§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OFAGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LA WARR)
My Lords, in moving that this Bill be now read a second time it might be useful if I recall to your Lordships as briefly as possible the history of this subject. It will be remembered that the Act which expired last year was put through Parliament in 1925. That Act, when it was in Bill form, had originally been prepared by the Labour Government in 1924. They had not time to pass it into law, and the succeeding Conservative Government, profiting from the efforts of the Government of which I had then the honour to be a member, put the Bill on the Statute Book. It may be recalled that the original subsidy was at the rate of approximately 21s. 6d. per cwt. of white sugar, and that lasted until the season of 1927–28. Then it dropped to 14s. 6d.—I am taking in the molasses subsidy with the beet sugar subsidy—and continued at 892 that rate until the season 1931–32. It was then to drop to 7s. 3d., but at that time there had been a very heavy fall in the price of sugar and Dr. Addison, who was then Minister, was faced with the situation that the industry would not be able to continue unless further assistance was given to it. Accordingly, he added 1s. 3d., which was conditional on the addition being returnable if the price of sugar rose, and also conditional on certain beet prices. In the succeeding year the subsidy dropped to 7s. 3d., and that continued until that particular Act came to an end.
Your Lordships will also remember that the Act was due to terminate in September, 1934. His Majesty's Government appointed a Committee in April of that year, and were very fortunate in obtaining the services of Mr. Wilfrid Greene, K.C., as Chairman. Whether noble Lords are agreed with what was said in that Report or not, I think all will agree that we are extraordinarily indebted to Mr. Wilfrid Greene for the amazing ability and clarity with which he has examined the position and stated the case. Your Lordships will remember, too, that very shortly after that Committee was appointed it became quite apparent that the subject was so vast and the range of investigations and the consideration of policy so enormous that it was going to be quite impossible for the Committee to report in time for action to be taken on the termination of the original Sugar (Subsidy) Act. Accordingly, a small Act was passed through Parliament last year continuing the original Act with very minor variations until August of this year. Now we come to your Lordships once more, because, while we have received the Report of the Greene Committee, it is again quite apparent that such large issues and such important questions of policy are raised that we should have a certain time, not for the consideration of policy—I shall hope in a few minutes to be able to satisfy your Lordships that we have given very deep consideration to the policy—but for the actual working out and putting into operation of that policy.
Therefore we ask your Lordships to pass the Bill, which is before you to-day, to continue the subsidy to the industry for vet another year. This Bill is not by any means a pure continuation of the 893 old Act. To begin with it introduces the principle of the limitation of acreage. When I say the Bill introduces the principle your Lordships, if you look at the Bill, will find no actual mention of it. That is for the very simple reason that the factories and the growers between them gave us assurances which satisfied us that they were prepared to put this part of the policy through. Indeed, since giving these assurances they are now in a position to show that they have carried them out. The subsidy is also based on a lower beet price, a reduction of per ton. Moreover, it makes no allowances for the capital services of the factories, neither for profits nor for depreciation. We have, in fact, during the interim period reduced the amount of assistance to the industry to the very minimum necessary for carrying it on. The actual subsidy will be at the rate of 5s. per cwt., assuming the price of sugar to be 4s. 6d. In so far as there are modifications up or down in that price of sugar, so there will be minor modifications in the subsidy. This assistance compares with 7s. 3d. which in the past has been given to the industry.
It means a total subsidy liability to the Exchequer of £2,750,000. It compares for the season just ended with a subsidy of £4,500,000; that is, a saving to the Exchequer of £1,750,000. I think your Lordships will realise therefore that endeavour has been made, whilst enabling the industry to carry on, to cut the cost to the Exchequer to the lowest possible limit, indeed, I shall be surprised if some of my noble friends behind roe have not some comments to make on these provisions. This continuance of the subsidy for another year certainly looks as if the Government were making up their minds to disregard the recommendations of the Greene Committee and to continue the assistance to the industry. On that point I shall 'have an announcement to make to your Lordships in a few minutes. I should, however, like for a moment to discuss the sort of consideration that has been in our minds, and must indeed have been in the minds of any Government that had to face this very difficult and thorny question. Let me make it quite clear first of all that whatever line we take, assuming for the moment that we are to continue the assistance, that should not be taken in 894 any way as a rebuff to the excellent gentlemen who made the Report. After all, the considerations which a Government must have in mind are very much wider than the considerations before a Committee appointed by and finally responsible to the Treasury.
Speaking purely for myself, I would say that there are many points put forward by Mr. Wilfrid Greene in his Report with which, if I were acting on a committee responsible purely for reporting to the Treasury, I might find myself in agreement. But taking the broad field of national policy, realising exactly what must hang on our policy, both nationally and agriculturally, I believe everyone of us would feel that, the Government having by deliberate Government action tempted farmers into a production of a particular crop, having by deliberate action encouraged capitalists to invest their money and their resources in these factories—eighteen of them, every one of them representing a high capital value, every one of them employing a large number of men—it would be a very grave responsibility to undertake suddenly to say, or even after the space of three years as is suggested in the Report to say, that that industry must finish, and to say it at a time such as to-day when, looking back over the last two or three years, we can see such a very profound change in the whole fiscal policy of the country. At one time it would have been quite possible to contend that the beet sugar industry was in an isolated position. It has been argued that it is an uneconomic industry, living in a free trade country where other industries have to fend for themselves. That is not so to-day. There is hardly an industry in the country that is not in process of receiving some form of assistance, fiscal or otherwise, from the Government, and if the beet sugar industry were to be abolished to-clay there would certainly have to be, if we were going to act logically, a great number of other industries abolished along with it.
But, if we look at it for the moment from the rather more limited aspect of agriculture, we shall see that there are approximately 375,000 acres of arable land dependent on the cultivation of beet sugar. Now, again, a few years ago it might have been possible to say: "This is an uneconomic crop; why should not the farmers be persuaded to go in for the cultivation of crops, or the production of 895 live stock, which are more economic to us? "I challenge anyone, whether he is in this House or outside, to tell me of a single commodity in the agricultural world to-day to the production of which you could divert 375,000 acres. A little while ago we might have said: "Why should they not produce milk?" Does anybody seriously suggest increasing the number of cows in this country? I remember that years ago I used to say: "Why do not farmers go in more for horticultural production, poultry production, and so on?" Does anybody suggest that those fields of production are so colossally profitable that they can bear a very large increase? I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, would not suggest that these farmers should go into meat production. If the noble Lord is going to speak, I shall be very interested to hear from him the exact field into which he would hope to see their efforts diverted.
It is a great personal pleasure to myself, if I may say so, that I understand that my late colleagues are not going to oppose the principle of keeping this industry going. It is in strict accordance with their policy. They have never believed that cheapness was the only basis on which an industry could be judged. I remember co-operating with them in the Government on the Coal Mines Act, an Act which distinctly laid down that the producer—the workman—is worthy of his hire, and that neither the consumer nor the State is entitled to that cheapness which comes from the sweated wage of the producer. Nor would they contend—I think the figures are of very doubtful validity, but I know it is possible to argue—that it might be cheaper to put all these men on the "dole." I do not think that is a philosophy which noble Lords either on this side or that side of the House would for a moment support. We all of us think, quite apart from the social aspects, that it is better that men should be in employment, earning their own living, rather than standing at the street- corner on the "dole." Apart from that, we all of us feel to-day that our countryside is something worth preserving. We hear a great deal of talk about rural amenities. We have just been dealing in your Lordships' House with a Bill that is intended to make a contribution to that problem, the Restriction of Ribbon Development Bill. But there is one way 896 and one way only in which we are going to assist on a very large scale the problem of rural amenities, and that is by keeping the agricultural land of this country in a state of prosperous cultivation.
Now we come to the consideration of the long-term policy. I know that, strictly speaking, it does not come within the province of this Bill, which is only an interim measure, but I think your Lordships would feel that you were entitled to know exactly what is likely to be the result of your passing this interim measure. I said at the beginning that this interim measure was not simply in order to give us time for considering a Report which has now been in our possession for some time. It is rather designed to give us time in order to put through a policy which we have definitely adopted. That policy will, we hope, be in operation within the year's time which we are giving to ourselves. It might be necessary to have a little longer, but we are very anxious that we should not take longer, and it is also the desire of the industry itself that the provisions of that policy should go through as quickly as possible. Therefore, if I might, I should like to read to your Lordships the definite statement of the policy which will follow on the passage of this interim measure.
The Government have given careful consideration to the Reports of the Committee presided over by Mr. Wilfrid Greene, K.C. These Reports have been of the greatest assistance to them in the determination of their sugar policy. The conclusions which the Government have reached, and the financial and administrative arrangements which will be necessary to give effect to them, are as follows:—It is desirable, on agricultural grounds, to continue to assist the beet sugar industry without any limitation of the period during which assistance may be given. It is necessary, however, to set a limit to the volume of directly assisted production. The limit will be the equivalent of 560,000 tons of white sugar, which is the estimated produce of the 1935 crop. It is proposed to appoint an independent Sugar Commission to be entrusted with such powers in relation to the sugar beet industry as may be necessary for the carrying out of the Government's policy. It has been decided to adopt the recommendation of the Greene 897 Committee that the beet sugar factory companies should be amalgamated in a single corporation.
The Beet Sugar Factories Committee, representing all the beet sugar companies, have informed the Government that they are prepared to recommend in principle to the boards of the respective companies that an amalgamation scheme should be prepared and submitted as soon as possible to the Sugar Commission, and, if approved by them, to the Government. The Factories Committee are of opinion that if the amalgamated corporation is to be formed, it should become operative before the 1st April, 1936. In order to facilitate procedure, the Government propose to set up an informal tribunal to advise them upon any scheme of amalgamation which the factories may submit for approval. The financial arrangements which the Government propose are based on the assumption that, as from 1st April, 1936, there will be a transitional period of not more than five years. During this period, assistance will be given upon a diminishing scale based upon certain standard levels for the world price of sugar, the price of beet and other factors, and liable to variation with any variation from those standards. Subsequently, the basic rate of assistance will be subject to review at triennial intervals.
The basic rate of assistance for 1936, adjusted for the price of beet to which I shall next refer, will be reduced to 5s. 3d. per cwt. of white sugar. The price to be paid for sugar beet sown in 1936 is to be 35s. and 36s. per ton respectively, delivered to factories that are paying 36s. and 38s. per ton under current contracts. In the case of beet for the Cupar factory, the contract price will be 34s. per ton, payable free on rail as at present. These prices assume a factory output of not more than the equivalent of 560,000 tons of white sugar, which I might mention I think about represents the 375,000 acres mentioned in the earlier part of my speech. The beet price in 1937 and subsequent years, and the terms and conditions of the contract, will be matters for negotiation between the amalgamated corporation and the growers and in the event of failure to agree will be referred to the Sugar Commission. The acreage to be contracted for in any year will be subject to a maximum limit to be approved by the Sugar Commission.
898 For the purpose of their immediate sugar policy, the Government do not propose to make any change in the details of the Customs, Excise or subsidy scales. They have, however, aimed at securing the financial effects, as regards all the interests concerned, which it is reasonable to expect would have followed from the adoption of the Greene Committee's recommendations with regard to the regulation of refined sugar production as between the beet sugar factories and the refineries. The refiners have undertaken to enter into a new agreement with the factories, under which the factories shall be allowed quota rights for the production of white sugar up to a total of 720,000 tons per annum, but during the currency of the agreement the annual white sugar production of the factories will not exceed 500,000 tons. In return, the refiners have agreed to purchase all quota rights offered to them at a stated price.
The Government have also reviewed the international sugar situation. They believe that the various producing countries can only set their sugar industries upon an economic basis by means of an international agreement for the adjustment of supplies to the requirements of the world market, State assistance being diminished as market conditions improve. The Government's domestic policy is in full accordance with this view. They propose to invite the Governments of the sugar exporting Dominions and Colonies to examine with them the possibility of a joint endeavour to reopen international negotiations if it should appear that there is a reasonable prospect of a successful issue thereto. A White Paper setting out in greater detail the Government's financial and administrative proposals, with an estimate of cost, has been prepared and will, I hope, be available for your Lordships this afternoon.
That is the statement of the long-term policy of His Majesty's Government in relation to the sugar beet industry. Your Lordships will realise, therefore, that the Government have definitely taken this decision to continue assistance to that industry. I might also say that at the end of the White Paper you will find a reference to a matter which is, I think, of the very greatest importance. I know it will be said that we are protecting an uneconomic and inefficient industry. I 899 have already tried to answer that suggestion on a general basis, but I would like to conclude by laying one set of facts before your Lordships—namely, that when this industry started the subsidy was at the rate of 21s. a cwt. and the price of sugar was 20s. a cwt. To-day it is to receive assistance in the region of 5s. and the price of sugar is 4s. 6d. I think, therefore, your Lordships will realise the tremendous effort that has been made by this industry to adjust itself to new conditions, and your Lordships will see, in paragraph 24 on page 7 of the White Paper, which is not yet in your Lordships' hands but will be available shortly, that provision is made for assistance from the corporation to research and education, and the continuance of effort at all times to reduce the cost of production, and therefore the expense to the Exchequer, to the minimum necessary. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, the noble Earl has made a statement of very great importance. He has outlined the future policy of the Government with regard to the beet sugar industry, and I welcome at once the statement that he has made and the fact that the Government are wasting no time in laying before the country a White Paper, explaining in greater detail that policy and amplifying certain aspects which he has laid before us. On behalf of the Opposition I, broadly speaking, take my stand on the lines of an Amendment to the Bill in another place—namely, that we welcome the continuance of the subsidy, but we feel that when the nation's money is spent it should go to the property of the nation, to improving the general wealth of the nation, and not to individuals. Therefore I welcome the proposed amalgamation of the factories because I believe that it is keeping, so to speak, the industry warm for future Socialism, for full national ownership as soon as we obtain a Socialist Government in this country.
The Bill, of course, is merely the continuance of the subsidy. I personally, and my Party, look upon subsidies as another name for the decision by the country to support those aspects of national production which are of national value, and I look upon home production of sugar as of very great national importance. I think it is wrong in regard 900 to any essential commodity that we should leave ourselves entirely dependent upon imports. In saying this I am not supporting economic nationalism, but I am supporting sound common sense. As I understand it, the present production of sugar in this country is about one-third of our total consumption, and I feel that that is a reasonable proportion of the total consumption that we should support out of subsidies. I do not think that the total consumption of sugar in this country is yet as high as it might be with national advantage.
Here let me take up something the noble Earl said which showed that he has forgotten those lines along which we collaborated in a previous Government. He said that he asked the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, to tell him into what direction he suggested that agricultural production should be directed if not beet sugar, and he asked him what other agricultural production in this country could hope to show a profit with circumstances as they are. Well, I would remind the House that we are not concerned with production for profit; we are concerned with production for need. And if, in fact, we are consuming in this country a third of a pint of milk per head, whereas in the United States they are consuming a pint or a pint and a half, or whatever it is, of milk, and if milk is, in fact, beneficial to the community, then it is the need of the community which ought to limit and indicate the amount of milk we produce, and not the profits to be made out of milk production.
Therefore, if the noble Earl claims that we must not produce milk merely because there is no profit in it, I say to him he is entirely wrong. What we ought to do is to produce the amount of milk that people need, whether there is a profit or not; and if we cannot produce it at a profit while the industry remains in private hands, then the industry ought to be under public ownership and control, with milk produced because the people need it, and the question of profit not coming in at all. If the people need the milk, then the profits resulting from a healthier population, who would work more and produce more, will create the wealth out of which the production of milk can be paid for. And the same with sugar. If sugar is valuable as a food—and I think it is—then I grudge no subsidies to the production of sugar, 901 whether they are direct subsidies or whether they are fiscal subsidies, to which the noble Earl referred, and our Party agree that these are a method by which Socialist production will, in the future, be organised.
Of course, I welcome strongly the fact that the assistance to the industry is going to continue, because I want those factories to continue as going concerns. I want them to be efficient. I want them to produce the sugar we need. I welcome also the fact that, as I understood it—it was a little bit difficult to follow—the factories are not only going to be allowed to refine all British raw sugar produced but are going to be given a proportion of the imports of raw sugar, so that the refining carried through by the British factories will keep them in work throughout the year. At the present moment, as noble Lords are aware, owing to the tremendous grip of the sugar industry in the hands of Messrs. Tate and Lyle and the refining interest generally, the British factories are actually not allowed themselves to refine all the sugar they produce, but they have to send it by train to the refineries to be refined in Greenock or Liverpool, or Glasgow, or wherever it may be. The result is that the refining machinery in our factories—I say our factories, because they are going to be ours as soon as we have a Socialist Government in this country—are only working for three or four months a year. The men are standing idle the other eight or nine months, while the sugar which they ought to be refining is actually going to refineries in other parts of the country by agreement with the owners of those factories.
Now, it is a fact that subsidies are an inefficient way to help an industry. Under private enterprise they are one of the few ways in which help can be given. You can either subsidise by fiscal subsidies, by duties and so on, or by direct subsidies; but, broadly speaking, it is an inefficient way, because it has always been found that the giving of public money in this direction leads to corruption. Corruption is nothing like so bad in this country as in others. In the United States corruption is really remarkable. We had a very interesting case the other day when they subsidised air lines. Extremely efficient air lines were found to be honeycombed with the most colossal corruption. Well, in this country I understand that there is said 902 to be corruption and there is certainly a great deal of waste in the beet sugar industry. Certainly we see very largely differing profits in the various factories, which will no doubt be enquired into when the amalgamation scheme foreshadowed by the noble Earl comes to be put into operation. That will be examined no doubt by the independent Sugar Corn-mission or by the informal tribunal, as the case may be. But it is a fact, broadly speaking, that with subsidies there is the liability to corruption, and without subsidies there is very often a liability to inefficiency. It is only by national ownership, which is foreshadowed by the future proposals of the Government, that you can combine efficiency and no corruption. For that reason, therefore, we welcome these proposals.
Another point I want to mention is this question of economic production. I consider that the fact that we are producing sugar in Great Britain has been partially at least responsible for the fact that we have the cheapest sugar in the world. I am not absolutely certain that that is the case, but I believe it to be the case. I have got figures from other countries which are paying infinitely larger subsidies for their sugar, showing that, for instance, the price in Germany is 4½d. a lb. as compared with 2d. in this country; in France 3d. a lb.; in Italy 7½d.; in Spain 4½d.; in Sweden 2½d.; in the Netherlands 4d. and so on; whereas in this country, with our enormous market far imported sugar, by producing a certain amount at home we are able to secure that the balance is brought in at a cheap rate. And I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the institution of this beet sugar industry in this country, fostered as it has been by the subsidy, for the fact that we are getting that cheap sugar.
Then there is this question. Are we getting it because of slave labour in other countries? Here we have the outline of the Government's proposal for the consideration of the international position. I noticed that the noble Earl mentioned that there was to be international agreement to adjust supplies, but he did not mention any possibility of international agreement to consider the conditions of labour, hours of labour, and wages paid. Men and women working in the sugar Plantations in other countries are receiving very often as little as is.1s 6d., 2s., 2s. 6d., and 3s. a day.
§ LORD MARLEY
Yes, in Java, but I am thinking of the United States and the West Indies. When you come to Java you find people receiving only a few pence a day. Java produces the cheapest sugar in the world. It is quite clear that as long as we have uneconomic production of sugar through slave labour and long hours abroad, it can be claimed that sugar production in this country is uneconomic, but I do not consider that it is uneconomic when production is based on these bitterly unjust conditions in other countries. I hope that the international regulations outlined by the noble Earl will include hours of labour and wages paid in other countries, no doubt by the operation of international legislation through the International Labour Organisation at Geneva—if it still exists in the next few years.
I would remind the House that in any case this subsidy is a very small portion of the total subsidy which is being received by sugar. The subsidy amounts to 3s. 6d. per cwt.—I think my figures are correct—whereas the preferential subsidy amounts to 7s. 9d. per cwt., more than twice as much. We are only concerned in this Bill with the continuation of this 3s. 6d. per cwt., a comparatively small amount. The noble Earl did point out that the subsidy had been coming down and down with the rise in the world price of sugar. We have this factor that we are on a sliding scale. As the world price of sugar rises—and I hope it will rise as wages get better—we have automatically a reduction of £500,000 payable in the subsidy for every 1s. per cwt. rise in price in other countries. We on these Benches welcome the continuation of the subsidy. We want the industry to be kept efficient. We consider it is of national advantage. We hope that the amalgamation of factories and the alteration in the amounts of sugar refined in the factories will ensure that the whole industry, as amalgamated, will be worked on the most efficient and least wasteful lines so as to be in readiness for us to take over when we have a Socialist Government.
§ LORD RHAYADER
My Lords, in rising to say a few words on the Bill which has been brought forward by the noble Earl, I want first of all to express my thanks to him for the very clear and simple 904 statement which he made as to Government policy and intentions and, finally, for the announcement, which I was not expecting, of the policy on which the Government have decided. I always delight in the speeches of the noble Earl on agriculture. He reminds me a good deal of a keeper at the Zoo whose duty it is to feed the beasts. He goes round laden with good things which he distributes to the various parts of agriculture under his charge. One day it is hops, another day milk, yet another wheat; then there is bacon, yesterday we had beef, and to-day the turn of sugar has come. The noble Earl has a way with him, and I do not wonder that he is popular in those circles which benefit so largely by the raid which he makes upon the public purse. It is just twelve months since sugar had its last innings. I do not want to repeat to-day the old arguments, but I think it is desirable, especially in the light of the announcement which has just been made as to the future policy of the Government, that we should recall briefly the history of the sugar subsidy from its inception to the present time.
It was, as the noble Earl told us, the idea of Lord Snowden, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government of 1924. He was fascinated, as I gather, by a visit to a sugar factory, and what has followed is the result of that happy visit. The Government that succeeded took over the scheme from the Labour Government. It is important that those who are not Socialists should remember that they took over the scheme practically as it had presented itself to the Labour Government, and passed it through the Parliament of 1925. The argument put forward was one which they thought would appeal even to hardened Free Traders—namely, the argument of an infant industry. Even Mr. Mill, the apostle of Free Trade, had allowed that a Government, might properly give some assistance to an infant industry to enable it to get on its legs. There was no niggardly dealing with the industry. The subsidy given at the beginning was very large, and it was to be given for a long period of infancy—a large subsidy for ten years. The subsidy was to diminish gradually as the infant grew stronger and, finally, at the end of ten years, it was to cease. 905 As The Times remarked the other day, it was morally the intention of the original Act that the production of homegrown sugar should become self-supporting. To a certain extent the industry has flourished. A section of the farming community has undoubtedly benefited considerably from the sugar subsidy. How should it be otherwise '? You give this large sum to certain individuals in the country, and naturally they profit by it. The beet area to-day is an area where formerly other root crops were grown. I believe the whole area in which beets are grown to-day is land on which previously other root crops were grown. It has not increased the arable area of the country. That fact should not be forgotten. When you have artificially driven out the other root crops, it is not quite a fair challenge for noble Lords who represent agriculture to say: "Now that we have created this state of things, what are you going to do about it? "Some of the labourers in the country have gained some advantage from it, though not so much compared with other parties. The people, of course, who have gained large profit are those who have the factories. So far as they are concerned, it is equivalent to a gold discovery in the British Empire, in California or Australia, with the British Government paying out large sums for the growth of "an uneconomic crop"; I quote the words of the noble Earl. The word went round, capital was freely forthcoming, investments were made, factories were set up, and very large profits, with which I shall not trouble your Lordships, have been made by those factories. If they were weeded out to-morrow, I doubt very much whether those factories, with the exception of those in Scotland, would really lose over the whole period that has passed.
The drain on the Exchequer has always been, heavy. The industry showed no signs of becoming self-supporting. The year 1931 came—and here again I would point out to the Government that they were elected on a cry of national economy, of balancing the Budget, and stopping the drain from the Exchequer. They set about that task with vigour, and they did it with success. They cut down the salaries of all the Government employees in the country, they limited the Social Services, but they did nothing to stop this drain caused by beet sugar. Something clearly they ought to have 906 done. After all, was not Mr. Walter Runciman President of the Board of Trade? He described the sugar subsidy and the whole of the transactions connected with it as the most amazing transaction in the history of British finance. He described it as an absolute downright waste. The Government were put in office to stop waste. He called it "crazy finance." The Government were in power for the sake of sound finance instead of what they called the "crazy finance" of the Labour Government. Naturally, they had to do something, and in 1932 Mr. Chamberlain, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that they were going to have a full inquiry into the matter. It drifted on and nothing happened in 1933, but at last, in April, 1934, the Greene Committee was appointed, and in March, 1934, the Minister of Agriculture in another place admitted that in no country in the world can the beet sugar industry be maintained on a profitable basis unless supported by substantial artificial aid.
Naturally it cannot compete with other sugar. I agree with a good deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Marley, said as to the conditions under which cheap sugar is sometimes produced in the West Indies, and especially in Java; but, when all that is taken into account, the natural advantages of the cane sugar growing countries are so great that it is quite hopeless to suppose that in this country, or indeed in any European country, can sugar be grown in competition with those countries. That is, I think, a reason why last year the Government should have admitted the failure of the attempt to set up this uneconomic crop in this country, and stopped the expenditure which had been promised, and which had been given, for ten years. I think that would have been the wise course for this country to take. I agree that it would have had to be done gradually, but the end aimed at should have been the cessation of the payment of public money to enable this uneconomic crop to be grown in this country. May I, in passing, ask: this? The noble Earl said there were other crops. He is quite right. But is there any other crop which you would call an uneconomic crop to which the Government are contributing? I wonder if the noble Earl would give me an answer to that question presently, if not now.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I should say that any crop or any industry in the country that required either a tariff or a quota or a subsidy would, under certain definitions, have to be considered as being uneconomic in the sense that it was not able to stand completely on its own legs.
§ LORD RHAYADER
I think there is a good deal of money being made by various crops in this country. Do farmers pay no Income Tax to-day? Are they being made to pay Income Tax on profits that they do not make?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Lord must not misrepresent me. When I used the word "uneconomic" what I meant was that when a crop or an industry needed some outside assistance in order to carry on it was uneconomic in that sense. The iron and steel industry and tramp shipping and so on are, to that extent, in the sense in which I used the word, "uneconomic" industries.
§ LORD RHAYADER
I am old and the noble Earl is young, but I should have been ashamed to stand up in the Victorian age and say there was no part of the agricultural industry in this country which could not flourish without Government help. It was not so in our day and—the noble Earl will forgive me—I do not think it is so to-day. Another year went by. The Government last year persisted in their way. They objected on various grounds. One was that under the reduced payments they were going to save money. The noble Earl has repeated that to-day. He actually said, unless I misheard him, that the subsidy he is asking for now is only £22,750,000 whereas last year it was £4,500,000. Therefore, he said, there is a saving of £1,750,000. Who has saved? Have the Government? They were not obliged to give any subsidy this year and, therefore, they cannot to be said to have saved. They are spending £2,750,000. Where does the saving come in'? Does not this show the curious state of mind into which people get once they fall into the habit of dipping into the public purse?
I will not go into figures, because there is a great argument about them. Sometimes the figure is given as one of £40,000,000 and sometimes as £20,000,000. Take Mr. Amery's figure if you like. He reduced it to nothing. The argument is that because they have had the money for 908 ten years, therefore you save money if you do not give it for the eleventh year. They have no title to it for the eleventh year. There is no title anywhere to this money which the noble Earl is asking for to-day. It really is a misuse of terms to talk as if you are saving money merely because you are going to spend a little less than you did last year. That, I think, is a very strange argument. We are told it would displace labour and upset farmers. Undoubtedly that is true. We have created a situation and to get rid of it is a difficult thing indeed. I think the Greene Committee makes recommendations on which the Government might have based their policy. The Greene Committee, the noble Earl told us, was appointed to advise the Government on future general policy. The year has gone by, the Greene Committee has reported, and I now know, what I did not know when I came into the House, that the Government do not intend to take the advice of the majority of the Committee which they appointed.
I was very glad to hear the noble Earl pay a tribute to the Chairman of the Greene Committee. I observed that in another place Mr. Amery was pleased to describe the members of that Committee as "thick heads." Those who know the two gentlemen, Mr. Amery and Mr. Greene, can determine for themselves which of the two gentlemen has the thicker head. For my part I know of no one who has a much clearer brain or a greater capacity for giving expression to what is in his brain than Mr. Greene, and I think the Government, who have not adopted the whole of the Report, certainly have done well to recognise the service which Mr. Greene has rendered by an admirable discussion of the whole question. Whether you agree with him or not, I do not think anybody who has studied the sugar question can be other than grateful for the very full discussion and statements set out in that remarkable Report. Mr. Greene's advice was perfectly clear. Putting on one side political considerations, he said: "Stop paying the subsidy." Perhaps I had better put on record the recommendation he makes. It was in these words:Since, however, on a review of all the facts put before us, we are unable to find positive justification for the expenditure of a sum of several millions per annum on an industry which has no reasonable 909 prospects of ever becoming self-supporting, and on the production of a crop which, without that assistance, would at present sugar prices be practically valueless, we cannot recommend the continuance of assistance.The Government have put that on one side. They recommend, if you are to maintain the crop, a number of steps which should be taken to safeguard the public purse. I do not know how far the Government in their scheme are meeting the points raised in the Greene Report, which are, I think, of immense importance as the subsidy is to be continued.
I heard with profound interest the announcement made by the noble Earl. I do not wonder at the enthusiastic welcome which the noble Lord, Lord Marley, has given to the scheme. It is the carrying out of his Party's policy. As far as I can gather—I speak under some disadvantage for I have not seen the White Paper—this scheme had its inception in the mind of that Socialist the noble Viscount, Lord Snowden. It was taken up by a Conservative Government in 1925, and now in the hands of the present National Government has ripened into practically the socialising of the sugar industry, in effect the nationalising of the sugar industry. It is a remarkably important announcement, and there will be a great deal more to be said about it. I am not able really to comment upon it at this moment, but I certainly can well understand the welcome given to it by the noble Lord, Lord Marley, and other Socialists.
Before concluding I want to say two things in regard to the whole of this transaction, which I think is full of instruction to anyone who cares for the economic or political life of this country. In the first place beet sugar has wholly changed its character. When I read the resolutions of the National Farmers' Union, articles in the papers, circulars sent to us to influence our decisions, I find that beet has become the keystone of British farming. The keystone of British farming! Beet! It was never grown in this country to any extent until ten years ago. It was just an occasional root crop, and now it has become the keystone of British farming. And we are told that if this subsidy is not continued the whole balance of agriculture in this country is going to be destroyed. I protest that that is grotesque nonsense. In 910 such circumstances there would be a period undoubtedly of great disturbance as a result of what has been done. You cannot do what you have done, you cannot create artificially an industry and engage farmers and labourers, factories and capital in it, you cannot spend £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 on it, without setting up an edifice which when demolished will cause great wreckage.
But what has come of it? You would have been much better without it. If you had spent that money on other branches of agriculture you would have had far more results to show to-day than you have for this expenditure. I see that the Minister of Agriculture says that we should not otherwise get our sugar. Really I find it difficult to take that argument seriously. With the conditions of glut which characterise the sugar market to-day I doubt if there would be any rise in the price of sugar if you let the equivalent of home-produced sugar come in from other countries. I do not believe the British public would lose anything by it. I. see two noble Lords present whose services to agriculture I thankfully recognise, the noble Lords, Lord Hastings and Lord Cranworth. I know how much they have done for agriculture and I know how much they care for it. I also know something about agriculture, and I plead with them. I say they are not doing any good to agriculture when they link it up with this uneconomic crop. The towns will find it out and when the towns find prices rising, as they very likely will in the changing conditions of the world, then the towns will refuse to go on paying these sums to maintain an uneconomic crop. It has happened before. You guaranteed the price of wheat and you withdrew the guarantee within six months. I would entreat noble Lords who are friends of agriculture not to link up with this uneconomic crop.
There is one more thing I want to say. Parliamentary institutions are on their trial. In many parts of the world they are disappearing. Nothing is so destructive of Parliament as the introduction of sectional interests in the constituencies and in the House of Commons. With beet sugar you have an extraordinary instance of the influence of local circumstances on the votes of Members of Parliament. Almost every speech made in defence of the beet sugar subsidy has 911 been made by members sitting for beet growing constituencies. You may say it is very natural and I agree that it is natural. I was rather interested to read some remarks made by the noble Lady, Viscountess Astor, who is a distinguished member of the House of Commons. She pointed out that all the members for constituencies where sugar beet is grown had to defend it, and, with the candour which endears the noble Lady to all of us, she added: "I dare say I would do the same if it were grown in my constituency." She represents a port constituency. Well, it is a dangerous thing to let these local interests grow in the constituencies and in Parliament, when Members of Parliament are forced to choose between the requirements of their constituency and the interests of the nation.
I do urge the Government to do what they can to save the country at any rate from the ignoble spectacle which we have seen in some other countries in which corruption works in Parliament when tariffs are set going. One of the earliest things in my career was a visit to America when the McKinley Tariff Bill was being passed. It was, I think, the first of the great Tariff Bills. I was behind the scenes, owing to introductions, and I saw there the corruption which followed the introduction of tariffs. We have seen it working in America and it would be a ghastly thing for this country if similar things were to prevail here. I hope that will be borne in mind by those who are pressing forward these methods. I cannot support the Bill, but I am not going to divide against it. I think the Government are quite entitled to say that they want more time to put the scheme into operation, but I am sorry that they have seen fit to reject the very sane Report, as I think, which Mr. Wilfrid Greene and his Committee brought in and to commit themselves to the permanent maintenance out of subsidies of this uneconomic crop.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I rise for a minute or two to say that I, on the other hand, feel very pleased with the main result of the speech of the noble Earl, taking that to be that the Government have decided as a long-term policy that the sugar beet industry shall be continued. It is a decision that will bring a measure of relief into tens of thousands of homes in the part where I live. With 912 regard to some of the items, as I understood them, I should wish for more time to study them, but I shall have one word to say with regard to one point later.
In the towns and also in the West Country, and in a large part of England, there is very great misconception as to the importance of the sugar beet industry. Only a few weeks ago I was going up to the Royal Show. I motored in one day 140 miles—though I might have gone farther with the same result—and, except when I passed through the towns, I am sure that I was never for one minute out of the sight of a field of sugar beet. Who is it that is growing this? It is not large corporations, large and rich landowners. There are 375,000 acres of beet being grown, there are 45,000 people growing it; and those of your Lordships who are mathematically-minded will find that, that is an average acreage of a little over eight acres per man. This is a smallholders' crop. I most freely confess that I was somewhat disgusted when in another place Sir Herbert Samuel, that archenemy of the sugar beet industry and, indeed, of arable cultivation altogether, said: "It is true that there may be here and there a smallholder growing a patch." That seems to me somewhat in the nature of an exaggeration, when there are 45,000 persons growing an average of eight acres each.
It is only now about a fortnight ago that I went to the small market town of Bury St. Edmunds. I would have your Lordships know that we in the Eastern Counties do not very much like going to meetings. It takes a lot to get the agricultural labourer to come to a meeting on a hot evening, still more so when it is a Saturday evening; but even so, in this small town, there were over 7,000 of them assembled, because they felt that the livelihood of themselves and of their families was threatened. The noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, for some reason which I cannot understand, has asked the noble Earl to tell him of some economic crop to take the place of beet sugar. I suggest that it is up to the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, to say what the economic crop is that shall take its place. There has been a lot of talk from certain Benches about a crop to take the place of beet sugar, but there has been very little talk as regards the suitable 913 crop to take its place and provide employment for the vast number of men engaged in that industry.
There are two main reasons, one real and one ostensible, which seem to be brought forward against the beet sugar industry. The real one is that it is contrary to the great doctrine of Free Trade, and the second one, the ostensible one, is that it costs much too much and that we cannot afford it. Loyalty is not so common a virtue now that one can afford to decry it, even when it is loyalty to an outworn dogma, but I do not think that that loyalty ought to cause people to juggle with and exaggerate figures. I was rather disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, did not go into the "countless millions," because I hoped to see a new one. I have watched them rise and rise, and the maximum one at the present moment will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT of another place—stated, naturally, by Sir Herbert Samuel—as £60,000,000. That is what it has got to now. Flow is that made up? By far the largest portion of the £60,000,000, as was pointed out by the noble Lord opposite, is made up by the sum of money to which you might tax the growers of that sugar if they had been foreigners producing it on foreign soil and paying wages at 5d. a day, or possibly 1s. a day in extreme cases. That is how you make up the total sum.
I may frankly say that I was very sorry to hear some of my noble friend's views about the subsidy. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, whether he considers himself subsidised because he is not taxed £2,000 a year for being a Liberal Free Trader. I do not think he would consider himself subsidised at all; he would say that he had a perfect right to do it. So he has; so has the British farmer a right to grow a crop on British soil to feed the British public. I very much object to joining these two figures together. The truth of the matter is this: that a subsidy has been paid at the rate of 7s. 3d., I think, for one cwt. of sugar, an Excise duty has been paid back, and the difference between the two is in fact the subsidy. During this year I understand that it will amount to £520,000, and I ask anyone to bring forward—no one has—any other means whereby £520,000 will give employment to 40,000 men.
914 As your Lordships know, it has been mentioned to-day that practically every foreign country is producing beet sugar. Most of them are protecting it more heavily than we do; all of them are producing a greater proportion of the sugar they eat than we do. I ask myself why they do it. Of course the noble Lord would say: "Oh, they are all making a great mistake; it is their stupidity; why should we follow them?" But I venture to suggest that it is also a mistake to say that we are the only people keeping step in the company. It is quite possible that they are right, and I suggest that the three reasons that have induced them to do it are these: to give employment, and more especially employment on the land; to provide a weapon of defence in time of war; and as an essential part of good farming. Are not those three objects also desirable in this country? Do we not want to employ more people on the land? Our Government have said so often enough, and that great man, Mr. Lloyd George—whom I believe to be a Liberal; I am not quite sure, though I understand that he is—said that he wanted to put 1,250,000 more men on the land and 500,000 immediately. It would surely be a poor step to start by taking 40,000 men off—or so it seems to me. As an essential to good farming, that I believe is a recognised thing on the Continent, and I believe that no country that grows beet sugar will ever take it out of its crop rotation again.
Finally, 'as a weapon of defence in time of war; we have said in this country that as far as war is concerned we do not intend ever to have a war of aggression again, but that we do intend to provide defence when we are attacked. I believe that all Parties will agree to that, and what better weapon of defence can you have than to provide the greatest proportion of food that you can in this country? It is riot a weapon of offence, but it is a mighty big one of defence., when you come to think of the lives that were lost in bringing sugar and other food into this country during the last War. I was glad to hear the statement of the noble Earl, because it did indicate to me that this branch of agriculture was to have extended to it the only thing which had been asked for. It is always suggested that they ask for something strange and something new—for preferential treatment—but all they ask for is exactly the 915 same treatment as other big industries in this country ask for and in fact get.
There is one criticism which I would make, and I hope Lord Hastings will amplify it. I did understand the noble Earl to say that there was going to be a limitation with regard to sugar, and I understand him, too, to say that it was to be a limitation not, as now, in acres, but a limitation in tons—for the first year at all events. I must say that I regret that. If there is to be such a limitation it seems to me to be contrary to the policy which the Government again and again have indicated. It should be a limitation of acreage and not of tons. otherwise you take way from everybody the ambition to increase his crop and grow more and more. If the limitation is to be merely on tonnage there will not be any necessity in that respect any longer. With regard to the factories, we who grow beet are not necessarily interested in the factories. We are well aware, as has been stated, that the factories have made more money out of the industry than we have, but I would ask your Lordships to remember, in fairness to them, that they have not all made money. Those who have made big profits are the people who taught us how to grow the crop and produce it in sugar, and they would not have got the money for their enterprise unless there had been a reasonable opportunity of getting a big profit. I thank the noble Earl for his statement that the industry at all events is to go on. In East Anglian and other counties of England that will relieve a fear which has much troubled them for many long months.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, with the permission of the House I will devote myself first to the consideration of the Bill which the noble Earl introduced. The very much larger and more important subject which came on at a later stage must also call for a few remarks. When the noble Earl was introducing his Bill he allowed one figure to slip from him which Lord Cranworth has already criticised. He stated that in the years 1935–36 the cost to the Exchequer would be £2,750,000. It is very regrettable that the Ministry of Agriculture should allow it to go out on their authority that that is the actual cost to the country. It is not true. It would surely have been fairer to describe it as the gross cost. Noble Lords know perfectly well that every ton 916 and every cwt. of beet sugar pays Excise duty, and the cost to the country is the net cost after the amount of Excise duty has been deducted. The net cost to the country is not £2,750,000 but in the neighbourhood of £520,000.
§ LORD RHAYADER
In my speech I was giving a statement which appeared in The Times a few weeks ago, which put it in this way. If the sugar had been imported the Exchequer would have received considerably more in duty, and would not have had to pay any subsidy at all. That, therefore, represents the real contribution of the country to the beet sugar industry.
§ LORD HASTINGS
The noble Lord is no doubt perfectly right in calling my attention to that, but there is, of course, no telling at what price that sugar would have come into this country if there had been no beet sugar industry in our own country. It is possible that the Exchequer might have benefited to that extent, but what about the British public? What telling is there that the price of sugar to them would not have been at least double what it has been. You have got to take the facts as they are. The facts as they are are that a subsidy of £2,750,000 has to be paid in 1935–36, and Excise duty will be collected which will leave a balance of £520,000. That is the real cost to the country, and, as Lord Cranworth said, would £520,000 invested in any other way find employment for such a large number of persons I trust that when figures are bandied about they will be the actual figures and not fanciful figures.
There was one other matter arising out of the Bill before the House which caused me regret. The only happy part about it is that it is not in the Bill itself. The noble Earl reminded us that a limitation of acreage had been agreed to in negotiation between the Government and the factories, and therefore it was not necessary to put the limitation in the Bill. I am very glad indeed that Parliament is not called upon to commit itself to that principle, but the very fact that the Government are committed to making arrangements with the factories limiting acreage is to my mind a most unfortunate matter. It is not only right but the obvious duty of Parliament to limit the amount of public 917 money made available for any industry, but when Parliament goes further and says that a citizen shall not grow more than a certain amount of any commodity, it goes very much too far. Let us bear in mind that we are importing from other countries a very large quantity of this commodity, and I never could bring myself to agree that while we can and might grow ourselves a single cwt. of a commodity which is imported the production of it should be restricted in our own country. This particular method of restriction of production in the case of commodities which are being imported into this country from foreign countries is a source of the gravest alarm to the agricultural industry as a whole. The restriction of production is a necessity in the case of certain commodities and I find no fault with that, but to do it in the case of sugar production is not right. Limit by all means the amount of public money which is found for assisting the industry, but to limit production is not right, and I shall always oppose it whenever opportunity offers.
The Bill as introduced is to endure for only one year and although I have criticised one feature which is not in it, but is inherent in it, I would like to modify that criticism by an expression of gratitude to the Government for having introduced this interim measure, which will tide over the industry until the long-term policy comes into force. I turn for a moment to the question of that long-term policy itself. In common with my noble friend I have not seen the White Paper, and therefore I speak at some disadvantage, but I made a note or two as the noble Earl spoke, and I observed first of all that the limitation was to be placed in future upon sugar, and not upon acreage. My noble friend Lord Cranworth thought that possibly an acreage limitation, if limitation there had to be, would be better than a limitation on the tonnage of sugar produced. That is as may be because of course I agree with him that, whereas it has been an ambition of the grower in the past not only to produce the largest possible tonnage of beet from the land, but beet containing the largest percentage of sugar, the mere fact that the limitation is to be placed in the future upon the tonnage of sugar may act as a deterrent upon the grower to continue 918 his efforts in the direction of the production of high percentages. But I do not think that is a very strong point and I confess myself that if there is to be a limitation then it should be a limitation of money found and it should be detached from the actual acreage basis.
Although as, in common with the Wheat Act (which, of course, this is in a sense following) there must be some quantity factor to which to attach that limitation—I am not at the moment so much disposed to dispute the wisdom of the 560,000 tons—I can but repeat what my noble friend beside me has said, that any attempt to limit the amount of beet sugar grown will, in a sense, defeat itself. Not only does the beet sugar acreage employ a very large number of persons, but there is no crop grown which better enables other crops to be grown following it. It is, in fact, the most efficacious manner of keeping the land in good heart and in proper condition for rotation crops. It is the best crop that can be found for that particular purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, in the course of his very interesting speech asked whether it was not a fact that these 375,000 acres of sugar beet had not been taken off the previous root crop. Not entirely, but in large part that is so. But do not let the noble Lord imagine that if it had not been for the beet sugar crop those 375,000 acres would now be growing the old-fashioned root crop. They would be doing nothing of the kind.
Why was it that that very conservative individual, the arable farmer, changed over from the normal root crops to beet sugar It was merely because the beef trade fell to pieces to such an alarming extent that he could not grow his old root crops in a manner that avoided colossal losses to himself. And if it had not been for the beet sugar crop, those acres would not be growing roots as heretofore, but they would be derelict; and, once derelict, the labour employed upon them would perforce have to emigrate, and agricultural labour, once emigrated, seldom returns. The great justification for the beet sugar industry on the light lands of East Anglia has been that it has provided the means of retaining upon the land the population of the land, a population which would have been decimated—more than depleted—and which I feel fairly certain would never have returned. That I think, is 919 the strongest justification that can be put forward for the beet industry at all.
On matters of detail I was not quite able to follow the noble Earl, but I take it that when the subsidy per cwt. is paid to the factories there will be some kind of condition attaching as to the price which is to be paid to the growers. I think the noble Earl did mention it, but I was not entirely sure of the figure that he gave. But assuming that it would naturally be so, I would like to pass to a point which has some relation to it. It is this, that whereas the State—and quite properly—will reduce the amount of its subsidy if and when the world price of sugar rises there is apparently in such circumstances no consideration to be paid to the grower. It is a little bit hard upon the grower who has for many years been producing a commodity for a market which was paying him a price considerably below the cost of production, that if and when that commodity fetches a more reasonable price in the open market those factories should perhaps benefit, the State of which he is a member should certainly benefit, but that he himself should get no benefit at all. I think a little reciprocity in that matter should apply, particularly as it must be in the interest of the grower to watch and observe the trend of world prices in the commodity which he grows, and not to remove it entirely from his ken or from his interest.
I wonder if I might make a suggestion to the noble Earl for consideration when this big scheme is in the mould? It is as to whether it would not be wise to consider some form of differentiation in price based upon the quality of the land upon which it is grown. The House will be aware, of course, that it is clearly on the lighter lands of Great Britain where this crop is most essential. It is on those lighter lands that it is more difficult to find alternative crops. It is those lighter lands which are the most difficult to keep in good heart. It is the lighter lands which find it most difficult to retain labour at the present rate of wages. There are better lands which are not faced with the same difficulty and in the same degree, and which of course are bound in the nature of things to benefit more largely from any subsidy that may be going, whether it is on wheat or on sugar beet.
920 Although I do not suggest that it is really possible, yet on going very deeply into the matter I believe it should be found possible, and it would be very helpful, if some form of differentiation could be made based upon the quality of the land upon which the crop is grown. We wish to keep under cultivation the largest possible number of acres in this country, and the difficulty lies naturally in keeping in cultivation the less good lands. It is the less good lands which are the real anxiety to all who have agricultural production at heart, and it is those lands for which it is most needful to do something. And they do not, let me remind your Lordships, all exist in East Anglia where, as the House knows quite well, I live. There are parts of Great Britain which, I am happy to say, have very much thinner land than has the county of my birth.
A word on the question of amalgamtaion. We shall want to see that White Paper, and I hope we may be given an opportunity of observing and discussing the terms of this amalgamation, because it is just as well that the House should realise a few of the facts of this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, spoke as if beet sugar had sprung into being ten years ago. May I tell him that the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, who sits behind me, aided by others, was a pioneer in this industry a great deal more than ten years ago. I, personally, grew beet sugar on a considerable scale for the first factory erected in England as long ago as 1912, and that factory in the years previous to the War was working at full pressure, from beet sugar grown in the county of Norfolk for its own particular purpose.
What I had in mind in mentioning that fact is this. Quite clearly those factories that were early established and were able to take advantage of the high subsidy paid in earlier years were able to amortise their overhead charges, and to establish themselves on a sound financial basis long before those factories which were erected later. The evidence of their annual reports is all that need be brought to the notice of noble Lords. It also follows from that that, had it not been for the fact that those factories existed, it would have been possible in later years for the East Anglian factories to pay more for the growing of their beet 921 than they have in fact done. They have acted more or less under a national agreement, and of course it has been to their profit so to do. If we are going to have an amalgamation, which may entail the support of the weak at the expense of the strong, it should be borne in mind that the grower of sugar beet who for years has received less for his beet than his factory might very well have paid him, is not going to receive any more for that beet, because those factories have to be supported which have not been in existence for very long. I make no complaint—there is no occasion for complaint; on the other hand my heart is full of gratitude—but I see certain difficulties which may arise, certain subjects of criticism which are likely to arise, and I have no doubt the noble Earl will allow them to weigh with him and his Ministry when considering this very difficult, very abstruse, and most complicated subject.
I have nothing more to add except to emphasise and endorse what my noble friend Lord Cranworth has said, and to express the intense gratitude which agriculturists generally—and I use the word "generally" because, if one section of agriculture is let down, it is quite certain to react on agriculture generally before very long—feel at the removal from over their heads, not of a menace, but of an overwhelming fear. The difficulty, the impossibility, of finding other sources of cultivation for 375,000 acres of land, finding employment for 40,000 men, of re-taming upon the land persons who are now there—the fear of not being able to do that has been of an overwhelming kind, and it would be ungracious at such a moment to look a gift horse too closely in the mouth. I would close what I have to say with the reiteration of my thanks, expressed not on behalf of myself at all, but on behalf of the great agricultural labouring community, for, without the assistance that is now to be given, that community would perhaps find itself, not in starvation, but in a position in which in self-defence it would have to remove itself from its home and compete with labour in the towns, where the conditions of life are not congenial to it and where, in the end, it world probably have received less than it is now receiving. I feel certain that this action of the Government, however distasteful it may be to economic purists, is in the social sense 922 of the greatest importance. There could have been no more truly social act done than the setting aside of the economic arguments advanced with so much force by the Majority of the Beet Sugar Committee in favour of the wise social policy which is fraught with so much greater good for the agricultural community as a whole.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
My Lords, I must ask your Lordships' forbearance for a few moments. It is twenty-nine years exactly, I think, since I had the impudence, I suppose it was, to raise in your Lordships' House the first debate on beet sugar which, I think, ever took place here. I do not think there had ever been any mention of beet sugar until we brought it up on that occasion. It was a very interesting debate and one to which considerable prominence was given. The result was that a group of important men interested in the land came forward, strongly recommended that a powerful propaganda should be started in the country, and offered me considerable sums for the purpose of carrying it out. That campaign was started, and propaganda of one sort or another went ahead for a good many years. The best propaganda of all came when the sugar famine fell upon the country at the time of the War, and people realised what it was to be without sugar.
I listened with the greatest astonishment to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader. He seems to deny that the beet sugar industry has brought any advantage whatever to the agriculutral community or to the country at large. He seems to be oblivious of the improvement in the quality of the soil, the improvement of cultivation, the increase of the subsequent crops, and the undoubted impetus which has been given to the establishment of rural population, which is one the things we have been anxious about. Only the other day I heard a speech made by the President of the National Farmers' Union in which he gave the most alarming figures to show the falling-off in the number of agricultural labourers in this country during the last ten or twenty years. There is nothing like the sugar beet industry for the purpose of giving an impetus to rural labour. There is nothing like it for the purpose of causing the circulation of money in rural districts, and bringing life into rural districts. There is nothing like 923 it for the purpose of bringing in other trades, not merely confining the advantages to particular individuals, but giving employment all round, which is the one thing we are crying out for at the present time.
When I heard the noble Lord speak in the way he did, I could only marvel at the extraordinary mentality, the narrow mindedness, which is caused apparently by the extreme study of Free Trade principles. I do not wish to be discourteous to the noble Lord, but I have got no other way of describing my own feelings as I listened to him. For my part I congratulate the Government on having taken up this matter in the way they have done. I cordially support what has fallen from my noble friends Lord Cranworth and Lord Hastings. I listened with interest to what Lord Cranworth said about that remarkable meeting at Bury St. Edmunds. I can quite understand that meeting. I am connected with the factory at Bury St. Edmunds, and I think it is the most remarkable one in the country, treating about 4,000 tons of beet sugar a day during the season. That takes a bit of doing, and it gives an enormous amount of labour. It circulates a large amount of money in the district, it benefits the tradespeople, and it benefits the labourers. Well might they gather together in their thousands for the purpose of hearing what was said in support of the movement in opposition to the Greene Report.
I shall not keep the House longer because what I should say would be merely a repetition o£ what has already fallen from noble Lords; but I should like to emphasise one thing mentioned by Lord Hastings and that is the strong objection I feel to any limitation of a paying crop. Why should there be any limitation? A crop may be a paying one in the future, independent altogether of any help from the Government. If we can grow a larger amount of sugar per acre it will become a more paying crop. The crop has been improving steadily all the time. At the present time I think we are getting something like two pounds' worth of sugar per acre, and there is no reason why that should not be increased. Our farmers have learned a remarkable amount in the few years in which they have been at it. They are doing quite as well as the farmers in most of the Continental countries where 924 they have been at it for more than 100 years. I shall not detain the House longer, but in conclusion would again thank the noble Earl and the Government for what they have done and wish them every possible success.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I think we can all feel that we have had a most useful discussion. If there have not been a very great number of us here, I think we have made up in quality what we have lost in quantity. I am sure it has given the House particular pleasure that the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, who is one of the fathers of the industry, should have been able to come here to-day and take part in the discussion. Several important points have been raised by noble Lords who have spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, in particular, raised a number of points many of which, as I think he will recognise, have been dealt with before; but I would like to thank him for the fairness with which he put them. It did seem to me that while he was prepared to pull the Government's legs on committing that great crime of which the Liberal Party believe the Government are grievously guilty—namely, helping agriculture in a number of directions—he did recognise that we have not done it in a manner entirely without benefit to the country as a whole, or without asking agriculture to accept responsibilities towards the country which have not been accepted in the past.
I do not think, however, that he really gave credit for the debt which we owe to this particular crop as regards employment Thus, from the Greene Report itself, you get the amazing figures, that while the number of agricultural workers in England and Wales has declined by 14.7 over the last few years, it has increased in the beet sugar areas by very nearly 5 per cent. Again, you get the fact that in these beet areas you have an Average rise in wages of about 1s. 6d. per head per week. I think the noble Lord will recognise that that is a desirable result to have attained, and also that it is not entirely a coincidence that it has occurred particularly in the beet-producing counties. There is one very major point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rhayader, with which I would like to deal. I think he used the words that we had "rejected the Greene Report." The noble Lord will remember that the 925 Greene Report had two very definite sections to its recommendations and I think, when the noble Lord reads the White Paper, he will realise that there are very few of what I might call the Greene recommendations with regard to the reorganisation of the industry that have not in fact been accepted.
§ LORD RHAYADER
I am very much obliged to the noble Earl for telling me that, and I am glad to hear it.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I can reassure the noble Lord on that point. The question in regard to limitation was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth. I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said what he did on the question of limitation by tonnage not really being very different from limitation by acreage. What it means is that the growers will not in fact lose the benefit of increasing their efficiency in growing, but that it will be possible for them to grow the same tonnage on a smaller acreage with, what we know to be possible, a lower cost per ton. I can, however, reassure both noble Lords on this principle of limitation of acreage. It is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to prohibit the growing of more than a certain quantity of beet.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I thought we were on the long-term question. There is, of course, an interim policy which is rather different, but, as regards our long-term policy, we are definitely only limiting the amount of tonnage which is to be assisted. I think from what the noble Lord said afterwards, that it is clear he would be in agreement with that policy. Coming to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Marley, I am glad he was in agreement with the main principle of our policy. I am a little sorry that he had to try to bring what we are doing under the old political labels. It seems to me that if there is one merit in the agricultural policy being followed at the moment, and particularly the policy we are discussing to-day, it is that it is extraordinarily hard for the political dogmatists to label it. I do not think anyone would for a moment contend that this is strict individualism nor would anybody contend that it is 926 Socialism. Whether in future the industry is going to be nationalised or not, I do not think that is a matter for discussion now. I should say that if this scheme works it will remain as it is. If it does not work then there are bound to be alterations one way or another. I suggest to the noble Lord that if only we could get into the state of mind of looking at the subject from the point of view of dealing with each commodity on its merits we should be very much more likely to accomplish what we desire—namely, to get something done for the good of the country—than if we try to attach particular labels to our various actions.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.