HL Deb 18 July 1923 vol 54 cc1141-61

THE EARL OF SELBORNE rose to ask the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston whether, in view of the fact that the economic aspect of agriculture in Great Britain has been referred to the Agricultural Tribunal of Investigation, and of the fact that in paragraph 374 of the Report of the Agricultural Policy Sub-Committee of the Committee of Reconstruction, 1918, is set forth the opinion of the Board of Admiralty in the previous year of the importance of agriculture to naval defence, and in view of the great subsequent developments in submarine and aerial warfare, His Majesty's Government will now refer the question of the bearing on national defence of food production in Great Britain to the Committee of Imperial Defence for consideration and report.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I put down this Question to the Leader of the House because of its importance, and because I did not want it to be replied to by anybody except the Leader of the House or one of his colleagues in the Cabinet. Of course, we all recognise the immense strain that there is upon the Leader of the House at the moment, and I need not say I shall be quite satisfied if one of my noble friends who are his colleagues in the Cabinet reply to my speech for him. I want to say at once what I do not propose to do this afternoon. I do not propose to initiate anything in the nature of a general debate on the state of agriculture. No doubt, we shall have that in due course. Nor do I wish to say anything on the economic side of the crisis through which agriculture is now passing. That aspect of the case has been remitted by the late Government to a body called the Tribunal of Investigation, and the present Government are waiting for the final Report of that Tribunal.

But I do want to refer your Lordships to a short debate which took place in this House on June 19 last, when my noble friend, Earl Stanhope, asked a Question bearing very much on the same aspect of the subject as that to which I desire to draw your attention to-day. The answer to Lord Stanhope was given by my noble friend Lord Clarendon. I am sure that my noble friend will forgive me when I say that after carefully reading his answer more than once I think it was drawn up rather with a view to what was contained in Lord Stanhope's Question than to what was argued in his speech, because the answer of my noble friend Lord Clarendon really referred only to the peace aspect o2 food production in this country and of food supplies, whereas the whole gist of Lord Stanhope's speech was such as to draw-your Lordships' attention to the defence aspect of this question and how we should be placed in time of war if we were no better provided than we were at the outbreak of the late war

In that connection my noble friend Viscount Long of Wraxall made some observations on which I would like to pin my remarks to-day. My noble friend said: I rose, however, to make this suggestion to the Government and to the noble Duke. It seems to me that this is not a question for any Committee except, it may be, the Committee of Imperial Defence to consider as a branch of the question of our defence. So far as that inquiry goes, it is obvious, of course, that it must be of a strictly confidential character. But in October there is going to be a great Imperial Conference which will be attended. I hope and believe, by the Prime Ministers of all the great Dominions and by other Ministers as well. I submit to the Government that that will be an eminently suitable occasion on which to ask the Question which has been raised by the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, to-day.

Now, I want to carry on and to press home that idea of my noble friend Lord Long, because it is very strange that there has been a silence, a rather sinister silence, on what I may call the defence aspect of agriculture since the war—certainly since the repeal of the Corn Production Act by the late Government.

The economic aspect has been emphasised again and again in both Houses of Parliament, and I am the last person to say that that economic aspect should not be examined in all its details, as I hope it is being examined to-day, but surely the economic aspect is really in the long run in the history of this country of no more importance than the defence aspect. What is the use of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force without food for the people to eat? That is the question which will be forced to the front in the next war. Nothing is stranger or more alarming than the shortness of memory of politicians on this subject of our experience in the late war. Let me make two quotations from the Report of the Agricultural Policy Sub-Committee of the Reconstruction Committee, over which I had the honour to preside. That Sub-Committee was appointed by Mr. Asquith when he was Prime Minister, and in the plenitude of his responsibility for this country in a state of war, and he drafted the reference with his own hand. He told me to make preparations for this Committee, and I sent him a draft reference which he entirely discarded, and he drafted a Very much shorter and better reference in his own hand. That was in August, 1916, and it was as follows:— Having regard to the need of increased home-grown food supplies in the interests of national security, to consider and report upon the methods of effecting such increase.

That, I think, shows us in a very few words how Mr. Asquith's mind was affected at that moment.

But before this Committee completed its labours, we thought right to communicate with the Admiralty, and ask the Admiralty to give us their views on the national aspect of the reference given to us by Mr. Asquith, and I make no apology for quoting the opinion of the Board of Admiralty in 1917, as reported in paragraph 374 of the Report:— The submarine attack on the overseas food supply of the United Kingdom has thrown a great additional strain upon the Navy in the present war. The Navy has so far been able to keep this submarine attack in cheek, but no means have yet been discovered to render sea-borne traffic immune from attack. Consequently any effective steps to make this country less dependent upon the importation of the necessities of life in the present war would result in a great reduction of anxiety. The certain development of the submarine may render such vessels still more formidable as weapons of attack against sea-borne commerce in a future war, and no justification exists for assuming that anything approaching entire immunity can be obtained. Therefore, the experience of the present war leads to the conclusion that any measures which resulted in rendering the United Kingdom less dependent on the importation of foodstuffs during the period of a future war, and so in reducing the volume of sea-borne traffic, would greatly relieve the strain upon the Navy and add immensely to the national security. I would ask the House to consider whether development since that day has added to our security or diminished it.

Is it not a matter of common knowledge that since 1917 there have been great developments in the power of the submarine Is it not also common knowledge that there has been a great development in the power of the Air Force? Does it not, therefore, follow that the menace to our sea-borne traffic in a future war, both from under the sea and from the air, is far greater than it was when the last war broke out? If that is so. I can imagine no more important aspect of defence to be brought before the Imperial Conference, to which my noble friend Lord Long referred, and which we know will meet in London in the autumn. Therefore, I hope very much that my noble friend Lord Salisbury will be able to tell the House that this matter will be brought before the Imperial Conference.

But there is surely a stage to be gone through before this matter is brought before the Imperial Conference. Surely the matter must be probed to the bottom first of all by the Committee of Imperial Defence, and they must formulate their judgment on the position, because if they do not prepare the ground there is no material on which the Imperial Conference can work. Certainly, when I had the honour of being a member of the Cabinet this was the kind of subject which occupied the attention and the study of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and it seems to me quite as important a matter for that Committee to consider as the strength of the Air Force or the strength of the Fleet. I hope that my noble friend will tell me that this matter is being considered, or has been considered, or will be considered, by the Committee of Imperial Defence in order that the views of that Committee may be laid before the Imperial Conference in the autumn for decision.

I may be told that these questions, whether they, are of the safety of our food supply, or the strength of our Air Force, are returns towards the military mind and the attitude of a country looking forward to war. I am sure there is not a single one of your Lordships who does not most earnestly hope and pray that this country may be spared from ever again experiencing another great war. But we cannot possibly, in justice to our trust and for the safety of posterity, lay our plans on the certainty that there never will be a great war. If that was to be our line of country, then we should abolish the Navy and the Air Force and the Army. But if we are, as prudent men, conscious of our responsibility for the future to try to make that future as secure as we can, then I maintain that this country can no more decline to consider the question of its food supplies in a future war than it can decline to consider the strength of its Fleet, or of its Air Force, or of its Army. That is the point of view from which I desire to address the subject to-day and to avoid the larger question of the general state of agriculture. I beg to ask my noble friend the Question on the Paper.


My Lords, I addressed the House so recently on this subject that I really have very little more that I desire to say this afternoon. But there are three points that I should like to bring forward. The first is contained in the answer given by my noble friend Lord Clarendon, in which he said that it was Impossible to lay down with any precision, or even approximately, the limits of food that could be grown in this country, or imported, to which I referred in my Question. I had always believed that the first duty of the Navy was the protection of our commerce and its second duty only the protection of our shores. And therefore I cannot believe that the Admiralty is not able to lay down—certainly approximately, and I hope a great deal more definitely than that—the amount of transport that they are capable of protecting and bringing to this country. I have great respect for the President of the Board of Trade. He is a very old friend of mine from schooltime days, and I have a great admiration for his qualities, but I do not think that he would claim to be, and I confess I have hardly ever considered him, an expert on naval strategy and naval policy.

The second point I should like to bring forward is the point of view which was held by the Government of the day in 1910–14 and during the greater part of the war, which was that the deliberations of the Government on a question such as this are so secret that they should not be given to the public. We had that argument over and over again. We were told that we could not refer to other nations, and when the war broke out we were told by Ministers responsible that they knew quite well that the war was likely to arise and that they did not feel that the public would be behind them if they took precautions. I doubt very much whether Ministers in future will be dealt with so leniently as Ministers were with regard to the past.

But that happened also during the war I remember very well the country being told—I think the statement was made in another place—that Hill 60, outside Ypres, had been captured, and when the Government was asked whether it had been re-captured by the enemy the public were told that the top of the hill had been blown away, and therefore it no longer existed. Those of us who happened to be in that part of the battle front were shot at every day by German shrapnel, which was directed from observation posts on the crest of that hill. I had an opportunity of visiting those observation posts later, and the amount that could be seen from those posts was perfectly amazing—far more than we realised at the time. But it was perfectly obvious that the Germans knew that they had re-captured the top of the hill, and therefore it was absurd to pretend that you could not tell those things to the public when the enemy was already fully acquainted with them. I am convinced that in regard to the food supply of the country, whether it is grown here or overseas, any potential enemy of ours would be fully acquainted with our situation in that respect.

On a previous occasion I deliberately refrained from specifically referring to the Committee of Imperial Defence, because I have reason to believe that on former occasions questions, somewhat of this character, have been referred to the Committee of Imperial Defence in rather an abstract form. And even when the officers of that Committee have applied for information from Government offices they have not always been able to procure the information that was necessary on which to found their inquiry. I referred in my former speech to the sort of information that it would be necessary to obtain both from the Foreign Office and the Treasury. In both of those eases the information is obviously of an extremely confidential character, and one fully understands the point of view of the Government Department concerned in not wishing to share it with anybody else. But if you are going to inquire fully and adequately into such a question as this that information must be given. It was because I felt that this subject would have to enter very largely into the solution of this question that I did not specifically refer to the Committee of Imperial Defence, although in the end the whole inquiry would have to be conducted by that body, partly because there would be Cabinet Ministers there with whom the decision would finally rest, and partly also because nobody else would have either time or opportunity to thresh out a question of this character. I fully agree with the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Selborne. I earnestly trust that His Majesty's Government realises how important this question is, and will give it full and early consideration.


My Lords, no one can complain that my noble friend Lord Selborne has thought it his duty to bring this subject to your Lordships' notice, because he is not only a recognised authority on the Imperial aspect of agriculture, but he held office as Minister for Agriculture in the early part of the war and was responsible at that stage for the proceedings which were adopted with a view of safeguarding the food supplies of the country. It would naturally fall to him, therefore, to move your Lordships on this subject and we ought to be very grateful to him for doing so. Neither is it too soon for him to enter upon the subject. The moment that a war is concluded, although it sounds rather a cold-blooded thing to say, all that is necessary in the way of preparation for the next war, if there ever is to be a next war—which God forbid—ought to be taken in hand. It is no good waiting until the last moment. However much we may be devoted to peace, however much we may be determined, so far as we can with due regard to the interests of our country and our Empire, to avoid war, we are bound, of course, to contemplate the possibility, and, if once that possibility is admitted as conceivable, then all the necessary preparations in so far as they can be thought out ought to be entered upon without delay.

Consequently, this subject has been engaging the attention of those Departments of the Government—I do not mean merely since this Government came into office, but before that—to whom it is material. The matter is under their consideration and a certain amount of work has been done by way of selecting that material information which is necessary. I do not say that everything has been done; by no means; but a beginning has been made. My noble friend Lord Selborne said, and my noble friend Lord Stanhope repeated, that the Committee of Imperial Defence is the proper authority to consider the matter. That is true from the strategical point of view. I was glad that neither of my noble friends entered into what I may call the economic aspect of this question. That is a very big issue indeed, and one which I should at once have excused myself from entering upon as being no part of the duty of the Committee of Imperial Defence. The vast fiscal questions which have been before the country for many years past must concern a much greater authority than the Committee of Imperial Defence.

My noble friend also said that this subject ought to receive the consideration of the Imperial Conference which is to assemble in the autumn. That is undoubtedly true. I am not sure whether he was present at the end of our proceedings upon the Question of the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope. Had he been he would have heard an assurance from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, my noble friend who now sits beside me, that the matter was already under consideration and would be brought before the Imperial Conference. There is really nothing to add upon that point; the matter is in hand.

Having answered, technically, the Question which has been addressed to me, I might, perhaps, have been content with what I have said; but I dare say your Lordships will allow me to add a word or two more. The real resource for the food supply of this country in time of war lies in that which I think my noble friend, Lord Stanhope, mentioned—in the protection and action of the Navy. That is the only thing upon which, in the long run, we must rely. There was a Royal Commission which sat in 1904 and 1905, of which I dare say my noble friend Lord Selborne was a member, though I do not recollect.


No, I was not.


At any rate, that Royal Commission inquired into the position of the food supply of this country in time of war, and I extract one sentence from its Report:— We look mainly for security to the strength of our Navy. But we rely in only a less degree upon the resources of our mercantile fleet and its power to carry our trade and reach all possible sources of supply wherever they exist. We have to rely upon the Navy and upon the mercantile fleet. Of course, as the safety of the mercantile fleet really depends upon the Navy, it is ultimately upon the Navy that we rely. That is a conclusion to which we must come. I say that emphatically because, whatever changes might be made in the agricultural policy of this country, it is absolutely certain, I think, that we could never be wholly self-supporting. Let us assume the widest fiscal changes which could be made, the sort of thing, for instance, which would shock to the last point the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp—even then, I say that this country could not be self-supporting in the matter of her food supply. You might make a difference, some considerable difference; but it would not be the complete thing.

I say that, not because of the experience of this country only in the war but the experience of other belligerents as well. Take the case of France. France is reputed to be, in ordinary parlance, self-supporting from a food point of view; but she was not self-supporting in the war. Very early in the war it became necessary for her to import meat, and that threw a considerable burden upon this country, because upon this country it fell to protect the trade routes, and we had to protect the importation of meat into France. Even so, when we came to 1918 it was found that the French herds had diminished by one-third in the course of the war. But it was not confined to meat. I find that in 1917 the French imported six million tons of food stuffs, or about 40 per cent. of what the British imported. That is not so much as we imported but still is a comparable figure. In 1018 the case was even worse so far as France is concerned.

Then take Germany. Germany was, before the war, self-supporting as regards human food. It was not altogether self-supporting in all respects, and it is an important consideration that even in time of peace Germany, with all the reputation which it has for agricultural development, was not self-supporting. Germany had to import fodder, and it had to import what indirectly bore upon human food—it had to import manure. None of the western countries, so far as I am aware, have ever been self-supporting in the matter of manure. They have always had to import it, and without manure any really efficient agriculture is out of the question. When we come to the war, as everyone knows, Germany was very hard put to it for food; in fact, it was only the conquest of Rumania which saved her, if we are to trust the accounts given of it by General Ludendorff in the book which he wrote after the war. He not only says that, but in accounting for the final débâcle of Germany he says that the demoralisation which set in was largely due to lack of food. In the same way, towards the end of the war, Austria, but for the Ukraine, could not have got on at all in the matter of food. It appears, therefore, that not England only was affected, but none of the western nations was self-supporting when it came to the test.

The reason is not only the want of manures, of which I have spoken, but a much more important matter than that, the want of man-power. If you take all your man-power away to fight you cannot raise the same crops, and it was the absence of man-power which largely accounted for the want of food in Germany, Austria and France. All those countries suffered accordingly, and that must always happen in a great war. Whatever the fiscal policy may be in this country, or, indeed, in any country which is highly developed and organised, that country cannot be self-supporting in time of war, though for a period of course it can be. I hope noble Lords will not think that I am unreasonably exaggerating. For a period and perhaps in regard to certain commodities, a country might be self-supporting, but, broadly speaking, in the case of a war of any dimensions it could not, and that is the conclusion to which I am inevitably drawn.

It follows that you must fall back upon the finding of the Royal Commission in 1904 and 1905 which, up to the war, was treated in the Committee of Imperial Defence as a sort of Bible, as a kind of text by which they abided. That is to say you must trust to the mercantile marine, and to the Fleet which protects the mercantile marine. Without that there is no ultimate solution, and that is the conclusion to which generation after generation of British statesmen and British admirals have come. Although I am sure that the Committee of Imperial Defence ought to consider this matter, yet so far as the broad conclusion is concerned I do not, think that they will come to any different result from that to which their predecessors have come.

My noble friend Lord Selborne spoke for a moment of the different conditions which have applied since the war. I do not propose to dispute what he says. There is something, however, to be said on both sides. No doubt, submarines have been developed, but at any rate one great source of supply of submarines has come to an end—namely, the German supply. I do not know how long that will last, but at any rate, under the Treaty and for the present, it has come to an end. I do not pretend to be an authority on this matter, as I need not tell your Lordships, but I think I can say that though submarines have beer undoubtedly developed since the war and become much more powerful than they were, yet I think it probably would be also true to say that the wonderfully ingenious methods of opposing submarines have also been developed. I do not know that any real conclusion on that head can be reached; at any rate, I cannot offer one to your Lordships at this moment. All I can say is that the matter is receiving, and will receive, the attention of the Government, and that we fully realise, even as much as my noble friend Lord Selborne, the vital importance of this question.


My Lords, I desire to say very few words in reference to what has fallen from the Deputy-Leader of the House. In common with all those who are interested in this subject, I listened to the speech that he has just delivered with very great satisfaction. It shows—I will not say for the first time, but at all events rather in contradistinction to what has too often been the case—that this great question which is of such vital importance to this country is not only occupying the attention of His Majesty's Government, but that they have evidently given very close attention to it. I confess that I was a little disappointed in one of the aspects of my noble friend's reply, and I hope he will allow me to say very briefly why I was disappointed. It is true that in the ultimate result we must depend in this country for our food supplies, which in the main come from outside, upon the Fleet, and, as my noble friend pointed out, upon the Fleet in its dual capacity of defending our shores and protecting the transports which bring us food. The comparison that my noble friend made with other countries is a sound one. It is an obvious fact that in war, which interrupts all ordinary procedure, there must be a shortage of food supplies.

But what rather disappointed me was this. My noble friend did not refer to the great distinction that there is between this country and this Empire and any other country in the world. What my noble friend said of France is true, and always has been true, and what he said of Germany is true, but what is the position of this country? It is to this that I desire in a very few words to draw your Lordships' attention in the hope that this branch of the subject will be considered by the Imperial Conference. My noble friend Lord Selborne quoted the suggestion that I made on a previous occasion. I did not desire then, and I do not desire now, that the duties thrown upon the Committee of Imperial Defene and upon the Imperial Conference should be the same. I do not want to raise economic questions. I do not think that is necessary. The subject will have to be raised in the Imperial Conference in reference to other matters, but in this particular instance it can be dealt with, I believe, without any reference to duties, or tariffs, or anything of that kind.

In the earlier stage of the war, in 1915, a proposal was, I know, submitted to the Government which involved the immediate purchase of large quantities of wheat from Canada. An arrangement on these lines would, I believe, contribute enormously to the solution of this problem. There are some who say that if we entered into a bargain with Canada, or if we secured a large part of her crop we should give offence to other Dominions. I speak with some experience of discussions on this question at various Conferences at which all the Dominions have boon represented, and I have never found the slightest evidence of any feeling of jealousy or dissatisfaction. Each Dominion, as a matter of fact, has its own special products; and they take exactly the contrary view. They realise that this country is not only entitled to do what is beet for her people, but that it is the duty of those who are responsible for its government to do so. And assuming that it would be easier and safer to get a large quantity of our wheat from Canada, no other Dominion would object. The question is whether you can arrive at an arrangement which would give you a certain supply, which, subject to naval protection, would prevent any possibility of starvation.

What is going on at the present moment? It has always been a puzzle to me that we do not treat our Empire like an individual treats his farm. The farmer cultivates his farm and disposes of its produce according to the character of the farm. We have an Empire which, within its own borders, contains everything we want. I have said this before, but it is a fact which bears repetition. We can supply ourselves with every article of food and clothing that we require, and yet we are no nearer a solution of the problem as to the way in which the Empire should utilise her vast resources and make them available for the Mother Country, where they are needed, than we were when it was first raised. I hope this question will be fully considered and reported upon by the Committee of Imperial Defence. I also hope that the Imperial Conference will not only consider the possibility of shortage of food supply in war time, but that it will embark, almost for the first time, on a broad consideration of the situation of the Empire as a whole.

It is almost incredible that we should be, engaged to-day in debating, as we have often debated before in this House, a question which anticipates possible starvation at certain moments when we have within our own Empire abundant food supplies which could be made available for this country if statesmen would only grapple with the problem with the determination to find a solution. Whenever it is suggested if seems to raise the alarm of Free Traders; and that is a feeling which I am much too stupid to understand. I am not a Free Trader, I do not believe in Free Trade, and I do not think you have anything approaching Free Trade in this country. But that has been the bogey which has always been held up before us. We have always been told that we cannot do these things except by departing from our well established fiscal system. I believe you can. I shall be glad to see a departure, and a wide departure, from our fiscal system; but if that is impossible, cannot it be done in other ways?

Anybody who has been Secretary of State for the Colonies must know, especially if he has taken part in Imperial Conferences, that our Dominions are more than ready to meet us. They know they have the material, they know they are growing it in increasing quantities, and they would far rather it came here than anywhere else. Is it not extraordinary that, even now, when we are debating this question, Canada is asking herself how she is going to dispose of the bumper crop of wheat she is going to reap this year?. Her normal crop is more than enough to meet all the requirements of this country and leave a considerable surplus to go else-where; and I say that, leaving out of account crops grown in other parts of the world, either within the Empire or outside it. It may be said by those who see Free Trade and Protection in every suggestion that is made for the extension of the Empire—or perhaps I had better say for the greater utilisation of the Empire's resources—that this cannot be done. I believe, putting on one side the question of tariffs, that it can be done.

The noble Marquess the Deputy-Leader of the House said that we must depend on the conclusions arrived at in the Report of the Commission which sat in 1904–5. I assent to that, with this reservation—a somewhat big reservation—that very much water has flowed under the bridges since then. The whole conditions, not only of this country but of the world, are changed. In no country are the changes so great, or the advance so marked, as in this country. During the war we learnt as we never did before not only what our Dominions can do and how vast was their production, of which we knew something but did not fully realise, but—and this was the great lesson we learnt—that in the representatives of our Dominions we have mature statesmen of great ability who are daily considering these questions at home.

When they come here I am satisfied that they will raise them themselves, but I do not want it to be left solely to the Dominion representatives. I want our own Government to ask the representatives of our overseas Dominions to find a plan which, without interfering with our own domestic affairs, will enable us to feel secure for the future, because we shall be able to say that we are dependent for our food supplies, not on those who may become our enemies some day, but on those who proved themselves, in our most terrible moments, to be our most reliable and best friends, and upon whom we can again rely in similar circumstances. Then one of the greatest questions which has ever been considered by this country, and one of the greatest dangers to this country, would find a satisfactory solution.


My Lords, I listened with great satisfaction to the reassuring statement of the noble Marquess who is now leading the House, and I was much relieved to learn that the various Departments of State affected by this question have it under their consideration. But when the noble Marquess referred to the Royal Commission on Food Supplies in time of War, which sat in 1905, I could not help thinking not only that the conditions, particularly in this country, have very materially changed since then but that the conditions of warfare have considerably altered also, and although our Colonics and overseas Dominions may be perfectly willing and ready to help us to the best of their power to supplement our own deficient resources of foodstuffs, there will arise the question—in view of the fact that aircraft and submarines were not only fairly deadly in the last war, but are destined to be ten times as deadly in the next war—How is any sea-borne food to come with perfect security to our shores in time of war? I venture to hope that if this matter is brought before the Imperial Conference this point will be borne in mind and that it will be recognised that in the last resource we must depend preponderantly upon our own resources, such as they are, and not upon essential foodstuffs which, in face of a still more strenuous submarine and aircraft campaign, will have to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

There is another point which, I think, is worthy of recollection. When the last war broke out in August, 1914, practically the whole of the German Fleet was cooped up in the North Sea. It is very doubtful whether we shall see such a fortunate condition of affaire in the next war, if and when it comes. We have also to remember, for what it may be considered to be worth, the question of Ireland. I do not want to press the position of Ireland, but we have to remember that during the last war we did obtain a very large amount of food of various sorts from that country. Whether it is going to be equally easy to obtain large food supplies from Ireland in the future must necessarily, under existing conditions, be a matter of some little doubt.

Since the noble Marquess reminded us that our only ultimate security is the strength of our Navy and mercantile fleet, and went on to say that this country could never be wholly self-supporting, I think it would at any rate not be irrelevant to suggest that the fact that this country can never be wholly self-supporting is no reason why, in the interest of its greater security in time of war, it should not approach a great deal nearer to being self-supporting than it is at present. After all, we have only to cast our minds back to forty or fifty years ago to find that the amount of breadstuffs, at least, won from the soil of our country was very considerably greater than it is to-day, in spite of the great improvement in methods of cultivation, the large number of labour-saving appliances that are now available to us, and the very large amount of agricultural and scientific research which ought to enable us to intensify production. I hope at least that it will not go out, not merely to our agricultural friends, who are endeavouring to pull their weight under difficult conditions in the matter of food production, but also to our potential enemies abroad, that we have lost all hope in the matter of largely augmenting food production in this country.

In this connection I should like to remind your Lordships before I sit down that in the memoirs of Count Ludendorff, to which the noble Marquess referred, special emphasis was laid on the fact that the extent of Britain's dependence on sea-borne food was a material element which entered into the calculations of the German General Staff before they decided to embark upon the great war. I may also remind your Lordships that Admiral von Tirpitz and other leading exponents of Germany's military policy before the war repeatedly emphasised in public in Germany the very serious weakness from which this country suffered as the result of our dependence to so large an extent upon sea-borne and overseas food. I cannot help thinking that the very fact that we do produce so little from our soil must always be a serious source of provocation to those who look forward to the time when possibly the result of the last war will be reversed and these islands, not as the result of military or naval effort but as the result of impending starvation, will be reduced to a condition of surrender.


My Lords, I should like, if I may, to say one or two words on this subject. The noble Lord who has just sat down has quoted the German authorities, Admiral von Tirpitz and Count Ludendorff. My small experience of the war was that all the German generals and admirals were wrong in everything from the beginning of the war to the end. They were universally mistaken. The noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, is a great agriculturist, and his supreme desire is to see the agriculture of this country placed on a firmer and better basis than that upon which it rests at the present moment. In my humble opinion, the future of agriculture in this country depends upon whether or not His Majesty's Government can in their wisdom see their way to subsidising it in order to make it a businesslike, practical proposition.

The cost of land and labour in England to-day is so high that I cannot see how you can hope to compete with countries like Canada—where the price of land is by comparison infinitesimal and where the land itself is virgin soil and produces crops immensely superior to anything which we can expect to grow in England—without subsidising the farming of the land in England, which, up to a few years ago, was subsidised by landlords, who gave away rent when bad times came. To-day, you find that many farmers have bought their land, and directly they hit upon a bad year they have nobody to whom to turn. There is no blessed landlord to relieve them and to let them off their rent. We have often heard, in your Lordships' House and in other places, speeches demanding that these farmers and the agricultural industry as a whole should be assisted by remission of rates and in various other ways to keep their business going. I cannot see any great hope of the agricultural industry being placed on a very much better and more businesslike footing without a subsidy. In Canada, Australia and South Africa you have enormous tracts of land where large quantities of wheat and other foodstuffs can be grown at a far cheaper rate than is possible in England.

I come, then, to the question of how those foodstuffs are to be brought to England. The Question which is raised to-day is based chiefly upon the hypothesis that we are at war with a foreign country. Here we come back to an old question. Noble Lords have said that of late years circumstances have changed. I cannot see that strategy has changed; it is the same to-day as it was 120 years ago, and the same elements discover themselves now as then. We must, as an Empire, depend on the sea for our defence. So long as we retain command of the sea we can import as much food as we like. If we lose command of the sea, then we may as well throw up the sponge, for it is all over. Lord Bledisloe suggested that it was a very convenient thing that the German Fleet was locked up in Kiel at the beginning of the war. I quite agree. But who locked it up? Our sailors. May we not expect that in the future we shall have as good men as we have had in the past?

We are also told that submarines and aeroplanes are going to alter everything. Why should they alter everything? Have we not men capable of considering these new circumstances, and may we not hope that, as time goes on, as new aeroplanes, new submarines and new engines of war are devised, we shall find men capable of dealing with these new dangers? I cannot help thinking that many years ago, when steam superseded sail, the same arguments may have been used. It is quite certain that when the torpedo was introduced, and the destroyers were introduced, the same arguments were used. It was said, "Oh! the torpedo can sink a ship.'' The destroyer was then introduced to hunt the torpedo, and another destroyer to hunt the first, and so on. It is a continual race of one arm against another to protect your country, and I am not one of those pessimists who are frightened of the advent of the submarine and the aeroplane. I believe that in the future, as in the past, we shall find men capable of dealing with these new engines of war, but the chief thing which I feel, and have always felt, is that the whole existence of this Empire depends upon the Fleet and nothing else. If you have your Colonies growing food, and, as Lord Long has told us, there is any amount to be had in Canada, so long as you have the command of the sea you cannot starve.


My Lords, I want to say one word. I listened with great satisfaction to what Lord Salisbury said about the attitude of the Government towards the Navy in relation to our food supplies. I am all for increasing the food supplies in this country to the maximum possible degree, quite apart from the effect which it may have upon the country in time of war, but I think it would be fatal if there were any prevalence of the idea, which I see mooted in certain quarters, that if we can increase our food supplies—our home production—we can proportionately decrease the Navy. It is an argument which is being insidiously used and strongly pressed in certain quarters. Assuming for a moment that our food supplies remain as they are now, our future will depend upon the provision of tramp steamers and liners for the importation of food stuffs, and upon the Navy to defend them.

I have just looked at the figures to see what was achieved during the war, and they are very interesting. The figures merely cover breadstuffs and fodder, which of course, in tonnage, is far greater than all the rest of the foodstuffs put together. They are the figures for the period from January 1, 1917, to August 31, 1919, when we were still responsible for French supplies. France imported nearly seven million tons of wheat, flour and other cereals, of which 58 per cent. was carried in British ships. Lord Salisbury overstated the amount imported by France. During the same period of two and a half years seven and a half million tons of wheat, flour and other cereals were imported into Italy, of which 46 per cent. came in British bottoms.


The noble Earl is dealing with cereals only and not other foodstuffs.


Yes, but the other foodstuffs are insignificant in comparison. It shows that the provision of tonnage is of importance in the first place and the second thing is that 1he provision of protection for that tonnage is also important. I hate all this pessimism. There is really too much of it. And when one hears Count Luden-dorff quoted, one cannot but remember that the Germans, in this matter, as in other matters, were proved wrong. They were wrong about the submarine campaign. I was very frightened about the submarine campaign in 1917, but the Admiralty woke up to their responsibility, or realised the means of encompassing their responsibility, with really remarkable success. In the last two years of the war, when the submarine menace was at its worst, we imported into Great Britain twelve and three-quarter million tons of cereals. We only lost four per cent. of that total. That is really very remarkable. During more than one month of that time we never lost a ton of grain from submarine attack—namely, in the months of June and July, 1918. So, while I am all for increasing our production of agricultural food stuffs in this country, for peace reasons just as much as for war reasons, I am far from losing confidence in the power of the British Navy to make a tremendous contribution towards making it possible for us to import any food stuffs we require from overseas.