§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE rose to call attention to the prospects of food production in Great Britain in the harvests of 1918 and 1919; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Motion that I have upon the Paper may be considered as a supplement to the debate which we had in this House during the proceedings on the Corn Production (Amendment) Bill. I do not, of course, propose to repeat what I then said, except to remind your Lordships that I look at this question exclusively from the point of national safety and of winning the war. I should like to remind your Lordships that the importance of this matter of feeding the people will not end with the termination of the war. The problem will be with us, altogether apart from any question of future policy, until normal conditions can be restored and our shipping has again risen to its proper tonnage. Therefore the period of stress, in my judgment, will be prolonged long after the war; and the importance of that observation consists in this, that some of my noble friends who 1057 have felt it their duty to criticise the ploughing policy of the Government have seemed to me to forget that the value of a ploughing is not to be measured only by the results achieved in the first year. It is very possible that some of the ploughings that took place this year were completed too late, and that the crop to be derived from that arable land this year will represent a smaller production of foodstuff than the hay gathered from that land this year would have represented if the land had not been ploughed. But that land will be most valuable next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. Therefore I would make, as the first point, that every ploughing has great importance beyond this year's result.
§ I hope that the speech which the President of the Board of Agriculture made in the House of Commons last week has been widely read, because I do not think any noble Lord can fairly judge the policy of the Board of Agriculture or its results unless they have read that speech. I can only say that in my opinion the story which the President was then able to tell is the story of a great performance, and also, I think, it has been done at an extraordinarily cheap rate—that is to say, cheap as measured not by our standard of economy before the war but as measured by any of the performances of any other Government Department during this war. If you contrast what the Food Production Department has done, and the cost, with what the Food Control Department has done and the cost, I venture to say that the comparison is very greatly in favour of the Board of Agriculture.
I only here want to draw your Lordships' attention to one sentence in Mr. Prothero's speech. He said—
The result of the work of the executive war agricultural committees has been not only a great increase in the area of arable land, but a most substantial improvement in the general standard of farming throughout the country.
I draw attention to that because it certainly is contrary to the impression of many critics of the Government, but it entirely tallies with the result of my own limited observations. I would say that the pressure of the Department, of the war agricultural committees, and the help which we got from the Army last year by the intervention of my noble friend now sitting on the Front Bench—the Secretary of State for War (Viscount Milner)—com-
bined with an extraordinarily favourable season last autumn, winter and spring, resulted in the raising of the standard of cultivation very greatly throughout England and Wales.
§ My noble friend Lord Chaplin the other day asked Lord Clinton to give the figures of the increased acreage of wheat, barley, and oats and we have those in Hansard. I have endeavoured to form an estimate of what that means as an addition to the produce of the land last year in the three same crops of cereals. I think that we may fairly take an estimate of an average crop of wheat and barley, but I am convinced that we ought to be very cautious in our estimate of the yield of oats, particularly because a very large proportion of the oats—a far larger proportion than the additional acreage—will have been grown on the freshly ploughed land Forming the best estimate that I can make on that basis of those three crops, wheat, barley, and oats, we should get about 30,000,000 quarters of corn from England and Wales alone, and that not reckonng the rye, the beans, or the peas, or anything from Ireland or Scotland. I think this is a very remarkable performance, and I do not think that the result will be very far short of that, on one condition—that the Government find the labour for the farmers with which to get in the harvest.
§ I am glad to see the Secretary of State for War here, because it really comes back to him, and to what the Army can do. There is no other source from which the men for the harvest can come. These men will be wanted more than ever owing to the result of this wet weather. These three weeks of wet have done far more good than harm, but the result has been to log a great quantity of the oats and the wheat, and the harvest will be difficult. Therefore the help of men from the Army to get in the crops will be as important this year as it was last year. I want again to remind the Government of the results of their action in helping us last year. Had it not been for the help coming from the Army last year the harvest never could have been got in, nor could the cultivation which has resulted in the harvest of this year have been undertaken. Therefore I date the success of the policy of the Board of Agriculture so far— and I think it has been successful—from the moment when Lord Milner came to our assistance, and in our dire need gave us the men who 1059 alone have made these results possible. On the top of that help came the good season.
§ Since then a difficulty has been caused which really is at the root, I do not say of all but of a very large proportion, of the criticism levelled at the ploughing policy. It is the sole cause of the sudden stopping of that ploughing policy. I refer to the withdrawal of 30,000 men from the land, of whom a great proportion were key men. I shall have something to say about that presently. What I want to bring to the notice of the Government now is the matter that I have privately mentioned to the Secretary of State, and that is the extraordinary difficulty of getting back on to the land men who are no longer fit for fighting. When the Government decide that they must take away our men they can act very swiftly and effectively, as we found only too well to our cost last month and the month before. But when it comes to getting back on to the land men who are classed as no longer fit for fighting, it is an extraordinarily difficult thing. I personally have been trying to get back three men from my parish for three months past, and I am no nearer getting one of them to-day than I was when I started. I know that this is the experience of other people. There is no reason why the process should be as cumbersome as it is. I have had a correspondence on the subject with my noble friend Lord Stanhope, and he knows the points to which I wish to draw his attention and the attention of Lord Milner; but I assure you the process is as cumbersome and slow as the process of taking the men from the land is rapid and direct.
§ Having now given the Government my own estimate, I want to ask them if they will give us a cautious estimate of the extent of our national self-sufficiency in the matter of food, after the coming harvest and for the year 1918–19 in wheat, barley, oats, potatoes, hay, meat, and milk. Then, if possible, I want them to go further and to give us their estimate of the degree of sell-sufficiency that will be required after the harvest of 1919. I ask for that quite irrespectively of any suggestion as to whether the war will be ended or not, because I believe that the national need of homegrown foodstuffs will be almost, if not quite, as great if the war has come to an end as if it has not come to an end. I want also to ask—a matter intimately connected with that question—for any information 1060 that the Government can give us as to the prospects of shipbuilding. Of course I do not ask for any figures that will convey information to the Germans which it is not to the interest of our country that they should have. But I do ask for any information which can be properly and safely given, because we have great misgivings on the subject. We have had large promises from time to time here and in the United States, and the fulfilment of those promises, so far as I know, lags very far behind.
§ But I would make this prophecy with confidence—that whatever estimate the Government may make now of tonnage to be created in the immediate future, the results of that forecast are sure to be disappointing. In the first place, these estimates have a wonderful way of not being fulfilled; and, in the second place, if the estimate is fulfilled, what is going to be the first use to which that tonnage is put? Why, to support the American Army in France. That is going to be the great military problem of the immediate future —not getting the American Army over to France, for that has been solved so far in a most astonishing way owing to the efficiency of the British Navy and the American Navy. But the problem of feeding that Army and supplying it when it is in France is a tremendous problem, and I venture to prophesy that all the increased tonnage that can be created both here and in America will be utilised in that task, and not mainly in bringing food for the people of this country.
§ I wish also to reiterate my warning against any estimate that we are at the end of the submarine trouble. I believe nothing whatever of the sort. That trouble has from the very commencement gone in waves, and it will continue to go in waves. At the present moment, apparently, the defence has got the better of the attack; it is more than likely that before the end of this year the attack will again get the better of the defence, and you will see the figures of tonnage loss mount high. For these reasons I suggest that the estimate of self-sufficiency for the future must be put at a high level by the Government if they want to exercise the ordinary prudence of statesmen in a national crisis. It is for this reason that I said the other night, and I repeat again to-night, that I think the Government would be very rash if they made any promise now that they would 1061 require no additional ploughing in the future. I see that the President of the Board of Agriculture guarded himself in the House of Commons, and I hope Lord Clinton will guard himself to-night. I believe that more land will have to be ploughed before we come out of this trouble safely. But it all comes back to the question of labour, as I will show presently.
§ Before I deal with the question of labour I want to touch on the auxiliaries of labour. Take the question of motor tractors—a subject about which Mr. Prothero spoke at length in the House of Commons and gave a very interesting description of what has been done. We must all admit that the use of motor tractors and the question of the best type is still in the experimental stage, and the whole organisation has to be started from the beginning. But I want to make this point to the Government, and it is made as the result of personal observation, that a very great deal can be done by better organisation of the tractor service. With all these tractors at work I do not think nearly as much work is being got out of them as ought to be got out of them, or can be got next season by better organisation; and the service has cost a great deal too much. Up to now the Government have charged the farmer £1 an acre for the use of a tractor.
§ I had two of those tractors at different times. One of them was run by two men, and better men I could not wish to see. They knew their job, they worked very hard, and did their work excellently. The other one was run by six men, and a more scandalous exhibition of waste of Government money and of time I have never seen in my life. Four of these men were sent to learn. The man who was sent to teach them was a wholly unfit man to have anything to do with a tractor at all. He simply took as long over his job as it was possible for him to take; he had relations a few miles away, and I cannot describe to you the scandal of the way that this team worked, or the waste of public money. I do not say that this was typical, but it was a very bad case. It has not been the only case, and the question is ones of organisation—who is to control these men, and how are they to be controlled? Up to now these men have been hired out to the county council but not controlled by the county council; they have been under military control, and that control was really no control—perfectly worthless.1062
§ I think that the remedy lies in giving somehow the control to the county councils, with properly appointed officers in charge of each group of tractors. I suggest to the Government that the remedy is not to raise the price to the farmer to a high figure. I do not say that it might not be necessary or fair to increase the price from 20s., but I am sure that if the price is raised (as I understand it is to be) to nearly 40s. an acre—well, the farmers will not use the tractors. I am certain that it cannot pay a farmer to use these tractors at a price of nearly £2 per acre; therefore, however the organisation may be improved, or however many tractors there may be, if the Government charge what a farmer will consider to be a prohibitive price the tractors will not do the work which we hope they will do. Then I should like to ask my noble friend to tell us what arrangements have been mate for the supply of fertilisers, of feeding stuffs, and of machinery. All those things are essential if the greatest production is to be got out of the land next year.
§ I want to say one further word about prices. I hope the new Food Controller will remember that the really important thing is to get a maximum of production at a reasonable price to the consumer. It is a great mistake, I think, to look too closely at the profits of the best farmer. The best farmer will always make the best profits in any given circumstances, and it may well be that, at present prices or at prices which may be fixed, the best farmers will do very well for themselves. But the best farmers, the men of brain and of capital and of energy, are a very small proportion of the whole farming class, as they are of any other class; and if you want to get the maximum of production out of the average farmer, who is usually quite a small man—remember that 80 per cent. of the farmers of this country farm under 150 acres—you must give them what they will consider to be a fair price; because what might be a fair price to the best farmer might be a price out of which they could not make a living; therefore to get the maximum production of the country you must think of the average farmer and not of the best farmer.
§ Now, if the Government cannot ensure us the labour, the fertilisers, the feeding-stuffs, and the machinery, then I admit that they are right in stopping their policy of additional ploughing; because without 1063 those things there will be no use in ploughing fresh land. If more production is required, the first thing to do is to clean and to fertilise the land that is ploughed. There is, in my opinion, much less foul land to-day than there was a year ago. Mr. Prothero evidently thinks the same, and he has a far greater opportunity for judgment than I have. It is only after we have done this, that, if the labour is forthcoming, the policy of additional ploughing could be safely resumed. I have already said that I believe we shall come to that; but I am entirely with my noble friend Lord Chaplin and others—although there are some points of disagreement between them and me as to the general policy—in thinking that without the labour the thing is impossible.
§ I wonder whether the Government are altogether pleased to-day about having taken away those 30,000 men from the land. They acted in a crisis, and the responsibility was on them to decide whether those men were mostly wanted on the land or in the Army. I wonder whether they realised as completely then as they probably realise now that, when they took those men in the very critical days of May, they would not be available for the fighting line for three or four or five months; and I also wonder very much whether they would not wish that those men were now on the land rather than in the training depôts. However, the responsibility was on them and they had to come to a decision; but the decision was absolutely fatal to the policy which up to that moment we had been told on the authority of the Prime Minister was essential for the safety of the country.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Yes. That was to get to the nearest point of self-sufficiency possible. I believed the Prime Minister then, and I believe now that this is true; and it is for that reason that I bitterly regret the loss of these men from the land, with the consequent necessity of suspending for the time the policy of additional corn production.
My last question to the Government is to ask for the programme of 1919. That programme, of course, cannot be as ambitious as it would have been some weeks ago, now that the policy of plough- 1064 ing more land has been suspended. But it does not follow from this that there must not be a policy. We want to know what crops are mostly required. We want to know what steps the Government are going to take, on the lines that I have indicated, to assist the farmers to make the utmost they can of the land that is ploughed. On that subject Mr. Prothero was silent in the House of Commons. He told us only that the policy of ploughing was suspended for the time. He indicated very clearly his view that the point of national safety had not yet been reached, although we were much nearer to it than we were a year ago; but he did not tell us what he was expecting the farmers to do next year—what crops to grow and at what to aim.
Now, it is very necessary for the farmers to know this. They are, as my noble friend and the whole House know, most anxious to do all they can to help the Government, and they have shown it in every way; but at the present time all they know is that a policy which they had been told to expect—and which I admit was not very popular with them—has been suspended. They have not been told what is expected from them. If the Government are to get the most they can out of the land, they must not only make their own organisation and their own preparation, but they must take the farmers into their confidence. I beg to move.
§ LORD LEE OF FAREHAM
My Lords, I ask the special indulgence of your Lordships, not merely because I am addressing you for the first time, but because the speech that I have to make has to be something in the nature of a personal explanation, dealing with a subject in which I fear I am not likely to elicit the sympathy of at any rate the majority in this House. At the same time I feel that it is only respectful to your Lordships' House that I should take the earliest opportunity of explaining why it is that I have felt it my duty to resign the office [Director-General of the Food Production Department] which I lately held. I have already indicated in the Press that it was owing to serious difference of opinion with regard to policy with my right hon. friend the President of the, Board of Agriculture; and I am glad, as I said in that letter, that this difference of opinion should not in any way have affected our cordial personal relations.
But I may, perhaps, be allowed to explain this with regard to what I have 1065 been doing. For the past year and a-half I have been responsible for the administration of the Food Production Department, and for carrying on as an executive officer the food production policy which was settled by the War Cabinet a little over a year ago. I am well aware that that policy is not popular—cannot be popular—amongst either landlords or tenants, and it certainly has been no pleasant duty for me to override in many cases the wishes and interests of others of my fellow-countrymen; but I should like to make it plain that I have not been engaged in any sort of private piratical enterprise, but in carrying out what was described at the time as an absolute national necessity. My orders were within the limits of the programme to push the production of corn and potatoes to the utmost limit that was possible—not as a measure of good husbandry or of the improvement of agriculture in this country, but in order to avert what was then felt to be a grave national peril—the peril of scarcity and possible famine.
The programme which was drawn up by the Food Production Department and approved by the Board of Agriculture and the Cabinet was frankly a war measure, and I have always proceeded in the belief that whilst the situation may have eased a little now and again—it is not only at this moment that it appears to be easier, but there were moments last year when the hopes and fears fluctuated with regard to the food position—one ought to aim at nothing less than in the last resort making this country as nearly self-supporting as possible in the matter of food-stuffs, and particularly of bread-stuffs. I have en-deavoured to carry out these orders, and at any rate to a certain extent I think the Food Production Department may claim that it has, to use a common phrase, "delivered the goods." That is so far as the programme of 1917 and 1918 is concerned.
Now I come to 1919. I would ask your Lordships to note somewhat carefully the sequence of events, because they very much affect not only my personal position but the causes which led to my resignation. The Proclamation cal ling up the 30,000 men was issued on April 28. The maintenance programme, by which I mean a programme which provided that the corn production of next year should not fall below the corn production of this year—my noble friend, Lord Selborne, asked what was the pro- 1066 gramme? That was the programme. Not a very ambitious one, but necessitated by the labour conditions—this was approved on May 30, a month after the Proclamation calling up the labour. The Food Production Department and county committees at once set to work to carry out that programme. A re-organisation was effected, and various requisites to carry out the programme were ordered. Towards the end of June, so important was the programme considered to be, that certain additional powers and status were conferred upon the Director-General of the Food Production Department, and incidentally at about the same moment I had the honour of becoming a member of your Lordships' House.
This brought us to the beginning of July, and during the whole of the first week of July I was in full belief that the programme was to proceed full steam ahead; that I was entering upon a new spell, I will not say of usefulness but at any rate of activity, in connection with this work; that whilst the programme was necessarily elastic in its scope according to the supply of labour, there was a minimum which was approved by the Cabinet as well as a maximum; and the minimum was the maintenance programme, and it had also been approved that the Defence of the Realm powers which had hitherto been exercised by the agricultural executive committee should, of course subject to the consent of Parliament, be continued until the end of the war. It was on those understandings that I proceeded.
Now, my Lords, the first shock to me came on July 10, when I saw my noble friend Lord Clinton's Amendment on the Paper, put down on behalf of the Board of Agriculture, agreeing to modify the Corn Production (Amendment) Bill in such a way as to deprive agricultural executive committees of a very large part, if not the greater part, of the powers which they now exercise. That step seemed to me disastrous from the point of view of the work of the committees; but it was done, and I will say no more about it at the moment; because I see from what took place in the other House last night that the Board of Agriculture is, I think, alive to the danger, and is proposing to do what it can in order to put the matter right.
The second blow that came to me in connection with this matter was on July 15, when I received in a very curious way the intimation that the programme was 1067 dropped, and not only that, but dropped without consultation with me. It was not communicated to me that there had been any change of decision on the part of the Cabinet, but it was indicated to me in the form of a draft letter addressed to the county committees which was put before me and which I was required to sign and issue to the committees at once, in order that it might be sent out before the President of the Board of Agriculture met the Parliamentary deputation which was headed by Sir Frederick Banbury. I am afraid that I am not sufficiently flexible to do business in that way, and I had respectfully but firmly to decline to sign that letter. That was taken very properly as equivalent to my resignation, and I accepted it as such.
The reason for this sudden decision is unknown to me. It cannot have been the labour situation, because any change which there had been in the labour situation since the Cabinet had come to its decision to strengthen my powers had been, if anything, in the direction of improvement, because it had been agreed not to call up the whole of the 30,000 men at once, and some 16,000 additional hands of various kinds had been supplied to the land as against the 30,000 that were being taken away. It was not represented that the food position had become suddenly safe, nor was it represented in any way that the extra production was not needed. The sole reason, as far as I am aware, was the approach of the formidable deputation. And, if I may, I would like to extend my congratulations to the noble Lords and my late colleagues in the other place who blew such a mighty blast upon their trumpet that the walls of Jericho fell flat without further action. That I was myself buried in the ruins is only an incident. These two reversals of policy, as I take them to be—whether they were justified or not, they were reversals of policy combined, and they seemed to me not to be justified by the facts either of the labour situation or the Parliamentary situation—seemed to me so disastrous from a national point of view as well as from an administrative point of view, that, with the deepest regret, I felt myself unable to accept any responsibility for them. There I was not only the material effect, but the moral effect upon the whole organisation was, I venture to say, deplorable, and I should have been required in addition to everything else, to have demobilised to a large extent the new organisation which 1068 the Food Production Department had just been completing in order to carry out its task in a better and more expeditious manner.
With regard to the two specific points upon which I announced my resignation—namely, the questions of the relief land programme and the powers of the committees—I will not deal with the latter, because I assume there will be a further opportunity when the Bill returns from the Commons to your Lordships' House. I will only say this, that I believe those full powers to be absolutely necessary. There are, I know, a great number of people in this country who believe that if only the farmer is let alone he will achieve greater results. Well, my Lords, we tried the policy of letting the farmer alone for the first two years of the war, and the result was that the curve of production went steadily down until it reached a very low point indeed at the end of 1916. Then the policy of control was brought in under these Regulations, and there was at once an enormous rise in the scale of production until it has reached a point now which it has not touched before during this generation. This may be merely a coincidence, but I rather doubt it. I think that it is the result of control which, on the whole, has been fairly and intelligently exercised by the war agricultural committees; and certainly, if the policy for next year is to concentrate on existing arable and to raise the standard of farming, those powers of control in respect of the bad farmer are more necessary than ever they were, and should be continued.
At any rate, I only wish to say this—and I do ask the most earnest attention of your Lordships to this point—I know intimately the feelings and the position of these committees, of which there are over sixty throughout England and Wales, and I have received from every one of them during the last fortnight protests, couched in the strongest terms, against this proposal to limit their powers. I believe the results of crippling the committees for the period of the war will be to dishearten and destroy those bodies and cause the good men to leave them. They are all volunteers, after all. I do, therefore, most earnestly appeal to your Lordships to give fresh consideration to that most crucial point when the Bill returns.
Now, may I deal for one moment with a point with regard to what is called the 1069 relief land programme, about which there seemed to be some misapprehension in your Lordships' minds in the recent debate. The other day the President of the Board said that he stood between those who wished to plough up nothing and those who wished to plough up everything, and I see it is suggested that I belong to the school which wishes to plough up everything. There is really no foundation for that. I do not believe that, in the conditions which now exist with regard to labour, anything more than the maintenance of the programme is practical politics at the present time. We have at present 60 per cent, of our arable land growing corn as against an average of 51 per cent. That is too high a percentage to maintain, and we must endeavour to restore the proper rotations, as land which has been for two or more years growing corn crops must be cleaned and rested and roots grown upon it, or, in cases of some heavier land, must lie fallow. That process entails less corn next year unless fresh land is provided upon which to grow more corn, and that really is the need for the relief programme.
It has been said many times—I think my noble friend Lord Selborne said it to-day—Why not concentrate on the existing arable? But to produce the same amount of corn on the existing arable land requires a great deal more labour and a greater quantity of fertilisers than we possess, and every one knows, I think, that high farming means a heavy labour bill, and continuous corn growing means either high labour or very foul land. Therefore, if production is to be maintained—and that was the whole point of the programme—a certain amount of relief land must be provided. I think that this was agreed—in fact, I know it was agreed—by Mr. Prothero, but it was held (as I think it was by my noble friend Lord Selborne) that this is impracticable on account of the labour position. No one deplores more than I do the labour position, or rather the calling up of the 30,000 men. We did everything we could to avert it, and only when it was made clear to us that the military position required it did we acquiesce.
But, serious as the position is, there is no need to exaggerate it. After all, there are at the present time 830,000 men on the land in England and Wales, or there were before the 30,000 were called up, so that 800,000 remain and only one in twenty- 1070 eight have been taken. If we agree that one half of these 30,000 men are. "key" men, which I think is a fair assumption, and that the taking of any one of these key men from a farm means that that farm is rendered incapable of doing anything additional in the way of cultivation, that will only demobilise, so to speak, for further cultivation one and a-half million acres out of a total of 27,000,000. Twenty-five millions must be unaffected by this call-up of men. There are some 15,000,000 acres of grass remaining, and if we assume that only one-third, or 5,000,000 acres, is of a suitable kind for breaking up, our maintenance programme only suggested 500,000,, which is one-tenth, and I venture to believe, after receiving reports from the committees who are in touch with the problem, that that amount could have been found without any great difficulty or hardship. At any rate I am confident of this, that ii a call had been made on the farmers of this country they would have responded if they felt it was the national need.
It seems to me that the country has always been ready to make greater sacrifices than the Government have demanded of it, and the farmers are no exception. They have risen magnificently on every occasion to every call made on them, and I believe they would have responded successfully to this small additional call. Of course if this production is no longer vital, if it is not needed, then my whole case falls to the ground; but there I am entirely unconvinced. It is true that we have had some exceedingly comforting speeches during the last twenty-four hours. At the best we are relying very largely for our food upon America. It is not only a question of the submarine; there is only a certain surplus in America. If the next harvest in America is a bad harvest there will be no surplus, no food to send to this country. Lord Selborne mentioned the problem of feeding the American Army in France. Surely we ought to do what we can to save shipping in connection with that problem also. Therefore nothing has been said, or proved, which will sufficiently convince me that we ought not still to be striving for the maximum production that is possible, not as an agricultural policy but as a war measure of the greatest urgency.
Meanwhile what is the position of the farmer? I have the utmost sympathy with him in his trials, but, after all, his 1071 work is well in hand. Crops this year are very promising. As Lord Selborne has said, the land is as clean as it has been at any time since the beginning of the war, and we have an addition of over 2,000,000 acres growing corn and potato crops at the present time. No other country in the world has made an increase, and the farmer has every right to be proud of what he has done, and has earned his country's gratitude. I know it will be said that what we require are quarters, not acres. It has been said many a time, and I would really ask your Lordships to believe—only yesterday, or two days ago, I had facilities for getting reports from every part of the country—that it is really sad nonsense to say that the condition of the crops on the new land, speaking generally, is bad. The consensus of qualified evidence is exactly the reverse. It has been a bad year in some respects—slugs, leather jackets, and spring drought—but on the whole the Spring corn is perhaps better on the new land than it is on the old. And remember this, the failures (of which there are always some) have been exceedingly well advertised. They have lost nothing in the telling or enumeration, whereas, generally speaking, the prospects of the crops are increasingly promising. Wheat is better than it has been for a generation, and it is quite as much above the average as oats and barley can be below. All the evidence of all the Departments concerned—I saw it in The Times this morning—is that this year's crops will be, if anything, above the average in yield.
I must apologise to your Lordships for detaining you at such length, but I have very little more to say. With regard to the yield of crops, Lord Selborne asks the Government to make known the conservative estimate as to what that means in the way of food. I am aware that certain criticism has been directed against the Food Production Department on account of the estimate which it made itself some few months ago, and in which it said that, given certain conditions (which were clearly defined) and the emergency was great enough, there would be forty weeks bread-stuffs, probably, available from the harvest of this year. I say that this was not an exaggeration, although it was deliberately an extreme estimate. It was based on a series of assumptions, which were given, and it represented what could be done in case of dire necessity—what, for example, Germany could do under similar circum- 1072 stances, and what she will have to do if she is to avoid starvation. It was a calculation which is full of significance for her, and was largely framed for that purpose. The assumptions were extreme; it is possible to take extremely conservative assumptions—that all the barley, or only a small portion of the barley and oats, will be used for flour, and none of the potatoes; that the standard of milling will be lowered in order to provide more stuffs (a very proper policy), the scale of consumption will be less restricted, and allowing a large margin for disappointment and accident. If you make that kind of estimate you may produce one of twenty weeks. The two things are quite compatible, and I make no apology for the estimate which was issued. In fact, I make no apology at all for the food production policy or the Food Production Department. Lord Selborne was good enough to say that it had been carried on very cheaply. I thank him for that. But if it had been very expensive it would have been thoroughly justified.
In this connection may I say that a great deal too much credit for what has been done in the Department has been given to me, and a great deal too little to my colleagues with whom I have worked. They have discharged an extremely difficult, delicate, and unpleasant task, for a year and a-half with the utmost ability, and scant justice so far has been done to their achievements in any public speech, statement, or Report, that has been issued. As between them I cannot pick and choose, but I do say that they have been engaged in a national work, the greatness of which will, I hope, some day be known; and I cannot refrain from testifying to the energy, the efficiency, and the single-minded zeal with which their arduous task has been cheerfully undertaken and successfully carried through by every section and grade of the Department over which I have had the honour to preside. I venture to say that a more patient, indefatigable, and devoted body of men and women have never served the State, and my deepest regret in resigning my office is in parting my co-operation with them.
The last word I wish to say is this. Speaking as a strong supporter of the Government, I regret deeply that I have felt it necessary to dissolve my partnership with my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Agriculture. The differences between us on policy were serious, but I 1073 shall always feel grateful for the opportunity and the privilege of having assisted him in the great crusade with which his name will always be associated, and which will find its triumphant vindication in the harvest which is now approaching.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (LORD CLINTON)
My Lords, may I, in the first place, offer my congratulations to the noble Lord who has just sat down on the admirable speech that he has delivered on his first appearance in your Lordships' House. We are all sorry that this speech has had to be made in respect of his own resignation. That resignation, I know, is very much regretted. We, at all events, in the Board of Agriculture—and I think that generally throughout the country it is so—acknowledge to the fullest degree the great service which the noble Lord as head of the Food Production Department has rendered to the country. He has been indefatigable in his work, and we shall be very much the poorer for his loss.
There is, perhaps, one word that I might say with regard to the details which the noble Lord gave leading up to his resignation, because I think that there may have been some misunderstanding upon that point. I do not know that it is very important, but he told your Lordships that at the end of June, or during the first part of July, he received his first intimation of the change of programme. It certainly is understood that notification was sent to the noble Lord of the meeting between the President of the Board and the Government on June 26, in which it was plainly shown what the full consequences of the comb-out of the 30,000 men would be. The Government were fully acquainted with the situation. They knew the amount of skilled labour which would be taken, and it was made quite clear to them that the output of food in 1919 could not be increased, and possibly could not be maintained. But in spite of that the decision to take the men was confirmed on account of the imperative military necessity. Of course, this at once put the programme out of gear. I allude to this fact because there seems to be some discrepancy in dates between the time at which the noble Lord was first acquainted with the alteration in the programme and the time at which it was understood that notification was sent to him.
§ LORD CLINTON
I am not aware of any further decision. It was made quite clear at that time what the result of taking these men would be, and it was shown that as a consequence the programme which we had in view for the next harvest was permanently put out of gear.
The Notice of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, covers a great deal of ground, and goes into questions upon which I may say beforehand that I have not the fullest information. It deals with several different Departments, but so far as information is at my disposal I shall be happy to give it unreservedly to your Lordships. With reference first of all to self-sufficiency. The outlook for the harvest of this year is on the whole very satisfactory. There has been a season of prolonged drought which has been broken by the very heavy storms during this month, and it is certain that the result of those storms must be that a considerable amount of crop has been laid or lodged. Consequently there is reason to fear that the yield which we anticipated may have been affected. Up to the present our reports show that there is no reason to think that this lodging is anything very serious, but it exists, and it must affect to some degree the reliability of any estimate which I am able to put before the House.
Dealing with the cereal crops, the wheat crop is the crop of the year. It is generally very good. There is an increased acreage of 39 per cent. The winter wheat is especially satisfactory. There are some failures in the spring wheat, but it is hoped that they do not amount to any serious loss. A yield generally above the average is expected, and the production should show an increase of at least 4,000,000 quarters. The oat crop is very variable. The acreage is increased by 35 per cent. There has been some injury from drought on the lighter soils, and also on the newly ploughed-up heavy land. There has also been a certain amount of damage from insect pests, and the yield will be a little under the average, but there is an estimated excess of 2,000,000 quarters. Barley is a fair crop. The area 1075 is 11 per cent. increase, and the estimated excess about half a million quarters. Generally speaking it is considered fair, so that the increase due to the over-average crop of wheat will at least make up for any deficiency that there may be in oats and barley. Consequently the yield all over should certainly be up to the average.
The degree of self-sufficiency as shown by these figures will be the total amount of grain grown. The noble Earl's own estimate is not, I think, very wide of the mark. The noble Lord, Lord Lee, spoke of the estimate which had been given hitherto of forty weeks. We understood fully upon what ground that estimate was given. But that is not the ground, I think, upon which the noble Earl would like to have his estimate, and it is probable that, looking at the self-sufficiency in a very ordinary way, we may say that we shall approach at all events something near half of what the noble Lord, Lord Lee, spoke of in his former estimate. That is as regards cereals. As to hay it is a smaller area in consequence of more land being ploughed up, and on the whole it is not a very satisfactory crop. We shall be at least a million tons less than in former years. The potato crop is very difficult indeed to estimate at this period of the year. The increase in acreage is 25 per cent.
§ LORD CLINTON
Twenty-five per cent. in acreage over last year. Drought probably has affected the yield of the main crop, and though that has been very much alleviated by the recent rain, it is not considered safe to estimate for any increase over the big crop of last year. Within a few weeks I may be in a position to give a more reliable estimate.
With respect to milk, the dairy cattle are approximately the same in numbers as in 1917, but the milk supply will probably be less this winter owing to the smaller root crop, to less hay being available, and to the lower value of feeding-stuffs. Some set-off may be anticipated in the arrangements which have been made by the Government for the better distribution of the supply. Moreover, we have a very fair stock of condensed milk in hand. With regard to meat cattle and other stock, there is a slight decrease in the number of cattle, and there is a decrease in sheep of 4 per 1076 cent., or about a million. There is also a small decline in pigs, but on the whole the position is considered fairly satisfactory. It should be remembered that herds are slightly younger than they were last year owing to the lessened feeding-stuffs, and the carcases will certainly be lighter, and it may be that there will be a total decrease for slaughter. However, it is hoped that the ordinary ration may be maintained, but, supposing it is necessary to reduce that ration, we have, I understand, very ample supplies of bacon.
Those are the crops about which the noble Earl asked for information. He then asked me a very much more difficult question, and that is about the degree of self-sufficiency after the harvest of 1919. I am afraid it is quite impossible to give anything like an accurate estimate of that. It obviously depends on so many matters. It depends upon the nature of the growing season, the labour question, the amount of land we are able to maintain under crop, our ability to enforce a high standard of production, harvest risks, and many other matters.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
The noble Lord misapprehends my question. I knew he could not foresee those things. I asked him whether the Government had laid down a degree of self-sufficiency to be aimed at as a matter of Imperial strategy.
§ LORD CLINTON
I did not apprehend the noble Earl's question. I dare say that would be an easier question to answer, but I am afraid I have not got the reply. With regard to shipbuilding, the noble Earl knows something of our present position. I am sorry that I cannot give him any satisfactory information. All I am able to say is that a statement about shipbuilding is now being prepared by the First Lord of the Admiralty and will probably shortly be made public. I am not at present in a position to give any information about shipbuilding.
§ LORD CLINTON
I gather that it is because it is not ready. It is at the moment being prepared for the First Lord, and he will make it public shortly. The next question of the noble Earl's was in regard 1077 to the organisation of the motor tractor service. The noble Earl described it as "costly and inefficient." There perhaps should not be too much surprise at that criticism. It was, of course, brought in as a war measure, an emergency scheme. We were faced at the time with a great, possibly a very great, shortage of food, and the circumstances were such that it was impossible to act with due deliberation, and it was impossible to regard too much the cost. I need not go into the details of the tractor service, although I have plenty of information here for the noble Earl, if he requires it.
At the beginning of the season the Government had to find tractors where they could. Some were lent by the Russian Government; there were a few hired in this country. We gradually accumulated a supply of Government-owned tractors from overseas, and a considerable amount of work was done, of course largely of an experimental nature. It was necessary in a very short period to cram in experimental work which under ordinary circumstances would probably have taken years. We had, I think, in addition to steam tractors, something like twenty-four different types of motor tractors. These have now been reduced to six types, which of itself will add very largely to the ease of management and to efficiency. The supply of tractors from overseas has been good, and the Government own now, I think, something like 7,000, of which they are in process of disposing to tenants of between 3,000 and 4,000. It is quite clear that tractors owned by the farmers themselves will probably be cheaper and more efficient than they will be if owned by a Government, because every one will recognise that it is almost impossible for a Government Department, with its labour and machinery spread all over the country, to conduct any agricultural operations with economy or without some failures.
The noble Earl has anticipated the great changes in organisation which the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Fareham, has made. He has gone in largely for a scheme of decentralisation; he has placed a great deal more control in the hands of the executive committee and the local organisation. The executive committee appoints a chief executive officer, who is in charge of all the work in each county. Other officials are appointed under him—a tractor representative, a labour representative, a horse representative, and others. He is respon- 1078 sible for the carrying out of the general work of the executive committee with regard to cultivation. There is also a cultivation committee, which has control of the horse and tractor schemes which are now amalgamated, of the survey, and of the cultivation orders. In each district under the district committee there is another executive officer who generally carries out the schemes of the district, but who is responsible to the county executive officer. The tractors themselves are divided up into units of ten, and each unit is in charge of a mechanic whose duty is to keep them at work, to inspect them and overhaul them when required; and also of a supervisor who has the control of all the labour and all the drivers, and who has a store from which he issues his spare parts, fuel, etc. That is a very rough outline of the new organisation, and it seems to me to be somewhat on the lines which the noble Earl himself indicated.
The last question, I think, was about the programme of cultivation for the harvest of 1919. This has already received a considerable amount of discussion. Your Lordships are aware that at one time it was proposed to break up a largely increased area of grass. It was desired to increase our production; it was desired also to bring in a considerable quantity of "relief" land. But that scheme has fallen away; it has been made impossible owing to the call up of the 30,000 men, and I am bound to say that the President of the Board has abandoned the scheme with a great deal of regret, because he believes, and I think we all believe, that the importance of increasing the food supply is as great now as ever it was. But though the programme is for the moment given up on account of the scarcity of labour, and for that reason only, if the labour ever again becomes sufficient then I hope that we shall start on a fair-sized programme again. Meanwhile no more Ploughing-up Orders will be issued. It is hoped that a certain amount of additional grass may be obtained from the areas which we believe are going to be improved under the drainage scheme. It is, of course, impossible to say how much of such areas will actually be suitable for arable cultivation, but there is an estimate brought out which shows that there will be a considerable number; and if it is possible for sufficient prison labour to be obtained to work these areas, then they will be a very valuable addition both to our cropping areas and for use as relief land for the 1079 harvest of 1919. But while we have, for the reasons which I have stated, been forced to give up the programme of additional ploughing, it is, of course, all the more necessary for us to concentrate as fully as possible upon our existing land.
The noble Earl asked for some information as to fertilisers. It is hoped that there will he a considerable additional quantity of sulphate of ammonia and also of basic slag. There is an apparent shortage of potash and super-phosphate, but every effort is being made to increase the supply of these commodities before next spring. The other Departments are co-operating as far as is possible in our endeavours to increase the supply of fertilisers, which supply is of very great importance to us.
I think those are the main questions to which the noble Earl asked me to reply. The programme being abolished temporarily, the concentration on all our arable land becomes more important; and I paid special attention, as I hope your Lordships did, to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lee, in which he pointed out the absolute necessity, if that were to be done, of the Government retaining the necessary control over the cultivation and the enforcement of the rules of good husbandry. I do not want to dwell upon that for the moment, as there will no doubt be opportunities for discussing it again; but it is a matter of such very great importance that I have no doubt your Lordships will take it into careful consideration.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
My Lords, I shall not detain you for more than a moment, but I should like to say that I agree entirely with what fell from my noble friend who introduced this subject on two points in particular. One of those points is that the change which we are making, or are endeavouring to make, in our agricultural practice and methods at the present time is not by any means a temporary change of any kind. I entirely agree with the noble Earl that what we have to do is to make this country self-supporting in the future, at all events in regard to our essential foods—that is to say, in the main as regards bread and meat and milk and other things which we can produce in great quantities here if we choose to do so.
The other point is that, unless we make up our minds to do this, in the face of all the modern inventions which have deprived us of the advantages that we previously 1080 enjoyed by being an island, we shall have to make up our minds to something much worse—namely, that we shall cease to be a great country among the nations of the world. That is the real position which we have to face now; and although some of us may differ—as we undoubtedly do differ—as to the methods by which this object is to be accomplished, there the object remains. We ought to come to a full agreement as to how it can be attained, and only if we do that with all our hearts and souls shall we in this country attain an object which is, as the Prime Minister stated not long ago, "vital to the safety, to the life, and to the very existence of the nation."
My Lords, I am sorry that I feel it my duty to throw out a warning note. I was unable to be here at the commencement of the debate, but so far as I have heard the speeches they appear to have been very congratulatory on the prospects of this year. As far as one can judge from one's own observations in one's own neighbourhood, those congratulations seem to be justified.
But the noble Lord who replied for the Department said, I think, that it was absolutely essential, given labour, that we should largely increase our production. Now, there is one factor which is a not unimportant one but about which I have not heard a word said as yet—namely, Is the product of the land going to be remunerative to the cultivator? If the farmer is going to produce but is not going to get a profit, something will certainly have to be done; and here it is to be noticed that whereas when the Corn Production Bill was passed the Government inserted a minimum wage of 25s. and a price for wheat of approximately 75s., the wages have now been approved in many counties by the Wages Boards giving something like from 30s. to 33s. for the ordinary able-bodied man, which wage has to be increased in the case of the skilled men—that is to say, the stockman, the horseman, the shepherd, and so on, up to more likely 39s.—I am told on very good information that the Government have resolutely set their faces against any increase in the price of wheat.
One is disposed to wonder whether the Government, who we know are supplying wheat to the public for the purposes of bread at below market price, are giving a longer price to the foreign producer 1081 than they are giving to the British producer. That is merely a query which passes through one's mind. But is is unquestionable that there are some lands—probably some lands in every county—which cannot possibly pay these wages. What is going to happen in their case? If the occupier is compelled by the Government to produce wheat, but to produce it at a loss, either the landlord must largely reduce his rent—and any good farmer will tell you that rent is an infinitesimal factor compared with the labour bill—or the Government will have to step in, oust the farmer and possibly the landlord, and produce themselves at a cost greater than the value of the produce: that is to say, the taxpayer will have to pay the difference. That is an inevitable result on certain lands of these measures which I admit have been forced upon the Government—the compulsory alteration of land from pasture into arable, the compulsory fixing of the price of corn, and the compulsory fixing of the rate of wage. I am afraid that it is a forecast which is likely to prove true; therefore I thought it was justifiable to throw out this note of warning that all is not as perfect as the speech which the noble Lord in charge of the Department in this House has delivered would lead us to believe. I believe that the present prospects are extremely favourable, but I do think that there is a cloud on the horizon.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF CRAWFORD)
My Lords, the debate to-day has proceeded very largely from the point of view of home production, but Lord Selborne clearly showed in his speech that he appreciated that for the moment at any rate self-sufficiency cannot be fully attained, and therefore we must continue to rely upon imported food for a percentage of our bread-stuffs. It is from the overseas aspect that I should like to address a few words to your Lordships. Before doing so, I admit that what Lord Harris has said is very pertinent indeed. It is outside the reference which Lord Selborne was good enough to give to my noble friend beside me and to myself, and I am not prepared to make any statement on the subject; but I think Lord Harris may be sure that the Government, megalomaniac as it is popularly supposed to be, has no desire to control farms in the manner which would follow if the results which he forecast matured.
1082 I must say that Lord Selborne has put very pertinent questions to the Government, but they are extremely difficult to answer unless one analyses very closely what he desires to know. He asks, for instance, as to the degree of our self-sufficiency next year in wheat. It is impossible to answer that unless we settle the extraction at which we are going to use that wheat. If we are going to use it at the old pre-war extraction of 72 per cent., clearly we shall be very much less self-supporting than if we use it at the present extraction of 92 per cent.
Then he asks us what would be the degree of self-sufficiency in barley. I have to give an analogous and equally unsatisfactory answer. Our self-sufficiency in barley next year will depend upon our ability to import maize into this country. The two are allied and indeed interchangeable, and the answer altogether depends upon a variety of factors which cannot be predicted—climatic factors, economic factors, all irrespective of the great factor of tonnage. Everybody knows, and during these days everybody is giving great heed to, the contribution made by the United States to the food-stuffs of the European Allies, but who during the spring of last year would have predicted that during the autumn of last year hundreds of thousands of tons of Canadian wheat would have had to be imported by the United States of America?
During the spring of last year, or two years ago, who could have contemplated that the United States of America would have found it necessary to import large quantities of Australian wheat? Yet both those two things have happened. Surely it must make one very reluctant to prophesy about a series of conditions which are not merely doubtful with regard to our own locality but affected by so vast a concatenation of economic factors which take place in every part of the world. Therefore when one is asked what British crops are to be harvested in the summer of 1920, circumstances vary so greatly that really one must he very cautious in offering any reply.
Certain factors, however, in the food situation exist, and they remain unchangeable, and I will briefly run through some of them. First of all, I think everybody is agreed that home production must be stimulated as much as possible. It seems to me that, apart from labour, the only difference of opinion is as to technical methods—whether we should extend the ploughing of 1083 fresh land or concentrate our efforts upon the cultivation of that which is now arable. There is a controversy about relief land. I do not desire to enter into that; but I am quite sure that whether more land is cultivated, as Lord Lee would desire, or whether owing to labour and other shortages concentration must take place upon the existing arable land, everybody must agree that the need for stimulating home production remains unchangeable. In spite of that, and however successful that policy may be, the need to continue importation into this country must also remain. No country can say that it is self-sufficing in the matter of foodstuffs until for at least five years in succession it has been able to place itself upon an exporting basis, so great are climatic dangers and variations.
I wish from the bottom of my heart that I could accept the optimistic estimates of Lord Lee. The forty weeks' breadstuffs that he hopes to make available in the coming cereal year is, I admit, conditional upon a variety of factors to which he has drawn your Lordships' attention, but those who are responsible for overseas supplies must take the most cautious estimate of all these things. It is no comfort or consolation to those who find themselves short of bread-stuffs at Christmas to be told that there was a fine acreage in the month of May, and no estimate for October should be based upon the acreage of May.
I could give your Lordships two very concrete examples. A month ago the estimate of the Canadian crop amounted with variations to something between 250,000,000 and 300,000,000 bushels. The promise had been good, but, as occurs from time to time, there has been a succession of hot dry winds, and that yield of the Canadian crop to-day is estimated by some to have been reduced during the last four or five weeks only by anything varying from fifty to eighty million bushels, and some actually put it higher. That is the effect of adverse weather for four weeks—five weeks at the outside. There is another particular case, which I do not propose to state publicly to your Lordships but which I should like to state privately to Lord Selborne afterwards, wholly analogous, in some ways still more significant, and all tending in the same direction—firstly, that we must continue to rely on imports from overseas; and, secondly, that we must do our utmost to maintain home production.
My noble friend Lord Lee said that his forty weeks' estimate was not an exaggera- 1084 tion and that it was partly—indeed largely, I think he said—framed for German consumption. Well we should leave propaganda to the Propaganda Department. I do not mind a bit what the effect upon German opinion has been. I am afraid it has had a very bad effect on other persons who are more influential in controlling foodstuffs. But his estimate was based upon conditions which I fancy cannot be fulfilled. Your Lordships are aware that during the last eighteen months our bread has not been wholly made of wheat. We have used maize, we have used rice, we have used barley, oats, and beans, and, lastly, not so many potatoes as many would have desired. Potatoes have the advantage of giving a whiteness and at the same time a moisture to bread which is at times unpalatable.
As I say we have had this definite policy of admixture and dilution. My noble friend Lord Lee, in order to arrive at forty weeks supply of bread-stuffs, puts more than twice the quantity of non-wheaten cereals into the loaf than we have hitherto enjoyed, bringing up dilution of the bread to well over 40 per cent. of our flour extraction, which has been lately 92 per cent. of the berry going into the bread. Our bread, I am afraid, has not been considered palatable, though I am prepared to argue with anybody that it is quite as wholesome as that flat bread which we used to have before the war. Then, again, my noble friend assumes that the whole of the barley crop, with the exception of seed corn and I think 5 per cent, tailings, is to go into the loaf. But I do not think this can be done consistently with maintaining our live stock, and if you put the whole of our barley into the loaf it means that, unless we are to wipe out certain branches of our live stock, we have got to bring maize from South America. It would be much better surely to bring more valuable foodstuffs from South America and use the less valuable of our own crop here. If all the barley is to go into the loaf clearly none of it can go into beer. I do not happen to drink beer myself, but persons are attached to beer, and you cannot say offhand that no barley is to be put into beer without considering the reflex action which anything of that character must have on the life and happiness of our artisan population. Finally, he suggested putting two and a-half millions tons of potatoes into the loaf. Once more I am not quite sure if it can be done. What has been the result of this 1085 estimate? I hope it has had a salutary effect on the Germans. I am afraid here it has had a serious reaction against the policy of increased cultivation, because so many people have said—your Lordships must have heard, as I have heard, people say—If we are going to produce forty weeks bread-stuffs in this country why need we plough up any more of our old pasture? Therefore I impress upon your Lordships that, reluctant as we may be, we must continue the policy of importing breadstuff.
Then, of course, there is the question to which Lord Selborne paid brief, though very marked, attention—that of maintaining our shipbuilding policy. There, I think, everybody agrees with him; but I am cautious myself. I am just as cautious about the output of ships and the menace of submarines as I am about the yield of an acre of wheatland. The way to meet the submarine danger is, I take it, universally acknowledged. I have every reason to believe that the Admiralty is making great efforts to increase output, and I am likewise aware that the Shipping Controller is also making very great efforts to economise the use of tonnage at his disposal.
I wish to mention to your Lordships one other point, and that has reference to the question of feeding-stuffs. It has become more and more difficult to separate the problem of animal fodder from that of human bread-stuffs. They are, in many aspects, indissolubly linked together. There is no doubt that the country as a whole during the last twelve months has been lamentably short of animal feeding-stuffs. Last autumn the Cabinet settled that priority of tonnage was to be given to breadstuffs, and that animal feeding-stuffs should not be imported except where local conditions made such a course advisable. I do not quite know yet how far, or in what a degree, that policy of giving priority to bread-stuffs over animal feeding-stuffs can for the moment be revised, but it is very, very important indeed. There seems to be a prospect, certainly in my part of Scotland, of short root crop. Millers' offals during the last year in this country have, of course, been shorter than, I was going to say ever before in history, but certainly shorter than they have been since the middle of the Napoleonic Wars. I think I am right in saying that. All this reacts upon the cattle.
Again, the bread-stuff policy, which has 1086 carried admixture with it, which has put one-third of our barley crop into the loaf instead of giving that third of the barley crop to the animals, has again exacerbated this unfortunate state of things. I am quite sure of this, that the Government has every desire to ease the situation as regards fodder if circumstances—in other words, if tonnage considerations—permit, but I am also certain that here in this country we occupy a position far stronger, from the point of view of the population of live stock, than that of any Allied country in Europe. Substantially our cattle population is as great as it was twelve months or two years ago. Other countries have made their contribution towards solving the fodder problem by reducing their head of live stock, and it is a matter of which we should not ourselves lose sight.
I have detained your Lordships longer than I intended, but I should like to offer a word of general exhortation before concluding my remarks. We are agreed, I think, that we have to stimulate home production; that we must continue importation; that shipbuilding must be promoted, and that foodstuffs must be used with caution and with economy. But the great and the dominating note of all is to avoid waste in bread-stuffs. I am glad of this opportunity of saying so. I notice in clubs, hotels, and restaurants, and in the privacy of my own home, that there is this wave of optimism going over the country which is reflected in bread being used with less care and less economy than was the case last Christmas. Last Christmas people did not waste their bread; at midsummer this year our people are wasting their bread. I see it everywhere. Everybody who likes to take a walk down streets in the early hours of the morning and look into the dustbins will realise that bread is being wasted. It is as criminal an offence to waste bread to-day as it was six months ago. It is based on a variety of reasons—partly on the freedom with which vegetables are coming into consumption, partly on the idea that things are going better and care and caution may therefore be relaxed, and it is unfortunately reflected in the greater expectations of the public, which cannot be fulfilled unless every factor (and there are many of them in the food situation) synchronises in taking the turn for the better. I am indeed grateful to you for allowing me the opportunty of saying this. 1087 I most strongly advise a cautious attitude. We must run no risks. We heard about the submarine menaceending, I think, in August, 1915. Those responsible for the food supply mean to run no risks. We have strengthened our position enormously, incalculably, but much, very much, remains still to be accomplished. And, above all, we must remember that our obligations are not going to end with the termination of the war. The food obligations of this country, great as they are towards ourselves, are not confined to His Majesty's subjects within these Realms. They extend very much wider, and our obligations will not, and cannot, cease with the end of the war. It is therefore incumbent upon producer and consumer alike to do his utmost to maintain this, the vital strength of this country.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lee of Fareham on the speech he made this evening. I am sure it will be a great pleasure to us to bear him whenever he is disposed to take part in our proceedings, and, if he will allow me, I should like to say that I think his eighteen months as Director of Food Production has enabled him to do a great service to his country and make a real and substantial contribution to victory. I have also to thank Lord Clinton for his courteous and full answer to my Question, and particularly I thank my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal for the speech he has just delivered. He has tried to bring the people back from a wilful strain of wholly unfounded optimism. This food question is still a potential national danger, and still it is our duty to do all we possibly can to produce the maximum amount of foodstuffs from our own island. It really is the fault of the Government that this optimism has begun to glimmer. Had they not taken 30,000 men from the land at a critical moment nobody would have begun to think that our position was secure. On the top of that you see statements that, in order to do a popular thing, bread is going to be made more and more of wheat flour only; and then other speeches, all tending in the same direction, are made. I thank my noble friend for having endeavoured to bring us back to our senses at a moment when our fate is still in the balance, and when this question of food supply remains one of the controlling factors in the ultimate success or failure of the Allies.
1088 I am very glad the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, is in his place, because I was not at all satisfied with the answer which Lord Clinton brought from the Admiralty. I wrote to him more than a week ago to say that I should ask for figures about shipbuilding, and the answer given the noble Lord by the Admiralty certainly does not seem to me to be, as I understood it, consistent with what is due to this House. If the First Lord of the Admiralty cannot give figures for reasons of public safety, I have nothing more to say; but that was not what my noble friend said. Nor did he, as I understand him, say he really had not got figures to give, or would have them later. I understood my noble friend to say that the First Lord of the Admiralty did not choose to give the information.
§ LORD CLINTON
I think I told the noble Earl that the figures were not prepared, but that when they were prepared they would be made public. That was my information.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Is it that they could not have been prepared within a week, or that there was no attempt to prepare them? Such a reply as that would never have been given in the House of Commons, and we have just as much right to get information from the First Lord of the Admiralty, and I have as much right to put a Question as any member of the House of Commons. I ask Lord Lytton to ascertain whether it was that the information did not exist, or that the First Lord did not choose to give it, and be good enough to let me know.
THE ADDITIONAL PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE ADMIRALTY (THE EARL OF LYTTON)
My Lords, may I intervene for a moment? I should he very sorry if the answer that was given showed any discourtesy to the noble Earl, or to the House generally. Perhaps the position is not quite understood. The figures for which the noble Earl asked are now being prepared. If they had been given to the House this afternoon they could only have been given in an incomplete, and therefore not wholly accurate, form, and the First Lord of the Admiralty felt that it would not really be courteous, or right, to make in this House a statement which, in an incomplete form, would be misleading and inaccurate, and which in the course of a few days would have to be corrected elsewhere. The First Lord, therefore felt—and instructed my 1089 noble friend to say—that as these figures were not yet ready, he was not in a position to give them to the House. It is not that the information was refused. The information is not ready, and as soon as it is ready he will give it to this House if asked for, or anywhere else.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.