§ LORD STRACHIE had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government if they will give a detailed statement of the moneys received by the Government and the distributors from the farmers in the South Western counties under the orders of the Food Controller in 1919, of the sums which have been repaid to the persons from whom they were received; and of the part of the total levy of £250,000 or thereabout which has been spent in legal or other expenses; and to move for Papers.563
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have been asked by West Country members in another place, who are anxious to have a clear statement as to what has happened to the money which was illegally extracted from the unfortunate farmers in the West of England, to bring this Question before your Lordships' House. They have tried to raise it in the House of Commons, but the noble Lord knows perfectly well how easy it is for a Minister who does not want to give information by way of question and answer to put off any member who wants to have a full and clear statement. I have been asked, therefore, to bring the Question forward in your Lordships' House, where it is quite easy to cross-examine a Minister and obtain a reply; not that I think the noble Lord is indisposed to giving me full information on an important question which has excited a great deal of interest in the four counties in the West of England.
§ I ask whether he will be good enough to furnish a list of those persons who hold licences. There is, I know, a Command Paper which was issued some time ago, but that only gave a list of those who claimed, personally or in writing, to have the money repaid. I want to know the total sum obtained from the licences. All sorts of statements have been made, and the sum of £250,000 has been mentioned. I want to know the total amount actually received, and what steps the Government have taken for the repayment of that amount to those distributors who paid the Government under these licences. There is another question which is interesting the agricultural world, and that is the total amount of the legal expenses that were paid in this matter. I understand that, as regards legal expenses, the Government state that nothing was taken cut of the money and that the whole was repaid to the middlemen who had these licences. I understand that it is now stated by the Board of Trade that the total amount of money collected was £105,000, and that all has been repaid, except £3,500. I suppose that this amount is waiting in the Treasury until certain claimants have made out their claims.
§ We have heard a great deal in the West of England of the great generosity of the United Dairies Company who, out of their great kindness of heart, are going to give £30,000 for scientific research in 564 the four counties, but this does not seem such a very remarkable sum to give when I find—the noble Viscount will tell me if I am wrong—that the United Dairies Company paid for these licences £85,000 to the Government, and that this sum has been returned to them. That is to say, they have received £55,000. I am quite aware that this is not entirely profit to them, because they must have had certain expenses, but at the same time they must have made a very considerable profit indeed. That seems to me too large a sum for any private company to have received, and I am rather surprised that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Board of Trade do not put more pressure upon that company and ask them to give a little more in this matter. I should also like to know from the noble Viscount if he is aware that any other people like the United Dairies Company have paid to the unfortunate farmer this money which was illegally demanded from him, in one sense, although I know that it is contended that it was illegal for the Government to issue these licences but that it was not illegal for the money to be extracted from the farmers. I am sure the noble Viscount will realise that this is not an argument which appeals to the ordinary farmer. I hope that he will be in a position to give me a very full answer to my Question and to furnish an explanation on behalf of the Government which has not been given in another place.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, this question of the milk and dairies fees is, as the noble Lord knows, a thrice and, I think, a four times told tale, and I do not think that I need trouble your Lordships with the history of it. I think that you are familiar, as I stated on the War Charges (Validity) Bill, with the restrictions that were imposed on trading, with the licences that were given in certain cases of exemption and with the fees that were charged for those exemptions given in the licences. I think your Lordships are also familiar with the story of how the Wiltshire Dairies obtained a judgment in their favour in your Lordships' House, and how they were exempted from the provisions of the War Charges (Validity) Bill. All those facts are, I think, well-known. The noble Lord seems to be rather well-informed 565 also upon the figures, because the figures that he gave were quite correct. He first of all, I think, wanted to know the total amount of money due, though not paid, for the fees under these licences, and that figure is given to me as £265,000. He also asks what was the figure of the amounts that had been actually paid, and how much had been repaid, and that figure was, I understand, that which he gave—namely £105,000—the whole of that money having been repaid to these licencees with the exception of £3,500, which has not yet been claimed.
The noble Lord, I think, rather suggested that the £30,000 paid by the United Dairies Company out of the amount which they had received back from the fees paid to the Government was rather a small sum. It is not for me to say whether it was a large or a small amount. All I can say is, that it was, of course, entirely for them to devote any sum that they pleased to research scholarships. I may also add that, whether they were generous or niggardly, they were the only one of the licencees who have so far surrendered any of the fees so paid back, or not paid by them, to any such public purpose, and I am not sure whether the noble Lord was quite wise in considering it the best way of securing more money from the others to suggest that about one-third of the fees so paid back was a very niggardly sum to be devoted to a public purpose by the United Dairies Company. I have here a Paper, with which I do not think I need deal in detail, regarding the schemes already set on foot for the disposal of this sum of £30,000. Probably the noble Lord is familiar with the details, and with the formation of committees in the south of England composed of Members of Parliament, members of the National Farmers' Union and others to decide upon schemes for using this money. The money is at present with the United Dairies Company, but I understand that it has been treated by them as a loan, and they are paying 5 per cent. interest upon it.
I think the noble Lord next suggested that the farmers were very dissatisfied at not getting back some of these payments for themselves. I would point out—though I am sure the noble Lord knows it perfectly well—that the farmers did receive the full controlled price for their milk which they sold to these distributors. 566 I think the noble Lord admits that. All he says is that the farmers are naturally not very well satisfied with those amounts. As he is aware, I know something of the Somersetshire farmers, and I am not at all surprised that they are not satisfied with those amounts. In fact, I understand that it was really because they were able to produce milk rather more cheaply in that part of the country than in other parts that the price was originally fixed at, I think, 2d. lower than in other districts. They lived in a more fortunate part of the country.
As regards the names of the licencees, including both those who have had their money repaid and those who have not paid their fees, and therefore do not want, to be repaid, there is no difficulty about the names of the first class, but I understand that there is a little difficulty about giving the names of the second class, about finding out a full list of those who were the original licencees. However, I will do my best to meet the noble Lord on that point, and I will see what can be done to give him the names of the original licencees. I really think that this is the only point for which he is asking, and this being so, I trust that he may find it unnecessary to press for any more Papers.
§ LORD STRACHIE
I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount for the very full information which he has given, and also for his assurance that it may be possible to provide a list of the people who actually received licences. In view of this assurance, I will withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [From Minutes of March 12.]