HL Deb 19 March 1919 vol 33 cc787-94

VISCOUNT HARDINGE rose to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture—

  1. 1. If there has been lately a considerable speculation in foreign hops on English accounts, and if there has been a large appreciation in the values of hops which have been the subject of speculation.
  2. 2. If the Government or Hop Controller have been approached with a view to any of these hops being admitted into this country by licence or otherwise, although the importation of foreign hops is prohibited; if so, whether the Government will refuse to grant or permit the granting of any licences to import foreign hops before the complete reconstruction of the English hop acreage is accomplished, unless it is first conclusively proved that the total quantity of hops held in the country by all holders is insufficient to produce the total quantity of beer allowed to be brewed.
  3. 3. If any foreign hops have recently been shipped to any British port or ports, although the importation of such hops is prohibited; if so, have they been landed, and what has become of them.
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, the reason I put these Questions to the noble Lord who represents the Board of Agricul- ture is that I have been credibly informed that thousands of bales of Pacific Coast I hops have been sold to brewers over here, and they have done this with the hope that ultimately they will be imported into this country. May I read an extract from the Market Report of New York to emphasise this point. The Report says— Three-year contracts for Oregons destined for England were reported, and a number of—dealers have resold their contracts. Ocean transportation continues difficult to obtain, and several thousand bales are waiting shipment to English exporters, who are holding the bulk of stock on this side of the water. The date of that is February 28, 1919. If this is to be permitted and the present prohibition on imports rescinded, it appears to me that it can have but one result—that it will spell disaster on what has always been regarded as the greatest of all industries in agriculture—namely, the hop industry.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will be able to assure us that my information is not correct. If it is correct I greatly fear—in fact, I feel convinced—that the hop-growers in Kent and other hop counties will have a great grievance against the Government. Your Lordships are aware that during the war they were ordered under the Defence of the Realm Act to scrap and "grub up" half the hop acreage in order to produce food for the people of this country in its time of stress, more especially during the submarine menace. This order, as your Lordships also know, was loyally carried out by the hop-growers, although they incurred very serious losses to their capital. In my opinion, therefore, in common justice to the hop-growers, their loyalty in those bad times should not be easily forgotten by those responsible for the agricultural policy of the country at the present time.

I am well aware that some of your Lordships who do not live in hop-growing counties do not know that the hop acreage of this country in 1914 was 36,661 acres. This total was reduced in 1918 to 15,666 acres, more than a one-half reduction. I quote these figures in order the better to illustrate how much acreage was "grubbed" during the war, and how great were the losses it entailed on the hop-growers. Now that the war is virtually over and we suffer no danger from submarines, the Hop Controller has given permission to the hop-growers to plant up to within 25 per cent. of the 1914 acreage. I fail to understand why only 25 per cent. Why should it not be 50 per cent.? Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to inform us why that figure was fixed. Whether it is 25 per cent. or 50 per cent., unless some encouragement and better security are accorded to the hop-growers I am very doubtful whether they will, take advantage of this permission. And for this good reason. They have a keen recollection of their treatment in the past, when the Government some years ago allowed foreign hops from Germany and other countries to be imported into this country free of duty and without being compelled to carry out the marking regulations which the home growers had to comply with.

In 1878 the hop acreage in this country was 71,789 acres, and it is now reduced to 36,666. What was the reason of this vast drop during that period? No doubt the hop-growers gathered that they could not make hop-growing pay as long as foreign hops were dumped on to the English markets. Therefore I fail to see why this order of prohibition should be rescinded after the war. At the same time I am well aware that it may be said by the Board of Agriculture that next year, or before the next plucking of hops, some growers will be short. Even if here and there some brewers are short, others, I believe, will have a very large surplus and could easily supply their less fortunate fellow brewers. In any case no one can say that at the present time there is any likelihood of a shortage or famine in hops, and if only hop-growers will make a strenuous effort this spring to plant all the hops that may be required for the present estimate of brewing, it seems to me (if they can only have good weather during this planting) they will have every opportunity of producing a bumper crop; but with this proviso—that they must have some assurance from the Board of Agriculture that the Hop Controller will not allow any licence to be granted for imported hops until the whole of the hop district is thoroughly reconstructed. In conclusion I would like to say, speaking of the people in my part of the country, Kent, that they thoroughly believe in the noble Lord who represents the Board of Agriculture, they know that the best interests of agriculture are well in his hands, and they were, therefore, very pleased that he was retained in his position of President of the Board of Agriculture.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount for the way in which he has brought this question forward, and, if I may say so, for the personal reference to myself. The question is one which cannot be answered without some reference to what has happened in the last two years. The noble Viscount gave the figures of the hop acreage in 1914; roughly speaking, I think it was 34,000 acres. The point of departure is, however, the 31,550 acres which were planted in 1916. The ordinary produce of hop is, I think. 10 cwt. to the acre, I and when in February, 1917, the Government cut down the barrelage of beer from 35,000,000 to 10,000,000 barrels it was quite evident that the acreage crop for hops in 1916 would have produced nearly double the quantity of beer which the Government allowed. That would have resulted in such an accumulation of stocks in this country that there would have been no price at all to the growers of hops, and there would have been a great waste of their commodity.

It was therefore, not entirely in the interests of food production, but rather in the interests of the growers themselves, that we decided to reduce the acreage under hops. First of all we appealed to the hop-growers, in view of the situation, to cut down their acreage, pointing out that if they grew their normal amount they would not be able to sell more than half of it. At first it was entirely a voluntary appeal, and they responded to it with great patriotism and at a great sacrifice of their own capital. Ultimately, however, in order to secure real equality of sacrifice, we made the Order compulsory. There were a few men who stood out, hoping to obtain some profit by not doing what their neighbours did. By 1918, as the noble Viscount has accurately stated, the area under hops was reduced to something like 15,500 acres, which is half the amount that was in cultivation in 1916. There is no doubt that we also felt that this rich highly-manured land would be of the utmost value for food production at a very critical period in the national history, and we recommended the hop-growers to plant on the area which they "grubbed"—and even between the rows of the area which they retained—potatoes, vegetables, beans, and roots; and they did so. And although their sacrifice of capital in "grubbing" their hops was very considerable, it is some satisfaction to know that they did obtain a crop which may not have been as remunerative but which certainly proved far more remunerative than their surplus hop production would have proved.

We had also to help them out of a very difficult situation, and what we did was to create a Committee composed of growers, merchants, factors, and brewers, together with representatives of the Board of Agriculture, and with the consent of the Government, backed by a Treasury guarantee, we bought up the whole stock of the 1916 crop and the whole crop for 1917, and paid remunerative prices to the growers for those crops. We sold the produce to the brewers at prices which necessitated no drawing upon the Treasury guarantee. We did the same in 1918, so that we had secured the growers in this country a market for their crops and a price which has been a remunerative one. The crop in 1918 was a very short one, and we had to adopt a system of rationing the brewers in accordance with the amount of beer allocated to them.

I think that great credit, if I may venture to say so, is due to the Hop Controller, who is the Chairman of that Committee, for the way in which a very difficult situation has been handled, and a great loss to the hop-growers has been prevented. We have now allowed the hop-growers to return to their former acreage. In the first instance they are allowed to return to 75 per cent, of their 1914 acreage. The reason for that is that we do not know at the present moment what the policy of the Government is likely to be with regard to brewing. If we encourage the hop-growers to return at once to their former acreage the same position will be again reproduced, and the hop-growers will not be able to find a market for their produce. We have, however, also said that they may afterwards revert to their 1914 acreage. Of course, no great amount of planting can be done this year. The noble Viscount rather held out hopes that we might re-create the hop acreage in a year's time, but, as he knows, the usual practice is to take cuttings of the hops, plant them out in nurseries, and bed them out the following year, and I am very much afraid that there are very few bedding setts available for the coming year's planting. Therefore it will be a slow pro cess. During the whole of the time when we were dealing with the hops there was an absolute embargo on the importation of foreign hops. No hops were allowed into this country unless they had already been bought forward and consigned before the Proclamation was in force, and that embargo exists at the present moment.

It I may now turn to the specific questions that the noble Viscount has asked me, I may say that, though I have no doubt that what he has quoted from the paper is accurate—namely, that some brewers have bought hops in America on the off-chance of a licence being obtained for their importation—and it is likely also that some traders have done the same, there is at present no licence for the importation of any hops at all. As between the brewer and the grower the question of the import of hops has been very much discussed. The brewer says he wants to be allowed to import a sufficient quantity of hops to brew the beer allocated to him after exhausting the whole of the home-grown crop. The grower's answer is this: you have already got stocks in reserve, some of you; you ought to be compelled to disclose what stocks you have, and, until those stocks have been distributed among all the rest of the brewers, so that they can be utilised, you ought not to be allowed to introduce any foreign hops. Now, the big brewers have always been accustomed—and it is a practice in the trade—to carry large reserves. Those who have them strongly object to having those reserves taken from them and distributed to their competitors who have not shown the same foresight, or have not provided against this particular crisis.

What we propose to do is to effect what I believe would be, on the whole, a satisfactory compromise. We have asked the Hop Controller, and. in fact, we have agreed with the Hop Controller, to act in this way: to permit importation to such brewers as could prove a shortage of hops for their requirements up to November, taking into account the hops they had been allowed to buy this year, and their quota of beer. Let me comment on that fact by saying that every hundredweight of home-grown hops has already been disposed of by ration. What we want to get at is—Have they got any stocks in hand? If they have a stock in hand then they cannot get importation. The second point in the agreement is this, that we refuse all speculative imports, or imports that will have the effect of adding to the stock already held by brewers. If the Government decide to increase the barrelage from the existing figure to anything approaching the figure of previous years then it is quite obvious that, to meet that extra demand after using up every scrap of home-grown hops, some importation will be wanted. But no importations are to be allowed of a speculative character, or such as will increase the stocks held in reserve in this country.

The third question which the noble Viscount has asked me is whether any foreign hops have recently been shipped to any British port or ports, although the importation of such Lops is prohibited; if so, have they been landed and what has become of them? The practice is this. The prohibition is against the importation of any hops at all, and that stands. If any hops come into the country without a licence they are liable to seizure, but I believe the practice is not to resort to that extreme unless the contravention of the Proclamation can be proved to have been contumacious and wilful. What we do is this. We put stocks which have been consigned to any consignee in bond, and the consignee cannot get them out and use them without the consent of the Hop Controller; therefore if they do come into the country we still retain absolute control over them.

What the future policy of the Government in, say 1921, may be as to hops I am afraid I cannot give any indication, but there is no doubt that licence for importation will be maintained so far as the 1919–1920 crops are concerned. If I could give the noble Viscount the guarantee that no importation of hops would be allowed for a still further period I should be glad to do so, not only because of the industry itself, but of the influence of the industry upon agriculture. There is no industry which is conducted by more skilled and intelligent men, or men who will spend more money upon their land. And they do their land extremely well; they raise from it very large crops, they carry a large head of cattle and live-stock in addition to their hops, and they give to the British farmer one of the best examples of what intensive farming can do in this country. On all these grounds I should have been glad to give the noble Viscount a guarantee, but I am afraid it is impossible to go so far ahead.


My Lords, I should be glad if my noble friend would make it quite clear as regards the brewers who will be permitted to import. He told us that there are some brewers who have always held excessively large stocks. Do I understand that they will not be permitted in any circumstances to import, but that only the brewers who have no stocks at all or insufficient stocks for the amount they are allowed to brew will be allowed to import?


Only those brewers who are short will be allowed to import; and those brewers who have stocks will be allowed to import provided they do not add to their quantity in reserve or in stock—that is to say, if they want hops for use, or if they want; their existing stock for use, then they will be allowed to fill up their reserves to that extent.