price of these things, and he said that he could not tell us. A farmer will not be willing to buy cattle without an absolute certainty of what it is going to cost him to fatten them.
There is another point. What about the price of mutton? The noble Lord said the other day that he would fix the price of mutton, and also the price of pork. At this time of the year it is absolutely necessary, if a scheme of this kind is to be carried through, that you should say what the price of fat sheep is going to be. Take Scotland for instance. At this moment the lamb sales are on. Hundreds of thousands of lambs will be put up for auction in Scotland in the next month. I think the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, said that some store lambs had been sold as high as 80s.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
A large number of farmers go from England to Scotland to buy lambs, and bring them back as stores. What is to guide them as to the prices they are to give? This particular market is bound to be demoralised, because there is no saying what the price of lambs should be if you have no idea what the price of fat sheep is going to be. These are questions which really must be answered. It is no good holding out a price to-day and saying that it is a good price compared with what the price was three or four years ago. The question is, What does it cost to produce this meat now? Until you answer that question the farmers will be utterly in the dark. Your Lordships can see from the newspapers every day that the farmers have no conception where they stand. I therefore hope that the noble Lord the Food Controller will give us a fuller explanation of his plan than he did the other night.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Marquess below me (Lord Lansdowne) that in setting out to fix the prices at which meat is to be sold to civilians the noble Lord (Lord Rhondda) is embarking upon a tremendous enterprise. It seems to me to be an enterprise which must carry with it all kinds of almost fanciful calculations, even if you allow every kind of credit for the decent realisation which he told us is to accompany this fixing of prices. I do not want to occupy the time of the House unnecessarily, and if the noble Lord tells me that the Government have made up their minds already about what they are going to do as to fixing; prices to civilians, or civilian prices—I really do not know how to express it—then there is not much good in my saying anything more. In his speech last Thursday the noble Lord the Food Controller said that the prices for Army purchases had been fixed in agreement with the Board of Agriculture. I ask the noble Lord whether the prices are fixed in his own mind with regard to civilian purchases, and, if not, whether he is willing to hear what I have to say by way of suggestion?
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
Then I think there is this to be said. In my part of England, at all events, there is this difficulty. I live in the West Riding, in what is called the Craven country. Lord Chaplin and Lord Selborne know it well. You see nothing but grass there. The whole of the trade of that district is stock raising and buying stores which are put on to our fine limestone grass. In our view the noble Lord is right to this extent, that according to us it is fat stock, the finished animal, which fixes the price of all kinds of stock in this country. If a feeder orgrazier goes into my market at home, for instance, to buy a store, the vision which flashes on his inward eye is not the store as he sees it in the market, but the store when it is finished and fattened for the butcher. I may say that in my own auction market a fortnight ago Irish stores were making up to £28 apiece. The farmer sees an Irish store; there is nothing remarkable about it in quality or shape or anything else; he sees there is room for growing beef on it, and he says to himself "I can give £28 for that animal, because in my mind's eye I can see it finished for the 127 butcher, and I know that the butcher will then take it off me at a price which will enable me to give the £28 which the Irish dealer is asking for it."
If the scale which the Government is going to fix for what I will call civilian meat is to proceed upon the same lines as that fixed for Army purposes, it is, as everybody has said, much too low. I suggest to the Government that they should get rid altogether of their fanciful franchises and variety of prices in different months, and say at once that up to the end of 1917 the price of meat at the butcher's is to be 1s. 4d. or 1s. 6d. or whatever it may be. Then from January 1, 1918, make that price 1s. I am still speaking of my own part of the country. If you did that, I believe the thing would automatically adjust itself; and feeders who have bought would probably be able to get out, if not at a profit, at all events without any serious loss. Although the noble Lord, Lord Rhondda, said that he thought the losses would not be very serious, when you have a Minister of the Crown coming down to say that the whole beef-raising and beef-feeding industry of the country is to be dislocated by a complete violation of every economic law and that people who have been acting in good faith not knowing that this was coming are only to get out with severe losses, I am bound to say that the mere adumbration of such a state of things quite justifies the alarm which the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, said the agricultural community now felt.
I find on the cwt. live weight at 74s. that this produces only 1s. 0½ d. per lb. At the October rate of 72s. this produces only 1s. 1d. per lb. At 67s., the November-December rate, it is 1s. per lb. In our country the aftermath is broken into in early October. Lean Irish stores eat very quickly and will soon do away with the aftermath. Things become very expensive. We are told that the prices of feeding-stuffs will be reduced, but they have not been reduced yet. Nobody knows what is going to be done. And can anybody say that such a price as 67s. can possibly be justified? I am the owner of a large auction mart, and it may interest your Lordships if I state the prices—I will take them in fortnightly periods—that have been given there by graziers and feeders. This is the first considerable cattle market which taps the Irish supply. I start with May 2 last. Stores then ranged from 128 £22 10s. to £30 15s.; May 16, from £24 to £36 10s.; May 29, from £23 15s. to £36 17s. 6d.; June 12, from £25 to £39 5s.; June 27, from £22 10s. to £36 10s.; and July 11, from £30 to £35 7s. 6d. And, as I told your Lordships, Irish stores in our market have been making up to £28 apiece.
I should like to repeat that if the Food Controller would fix a maximum butcher's price of, say, 1s. 4d. or 1s. 5d. per lb. up to December 31, 1917, and after the New Year fix a price of say 1s. or 1s. 2d. per lb., I believe that would regulate the trade automatically. But it would be no good doing that unless you did it immediately. If people know at once with what they have to reckon, the feeder will buy his stores accordingly and the butcher will self accordingly. I had a letter from my agent this morning. He is a man who feeds about 150 animals himself. He told me that if something of the sort I have indicated were announced at once—and I think it was what the noble Marquess had in his mind—things would adjust themselves automatically. It is the fat stock which regulates the price of all stock in the country, even lying-off cows. You cannot get away from the butcher. Fix a price for the butcher, and then the feeder and grazier know what they have to reckon with. But nobody will know what he has to deal with under the Food Controller's fanciful franchises and calculations, which were not fully explained to us, and which were the clouds that carried him on in the region of hope as to what he was going to do about civilian prices.
§ LORD HINDLIP
My Lords, may I be allowed to join in the request that Lord Rhondda should reconsider this question, especially with regard to immature beasts? The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, told your Lordships that in a part of Norfolk the price of a sirloin of beef was 1s. 8d. per lb., while in London it was 2s. 6d. I have in my hand an extract from a report of a meeting held in Worcester by irate farmers in connection with this matter. They said that whereas the butchers were charging 2s. and 2s. 4d. in London the meat could be purchased in Worcester at 1s. 6d. I cannot see where such a difference in price comes in between Worcester and London. Worcester is only about 120 miles away, and the train service is fairly good.
129 The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, said that the Food Controller was hoping to eliminate the middleman. If you are going to eliminate the middleman in agricultural pursuits, it seems to me that you are going to eliminate every farmer in the United Kingdom. At one time or another in the year every farmer is a middleman. He has to buy animals at one period and sell them at another. I do not think there is any form of farming where that has not to be done at one time or another. Then Lord Camperdown raised the question of sheep. I hope the noble Lord will tell us something in the next day or two, perhaps to-day, as to what the price of mutton is to be. Lord Camperdown also referred to the lamb sales taking place in Scotland this month. Similar sales will take place this month in England. Those of your Lordships who may send to Shropshire or Craven Arms to buy sheep this month will not know what price to pay unless something is settled with regard to the price of mutton.
Will the noble Lord tell us what is the real reason for this Order? Is it for the purpose of feeding the Army, as was suggested by the noble Marquess, or is it to provide cheap meat for the towns, or is it because there is such a shortage of feeding-stuffs in the country that something has to be done to decrease the supplies of stock? One noble Lord said this afternoon that the farmer does not know where he stands to-day. Early in the war the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, when he was President of the Board of Agriculture, told us to rear calves. This is the result. They are going to be killed before their time. Then not very long ago when Mr. Prothero succeeded to office he told us to keep pigs. Nobody but a millionaire can afford to keep pigs to-day. We were told to grow more corn. But, as has been pointed out by every speaker, this slaughter of cattle will naturally affect the supply of manure, and that will in time affect the fertility of the land.
Everything which the farmer has to buy has gone up, and I cannot see that very much attempt has been made to control those prices. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to control the price of feeding-stuffs that come from abroad, but surely other things which the farmer has to buy and which do not come from abroad to the same extent can be controlled in price. Agricultural implements do not all come 130 from abroad. Before the war a binder cost £25; to-day you have to pay £40 or £45 for one, and you are very lucky to get it at all. Basic slag, which is a by-product, cost at the beginning of the war about 40s.; it now costs 75s. The same with sulphate of ammonia. It may not be very obvious at first sight that the prices of these things have much to do with the price of beef. But they have. The cattle must be fed, and you have to get a certain amount of feeding-stuffs with which to feed them.
What is going to happen under this scheme, especially with regard to the price of cattle to be bought by the Army? You are going to buy immature cattle. You are going to buy three beasts instead of two in order to get the same amount of meat. The result will be not a saving in money but a waste. From the point of view of the Army I cannot see where the saving is going to come in. You are going to deplete seriously the head of stock in the country, thereby causing a serious loss in the amount of manure available and consequently decreasing the fertility of the arable land next year. I hope that the noble Lord will reconsider the question, especially having regard to what will happen next year. I am certain that he does not wish to see this country so denuded of stock next year that we shall be entirely at the mercy of the gentlemen operating on the other side of the Atlantic.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, as I understand the, provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act and the Regulations which have been made under it, the price of commodities, whether commandeered or whether there is a price fixed, is in either case to be sufficient to cover the cost of production plus a reasonable profit. I think those are the actual words in the Act. I should like to ask the noble Lord a business question. What are the statistics on which he has fixed these prices so that there may be provision made both for cost of production to the farmer and a reasonable profit? I do not want to go into the prices. I entirely agree with what has been said about them already, that if the price of 60s. stands after December next, it will be utterly impossible for the fat beasts to be sold except at a very large loss to the farmer. But the Defence of the Realm Act was so drafted as to protect the farmer against any such possibility, because in that Act it is laid down—however great 131 may be the bureaucratic powers at the present moment—that prices, whether of commandeered articles or those to be sold at a fixed maximum price, are to be settled with regard to the cost of production plus a reasonable profit. If the noble Lord has taken all these matters into consideration and can tell us that he has ascertained that the cost of production plus a reasonable profit can be guaranteed to the farmer, a great deal of the difficulty would, of course, be met. But unless he can do that, his prices will be a mere guess so far as he is concerned. One appreciates what has been said by more than one speaker, that the farmer is naturally considerably alarmed if he believes that prices can be fixed irrespective of what the cost has been to him. Therefore I hope that the noble Lord will answer the question I have put to him as to the statistics on which he has fixed these prices.
§ LORD BERESFORD
My Lords, it will be very difficult for the noble Lord to fix the price of meat unless he can guarantee the price of feeding-stuffs, and that depends upon tonnage. The noble Lord may say it has nothing to do with tonnage, but that will rather point to the lack of co-ordination existing between the different Departments. Most of our feeding-stuffs are water-borne, and unless you can get the tonnage to bring them over and guarantee the prices how is it possible to fix the price of meat? I said last week, when speaking on this question, that we had lost—British, Allied, and neutral—about 4,000,000 tons of shipping since the beginning of the year. I have been reported in the newspapers as having said that this applied to this country alone. That is not the fact. What I contend is that the whole question is one of tonnage. Almost everything that concerns this country in connection with the war is a matter of tonnage. Misleading statements have been made. I think it was the Prime Minister who said the other day that we could build four times the amount we did last year, but he did not state what we built last year. We built only 600,000 tons then. The real fact is that at the present rate of losses we shall by the end of the year have lost 12,000,000 tons of shipping. I rose only to call attention to the fact that this question of farming is largely bound up in the matter of feeding-stuffs and fertilisers. We have not sufficient of them in the country and they have 132 to come from abroad, and in the near future the point will resolve itself into a question of shipping.
§ THE FOOD CONTROLLER (LORD RHONDDA)
My Lords, the noble Marquess expressed the hope that I would not take it amiss that the action I proposed to take should be commented upon in the way that some of your Lordships have criticised it in the House to-day. Of course, I take no kind of exception. I know that I am, as several noble Lords have pointed out, embarking upon what they have described as a very hazardous enterprise. I know that the proposals I make cannot be put into effect without justification. I fully appreciate the very great difficulties connected with the bringing forward of specific proposals such as I have done. I realise that they are bristling with difficulties. I explained to the House last week that in ordinary circumstances I should not have thought of making any such proposals. I cannot help thinking that noble Lords do not sufficiently realise the altered circumstances. We are not living in times of peace but in very abnormal times. I can only repeat what I have said before, that I should view with very great alarm any increase in the prices of essential articles of food to the people of this country.
I do not know whether your Lordships have had an opportunity of reading the Reports of the Commissioners who have been inquiring into the reasons for the unrest which prevails in all parts of the country. The strongest reason they have given for the growing unrest, which must ultimately lead to war-weariness if allowed to go on, has been the very high prices of food. Prices of food have increased during the war to, on an average, double what they were before the war, and the cost of living has increased by over 75 per cent. Can any of your Lordships view that condition of things without serious misgiving? Can you view without misgiving a state of things in which, in the case of large bodies of men and women in this country whose wages have not increased in any degree, or in a small degree only, since the war began, the sovereign to-day for purchasing purposes is worth under ten shillings?
A large number of questions have been put to me by noble Lords. I have nothing to conceal. I wish to give the House the fullest information in my possession, and I desire to thank those noble Lords who 133 have spoken for the tone and spirit in which they have made their comments and their criticisms on my action. So far from taking any exception to criticism, I know that the Minister of Food stands in the limelight. It has been well said that you can escape censure only when you escape notice. I suspect that I am not likely to escape notice during the time I occupy the position of Food Controller. Not only do I take no exception to criticism but I welcome constructive criticism, and all the information and all the assistance your Lordships can give to me by comments in the spirit and tone in which you have made your criticisms to-night I shall welcome, as I think they will be helpful.
The noble Earl who opened the discussion asked, Are the prices agreed to by the Board of Agriculture? Yes, the prices we have fixed for Army purchases have been agreed, after some discussion, with the Board of Agriculture, with the Scottish Minister, and with the Irish Minister. It is only fair, however, that I should say that I must accept the chief responsibility for the prices ultimately fixed, because the proposals put forward in the first instance by the Board of Agriculture were somewhat higher than those which I thought—and which we have ultimately agreed upon—would be reasonable prices. I think I had better not attempt to answer the questions seriatim, but if any noble Lord will remind me when I sit down if I have not replied to a question of his I shall be very happy, if the House will grant to permission to rise again, to give him a reply.
I should like to point out to your Lordships that the census returns made on June 4 go to show, as far as estimates can be arrived at, that there is very little change in the number of cattle to-day from what was the case at the beginning of the war. Dairy cattle, in fact, are likely to show an increase. I want to start off with that. Notwithstanding the increased prices that prevail for cattle and meat, the number of cattle to-day is practically the same as before the war. The noble Marquess is aware that the reason why we fixed the price at 74s. for September and then, by a gradually lowering scale, at 60s. for January was that, after the fullest consideration that my Department was able to give, we thought 60s. would be a fair price for January. We fixed a higher price for September in order to enable farmers who had bought stores at a high price, one might say 134 an extravagant price, to get out, as we hoped, without any loss at all; because we recognised that the prices at which these store cattle were bought, high as they were, were paid in the legitimate course of trade. The farmers when they purchased the cattle would have in the ordinary course bought them for feeding purposes, and we thought it would not be fair for the Government suddenly to come in and arbitrarily fix a lower price than the fanners would have expected to get had the market been allowed a free course. The average price to meet these, as we considered, hard cases was fixed at 74s. in September, with a diminishing scale.
The noble Earl who commenced this discussion referred to the fact that he spoke for his own district only. I do not think any farmer in this country—I am a bit of a farmer myself—is conversant with the agricultural conditions which prevail in each part of the United Kingdom. The conditions prevailing in the East do not obtain in the West. The noble Earl pointed out that if farmers were not induced to keep stock during the winter owing to the low prices, as he said, that we had fixed, they would not get manure and would not be able therefore to grow corn. But he said that for himself he was going to grow corn nevertheless, and that there were some people in his neighbourhood who were ploughing up roots intending to plant corn and thus secure the better profits that would be ruling for cereals.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, asked me how we arrived at the figure of 60s. He said that under the Defence of the Realm Act we had to fix a price on the cost of production plus a reasonable profit. As I say, we have arrived at the price of 60s. after some discussion and in agreement with the Board of Agriculture. This price of 60s. for January, it should be noted, represents a rise of over 60 per cent. on the prices ruling for similar cattle in January, 1914. It is true that feeding-stuffs have increased in price very much, but the cost of feeding-stuffs is only a fraction of the cost of the animal to the farmer. As the noble Marquess has said, rent has not increased or has increased in only a few special cases.
§ LORD RHONDDA
I think I am right in saying that in general it has not in 135 creased. According to the available figures the earnings of the labourers have increased by only 50 per cent., while the cost of roots and other feeding-stuffs grown by farmers has certainly not increased in the same proportion. I should like to point out that the price of wool, which is controlled, is only 50 per cent. above pre-war prices. The price of hides is only from 40 to 46 per cent. above pre-war prices, and the price of sheep pelts is only 46 per cent. above the prices ruling before the war.
Several noble Lords have asked me what has been done with respect to fixing the prices of mutton and pork. I fully recognise the urgency of fixing these prices. They will be fixed in relation to the price of beef. It is proposed to fix prices of mutton and pork on a parity with the prices of beef. It is intended to publish figures on this point in the course of a day or two. Farmers buying sheep and pigs must remember that there will be a corresponding reduction in the prices of mutton and pork. I can understand the anxiety of your Lordships and of agriculturists in the country to have these prices fixed as soon as possible, but I am very anxious indeed that my Department should not, through any undue haste, fix prices which they would have to revise in a short time. It is really in the interests of the country that we should take a little time over fixing these prices. You may rely upon it that, so far as my Department is concerned, there will be no undue delay.
The noble Earl asked me whether the live weight was for Army purposes only. The price we have fixed for live weight, at so much per cwt., is intended for Army purposes; but for civilian purposes it is proposed to fix, in relation to live-weight prices, dead-weight prices for meat. Those prices have been fixed for the kind of animal that is usually purchased for Army purposes—a beast yielding a dead-meat weight of about 55 per cent. of the live weight. It is not proposed, for the present at all events, to fix the price of live cattle for civilian consumption. It is proposed to fix a maximum price at which meat shall be supplied to the retailer by the wholesale butcher or dealer which will correspond with the Army price, but to leave the wholesale butcher or dealer to buy cattle as he pleases subject to this maximum price for meat. Consequently the butcher will pay the same price for cattle of Army quality, but he will be able to pay a higher price for 136 cattle with a larger yield of meat. Scottish cattle, for instance, with a high yield of meat should get higher prices. I do not know whether I have made myself clear to your Lordships on this point.
§ LORD RHONDDA
It will be 74s. for September, going down to 60s., live weight. Those are the prices arranged between the Board of Agriculture and myself.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
But you said something about Scottish cattle being better. Are they to stand at more than 60s.
§ LORD RHONDDA
In the case of first-grade cattle containing 60 per cent. or even more dead meat, they will be sold by dead weight. Consequently they will realise a higher price than the cattle which it is proposed to purchase for Army purposes.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
Does what the noble Lord has said mean that under his new arrangement the civilian consumer can give any price he likes on quality, or is there to be a maximum price fixed for the civilian?
§ LORD RHONDDA
I explained last Thursday that we propose to fix prices based on profits all the way down, from the farmer to the consumer. We shall fix prices—the local authorities will assist us in the matter—at which the butcher shall sell retail to the consumer.
§ LORD RHONDDA
No; they will be maximum prices. It has been suggested by several noble Lords that we should fix the price to the consumer and leave the farmer and the middleman to take care of themselves. I am bound to say I think that would be a very dangerous procedure; we should leave the butcher in the hands of the middleman and the farmer. We want to control prices through profits all the way down, so that no one class in the trade can take advantage of another—with a certain amount of latitude left, of course. I think it was the noble Marquess who advised me to be careful not to attempt to eliminate altogether the middleman. 137 I am in business myself, and I fully recognise the need of middlemen, of go-betweens between the producer and the retailer. While we say that we are going to do all we can to eliminate unnecessary middlemen, we propose, as far as we can, to make use of existing agencies in regard to meat, cereals, and other produce, and allow them to make a reasonable profit. To go back again to the price of 60s. I do not know whether I made myself sufficiently clear upon that point. It is after all an estimate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, asked whether we had actually got at the cost of production.
§ LORD RHONDDA
I say it is an estimate. The price we have fixed is 63 per cent. above the pre-war price, for similar cattle. That is one thing which has guided us. But I am sure that the noble and learned Lord is agriculturist enough to know that there are no actual figures to go upon to show what is the cost of producing bullocks, what it costs the grazier to fatten them, or what it costs the breeder to produce them. He must know that the great majority of farmers do not keep accounts at all. Therefore the cost of producing meat or corn must be an estimate. Even if the farmer kept accounts he would not keep the precise cost separately of producing bullocks or corn or any other commodity that he might sell. At best it can but be an estimate.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I could give the noble Lord from my own experience the exact cost of every beast, starting from the cost of the raw material when I bought it, all the way through. I have it supplied by my bailiff for every beast.
§ LORD RHONDDA
I shall be glad to have that cost. That is the kind of information we want. But I think the noble and learned Lord is sufficiently versed in the science of statistics to know that an individual case out of 50,000 or 100,000 cannot be regarded necessarily as typical, and is really very little, indication as to what the average cost must be throughout the country. I do not know what kind of farming the noble and learned Lord carries on. For instance, the cost of producing a fat beast in Norfolk or Suffolk would be 138 reckoned in an entirely different way from that in the West There large amounts of cake and roots have to be given, but in the West that would not be the case.
I do not want to criticise the arguments of noble Lords, but I do not think they are altogether consistent. Several noble Lords were alarmed, I think, at the fact that immature animals would be hurried into the market to get the high prices, and that therefore there might be no cattle at all in the country by Christmas time. Again, other noble Lords have pointed out that where beasts had been hurried into the market there was such a glut that they had to be taken away if they were not prime, because they would not be looked at in the market. I have told noble Lords that I fully realise the difficulties of the position. I know that we are moving on a new path that is full of uncertainties, a path that has not been trodden or attempted to be trodden in our time before. I fully recognise all the risks. But I say that something has to be done in the way of fixing prices, and I am very confident myself that this will work out reasonably well in practice. No doubt small mistakes will be made here and there; but I would not embark on this, and I would not risk my reputation on it, if I did not think that, with the good will of the country and with the assistance of all those patriotically-inclined people who I know will give me their help, we are within a measurable distance of success in substantially reducing the prices of food commodities and doing at least something to remove the prevailing unrest in the country.
Lord Hindlip spoke about the prices of all the articles which the farmer had to buy having gone up, and he said that we could not possibly control the prices of feeding-stuffs. I must refer to this for a moment. Some noble Lords have rather complained because I said that I could not guarantee that there would be sufficient feeding- stuffs to go round next winter. Of course, noble Lords must see that I cannot guarantee it. It all depends upon conditions, which one cannot really anticipate with any degree of precision at the present time. But as a matter of fact I think I can see my way to control practically all the feeding-stuffs produced in this country, and I am satisfied, provided that the tonnage is available—
§ LORD RHONDDA
It all depends upon that. I do not wish to be an alarmist, but the noble and gallant Lord will remember that in my statement last week I again and again expressed the hope that the country would realise that we were not by any means out of the wood, and I urged upon the country generally the need for redoubling their efforts in economy of food and in the saving of food. Provided that the tonnage is available for bringing in the raw material for feeding-stuffs, I believe I shall be able to reduce the prices of those commodities to farmers by a considerable amount. I am not so foolish as to predict what that amount will be, but I will say that it will be a very substantial reduction. The noble Lord (Lord Hindlip) referred to the price of basic slag. He said it had gone up from 40s. to 75s. With regard to sulphate of ammonia, the Government have fixed the price of that, unless I am mistaken.
§ LORD RHONDDA
I think the noble Lord will find that the price of that commodity is not 60 per cent. over the price prevailing before the war. In arriving at this figure for cattle of 63 per cent. above the price of 1914 I should like noble Lords to understand that, with the exception of feeding-stuffs, this is a greater increase than in any of the items in the cost of production which the farmer has had to meet. His rent has not gone up; his labour has gone up not more than 50 per cent.—
§ LORD RHONDDA
Sulphate of ammonia has gone up not more than 60 per cent. Certainly his grass has not gone up anything like that, and I think that in giving 63 per cent. over the pre-war price we are allowing an ample margin of profit. If noble Lords can give me any information bearing on the subject, I shall be glad to have it. But I wish to say that I cannot encourage them to hope that any change will be made on the part of the Government, because the prices have been fixed, and I have had Cabinet sanction for the price of 60s. for January.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I did not wish to interrupt the noble Lord while he was speaking, but there was one thing 140 that he said which I did not quite follow. I understood him to say that the scale of prices from 74s. downwards was intended to apply to cattle of moderate quality, such, for instance, as he said are purchased for the Army. But with regard to cattle of the very highest class, I understood him to say that these maximum prices are not to apply. Therefore, say that a man has five bullocks of the very highest class, for instance black Scotch cattle, or short horns—
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Will the owner of those cattle be able to obtain the highest price he can in the open market without any reference to the scale of maximum prices which the noble Lord has fixed?
§ LORD RHONDDA
No. The price which has been fixed for Army purchases of 74s. in September is for cattle of medium grade, producing about 54 or 55 per cent. of the live weight. But when we fix civilian prices, they will be on a dead weight basis. The cattle dealer will look at the animal and will say to himself, "That is a prime animal; it is going to yield so much." From his inspection of the animal he will be able to judge. Say it is a 60 per cent. animal. He will buy it on the dead weight price. The figure will be a good deal more than the 74s. we have fixed for the medium live weight animal. I do not think I can make myself clearer than that.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
My Lords, when the noble Lord the Food Controller says, as I understood him, that farmers seldom or never keep accounts, I think he does them less than justice. Farmers in these days keep accounts with much greater care than they used to do. They have had some bitter experiences in the past, and I think they have learned to keep accounts very differently from what the noble Lord believes to be the case.
It seems to me, notwithstanding the statement made by the noble Lord on the first occasion and what he has told us today, that we are still in some respects very much in the dark in regard to this question. We have heard a great deal about the scheme for the Army, but I do not know 141 that we have ever been told what is the plan for feeding the Army. I understand that there is a plan, drawn up by a Committee of four different Departments of the Government, by which the Army is to be fed. We have heard what the prices are to be, but beyond that we have heard nothing. I must say that I think we should be informed of all that is about to transpire, or that has been settled, with regard to this question. Is it the fact that a Committee composed of representatives from four Departments—namely, the Board of Agriculture, the Board of Trade, the Food Controller's Department, and the War Office—and presided over, I understand, by a distinguished member of the Board of Trade, met and recommended this plan? I ask this particularly, because I want to know whether it is absolutely the case that the Board of Agriculture thoroughly concurs in this plan for feeding the Army. It is not so long ago since we were told by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for War, in reply to a question which was put to him by myself, "Certainly, the Board of Agriculture not only entirely agreed, but it was done at their request." But it was nothing of the kind. For when the question came to be examined into—it is not very many days ago—the Secretary of State for War had to come down, as he described it, "in a white sheet," and admit that he was totally wrong, and that the President of the Board of Agriculture had given an unqualified contradiction to his statement. I confess that this makes me a little uneasy. I should like to know whether we are really to understand that the Board of Agriculture on this occasion, in connection with this Committee, heartily concurred in its recommendations. I am the more anxious about this because I know that on other occasions the President of the Board of Agriculture has been entirely overridden by other Departments. We also know that several other Departments in the Government at the present moment have the right to issue orders and instructions affecting the production of food in this country—the business of the Board of Agriculture in particular—which orders and instructions are most prejudicial to the carrying out of what we have desired to do again and again, namely, effect an enormous increase in the amount of food produced in this country.
I am heartily and entirely in sympathy with the noble Earl who introduced this debate, and who is now sitting behind me. Why do I say that? Because I am 142 greatly afraid that if this course is pursued the noble Lord the Food Controller, perhaps without knowing it himself, will entirely and completely upset our existing method of conducting agriculture, at all events as far as the arable land in this country is concerned. If the Army is to be fed on home-grown cattle for any considerable period of time, that means the slaughter of an enormous number of animals. We are entitled to be told how many we are to expect will be slaughtered in this way. For if there be one thing more true than another it was said by the noble Lord behind me just now when he remarked that without manure it is quite impossible to increase the production of corn. But that is what we have been told to do day after day by Ministers and by the Government. Yet we are confronted now with a policy which makes it impossible for us to do so. I hope we shall hear something more on this subject, because we have had no answer of any sort or kind to the complaint of the noble Earl. We have had a sort of qualified hope or anticipation expressed that there may be a reduction in the price of feeding-stuffs. I hope there may be. Yet I know that twice in the speech which he delivered the other day the noble Lord opposite expressly guarded himself by saying, "I cannot give any guarantee whatever upon this point."
I want to say a word with respect to the method in which, as I understand it, this plan is to be carried out. The assistance of the local authorities is to be called in. I have read the speech of the noble Lord with the greatest care, and made notes upon it. There is to be a committee of the local authority appointed from its members, and then there is to be another committee, an executive committee—
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
Which, I understand, is not to be composed altogether of members of the local authority. Then there is to be a third and special committee, and it is on one of these committees that ultimately the responsibility for fixing the prices is to fall, and the responsibility also of seeing that all the orders of the Food Controller are carried out.
I own that I heard with great satisfaction the speech made by the noble Lord (Lord Ribblesdale) who spoke for the Craven district. I have heard nothing which 143 convinces me that there is an overwhelming difficulty in fixing the price at the retailer and letting all the previous stages settle themselves under that. That I understand, is the plan which the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, also approved. I have heard no answer to it. Just think, if that plan be possible, what a lot of trouble it would save. It would also save a lot of what I am afraid will be confusion caused by these different committees which, as is usually the case with committees, will to a certain extent overlap. What I fear most of all with regard to the proposals laid before us is that it will be found, if they are really carried out as they are now proposed—though I do not believe that they ever will be, or that it will be found possible to carry them out—that they will upset the whole system of agriculture, from beginning to end, as conducted in this country at the present time.
The noble Lord went on to tell us that his scheme was based very much upon what he called pre-war prices. But there was one thing of which he seemed to me altogether to lose sight. This proposal of his is not limited to meat; it deals with corn and various other things in addition. The profits of the farmer depend, it is true, upon prices for one thing; but there is another thing also which is of even more importance to him than prices, and that is the yield of his crop. When the noble Lord speaks of pre-war prices it seems to me that he entirely forgets that before the war the greater part of the land was clean and in good heart and farmed probably in most cases as well as it could be. But since the war began, since the greater part of the labour has been taken away from the land, the whole situation has been changed. At the present moment three-fourths of the arable land in the country is more or less foul. Wherever that is the case I defy the best farmer in the world to get more than half a crop from it. And when the noble Lord says, "Oh, but 72s. a quarter is an enormous increase over the price, well below 40s., which corn was making before the war," he must remember that if a farmer is able to produce only a half crop now instead of a whole crop it is as if he were getting only 36s. a quarter for his corn, which is very much what he was getting before the war commenced.
I frankly own that I view this scheme with great apprehension for the reasons I 144 have given. I am afraid that the only effect of it in the long run, if carried out as now proposed, will be that you will lose a great deal of the meat that you have in the country at the present time, and you will not increase the current crops in any substantial degree. My noble friend behind me never said a truer word in his life than when he said that it is absolutely vital for the production of good crops of corn throughout the United Kingdom, at all events in Great Britain, that you should have as large a supply as possible of manure made from the straw trampled down by the beasts, fed upon oil cake if possible; and then you may expect to see that increase of corn in the country for which everybody hopes and prays at the present time. But I am perfectly certain, if the noble Lord's scheme is carried out as intended, that nothing of that sort will ever be possible.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I wish to put one concrete question to the noble Lord opposite. He has fixed certain prices for meat for certain months in the autumn at a much lower rate than was naturally expected in the spring. Where is the fairness to the man who has had to pay a high price for his store stock in the months of April and May, probably a price which, by any calculation of weight, was more than he is now to get in the autumn? Where is the fairness to him when he has had all the cost of feeding the cattle and preparing them for the market and finds that he will get only what he paid for the same stock in the spring?
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
My Lords, I have no intention of making any economic criticism of the policy of His Majesty's Government in fixing prices to the civilian community for meat, because I gather from the noble Lord that they regard it as a political necessity. I am not very much surprised, and such necessities know no economic laws. But the proposals of the noble Lord are divided into two parts which really do not depend upon one another at all. One is the fixing of a civilian price for meat for the general population; the other part of his proposal is that of the slaughter of English-grown cattle for a certain number of months, put by some people at four or possibly more months, for the feeding of the British Army. Now this is a very serious departure on the part of His Majesty's Government from the practice that has been pursued since the 145 commencement of the war. The noble Lord has given us no facts to justify it. But I cannot think that he, or the Board of Agriculture, or the Government would have agreed to such an action unless they were convinced of its absolute necessity. It is possible that the noble Lord may not think it discreet to explain to the House or to the public what that necessity is. It that is so, I should not think of pressing him further on the matter.
But it is naturally assumed by all of us that one of the reasons for this departure is that we should be able to fill up our cold storage space in this country, if it should, unhappily, be partially empty, in order to provide against future dangers; and that the killing of our own meat is decided upon to enable us to use the imported chilled meat purely for the purposes of storage at the present time. The Armies at the Front, and I think our Army at home, have been fed throughout the war almost exclusively on chilled meat from the Plate, with a little frozen meat from Australia added. But I imagine that most of the Australian and New Zealand meat went into the market for the public, and that the feeding of the Army was done with the chilled meat from the Argentine. The Army did not want the whole of the chilled meat which was imported from the Argentine, and the Government released every week for public consumption a quantity of the meat so imported. I am now speaking of the advantage to the public and not the farmer. The public want cheap meat, or at any rate a fair abut dance of meat. I desire to ask the noble Lord whether, whilst the import of chilled meat from the Plate continues, which I will assume it is going to do, there will be a release for public use of the same sort of balance of meat that has been released hitherto after the requirements of the Army have been met. I think it is of great importance to the public, or at any rate to the trade, that they should have some assurance on this matter.
I want to say a word on the method of purchasing home-grown meat for the Army at; its live weight. The other day I consulted a very experienced dealer and butcher who has to do with the buying and selling of meat ready for the butcher and who has made a study of the deference between live and dead weight, and I think I can depend upon the figures he gave me. He told me that you may take two beasts, each of them weighing 10 cwt. apiece, one of them being of what the noble Lord 146 would call second grade, or 55 per cent. Army quality beef I think he called it. That beast, live weight 10 cwt., would probably produce only 560 lbs. of dressed butcher's meat fit for ordinary sale; whereas the other beast of the first grade, equally weighing 10 cwt. live weight, would produce when killed 720 lbs. of dressed butcher's meat fit for the market. The noble Lord proposes to buy at live weight for the Army the beast that produces less meat. What is the difference that it will make in the price of meat for the Army? Take the noble Lords first price of 74s. for the cwt. The 10 cwt. beast would cost £37. If you are; taking the; second grade beast you will get only 560 lbs. of dressed meat from it. That works out at a cost of 1s. 4d. per lb. for the Army meat. If you take the prime beast at the same price—£37—the resulting meat works out at only 1s. a pound. Surely that is bad economy. It is not good economy at any time to take half prime or low grade beasts; and in the place of Plate meat, for which I venture to say yo are not or were not paying more than 7d. or 8d. per lb. delivered to the Army, you are going to substitute an arrangement by which you may be paying anything up to 1s. 4d. per lb. Surely the noble Lord might reconsider some of the proposals which have been put before us. I will not say that they have been rashly adopted, but I submit that there are some of them which deserve further and fuller consideration.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships long, but I must take up some of the observations which the noble Lord the Food Controller made in his speech this evening. He suggested that we did not, perhaps, fully appreciate the exceptional circumstances in which we are living. He asked us whether we knew how great was the industrial unrest, and added that the reports from the Commissioners were unanimously to the effect that the principal cause of that unrest was the high price of foodstuffs. Yes, we know all that as well as the Food Controller; and our criticism on him, and on his policy, and on the Government is not that in these circumstances they are taking measures which they never would think of taking in ordinary times, but because we believe that the measures they are taking are going to produce exactly contrary results to what they anticipate and desire. We believe 147 that this policy ending in a price of 60s. at Christmas—a policy so needlessly affecting he man with the best grade beasts, as Lord Harcourt has just pointed out—must result in a decrease of production and that this decrease of production will inevitably be followed in the months to come by an increase of price. We do not believe that you can rely so securely on your oversea supplies that you will be able to keep down the price of meat unless the supplies in this country are kept up. If you inflict upon the farmer a wholly undeserved loss, if you make him sell his beasts at a price which entails an absolute loss on those beasts, there can be no result but to decrease the production of beef. That is what we fear, and that is why we implore the noble Lord to reconsider the position.
I pointed out the other day that the only fair way of dealing with the case where, for State reasons, prices fixed resulted in a loss to the individual, was not to put the burden of the loss on the individual but to put that burden on the State. If the noble Lord and the Cabinet, for reasons of public policy, think it necessary to fix a price which must result in a loss to honest traders, then that loss ought to be borne by the taxpayer and not by the farmer. I think you were right in the circumstances in doing that in the case of bread. It cannot be fair to put this exceptional loss on the backs of the farmers. I also demur to the suggestion that has been made that the Board of Agriculture and Mr. Prothero have any responsibility for this policy except in the sense that I will indicate. There is nobody in your Lordships' House or in the other House of Parliament who believes that Mr. Prothero would have fixed the prices that have been fixed now. What has happened is this. Mr. Prothero has stated his views, and the Food Controller has stated his; the Cabinet has decided between them, and Mr. Prothero, as a loyal man, has to accept and to make the best of the decision of the Government. But that is a very different proposition from saying that he is responsible for the fixing of these prices.
I want to draw the attention of the noble Lord to this paragraph which appeared in to-day's Daily Telegraph. It is directly germane to the subject of meat production, though it deals with milk production—The milk producers of Baildon and Yeadon West Yorkshire) have received from the Ministry 148 of Food a drastic and peremptory order which has given them an unpleasant surprise. At a conference with representatives of the Ministry of Food last week they declared that unless they were permitted to charge 1s. 5d. per gallon, instead of the regulation price of 1s. 2d., they would close down their business. Each producer has now received an order from the Ministry demanding that he shall not sell or otherwise dispose of any milk cow or cows in his possession at the date of the order, that in effect he shall continue to conduct his business as heretofore in every particular, and sell his milk at a price not exceeding 1s. 2d. per gallon.—that is, whether at a profit or at a loss. I say to the noble Lord opposite, if he has done that, if he proceeds on that tack—let him be under no misapprehension—he will produce an absolute disaster in the food production in this country. Does he think that he can treat the Labour Party in that way? He cannot treat the farmers in that way. And if he attempts to drive them—honest men who have been doing their best in reply to the demands of the Prime Minister to assist the country in a time of need to raise food—if he thinks he can force them to carry on a business at a loss, well he cannot do it; and he will produce exactly that same resistance amongst the farmers of the country as he knows quite well he would produce amongst the trade unions if he tried to treat those unions in that way. You cannot drive Englishmen, but you can lead them. You can appeal to their patriotic instincts. You can ask them to do their best. But if you ask any man, be he a coalowner or a farmer, be he a miner or an agricultural labourer, to do a thing which must result in a loss to him and you do not come forward and help with the taxpayers' money, he will regard it as an injustice and will not respond. I do most seriously implore the noble Lord not to think for one moment that it is on those lines that he can get the farmers of this country to produce the greatest amount of food.
§ LORD RHONDDA
My Lords, by the permission of the House I should like to reply to the criticisms of the noble Lords who have spoken since I last sat down. The noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, referred to the scheme for Army purchases that had been agreed by a Committee consisting of representatives of the Food Controller's Department, the Board of Agriculture, and a couple of other members, and it appears to have been assumed that this scheme has been set aside. That scheme has not been set aside. It is the scheme which we propose 149 to put into operation for the Army. I do not know how the noble Viscount came to think that it had been set aside.
§ LORD RHONDDA
His speech seemed to imply that he thought it had been set aside. I have not the scheme with me, and I do not know whether in any case it would be wise to make it public. The number of cattle to be slaughtered under that scheme is 250,000.
§ LORD RHONDDA
It is 10 per cent. of the usual slaughtering during the year, I think. Then the noble Viscount said that he had read my statement of last Thursday very carefully, and I think he added that he had marked it. He referred to the confusion and overlapping that he said must result from having three committees dealing with the same matter. I can assure the noble Viscount that he cannot have read my statement very carefully, because if he looks again at what I said he will see that it was proposed to set up only one committee. These are the words I used in this connection—Each local authority will be asked to appoint a food control committee consisting of not more than twelve members. The committee should probably consist partly, but need not wholly consist, of members of the local authority. It will be a committee of the local authority, and will report to it from time to time….We propose to instruct the local authority to appoint one representative of labour and to have one woman on the committee, and we suggest that they should use the assistance as far as possible of the cooperative societies and other retail agencies.
The noble Viscount then asked me why my Department were not prepared to fix the price to the retail butcher. I thought I had answered that question several times already by stating that we propose to fix the prices from the producer downwards. I do not think it would be at all fair to put any one of the distributing agencies in the hands of either the wholesale dealer or the producer. The noble Viscount then referred to the fact that in ordinary times if a farmer in this country grew only half a crop he would get, owing to the relations of supply and demand, a higher price. In 150 these days I do not know to what extent that is exactly the case. Because the price of corn in this country depends upon the price of imported corn. Four-fifths of our supply of corn is imported, and it is that four-fifths which regulates the price of the other one-fifth or the whole. Consequently in these times if the crop is only half a crop it does not necessarily mean that prices rise.
Lord Balfour of Burleigh asked me wherein was the fairness of fixing such a price, even in September and October, as might lead to a loss to the farmer who in the legitimate course of business had bought his store cattle at a high price. I should have liked, had it been practicable, to have met that case by asking the State to pay the loss, whatever it was, and to have fixed prices accordingly. It was my original view, I must confess, to fix the price at 60s. for September and to have compensated the farmer for any loss he might sustain in the ordinary course of business. But I was assured by those who are in a better position to know that such a scheme would be impracticable. It would have been greatly abused, and it could not have been worked out in practice. That is my answer to the noble Lord. If it could have been done, I should have preferred it. As an alternative we fixed the price higher in September in order to give the farmer an opportunity of getting out without a loss, or with as little loss as possible. If I may say so, Lord Harcourt has raised a question of high politics. He asked why we are going to use home-grown meat instead of imported meat as we have been doing for the Army hitherto. It would not be wise for me to go into details on that point.
§ LORD RHONDDA
The Army has depended on mutton from Australia and beef from the Argentine. Now we propose, owing to possible difficulties that may arise in the future in connection with a shortage of tonnage, or not sufficient tonnage being available for the purpose, to get a larger reserve for Army purposes than we have at the present time. We have a substantial store. But in view of possible contingencies in the future we think we should look ahead.
The noble Viscount also asked whether the same quantity of surplus of imported 151 Argentine meat will be released in the future for civilian purposes. I am not able to answer that question at the moment. The whole position is being considered. Again this will depend to some extent on the amount of the importation and the quantity available; and if the noble Viscount will permit me, I will defer any further reply on this point at present. Lord Harcourt then went into some figures. I am afraid I did not follow them closely. I do not know that I quite appreciate his line of argument as to the relation of first-grade to second-grade cattle and the dead weight and live weight prices. He said that an animal which cost £37 would be sold to the Army under our scheme at 1s. 4d. per lb. They are called second-grade cattle, but the reason we are buying these is that they are the cattle the Army prefers. The complaint made by noble Lords thoughout the whole course of this debate has been that we are paying too low a price for the cattle. Now the noble Viscount comes forward and suggests that we are paying too high a price.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
What I tried to make clear was this. By buying live weight you had two animals from which to choose, both of the same live weight; and if you chose to buy the second-grade beast of the same live weight as the first-grade beast you would get less available meat for the Army out of the former, but you would have to pay the same price as you would for the better grade. The noble Lord says the authorities will take only second-grade cattle for the Army. I cannot believe, when the Army purchasers look round the country for 250,000 cattle to be killed in five months and come to a farm on which there are seven second-grade and three first-grade beasts, that they are going to make a selection between the two. If I know their habits at all, they will take the lot.
§ LORD RHONDDA
In regard to what they take, they will be acting under the instructions of the authorities. I have stated the grade of cattle required for the Army. That, I understand, is the degree of primeness, if I may use the expression, that the Army requires. If we had arranged that the Army buyers should take the best animals, naturally we should have had to fix a higher price, which would be no saving whatever to the country.
§ VISCOUNT HARCOURT
The noble Lord might have taken what he wanted at dead weight and not a live weight. That would have been a more economical process.
§ LORD RHONDDA
I should like next to correct a misapprehension which the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, appears to be labouring under. He said that the Cabinet had decided as between the Board of Agriculture and myself what the prices should be. The noble Earl is wrong in that respect. As I said last Thursday—and I repeated it to-day—the prices were agreed upon between the Board of Agriculture, the Irish Secretary, the Scottish Secretary, and myself, and they were then submitted to the Cabinet for confirmation. But they were agreed prices between the Departments before they were submitted to the Cabinet.
§ LORD RHONDDA
It is mine, and I happen to have the knowledge. I think it was so stated by the President of the Board of Agriculture in the House of Commons yesterday.
§ LORD RHONDDA
I happen to know. Then the noble Earl referred to the action of the farmers in the Yeadon district in Yorkshire in refusing to sell milk at the price fixed by the Ministry of Food, and he said that if such procedure was going to be taken by the Ministry it would lead to endless trouble throughout the country. Does the noble Earl mean to suggest that Orders made by a Government Department are to be ignored at the free will of any farmer who wishes to do so?
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
No. I am glad that the noble Lord has put the question in that way, which shows that he quite misunderstood me. What I say is, that he can fix a price and that the price when fixed must be observed, but he cannot compel a farmer to go on doing business in that particular line.
§ LORD RHONDDA
Then I misunderstood the noble Earl. What I lay down very emphatically is that when an Order is made by the Food Controller it will have to be kept whether it concerns a farmer or anybody else.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I agree. Do not let there be any misunderstanding. If the noble Lord says that milk is to be sold at 1s. a gallon, I have either to sell my milk at that price or go out of the business. What I say is that the noble Lord cannot keep me in the business if I am working at a loss. And let me add this. It is quite impossible for the noble Lord or for any Government Department to farm all the farms in England. You have to work through the farmers. Therefore you must treat them with the same consideration that you would give to Labour.