§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Crawford.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to. House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]1071
§ Clause 1:
§ Continuance of office of Food Controller.
1.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, the provisions of the New Ministries and Secretaries Act, 1916, so far as they relate to the Food Controller or the Ministry of Food, shall, notwithstanding anything in that or any other Act, continue in force until the first day of September, nineteen hundred and twenty-two:
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN moved, in subsection (1), at the end of the first paragraph, to substitute the year ("1921" for "1922." The noble Viscount said: I am aware of the great difficulties which confronted the Department when it was first constituted. In certain respects it accomplished undoubtedly a very necessary and very good work, but on the Second Reading of the Bill I gave some reasons, good reasons, why the principal Act should he brought to a termination at an earlier period than is proposed by this measure. I also stated that the Department was most costly, unnecessarily costly in various respects, and that I had never been able to ascertain, although I have taken great pains to do so, a satisfactory account of how all the enormous sums of money have been spent.
§ My objection dates from the year 1918. In that year I put certain questions to the Government to account for the immense rise in expenditure which had occurred after the month of December, 1917. In that month the expenditure was £17,000, and in the following July I put a question to which my noble friend Lord Crawford, who, in reply, gave me the figures for 1918 for the first six months of that year, for the cost of administration and the cost of the purchase of foodstuffs, and the total amounted to no less than £185,185,268 for those six months; that is to say, for three months of the year, up to the end of the financial year, there had been an expense of £71,291,411 as compared with an expenditure in the month of December of £17,000,000. I have never been able, from that day to this, to get figures to show how these enormous sums were expended.
§ My noble friend said to me the other night, in the course of his observations, that it was very easy to make broad charges of this kind but it was no use quoting expenditure in a commercial concern unless at the same time you quoted income and assets. That is just what I wanted to quote, but I have never been 1072 able to get that information, and that is what I am here to-night to ask for. I asked my noble friend for it on the Second Reading, and I heard his statement in reply. I do not think that I need repeat what I said then, but I am supporting my views by other questions arising in connection with the Ministry of Food—questions which I raised some considerable time ago. I am now speaking of the year 1918. At that time a system for the sale of cattle was devised by the then Food Controller, and a most extraordinary system it was. High prices were to be paid for the first month, and gradually they were to descend for six months, and at the end of the six months the price was to be a great deal lower than it was in the first instance. Consequently, although the farmers would have had to keep these animals for six months and incur all the expense of doing so they were to get a lower price.
§ I am going to ask for Lord Milner's attention, because I shall be obliged to remind him of something which he was made to say upon the second day's debate on that subject, and which he will admit, I think, when I tell him the real facts, was of a very extraordinary character. The result of that system was that the owners of cattle put all their beasts as quickly as they could on the market, because prices then were much higher than they would have been months hence, and how anybody could have devised a system of that kind who was acquainted with the conduct of agricultural affairs I cannot possibly imagine. I must have made out a very good case on the first day of the debate, because I know that Lord Milner was asked to come and attend on the second day. Since then he has had many other things to do and has found himself in different parts of the world, and so no doubt these things have passed out of his mind altogether. But do let me say, before I give what I consider are additional reasons for most carefully examining the conduct. of that particular Government Department, that of course I knew perfectly well that he made the statement to which I am going to refer in the full belief that it must he absolutely true.
On February 28, 1918, Lord Milner, in defending the Food Controller's Department, made these observations—
I have been careful to inquire, and I am told on very high authority that the additional number of cattle slaughtered in the earlier months which
under other circumstances might have been slaughtered in the later months was something like 130.000, which I believe is about two months' supply.
Later on I find in the same column—I am reading from the daily issue of the OFFICIAL REPORT—he spoke of it as two weeks' supply. I am not in the least surprised, because I do not think it was either his duty or his business to he acquainted with the facts relating to the consumption of cattle and meat in this country. I had asked to be told all about these figures by the Department in the course of the speech which I made, and I had told them beforehand that I was going to make that speech, but the Minister in charge of the debate said he did not know the figures, and he could not reply to the statements which I had made.
§ I put down on the Paper almost immediately afterwards a question, and on May 14—this having been said by Lord Milner on February 28—what was the specific reply, as to the slaughter of cattle under that particular system, which I received from the Controller of Food himself. What he said was that Between September 1 and February 28, both days included, the number of cattle slaughtered was estimated at 1,378,000. Yet the noble Viscount had been told in the debate, on what he described as the highest possible authority, that the figure was 130,000. It was not only 1,387,000, because there were 75,000 in addition that had been killed for Army purposes, making a total of nearly a million and a half—namely, 1,453,000—and of these animals it is scarcely credible that 280,000 were two-year old beasts. You do not kill two-year old beasts in England as a rule. It, is the most wasteful process possible, because they would produce enormously more meat if they were kept till they were three years, and still more if they were kept till they were four years old. I have given the two statements: the one which was put into Lord Milner's mouth, and the other given to me in his own words by the Food Controller himself a fortnight afterwards, I think I have made a ease which justifies me in regarding with some suspicion the accuracy with which their accounts are kept and their business management. As I have said before, I know the difficulties which Ministers had in the war.
§ I know the difficulties in which Departments were placed and I make every allowance for them. I believe that your 1074 Lordships, having heard these statements for which I have given chapter and verse from the public Reports, will think I am entitled to hold the opinion (which I do hold) that it is very desirable that this particular Department should not continue to he a Government Department any longer than is absolutely necessary. The Bill proposes that the Ministry shall continue in existence for two years from September. I do not know how That proposal can be justified. My noble friend told us a great many things about liquidation, and this, that and the other, and the difficulty of getting the whole of the accounts in order, but twelve months should surely be sufficient for the purpose. I move my Amendment because I entertain that view and also because of the opinion, which I hold most strongly, that throughout the whole of its career the Ministry of Food has been the greatest possible impediment in the world to the enormously increased production of food at home, which is a matter of vital importance to the country at the present time.
§ It was of enormous importance during the war especially during the earlier period and, as I reminded the House the last time I spoke, the Prime Minister, in order to supplement the meat supply by increasing the number of pigs (which you could do with great rapidity), issued a manifesto to the nation urging them to do everything in their power to increase the number of pigs in the country. He appointed a new official who was called the Director of Pigs. One of the best agriculturists in the country, and one of the best members of the House of Commons at the present time, was chosen to fulfil that position. This gentleman was doing his work most admirably, and he had been most successful, when an edict went forth from the Ministry of Food that all the pigs were to be killed—that was the Order—because they had not the food with which to supply them. The other day I pointed out to my noble friend that the Order was made at a time when there were unusual quantities of grass upon which pigs can live perfectly well. The noble Earl hinted that I was of opinion that they could be fattened upon grass. I did not say that or anything of the kind. I was thinking of the purpose for which this Director of Pigs had been appointed. It is true that the pigs could have been kept alive upon the enormous, almost unheard of, quantities of grass available in the country in that 1075 particular season. If they had been kept alive, you could have increased the stock of your pigs and gone on with the work as much as ever you liked. Instead of that, they were all killed. Everybody knows that now the price of pigs is very high, and has been for months and months. Pigs make prices that were never beard of before. A good sow will make £20 or £25 or £30, and a boar almost anything in the world that you like to ask for it. These are my reasons for thinking that the sooner this Department can be legitimately and properly closed the better it will be for the Government, for economy, and for all classes who are concerned.
Clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out ("twenty-two") and insert ("twenty-one").—(Viscount Chaplin.)
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I had hoped that on Friday last I had convinced Lord Chaplin that the Ministry of Food was not responsible for the shortage of feeding-stuffs which made the maintenance of a large pig population impossible. I gave my reasons, which I think, if he will do me the honour to re-study my remarks, he will admit to be cogent. I do not wish to go back upon the subject, except to say that the Ministry of Food did not issue any such Order as Lord Chaplin states, that all pigs were to be killed.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
Not all pigs, but that pigs were to be killed. I do not mean the extinction of the breed.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I only quote what my noble friend said, that an Order was issued that they were all to be killed.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Before we leave the pig problem I will assure Lord Chaplin that the Ministry of Food made no Order that pigs were not to eat surplus grass, and if, as he said, there was plenty of grass in the country the pigs and their owners were quite entitled to use it in that manner.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
I can only say that I was told at the Board of Agriculture that the Order received from the Ministry of Food was that the pigs were to be killed. I have no doubt they have a record of it.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
May I turn to the question of accounts? Lord Chaplin complains again that he cannot find the necessary figures. In the first place I have here the Financial Report and the Appropriation Account of the Ministry of Food up till March 31, 1918. It is Command Paper No. 191. This document was issued at the instance of the noble Viscount himself. After one of our debates, and after a speech exactly like the one which we have just heard, it was agreed that the document should be issued. It was issued. It is a public Paper, placed in your Lordships' Library. Here it is.
The EARL OF CRAWFORD
if the noble Viscount will ask the librarian to supply him with Command Paper No. 191, or ask at the Printed Paper Office, he will get it, or I will have a copy sent to him. Here it is, a Parliamentary Paper available to anybody. The next document is a year later, presented to Parliament by Command of the King, Command Paper No. 286, giving the Provisional Trading Account for the financial year ending March 31, 1919.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Yes. It gives masses of figures showing how much was spent in the acquisition of foodstuffs, how much was received on re-sale of the foodstuffs, the stocks held. the stocks carried forward, total credit, and differences between this column and that—in short, a very full and compendious account. The final document to which I must refer my noble friend is the Appropriation Account—that is the final account—for 1918–19, Paper No. 46, presented to the House of Commons on March 11 last. If my noble friend will be so good as to go through these Papers he will see a very complete record of all the transactions—
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
Will the noble Earl allow me to ask hint this—Is it in any one of those papers that I shall find the figure of £185,000,000 for the purchase of food?
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Is that three months after the beginning of the financial year? Is it July, 1918, or 1919?
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
The documents from which I have been quoting deal with the financial year—they do not deal with scraps of the financial year—and if the quotation made is at any time before the end of the financial year, 1919—the year ending March, 31, 1919—it is in these Papers. The Appropriation Account, the Provisional Trading Account, and the Financial Report are all covered up to March 31, 1919. This table gives the gigantic transactions of the Ministry of Food during that year. For instance the Ministry purchased on its trading account alone something like £330,000,000 worth of food, and during the same year it sold goods practically to the same amount, with a carry forward.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
It is not my fault if Lord Chaplin has not examined Papers presented to Parliament at the public expense. But I wish to deal not with the past but with the Amendment of Lord Chaplin, which relates to the future. In the first place I muse, assure the noble Lord that the period of duration of the Ministry of Food has been most carefully considered. I happened myself to be on the Committee which had to go into the matter, and I assure the noble Lord that meeting after meeting took place to settle what was the minimum period for which it would be proper to ext end the life of this Ministry. The Committee had to consider the whole question, and it gave the most close and repeated consideration to the subject. Many wanted to continue the Ministry for five years, and a certain section wanted it to be prolonged sine die, and after this extended attention and scrutiny the period of two years was settled upon as the minimum which was considered suitable.
I must remind your Lordships that that Act under which this Ministry exists—the New Ministries Act—contemplates the prolongation of the Ministry of Food for twelve months after the termination of the war. That moment, alas! has not yet been reached—in the technical sense—by the ratification of the last outstanding Treaty. Therefore Lord Chaplin's proposal is not merely to curtail the two years suggested by the Government, but is actually 1078 to curtail what was originally in the Act in the year 1916. I hope to give Lord Chaplin a reason or two why it is wise to continue this Ministry until the autumn of the year after next.
Your Lordships should remember that at the present moment food prices are higher than they have been at any moment since the beginning of the war. That is a fact which should never be forgotten, and which under certain conditions may dominate the situation. That is the one crucial and central factor which I ask your Lordships to remember. The second factor is that conditions in Central Europe are now reaching a stage at which it may well be possible that we are about to enter upon a period of competition in oversea markets which during the war and throughout the subsequent period of Armistice, owing to the crippling of the Central Powers, did not exist. I do not say that the Central Powers will be able to secure sufficient credit to have any marked impression upon oversea markets, but it is a contingency which we cannot refuse to contemplate, and it is a very material factor. I do not say that it is going to happen, but that it may happen is certain, and if it does happen I think it ought to be conceded that some central organisation in this country should exist which may take any necessary action.
So far as British agriculture is concerned, Lord Chaplin must not be allowed to terrorise your Lordships by indicating that the Ministry of Food is going to be inimical to that great interest. I cannot answer his complaint about what happened I in the grading of home-fed meat two and a half years ago. I have not an idea what I the answer to that question is, but I was supplied with an answer to the question about the pig population which quite convinced me that the Ministry of Food acted wisely, or at any rate rightly in that matter, and I have no doubt that an answer equally convincing is available to the question which Lord Chaplin put on the grading of home-fed meat. In any case, live stock control ceased in this country over a month ago.
I also ask your Lordships to bear in mind, in view of the denunciations of Lord Chaplin, that this country, and this country alone out of all the belligerent Powers of Europe, has succeeded in maintaining its cattle population at the pre-war normal. That the Ministry of Food is not 1079 so powerful and so nefarious as to do what Lord Chaplin suggested is shown, I think, by the mere fact that we maintain this great pre-war normal of live stock population. That in itself is, I hope, a sufficient answer to the noble Lord. The Ministry of Food is certainly not going to interfere with the British farmer.
The limitation of the Department to one year, as opposed to two years, makes this into a Food Annual Bill. Is that wise? Does Lord Chaplin think that a Food Annual Bill, renewed year by year in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, reduces the tenure of the Ministry of Food? I should say not. On the whole I should say that a Ministry like this, given two years in an Act of Parliament (the Government having power to terminate it at any safe anterior moment), has a much shorter expectation of life than if it were in a Bill which is put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Act year by year. I think that Lord Chaplin would defeat his own end.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Lord Chaplin is in favour of limiting it to twelve months. I propose to express my view that the Bill cannot be limited to twelve months, and that it will have consequently to go into the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, and from my point of view I would much rather that the Bill had a statutory termination in view in the month of September, 1922, than that we should pass it now until next August, and that then it should go into the Expiring Laws Continuance Act.
Let me put this point to your Lordships, and it will appeal to any member of the House who has had commercial experience. The Ministry of Food has stocks valued at I do not know how many millions sterling. I have not got the figure, but it may be anything from £120,000,000 to £130,000,000 sterling. That is the ordinary natural stock-in-trade of the biggest commercial organisation in the world. It is a mere fraction of the annual outlay upon goods. We have to liquidate that stock, say £130,000,000 worth. If your Lordships say that the Bill has to end in twelve months, as Lord Chaplin asks you to do, we shall have to liquidate 1080 that stock during that period. I will ask any Peer with commercial experience if the result of that would not be greatly to depress the value of those stocks. Every purchaser will know that we have to wind up in twelve months; every purchaser will defer his purchases as long as he can, because he will know that being under statutory obligation to liquidate twelve months hence our stock, as that moment approaches, will depreciate in value. If this Bill has got, by Statute, to end in twelve months, the loss on that £130,000,000 might run up to £20,000,000 or £30,000,000; who knows how many million pounds. That seems to me a very crucial point. It is no use saying, "Transfer this to other Departments." Other Departments are already overworked and they are not equipped for the work. They have not bought the stocks; they have no knowledge of the markets or the system of trade. If it was transferred as a big going concern I am sure they would not do it so well as the Ministry of Food. I think, therefore, that the practical limit of two years which this Bill imposes is the period which will best enable the energies of the Ministry of Food to be directed towards final liquidation.
I should like to add one word in conclusion. My colleague Mr. McCurdie has stated on more than one occasion in the House of Commons that it is his policy, and it is likewise the policy of the Government, to liquidate this Department as soon as public safety permits. Two years is the period which appears to be the minimum that ought to be conferred. If circumstances improve, and if difficulties to which I have indirectly referred do not eventuate, the Government have the power to terminate it at an earlier moment, and it is the intention not only of my right hon. friend Mr. McCurdie but of the Government as a whole to use that power to the full as soon as it is seen that the Ministry of Food can be terminated at an earlier date without danger to the public welfare.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am sure that your Lordships will have listened with great respect to the speech which we have just heard, because my noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy has a very special knowledge of this subject and speaks with great authority. There is no doubt that much that he said is exceedingly well-founded. I do not 1081 dispute for a moment the great importance of the Ministry of Food and the work which it has done. Undoubtedly your Lordships ought to be very grateful to the Ministry of Food and to my noble friend for all the work that has been accomplished.
I would, however, like to observe that I do not think my noble, friend is entitled to call in aid of his argument the fact that my noble friend's Amendment would limit the duration of the Ministry of Food even to an earlier date than the present law, because, as a matter of fact, the Government never expected that the war—I mean the technical war—would have gone on as long as it has done. They must have expected when they passed the present Act that the Ministry of Food would have conic to an end long before this, because they expected that the termination of the war would have taken place long before this and therefore in the natural course it would have come to an end.
I think I may also say on behalf of my noble friend who sits behind me that there is no desire—there certainly is not on my part, and I doubt whether there is any on his—to put an end to the operations of the Ministry of Food altogether even at the end of the war. The Government themselves provide in this Bill for the transfer of the powers of the Ministry of Food. Probably some other Amendment would be required to make it fully effective, but I would ask my noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy to consider the operation of Clause 5 of this Bill. In Clause 5, which deals only with hops, there is a provision to continue the operation of the Bill after the expiry of the powers of the Ministry of Food, because there is a provision in the Bill itself to transfer the powers of the Ministry of Food to other Departments. It is provided in Clause 5 that in respect of hops, when the transfer has taken place, the powers of the Ministry of Food should go on for five years. So that it is quite clear that the Government did contemplate a procedure under which the powers of the Ministry of Food, or some of them, should be transferred to another Department and should continue after the Ministry of Food itself has ceased to exist. That is a concession of three parts of my noble friend's case, so far as the machinery of the Bill is concerned.
There would appear to he no reason within the spirit of the Bill why all the 1082 necessary powers of the Ministry of Food should not be continued for whatever time is necessary even after the Ministry of Food itself has come to an end. Although I do not know whether my noble friend will think it right in the condition of your Lordships' House to press for a Division—I almost hope he will not—at the same time I am bound to say that I think it is in the public interest that as soon as possible the Ministry of Food should be brought to an end.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am only representing what the Chancellor of the Duchy himself has said. The new Ministries are really an abuse. They were very necessary when they were established, but they are an abuse and the sooner they are brought to an end the better. My noble friend Viscount Chaplin thinks that a year from now would be a sufficient time to allow this Ministry to continue. I should say that the powers of the Ministry of Food which are necessary should be from that time forward transferred to another Department. That is the view riot only of myself, but, as the Chancellor of the Duchy is aware, it is the view of a great number of men of importance in the business world who have authorised a statement in the public Press to the effect that the powers of these new Ministries—those which are not abolished altogether—should be absorbed in existing Departments. That appears to be the proper policy, and the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Chaplin is directly essential to that policy—namely, to bring the Ministry of Food to an end and transfer what few necessary powers there are to some other Department, and resume as soon as we can normal conditions. Although I sympathise very much with the desire of my noble friend Lord Chaplin, I do not know whether in the present position of your Lordships' House he would wish to divide; but I though it right to say so much in order to show with what sympathy I regard a great deal of what my noble friend has said.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I should like to say with how much sympathy I regard a great deal of what Lord Salisbury has said.
§ LORD ASKWITH
I do not know whether the noble Earl is going to reply to what the noble Marquess has said, but perhaps it would be convenient that whatever questions there are should be addressed to him before he replies. I should like to ask a question with regard to our Colonial ossessions in this matter. There has been some notification in the papers lately that the Dominion of Canada was objecting with regard to food export, and there was also a protest by New Zealand. My objection to the Ministry of Food is that it is likely to stop production in the Colonies; that the very existence of the Ministry of Food as a great trading concern means that there is uncertainty and insecurity, that it is liable to come down at any time to purchase in the markets, and therefore the producers are uncertain whether their supply will be bought or not, the Minister of Food apparently in the case of New Zealand having laid down a condition that any food that is sent here has to be sold to it. If the noble Earl can throw sonic light on these matters, in view of what has been said with regard to Colonial objections to the action of the Ministry of Food, I shall be much obliged.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I hope that Lord Salisbury will not think that I am in conflict with him. On the contrary, I applaud a great deal of what he said, especially with regard to Clause 4 and Clause 5. He is quite right that the power under Clause 4 (that is, the hop clause) lasts for five years. That, I am told, is the period which is considered essential to establish that industry. Two or three years are no good. But your Lordships will note that the Food Controller during the continuance of his office will have certain powers, and thereafter (which we assume, or hope, will be within two years) they must be transferred to the Board of Agriculture or the Board of Trade—I do not know which. The Board of Agriculture, I hope your Lordships will bear in mind, are anxious that the Department of Food should take charge of the hops. I hope I have made that clear to Lord Chaplin. They could have done it themselves, but they preferred that the Department of Food should act in that way.
The only other point is Lord Askwith's. It is not a matter on which without some preparation I could make a very clear or a very definite announcement. Lord Askwith, broadly speaking, is suite correct 1084 in saying that Canada, for instance, wants us to decontrol bacon, and that New Zealand wants us to decontrol butter, and there may be other cases, too. We control bacon and butter for reasons analogous to those which led Canada to control her own wheat, and Australia to control her own wool. The conditions, in short, were such that government by a State Department was not only necessary in the consuming countries here, but was necessary in the producing country overseas. Any article which is in short supply must be bought by the Government in order to secure equality of distribution. If that be not done then the purse alone governs the dietary of the public as a whole, and certainly if butter were not controlled in this country we might get more butter, but we might all have to pay 5s. a lb. for it.
As regards the policy, what I have already said about the view of the Government obliquely at any rate supplies an answer to Lord Askwith. We want decontrol here. Naturally, we want decontrol abroad. But during this period of transition one has to feel one's way with caution, and, indeed, without undue speed. It might be equally injurious to one of our great Dominions if decontrol were premature as to ourselves. At the present moment Canada has removed State control from the handling of her wheat crop, but so uncertain is the outlook that the Dominion has had to retain powers to re-impose control at any moment she may think fit. In Australia again, there is the feeling which exists in this country, that the sooner private enterprise is restored the more likely many of these problems, especially international problems, are likely to find solution. But even Australia has found herself unable to say that private enterprise shall be restored, because the conditions in the world are still so uncertain. Questions of finance alone make it very difficult to guarantee that private enterprise can entirely assume its previous power in the commercial world. I assure Lord Askwith that the matter is closely engaging the attention of the Ministry of Food, and I need hardly say that it is a question with which my noble friend Lord Milner is very closely concerned, and for which he desires a friendly and amicable solution.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
I have not changed my view in the least, but I have taken precautions to count my pack. 1085 I have noticed for a long time your Lordships' numbers diminish very greatly as we approach or pass seven o'clock, and as I should almost assuredly be in a minority I shall not put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD SUMNER moved, in subsection (2), after "Act," where the word for the third time occurs, to leave out "which regulations, so far as they relate to the powers of the Food Controller, shall, subject to the limitations set out in that schedule, have effect as though set out in this Act, and shall cease to have effect as regulations made under any enactment relating to the Defence of the Realm."
§ The noble and learned Lord said: This Amendment deals with a matter to which I drew attention on the Second Reading. Your Lordships will see in subsection (2) that after the passing of this Act the Food Controller during the continuance of his office is to have and exercise all the powers possessed by him at the time of the passing of the Act under the Regulations referred to in the Schedule to the Act. One of the Regulations in the Schedule is Defence of the Realm Regulation 2B. As a consequential Amendment (it is a separate Amendment in form, but it is in substance part of the same) I propose in the next paragraph to omit the words "in force and have effect as if made under the powers Conferred by this Act."
§ I propose to discuss them both together. Regulation 2B provides that the Food Controller may take possession of any food, forage, and stores of any description or any articles required for or in connection with the production thereof, that if the price is not agreed regard need not be had to the market price, but if the food is acquired from the grower or producer regard shall be had to the cost of production and to a rate of profit usually earned by him in respect of similar goods before the war. If the goods were procured from any other person, then regard is to be had to the price paid by such person for the goods and to the rate of profit usually earned in respect to the sale of such goods before the war. Further, if the person from whom they are acquired has acquired them otherwise than in the usual course of his business, no allowance of profit is to be made to him at all, or an allowance at a reduced rate. It is, therefore, a Regulation of a very 1086 stringent kind, not only by giving powers to requisition food, but by depriving the victim of a requisition of anything like a price corresponding to the price of the day.
§ It so happens that, by a decision of Mr. Justice Salter in February last, Regulation 2B was held to be ultra vires. It is a Regulation which could only be made under the Defence of the Realm Act. The powers which the Defence of the Realm Act gave were not after all unlimited, and he held that this Regulation was ultra vires in respect of the provisions about not taking account of the market price. Until that decision is overruled it stands as a good and binding decision. I express no opinion whatsoever about the decision, except that it is entitled to the respect which is due to a distinguished Judge, and is, furthermore, the decision of a competent Court binding upon other Courts.
§ It is said that this decision is under appeal. I do not know how that may be, but if the Government Department concerned, which I rather think was the War Office and not the Ministry of Food—
§ LORD SUMNER
It does not matter, because it applies equally to all Departments; it is a decision which would bind them all. If, as I said, the Government Department concerned had been really anxious to appeal against that decision it would have been quite the ordinary course for them to make application to the Court of Appeal to have the appeal advanced, upon the ground that many other cases depended upon it and it was desirable to have the decision of the higher Court as soon as possible. If necessary, the same application could have been made afterwards to your Lordships' House, and I have not the slightest doubt that in both cases the application would have been acceded to.
The result is that, if there had been any real desire on the part of the appellants, the Government Department, that decision would have been reviewed before now. Instead of doing that, as your Lordships will now no doubt appreciate, this Bill takes the matter out of the realm of legal decision, and proposes to enact that Regulation 2B, instead of being a Regulation made under the Defence of the 1087 Realm Act, shall be a substantive enactment under this Act. It therefore not only gives it a new life by way of continuance, but it gives it a new life by way of validity, and expressly says that it is not to be deemed to have effect as a Regulation made under the Defence of the Realm Act, as to which it was bad, but is to have effect as though set out in this Act and enacted by this Act.
Between the delivery of that judgment by Mr. Justice Salter and the present time the matter has been dealt with by another Act. It is an Act which received the Royal Assent on March 31 of this year, and is designed temporarily to continue certain emergency enactments and Regulations, and so far as it relates to the powers of the Food Controller Regulation 2B was one of the Regulations continued by that Act. But the Legislature carefully put this proviso into Section 2—Provided that no such Regulation as so continued shall have greater validity than it had before the time when, but for this Act, it would have expired.That is to say, Regulation 2B may hereafter be held to be good. If so, let it be good. At present it has been held to be bad, and it has no further validity by reason of this continuation than it has at the present moment.
I think your Lordships will probably be of opinion that the course pursued in the Continuance Act in March was the right one, and the course proposed to be followed in this present Bill is not the right one. I do not wish to set up or to stand up for any etiquette of the Courts, or to suggest that there is any amour people on the part of any learned Judge to find that the Legislature has enacted something different from what he has decided to be the law. Far from it. But when a Regulation has been decided to be ultra wires and the Department concerned, or one of the Departments, which wishes to put it into force finds that the Regulation it had relied upon is no longer an available instrument, I think it is not the right thing simply to say, "There is a decision of a Judge which we do not like; let us get rid of it; let us go to Parliament, and they will put it right for us."
The right thing is either to carry the matter to a higher Court and let it be reviewed in the ordinary course, or, if they must come to Parliament, to give some reasons for doing so. If I may say so, the 1088 legal propriety of the thing is all in favour of taking the course pursued by the Act which was passed in March, and leaving the Courts to decide what is purely a question of law on the construction of the Defence of the Realm Act. I regret that this course has not been taken. I regret it all the more because I think it is another sign of many that the Departments are now very much more disposed to disregard decisions of the Law Courts, and to think they have only to apply to the Legislature for an amending Act in order to get their difficulties put straight, than formerly was the case.
I admit at once that if there is a ground of emergency which requires that Regulation 2B shall be re-enacted now, of course the position is entirely altered, and what we have to consider is whether there is a good case for now enacting Regulation 2B. I have been through the speeches not only of the noble Earl in moving the Second Reading of this Bill in this House but of the Food Controller in moving the Second Reading in another place, and I can find no reference at all which explains in any way why it is necessary to enact something now which was not enacted during the war, but was issued by way of Regulation and then went beyond the powers of the law. All that I found had been said in the House of Commons was—These among other Regulations are powers very necessary in the face of emergency and as part of the machinery of control.It is nowhere suggested what the emergency was, and the noble Earl in moving the Second Reading did not deal with the point. It was quite obvious that those who had provided him with the material upon which he argued, and by which, of course, he felt himself limited, had not thought fit to place before your Lordships any reason whatsoever for enacting something now that has not been enacted before.
What emergency is there? It is said, in the speech I have just quoted from, that it is part of the machinery of control. How does it come about that it is part of the machinery of control to requisition a man's food and pay him for it, not at the market price and not at the price he had every right to expect to get and is entitled to get from somebody else, but upon some totally different sum? Why is this Regulation 2B, without any alteration at all, a suitable Regulation for use now? It 1089 refers you back to the profit usually earned by the requisitionee before the war or, in the case of a person who is a vendor and not a producer, it refers you back to the profit usually earned in respect of the sale of such goods before the war—that is to say, before the continued and extended office of the Food Controller comes to an end, he may be taking a requisitionee back for a period of eight years, to a state of things eight years old, a state of things difficult to ascertain and at any rate totally different from the state of things prevailing at the moment.
That there may be some circumstances in which you would have to requisition goods still I cannot believe, and I hope the noble Earl will tell us what these circumstances in his anticipation are. If there are such circumstances I should have thought that a new Regulation ought to be made, and that the prices to be ILA to the persons whose goods are requisitioned should be fixed not with reference to something seven or eight years old but with reference to existing facts, taking into account the changed value of money, the changed opportunities that tradesmen have now, and the changed situation of those who have to carry on business. That there can be any emergency similar to that in which the Regulation was originally framed seems impossible. There is only one more Treaty to be signed, and to-morrow is fixed for its signature. It is true it has been fixed four or five times already, but the procrastination of the Turkish delegates must come to an end some time, and one hopes that it, will be signed to-morrow or the next day. There is, therefore, none of the existing states of war that has to be provided for in this Bill. Are we contemplating some new war or a revision of all the Treaties so that the whole process is to begin over again?
What has the Department in contemplation which justifies it in coming to Parliament and asking for these drastic powers to take a man's property and not to pay that which it is worth to him and which any one else would have to pay for it? If the noble Earl can make out any reasonable cause of that kind I should not invite your Lordships to refuse this power to the Government, but I submit that the House is entitled, when it is asked net only to confer new power but a power which the Department has exercised already, to be told explicitly and not in general 1090 terms what is the emergency against which the Food Controller is to be armed. It is not enough to say that it is part of the machinery of control. It is not enough to talk about the possibility of keen competition between this country and Continental countries. We ought to be told under what circumstances it is that the Food Controller contemplates having to use this power, because it means taking away property from one man for the good of the rest of the country. It is a form of taxation; he has to stiffer that others may pay less. Therefore before Parliament arms the Food Controller with the ability to do this, I submit that both Houses of Parliament should be told in terms what is the difficulty with which the Food Controller expects to have to deal.
Clause 1, page 2, line 2, leave out from ("Act") to the end of line 6.—(Lord Sumner.)
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I desire to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the opening words of subsection (2) say "after the passing of this Act." In other words, the suggested powers to be conferred on the Ministry of Food have no retrospective validating effect. That, of course, is important, and I hope your Lordships will bear it in mind. On the technical point also I think there is a defect in Lord Sumner's first Amendment which he can scarcely have anticipated. The Schedule of the Act prolongs for the Food Controller powers under the Defence of the Realm Act, but it does so subject to four specified limitations, and limitations of the widest character. It seems to me that Lord Sumner's Amendment, if adopted, would cut out those limitations and would invest the Food Controller with powers for which he has not invited the assent of Parliament.
Lord Sumner, I gather, does not mean to diminish the powers of the Food Controller. He did not say that those powers had been improperly exercised. He complained that the powers took the case out of the realm of jurisprudence. That is true, but it also takes them out of the defence of D.O.R.A., and I shall submit to your Lordships that there is something in the nature of a point of etiquette, although Lord Sumner disclaimed it rather emphatically. He said that it is wrong for a public Department to apply to the Legislature to put the matter right, and 1091 that we should make a fresh Regulation which would take into account the changed value of money. We have done that. Lord Sumner's Amendment would cut out the Schedule with the limitations, and if your Lordships will refer to the Schedule you will see that if a new case arises like the rum case—Mr. Justice Salter's decision in the case of the Newcastle Breweries—paragraph (2) of the Schedule says that in default of agreement compensation is to be determined by a single arbitrator appointed for the purpose by the Lord Chief Justice, and the arbitrator has to find compensation which is reasonable; that is, of course, reasonable in relation to contemporary facts and in relation to the ordinary commercial situation of the moment. I should have thought this was more than an ample safeguard and one to which no one could take objection.
The object of the Bill as we have drafted it is to get rid of D.O.R.A. in relation to food. Lord Sumner, by his Amendment, proposes to retain vitality in the Defence of the Realm Act. We object; we do not want to have anything more to do with D.O.R.A. We want to wipe it out, and so far as I remember during the last twelve or eighteen months all of your Lordships have expressed a similar opinion. I object on principle to have to maintain the Defence of the Realm Act when an effective substitute can be found. Lord Sumner appears to think that we should continue powers although they are afflicted with infirmity. I suggest that is a most objectionable form of legislation. Any powers exercised by a Government Department, whether they are wide or narrow, should be definite and specific, and one of the chief objections to these emergency Acts has been that they are not sufficiently well defined. I suggest to your Lordships that it is quite illogical that limitations should be imposed upon conditions which Parliament itself, if Lord Sumner's view were accepted, would be refraining from making directly valid.
I feel myself that we have pursued the right course. We embody, or try to embody, in a Statute of the Realm, subject to clearly-shown limitations, powers which have hitherto floated about within the Defence of the Realm Regulations. We exclude them from the Defence of the Realm Regulations and trust to our own Statute for their embodiment. On the general merits of Regulation 2b of 1092 the Defence of the Realm Regulations, which empowers the Ministry of Food to requisition food, Lord Sumner invites me to state in explicit and not in general terms what is required. It is because emergencies cannot be exactly foreseen that it is impossible to state in explicit terms the actual employment to which these rights might be put, but if anybody contemplates a serious dislocation of supplies, involving, we will say, in a particular district any grave congestion of elemental foodstuffs, if such a condition is possible, then the right and the power to requisition and thus to redistribute flour and meat or milk, or whatever the commodity may be, is one which, under present conditions, should still be retained by the Government of the day. Such dislocations are possible. Shortages are conceivable, and it is to provide the public with a means of revictualling itself when the ordinary systems of distribution have broken down that this clause is advanced and can only he defended on those general terms. It gives a power which I think the Government ought, during the short duration of this Ministry, to retain.
§ LORD SUMNER
The noble Earl, to my surprise, contends that paragraph 2 of the Schedule—the limitation which says that in default of agreement the compensation shall be such as may be determined to be reasonable by the arbitration of a single arbitrator—has the effect of getting rid of the formidable paragraphs in Regulation 2B which say explicitly that you are not to have regard to market price, and are only to allow a rate of profit such as was usually earned by the person, the victim of the requisition. before the war. I am exceedingly glad to hear that it is the Government's view and intention that such should be the case.
I earnestly hope that the draftsman will reconsider this matter and make it clearer, because I really do not think anybody can be proud of drafting which continues the express terms that I have referred to, and then imagines that by saying it is to be subject to this limitation he has got rid of all these express statements. I should have thought there would be very little difficulty, supposing in future a different Government Department or a Department differently controlled wished to deprive the subject of the advantages which we are now told he is entitled to, in arguing that both were consistent one with the other, and that the arbitrator had to give 1093 what was reasonable, subject to his observing the express direction in the Regulations, which is maintained in toto, and what he had to direct his mind to was giving a reasonable sum, and not more than a reasonable sum, that being the limitation according to the rules laid down in the Regulation.
I hope that advantage will be taken on the Report stage, in the interest of the person whose goods may be requisitioned, to insert words in the Schedule to the effect that it is not intended that those paragraphs in the Regulation to which I have referred should any longer be the dominant rules which must guide the arbitrator. It is much to have elicited so favourable a statement from the noble Earl in charge of the Bill. I ask the House, however, to notice that it is not pretended to be possible to say that there is any emergency in contemplation. All that is said is that all things are possible now; that an emergency may arise, and that it is very useful to be able to redistribute by means of the exercise of such powers as these, and it is understood to be a proper way of distributing food to take from one tradesman into the hands of the Food Controller, and to let the latter substitute himself as the tradesman as distributor of the stuff at a price which may have no reference to the market price of the day.
The clock and the aspect of the House lead me to the same conclusion as my noble friend Lord Chaplin was led to—namely, that it would be neither desirable nor perhaps very useful to pursue the matter further. But I hope that the noble Earl will consider my suggestion that the words should be made quite plain on Report, because it is a thing which cannot be made too plain, and if the Government really mean what the noble Earl has said it would be very much better that everybody should know it. I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The point raised by the noble and learned Lord was new to me when I entered the House, and I certainly should not wish to give any considered opinion upon it; but it appears to me that the noble and learned Lord and I are not very likely to differ upon a technical point, which does not seem to me to present very great difficulty. The noble and learned Lord has made a useful suggestion, and between now and the Third 1094 Reading this subject shall be considered by the Government, and, if necessary, on the Third Reading the matter may be made clear.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses and schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment.