§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, in view of the past history of the subject this is a comparatively simple Bill and a short Bill. It is to provide for the continuance of the subsidy on beet sugar on the existing basis. Your Lordships will remember that in 1924 when the scheme was first started the subsidy total was equal to 21s. 9d. per cwt. It came down four years later to 14s. 6d. and now it is down to 7s. 3d. If the price of sugar rises above 6s. per cwt. the subsidy will actually go lower—to 6s. 6d. This Bill operates for only eleven months. We have chosen that curious period of eleven months in order to bring the accounting year into line with factory working. Some noble Lords may ask why this subsidy is wanted for the beet, sugar industry at the moment, when it has made such remarkable progress. In 1924, when this scheme was 506 started, the price of raw sugar was 21s. 9d. In 1933 it touched 4s. 3d. The total amount of assistance—the figure I gave before was only subsidy—was 23s. 8d., including duty preference. It is now down to 12s. While it is perfectly true that efficiency of growing amongst the producers has increased enormously, so that last year the yield went up to an average of nine tons per acre, which compares favourably with most Continental countries, and while increased factory efficiency is very considerable, the sugar extraction having increased very largely, still there is no likelihood of getting over that tremendous gap created by the fall in prices.
There has been some complaint of delay in announcing our general policy with regard to this industry. Your Lordships will appreciate that we were held up by the possibility of there being discussions on this subject at Ottawa, which made it impossible for us to commit ourselves. Shortly after that the present Minister of Agriculture came into office and naturally he desired time in which to make up his mind as to his line of future policy. When we came into office, and felt that in devising any future policy it was essential to obtain some unity and some organisation in the industry, we found the most bitter state of warfare between refiners and factories; Now, thanks to giving them time for negotiations—and I would like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the very real statesmanship shown on both sides in those negotiations—we are in the position of being able to say that the refiners and the factories have submitted a scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act. At the same time we can state that the growers also have formulated a scheme.
The position in the industry is that there has been a public inquiry into the scheme submitted by the sugar interests, and that there is an inquiry going on at the behest of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, presided over by Mr. Wilfrid Greene, to advise the Government on its future general policy. Those two inquiries are quite separate. The public inquiry was into the merits of a particular marketing scheme, and the inquiry set on foot by the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerns the future conduct of the industry, the future amount of State aid and the manner in which that State aid, if any, is to be 507 granted. This Bill does not commit your Lordships further than eleven months. Before anything more can be done the scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act will have to be submitted to your Lordships for approval, and with regard to the organisation of the industry and the amount of State aid that is to be given, legislation will have to be introduced next year before this Bill runs out. I beg to move therefore that this Bill be read a second time.
§ LORD RHAYADER
My Lords, before the noble Earl concludes, will he tell us what is the estimated cost to the Exchequer for the eleven months?
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Be La Warr.)
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, I have listened with a great deal of sympathy, and I think your Lordships will also feel a great amount of consideration, for the noble Earl who has had to move this Bill, because he is bringing forward a Bill which everybody who has studied the subject knows ought not to have been brought in at this time at all, but ought to have been brought in a year ago and more. The position is that more than two years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer solemnly promised that before any question of renewing the subsidy was raised there should be a proper inquiry into the whole circumstances of the industry. All of us who had been interested in the sugar industry, as I have been for forty years, were very glad of that because we did hope that the result of that inquiry would be to bring our sugar policy, not only for England, but for the whole of the Empire, under one systematic principle. We may be approaching that, although the noble Earl told us just now that we have two different Committees sitting considering two different sides of the matter, which does not look very hopeful. He tells us that before anything further is done the results of those Committees will be submitted to us, and I suppose we shall be 508 asked, on account of the impossibility of coming to a decision, to prolong this subsidy again for another twelve months for precisely the same reasons as those for which it is proposed to prolong it to-day.
I was not at all impressed—I do not know whether any of your Lordships can have been—with the reasons which the noble Lord gave for the failure of the Government to make good their promise that they would have an inquiry before this matter was again submitted to your Lordships. So far as I can make out, the only substantial reason was that the Minister of Agriculture had found it very hard indeed to reconcile the competing interests of the enormous refining monopoly of Tate and Lyle, Limited, in this country with the interests of their competitors. Undoubtedly Tate and Lyle, Limited, are an extremely strong corporation and very difficult to deal with. However, they seem now to have come to some sort of agreement with their competitors in the refining industry, although they have not altogether come to agreement yet with the producers outside of England. In fact, as I say, this Bill ought to have been cleared away twelve months ago, and we ought to have been in a position now to deal thoroughly with the whole sugar question. This Bill is now brought in with really no argument to support it except that the Government have got into a mess, that they have not been able to carry out their programme, and that by way of a stop-gap they must carry on the system which they had it in their power to remedy more than twelve months ago—a perfect demonstration of an indefensible situation. I think that anybody who has gone into the sugar situation with any care knows perfectly well—and I am sure the Minister of Agriculture will admit this—that the present system of subsidy is quite unjustifiable as a policy. It gives an enormous subsidy to the sugar-producing industry at home, which, as I have again and again urged in this House, cannot be regarded as an economical industry.
I very much wish that we had had an opportunity of getting from the noble Earl his views and opinions upon certain particular points which remain, I think, at issue in connection with that. He said en passant that the British agricultural production now had risen to nine tons an acre, which compared very favourably 509 with Continental production. That is not my information. My information from persons well acquainted with Czecho-Slovakian and German production is that their average is from thirteen to fifteen tons per acre. I pass that by; but there can be no question whatever that as regards glucose content, the production of sugar per acre is very much higher on the Continent and in all the cane sugar producing countries than it is, or can be made, in England. That is the economic basis. On the other hand, we have again and again been told that the value of the beet sugar crop to the farmer in England is very great. I wish the noble Earl the Parliamentary Secretary would give us an analysis of what is the actual advantage to the British farmer in that respect. Of course, the noble Earl will say that that is being gone into by the Greene Committee. I suppose it is being gone into and we must wait until the Greene Committee can give us their Report.
I do feel that this Bill is a somewhat base-born Bill, and that it has no business to be here at all. It reminds me of the story of a certain grass widow; she was a grass widow in the sense that her husband was in prison serving a sentence of seven years imprisonment. This lady did not desire to relinquish her family duties and she produced every year a child. She said: "No one can cast a stone at me; I am a married woman and these children are born in wedlock"—just as the subsidy, although it was regarded with great suspicion by many of us on this side, has been paid for the last six years entirely under the sanction of the law. In process of time the husband's term approached expiration and his time for coming out of prison was at hand. The lady's spiritual adviser said to her: "Now, really you must regulate your household matters. I think you have given reason for considerable suspicion of your conduct, and you must promise me to lead a regular and decent life in future." She said: "I solemnly promise that I will have a proper inquiry into my relations with my friends, and I promise that nothing suspicious and nothing illegitimate shall occur in future." The husband came out of prison, and the first thing that he did was to divorce his wife. Nevertheless, a year after there appeared another contribution of illegitimate origin, precisely as, after the expiration 510 of legal authority, you have this extraordinary Bill without any justification whatever, carrying on a system which has been demonstrated again and again to be economically thoroughly unsound and thoroughly undesirable.
I say that confidently. I am quite confident that the result of the Greene Committee will be to show that. Therefore I say that we protest entirely against this Bill being brought in, not on the ground that the Government, being in that fix owing to their own negligence, did not have to bring something in, but because we think that it is an outrage upon Parliament that the Government should have got into this difficulty. They say they have had great difficulty in studying this matter. I say, with forty years knowledge of the sugar industry, that there is almost no industry in the world in which the statistics and the facts are better documented and in which it would have been easier to come to a rapid conclusion as to what really was the economic basis of a proper subsidy for sugar. Therefore we on this side protest most strongly against this Bill, as other noble Lords on other Benches will no doubt protest as the result of a general economic analysis of the situation.
However, passing from that, I want to express my great regret that the Government are now dealing with this matter in so absolutely piecemeal and disjointed a fashion. As we have been told, we have the Greene Committee and we have a public Commission enquiring into the sugar marketing scheme. We have also a whole system of very energetic negotiations being carried on by the Colonial Office and the Dominions Office with respect to the position of our Colonial and Dominion producers. As a man interested in the Colonies of the West Indies I feel the very greatest gratitude to the Secretary of State for the Còlonies for all he has done and attempted to do for the sugar industry of the Colonies, but those who have followed the matter know what tormented and unhappy arrangements he has to make, with preference upon preference, quota divided by quota, preference diminished when sugar goes up to a certain point and diminished more when it goes to a certain other point—a frightfully complicated arrangement which must be extremely difficult for the sugar pro- 511 ducers in our Dominions. The whole question of the sugar production of the Empire ought to be dealt with as an industry for production to satisfy the needs of our consumers, and on a single basis, and it ought to be dealt with on the lines which in their agricultural policy at home this Government have been gradually approaching; that is to say, on the lines which I myself advocated four years ago of coming to a fixed minimum price for the producers founded on the economic cost of production. I hope that the Greene Committee will advocate those lines.
The Minister of Agriculture has gradually persuaded the country to accept what my West Indian friends and myself have been urging for the last forty years. My only expression of dissatisfaction is that what is being done is being done piecemeal, and I hope that the Government will tell us shortly that they are prepared to take up Imperial sugar production on a single basis, not regarding our Colonies as competitors who have to be rationed with preferences and quotas, but taking the British sugar producing industry as a whole, giving it economic prices, and the sugar to be bought and handled by the Government on behalf of the nation as it was during the War. We are coming to that, and I gladly acknowledge that this Government and the Ministry of Agriculture and others have gone further in that direction than any previous Government. I am well aware, too, that they have done it in the face of my friends on my right, against whom I have maintained the case of the Colonies for many years.
This Bill, however, ought not to have been necessary. It is a Bill which is discreditable to the Government because of their procrastination and delay in dealing with this matter. It is also discreditable to them because it is a piecemeal, haphazard measure, already with two heads to it, and cannot by any possibility give us a promise that the sugar situation will be settled, as the noble Earl suggested, by the time that the next question of subsidy must arise. It is not many months before the contracts for next year must be made. The contracts will have to be made this autumn for the sowings next spring. Does the noble Earl think that we are going to have a settlement of the sugar policy of the 512 Government before the contracts are made for next year? And will he say that we are not going to be let in again next year as we were last year? We cannot oppose this Bill—it has been passed by another place—but we do on this side of the House protest most strongly against the ineptitude with which the Government have handled the matter, and the false pretences under which the Bill is now being brought in.
§ LORD RHAYADER
My Lords, I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord who spoke last in opposing this Bill, although for slightly different reasons. I almost think that the noble Earl must have felt a little embarrassed under the compliments of the noble Lord, who told him that he was carrying out the policy which he (Lord Olivier) advocated four years ago, in the different schemes he has presented to us. That, I believe, to be true. The Government are carrying out a Socialist policy, which ought to receive the wholehearted support of noble Lords on the Opposition Benches, but they certainly are not carrying out the Liberal policy. We have consistently advocated opposition to this subsidy. The noble Earl should, of course, be a happy man to-day. His schemes are ripening fast.
§ LORD RHAYADER
Last week we had the Hops Scheme, and in another place beef arrived on the scene yesterday.
§ LORD RHAYADER
To-day the noble Earl, whose appetite grows with what it feeds upon, produces beet and milk. He is advancing faster in his rake's progress than I ventured to foretell a short time ago. But I thought he was not entirely happy, to-day, in dealing with the beet sugar subsidy, and the reason for that is clear enough. I agree most emphatically with Lord Olivier in saying that this Bill ought not to be here to-day. This matter should have been dealt with twelve months ago, and we ought not to be having a Bill to prolong the beet sugar subsidy for another year. The Government should have come here to-day to admit that the effort which was made, not on their responsibility alone, to establish beet sugar growing in this country as a profitable industry, had, after ten years full experiment, failed. It has 513 been the most costly, and I venture to say the most futile, of all the experiments which have been made in connection with agriculture since the War. The right attitude would, have been to say that the experiment, having been entered upon in good faith more than ten years ago, had been tried out, and that now they had come to the conclusion it was useless to prolong the experiment further.
The scheme first appeared in Mr. Philip Snowden's Budget in 1924. I heard the Budget speech, and I am happy to think that I offered the same opposition even at that time to this proposal, which I foresaw was going to be very costly, and which I was convinced must be a failure. The Conservative Party supported the Socialist Party, and although Mr. Snowden, for other reasons, ceased to be Chancellor of the Exchequer in the following year, in 1925 the scheme was entered upon, the ten years guarantee was given, and the experiment has gone on from that time. We opposed it at the time, and I venture to recall this because we have been blamed for various things we have done, and I want some credit where we have done well. We pointed out that there was no world-shortage of sugar which would justify a large experiment to set up sugar growing in this country, where sugar growing had never been profitable. We declared that in our judgment it could not possibly be made to be a profitable industry in this country, that it could never flourish here without much Government help in the shape of Votes by Parliament. We declared that we thought that the cost of the experiment would be enormous, and we held that the gain to agriculture would be small, and that for the nation it must mean a net loss. Well, that has all come true. It is, I know, a very ungracious position for one to take up to say: "I told you so," but as we are taunted to-day by the present Minister of Agriculture with our consistency in this matter—indeed, he has gone so far as to say in another place that the only reason for the continuance in existence of the Liberal Party is that they might repeal the beet sugar subsidy—I think I may be allowed to defend myself. Consistency is, after all, not a bad virtue, though I can well understand that it is not one that appeals much to members 514 of the present Government. Even insistence, on rigid economy in the expenditure of public money is not a disgraceful thing for a great Party to have in its programme.
Now let me take the objections which we made to the scheme one by one. We declared that the subsidy would not achieve the object of establishing the industry on a paying basis in this country, and that without Government support it would collapse. We were out-voted. For ten years the subsidy has been paid and in March last the Minister of Agriculture said in the House of Commons:In no country in the world can the beet sugar industry be maintained on a profitable basis unless supported by substantial artificial aid.Well, our case is proved. Ten years have passed, and at the end of it the Minister of Agriculture confesses that they have not been able to achieve the very end which ten years ago was intended—namely, the placing of the sugar beet industry in this country on a profitable paying basis. And the logical position to-day would have been for the Government to come here to say that, having tried for ten years to do this thing they find it cannot be done, and they should have given up the attempt. Ten years is a long period.
The cost to the Government during the nine years that have already passed is admittedly close upon £40,000,000—some say a little less, but we may take £40,000,000 as the cost to the Exchequer. And you are where you started—no further forward. You grow your beets a little better, you have your factories established—that is true enough; but you are not on a paying basis, and you are not within sight of being on a paying basis. I am sure the noble Earl will not get up and say that he sees any means by which this industry can be put on a paying basis. The Minister of Agriculture has admitted it. And how should it be? I have here particulars of the production of sugar in various countries. In Great Britain the production of sugar per acre is 22 cwts.—it is quite a good figure; it is not as good as the Continent, but still it is reasonably good—in Jamaica it is 27 cwts.; in Trinidad, 54 cwts.; in Java, 119 cwts. What is the use of pouring out millions to grow sugar in this country with that small possible production per acre against this vast pro- 515 duction in other parts of the world? But, instead of coming and confessing failure—not their failure; they did not initiate the scheme—they are to blame to-day for continuing it. They had no choice until now, but they should have come to-day and said: "We have tried out the experiment and failed."
And incidentally may I remind the noble Earl what happened in connection with the debate about hops last week? He very kindly tried to reassure me. I felt a good deal hurt.When sorrows come they come not single spies,But in battalionsand the noble Earl's measures are arriving so fast that I am frequently wounded. He tried to console me. He said that the Hops Scheme is only for five years; at the end of five years it can all be re-examined and the subsidy can cease. We heard all that in 1924 and 1925 about the beet sugar subsidy. We have heard it all about the dye-stuffs. I do hope that the members of the Government will give up the pretence that any of these schemes which they are setting up are temporary schemes. Once you enter upon this road of allowing interests to build up behind Government subsidies it takes long and hard work and a growing sense of their futility—which is not decernible in the nation at present—to get rid of the burdens so created.
We said the scheme would not only not achieve its purpose of making the production of sugar beet a profitable industry, but that the cost would be far too great, even if it succeeded. We were told that as an outside estimate the cost might reach £20,000,000. They did not expect that, of course; they expected the subsidy to diminish every year, and that it would have disappeared long before ten years, were over. But at any rate £20,000,000 was an outside estimate of what the scheme would cost. It has cost £40,000,000, and the prolongation will cost £3,500,000 in direct subsidy, and I suppose another £2,500,000 in the rebate—probably about £6,000,000 in all. The amount of sugar produced in the ten years has been less than 40 million cwts. The subsidy therefore has amounted to £1 per cwt. of sugar, and the price of sugar is round about 5s. or 6s. a cwt. This country is paying a subsidy of between three and four times the value of the sugar in order to grow that sugar in this country.
516 I have here a very interesting quotation from a speech made by the President of the Board of Trade—a few years ago, it is true, but still full of sound sense, as many of his speeches are. This is what Mr. Runciman said on December 14, 1927:From the general point of view it would actually pay us to use this money to buy our sugar in Rotterdam, to ship it across from Rotterdam, distribute it in this country free of cost, give everyone of these men who would be thrown out of work £3 a week for the period they were out of work, and then there would be £1,500,000 in one year left to distribute among the farmers of the country.… This is the worst example I have seen of crazy finance.My Lords, those were the measured words of the present President of the Board of Trade. It is quite true that he is, I presume—though I cannot penetrate Government secrets—a party to this Bill which is brought in to-day. But I am afraid that the fact that he has submitted does not, unfortunately, lessen the craziness of the finance. I have other quotations here, of which I will quote this one from a speech by Sir Herbert Samuel:The Government could pay all the farm workers £2 a week, all the factory workers £3 a week, all the farmers £3 per acre to grow something else than beet; the beet sugar companies' dividends might be guaranteed at 8 per cent., and the same amount of sugar might be bought and distributed free to the nation, charging only the Customs Duty on the amount of sugar.Is it not crazy finance to be carrying on an experiment of this kind?
I appeal to noble Lords to think this matter over. Forty million pounds is a large sum of money, and you are going to go1 on pouring it out for this useless purpose. My noble friend Lord Olivier was speaking to you about the West Indies, which he knows well. I wonder he did not tell us of the effect of the growth of sugar in this country on the West Indies. It has not helped the West Indian sugar trade that you have set up this rival industry here. It was hardly playing the Imperial game. It was not one of those industries which have been long established in this country, but the setting up of a new industry to rival the West Indies, who live almost exclusively by their sugar. And that is not the end. We had a shipping subsidy promised a few days ago. The sugar policy has, according to the Chamber of Shipping Report of last November, lost the ship- 517 ping industry between £300,000 and £400,000. Is it sense first to subsidise the growing of sugar in this country in order to prevent the carriage of sugar from the West Indies and thereby deprive the shipping industry of the freights they get by carrying sugar, and then to subsidise in turn the shipping industry? It seems to me indeed crazy finance, and that is what the President of the Board of Trade called it.
I leave the financial side. Is it a benefit to agriculture? The Minister of Agriculture is quite frank:It is a plain issue. It is not as cheap to produce sugar in Britain as to buy it from abroad"—with that we all agree—but it is the price which you are paying in order to help agriculture in this country.If you had £40,000,000 to spend you could have helped agriculture a good deal more than by trying to grow an unsuitable crop in this country. There are plenty of suitable crops. If you had subsidised them, I might have objected on other grounds but not on the ground that you were not helping agriculture. In this case you have spent your money, and you have done little or nothing to help agriculture. This beet sugar growing has not appreciably increased the agricultural output of the country. The beets are grown as a substitute for other roots, and there is a diminishing production of those other roots with the increased production of sugar beet.
I have here a rather interesting quotation from a man who is a farmer in the sugar beet area of Norfolk, Mr. William Borthwick, who used these words:Sugar beet gives additional employment in harvesting in October, November and December, and outside labour is employed in those three months. But by the end of the year beet has disappeared from the fields, whereas the work of cutting up swedes and mangolds and feeding them to live stock goes on until May. The result is that since the introduction of sugar beet many regular workers, who have never known unemployment in their lives before, have had to go on poor relief from January to April.It is by no means an additional crop and it is not additional labour. It is the substitution of one root crop for another, and the substitution of one set of labourers for another. The whole number employed is almost negligible. A few 518 extra men perhaps in the factories—what are they? Five thousand on part time and about 2,000 on full time, and that is the total in the factories. On the farms it means nothing. The farmers have got their subsidy—I hope it has done them some good—but it is the only thing they have got out of it. The Government have declined to face these facts. I have tried to state them hastily and perhaps too dogmatically—not intentionally, but because I do not want to take up time in justifying all of them as I go along; but we are continuing this policy for another year, and I view it with apprehension.
Then we are to have the marketing scheme, which came trippingly off the noble Earl's tongue. He has got the hop growers and the brewers together, and now he is getting the refiners and the sugar beet growers together, and these strong monopolists will wield great power. They will settle their internal differences; but what about the public outside and the National Exchequer? It is high time—I want to appeal to the noble Earl particularly on this—we had a full inquiry into the whole history of these ten years and into the present position of sugar, and it might be wise, as the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, suggested, to cover the whole sugar position in the world. The inquiry that is taking place is not enough. I have not seen the terms of reference of that inquiry. It is an inquiry with a lawyer-chairman—I have nothing to say against that, no doubt it is a very good thing—but we want a full and complete inquiry into all the circumstances of the last ten years and into the present position of sugar. The present inquiry is more in the nature of a Departmental inquiry than anything else. We want the fullest investigation of all the circumstances in all parts of the world, and we want to know whether really there is any hope left. I have said there is not. I may be wrong, but we ought at any rate to have some emphatic statement.
We have had the statement of the Minister of Agriculture that there is no hope of making beet sugar growing in this country pay, and that there never has been any hope of that. But we ought to have an authoritative declaration on the matter after a full inquiry into the whole thing. It should be made under the direction of some impartial 519 person who will devote the necessary time to it, and, though it would add a little to the expense, that would be trifling compared with what we are pouring out on this sugar subsidy. The Government were returned on a programme of economy. I was at the time a member of the House of Commons and helped to create this Government. At first they did well enough. Sacrifices were demanded and made, salaries were cut down, heavy taxes were laid on—we are still paying them—but it was not for this purpose that I helped to put the Government in power. It was not in order that they might squander money on the, hopeless experiment of growing sugar at a profit in this country. How can you allow this wasteful drain to go on?
Yesterday I was here in the House listening to the President of the Board of Education, Viscount Halifax, speaking on his Department. It was a most interesting speech. He told us of half-a-dozen important reforms for the children which he wished to give effect to as opportunity offered; but he could not raise the school age from fourteen to fifteen, he could not give nursery schools, he could not meet the demands for the health services which are required by the children, because there was no money in the Exchequer and the Government were bound to be careful in spending what they had got. Surely here is an opportunity for a real economy? There is no money for the children, but there is money for this foolish experiment in growing a crop for which our climate is unsuited. The expenditure—I close on this—is crazy finance, and the Government, pledged to economy, stand condemned for continuing it beyond the appointed period. Ten years were promised, the ten years have passed, the experiment has failed and the Government should not prolong its life for a single day.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I do not think any of us would quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, for speaking with such feeling on a topic on which we know his Party has always been completely consistent. From the very beginning they have opposed the beet sugar subsidy, and he expressed surprise, a surprise, indeed, which I myself share, at the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord 520 Olivier. I seem to remember that this scheme was prepared for us by the Labour Government in 1924 through Mr. William Graham, and I also seem to remember that the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, was a very notable figure in that Government.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
If the noble Lord is really complaining that it is being continued for one year I think he could have told us that at rather shorter length than the time which he occupied in his speech to-day when he questioned the whole principle. His only quarrel on the point of time was that we had not brought forward another permanent policy a year or two ago.
§ LORD OLIVIER
I did not question the whole principle. The principle was that it was to be an experiment for nine years, and that experiment had worked itself out well before the nine years.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
We are discussing a particular Bill, and that Bill is to prolong this work by eleven months. That is all that is before the House today. The noble Lord gave us a long speech on the whole principle of the scheme. But I do not think we should be surprised at the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Olivier. The noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, has told us that this is a Socialist scheme. I think to some extent it is. If your Lordships had had the pleasure of working as closely with noble Lords opposite for as long >as I have you would know that there is nothing like the Labour Party for putting up a good and healthy opposition to any scheme of Socialism when it actually comes down to putting it into force. The main quarrel of the noble Lord, Lord Olivier, with us is on the question of time and he says that we should have been bringing forward our permanent policy a year ago. At the same time he congratulated us, and we thank him for his congratulations, on having adopted what was virtually his policy. I am not prepared to say with great exactitude whether we have done so or not, but the noble Lord tells us he has been urging this policy for no less than thirty years with extraordinarily little effect, and the Government are now being accused of putting it into effect in a period of two years.
521 The fact of the matter is, in putting through this scheme, it is very much better to work with the approval and agreement of an industry than to come down with full governmental powers to force that industry into reorganisation. I think it is worth the while of the State to wait for a year or two in order to get an industry reorganised in a way that is acceptable to the great multitude of interests within that industry rather than to hurry forward with ill-conceived schemes. There is also the point of the comparison of efficiency between the beet industry of this country and that of the Continent. The noble Lord, Lord Olivier, questioned the figures to which I referred. I have them here exactly, and they are as follows. In the United Kingdom our average is nine tons per acre; in Germany it is 9.9, in the United States 9.6, and in France 9.1. I think, therefore, I am amply justified in claiming that our figures compare very favourably with those of other countries.
I now come to the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader's main contention that we should confess failure and give up the whole experiment. I wonder what the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, would suggest doing with the 40,000 growers of beet in this country who, at the present moment, are very largely dependent upon this industry, and with all the men who are dependent upon it and who, if it were abandoned, would be thrown on the "dole." I think he implied that that would be very much better than what we are doing. We can afford, to disagree on the point as to whether it is better to have men working and earning their living in full possession of their self-respect than that they should be thrown on to the street with nothing whatever. The noble Lord said: "Let farmers cultivate other crops," but, if we brought forward schemes to assist the growing of other crops I think the noble Lord would find other reasons for opposing them. There is no general scheme for assisting agriculture which has been brought forward during this Parliament which he has not found some very good reason for opposing.
§ LORD RHAYADER
I am not opposed to helping agriculture. I have never opposed giving help to agriculture. I have always tried to help it, but I do not think 522 ladling out Government money is necessarily the best way of helping agriculture.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Lord, I know, is very sympathetic to agriculture, but he is most anxious not to do anything that anybody else suggests to assist agriculture. I think that is really very much what it comes to. He asked, why not grow more roots for bullocks? What are bullocks fetching? At the present moment something between 36s. and 38s. per cwt., and no doubt in a few days we will have the noble Lord criticising the decision of the Government to give some assistance to the beef industry.
§ LORD RHAYADER
I would rather you gave the beef industry these millions than spend them on the growing of beet sugar.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
In a few minutes we are to have the pleasure of discussing the milk policy of the Government. I do not know if the noble Lord intends to oppose that form of assistance. Would the noble Lord suggest that some of these 400,000 acres which are now under beet cultivation should be handed over in order to increase milk production and bring about a yet further increase in the number of milk sellers in the country? It is all very well to say, with a sweep of the hand, that you should grow other crops. I remember myself at one time in your Lordships' House saying that, but to-day I should not like to have to mention those other crops which can be grown at an economic price at the present time.
§ LORD RHAYADER
That is exactly what was said to the farmers of the country twenty years ago—grow new crops. My complaint is in regard to the continuing of this subsidy to the end of the ten years.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Lord is of opinion that we should take the tremendous step of throwing all this land out of cultivation and all these men out of work on the ground that the industry is uneconomic. I would like the noble Lord to tell me what industry in the world is working at the present time on strictly economic lines. How many industries in the world to-day are operating without some form of exchange assistance, some form of tariff, or some form of quota behind them? Even the 523 shipping industry, so beloved of the Liberal Party, has now had to seek State assistance. Therefore I make no apology for asking that your Lordships should allow this Bill to go through in order to continue the carrying on of the beet sugar industry.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.