HL Deb 13 November 1917 vol 26 cc958-64

LORD HARRIS had the following Questions on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether—

  1. 1. It is the case that brewers are allowed to give 5s. more per quarter of barley than are millers;
  2. 959
  3. 2. This does not hamper millers in the addition of the compulsory ingredients of flour for baking; and
  4. 3. Consequently bakers from supplying the most wholesome bread;
  5. 4. What object is gained by the prohibition; and
  6. 5. Whether protests have been lodged by War Agricultural Committees.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the matters which I have put in the form of Questions might safely, I think, have been put as matters of fact; and, assuming that this is the case, and that under the authority of the Department concerned brewers are entitled to give 5s. more per quarter for barley than are millers, I hope the noble Lord who is in charge of the Department will be able to tell the public why there should be any preference given to one trade more than to another. I understand that the position is that holders of good barley, who are entitled to try and get the higher price from the preferred trade, are naturally withholding their best barley in order to get that price; whereas the miller, who, for the first or at any rate the second time in recent history, has been compelled to use barley as a substitute for wheat in making up the 20 per cent. of substitutes for standard flour, is prevented by this prohibition from getting the best quality of standard flour. The baker, in turn, is thereby prevented from producing the best quality of standard bread. I am advised that there is a great deal of indignation felt at this Order. I hope that the noble Lord (Lord Rhondda) will be able to give your Lordships a satisfactory explanation of an arrangement which it is certainly difficult to understand. One knows, of course, that before the war, and before this Executive action became necessary, brewers were always prepared to give the very best price for the very best barley, but in those days it was not necessary for the miller to buy the best barley in order to make the very best bread. He did not want it then, but he does now; and he does not understand why, in the case of such a very necessary article of consumption as bread, the miller and the baker should be prevented from producing the very best article.


My Lords, the Questions put by the noble Lord raise matters of considerable public interest, and my Department has had a number of inquiries made in reference to them. I have had a special Memorandum prepared on the subject, because I regard it as a matter of great importance that the public should know exactly the reasons that have actuated my Department in the action it has taken; and with the indulgence of the House I propose to read the Memorandum. I do not know that it will altogether satisfy the criticism made by the noble Lord, but at any rate it is the considered reply of the Ministry of Food on the points which he has raised

The answer to the first Question is, of course, in the affirmative. The Grain (Prices) Order (August 14, 1917) provides that where barley is bought by a person requiring and holding a licence from the Food Controller granted for the purpose of enabling him to use barley for a manufacturing business carried on by him, or by a recognised dealer specifically buying for re-sale to such a person, the maximum price shall be ascertained by adding 5s. 3d. per quarter to the standard rate. The prices mentioned in the Order were fixed in agreement with the Board of Agriculture, and the object of this permitted addition was to encourage farmers to continue to grow the types of barley which, under normal conditions, have always fetched the highest prices. Some such provision was necessary, as these types of barley do not necessarily produce the heaviest yield per acre, and it was thought that if all barley was sold at one price certain types might go out of cultivation and the stock be lost to the country.

The types of barley for which maltsters and brewers have been accustomed to pay the highest prices are not necessarily the types most suitable for use by millers. Maltsters and brewers attach considerable importance to the colour of barley. The colour, combined with the quality of the skin, indicates the quality of the extract that it may be expected will be obtained from the resulting malt. In practice, maltsters and brewers have always paid highest prices for bright, thin-skinned barley of fine quality, and have attached more importance to the quality, as judged from the brewing standard, than to the size of the berry or the quantity of extract yielded by the malt. On the other hand, the type of barley most suitable for milling is a large-berried barley of mild quality, even if the barley be weathered and stained, as it is this type that yields the highest percentage of flour and from which it is most, easy to mill the flour.

Under normal conditions the largest supply of barley comes to market in the month of November, so that there would ordinarily be now offering sufficient quantities to enable maltsters and brewers to select those samples most suitable for their trade, and millers to obtain ample supplies of good, sound barley of the type most suitable for milling. Owing to the lateness of the season and the shortage of labour threshing has proceeded this year more slowly than usual; and it is for this reason that maltsters and brewers have appeared to take an undue proportion of the barley now offered for sale. Maltsters are naturally anxious to obtain their strictly limited supplies of barley as early as possible, especially as, owing to the wet harvest, the barley has to be kiln-dried and stored for several weeks before it is fit for malting. It does not, however, appear that this temporary difficulty has seriously affected the supplies required for admixture with wheaten flour, and millers have been notified that if they experience any difficulty in obtaining adequate supplies of home-grown barley of the 1917 crop they can be supplied with kiln-dried barley of the 1916 crop or with barley imported by the Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies.

It is expected that, so soon as threshing becomes more general, any difficulty experienced by millers in obtaining an adequate supply of barley will disappear. In any case the quantity of barley which maltsters and brewers will be licensed to use during the cereal year will be strictly limited to the quantity required to produce the permitted output of beer. Maltsters and brewers are not permitted to pay higher prices than millers for any barley in excess of the quantity they are licensed to malt, so that as soon as they have secured their licensed quantity millers will have the market to themselves.

In answer to Lord Harris's last point, I am informed that only two War Agricultural Committees have drawn the attention of my Department to the fact that maltsters and brewers are permitted to pay a higher price for barley than millers.


My Lords, the explanation to which we have just listened is a highly technical one, and I confess that I do not see that the noble Lord has given any satisfactory explanation why the miller should not be allowed to buy the best barley if he wants to do so. It is obvious from the communications which have been received from, at any rate, two Agricultural War Committees that there are millers who want to buy the best barley. Why, then, should not they be allowed to do so? There is nothing in the noble Lord's answer which gives any explanation of the reason why his Department, on its own initiative, has chosen to give preference a thing which stinks in the nostrils of every Government Department. Why has this Department of the Government chosen to give preference to this abhorred trade, enabling brewers to buy a better quality of bailey than millers are allowed to buy, although the latter are providing the most necessary article of food for the public? I confess that the answer of the noble Lord seems to me most disappointing.


My Lords, I should like to support the plea which has just been made by the noble Lord, my neighbour in the County of Kent. Surely at this moment nothing is more necessary than that there should be an ample supply of barley for the millers, in order that there may be a sufficiency of bread in the country. The colleagues of the noble Lord are constantly telling us that it is most important that we should be economical in our consumption of bread. Yet here is the noble Lord himself encouraging the brewers to buy the barley which, surely, would be much better used in the manufacture of bread.

The noble Lord gave us no indication that he had the least sympathy with his colleague of the Ministry, Sir Arthur Yapp, whose admonitions yesterday all members of this House will be only too anxious to obey. At the same time the noble Lord must acknowledge that it is very difficult for us to realise, while anxious for economy in the consumption of bread, that the Department itself entertains the same anxiety, seeing that it encourages the brewers to use this barley, which could be so much better employed. I venture to hope that the noble Lord will give some indication to the House that he is willing to reconsider this matter, and perhaps to issue an amended Order before it is too late.


My Lords, as far as I understand the noble Lord at the head of the Food Control Department, the reason why there were two prices given for the barley was that there were two sorts of barley required, and that the larger price was given in order to prevent what we might call the "pale ale" barley going out of cultivation; but that the barley required for bread was not of the same class, and of that there is no deficit. The requirements of the brewer are earlier and are bought earlier. I understand from the noble Lord the Food Controller that there is no deficit and will be no deficit of the barley more suitable for bread but unsuitable for pale ale.

LORD RHONDDA nodded assent.

House adjourned at five minutes before five o'clock.