§ LORD PHILLIMORE rose to inquire from His Majesty's Government what steps they have taken and propose in order to make provision for an adequate food supply in time of war; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the supply of food in time of war is a part of the problem of defence. I venture to say that it is as much a part of that problem as, for instance, the work to which those valuable lives lost only yesterday at Woolwich Arsenal were so honourably devoted. It is indeed an essential part of the problem. The starvation of the enemy, with a view to forcing his defeat by surrender, is, after all, one of the oldest problems of war. It was a measure which we 596 ourselves did our best to employ during the last War. It was a measure which our enemies did their best to employ by means of the unrestricted submarine warfare. It was a measure which reduced the very capital of France to the eating of rats in the war of 1876. It is, in fact, one of the recognised warlike measures by which you proceed to defeat your enemy. How many strong fortresses, how many castles, in spite of their gallant soldiers, have been forced to surrender by the use of this measure!
§ I propose first of all to dwell on the nature of the danger; next to ask the Government what steps they are taking to meet it; and lastly, to outline—and I shall only be able to outline—certain measures of defence which I think take priority over other measures which could be put forward. Our Navy, we are fond of saying, largely exists to defend our overseas commerce. If that is the case they have to defend amongst our imports that one-third of the total weight of imports which consists of food. It is with that one-third of our total imports that my speech will deal. No victories on foreign fields are possible to men who are half-starved or are starved outright. No bombing of our cities can ever be as vital to our existence as the simple warlike measure of starvation. All the world knows our weakness. Every boy who can pick up a book and read it can find out all that there is to know about the matter. There is therefore no need for reticence on this subject. There is nothing to conceal, and no reason why we should try to conceal it.
§ As to the degree of the danger, it really is extraordinary that only eighteen years after the War has finished we should have so completely lost the attitude of mind with which we finished that War. Then we said: "We have been caught napping this time. Never again!" Commissions and Committees sat on the subject, discussed the problem, put forward measures for its solution, and nothing whatever has been done. Nothing has been done by this Government nor by other Governments. And yet when the whole question of defence again presented itself in its present rather lurid colours, surely the first thing to consider was how to defeat this fearful menace against our whole 597 existence. It is quite sufficient for my purpose to remind your Lordships that only on June 25 Sir Samuel Hoare, the First Lord of the Admiralty, stated that within these shores our normal stocks of food are only for six weeks, and of raw materials, three months. That is the margin on which we gamble, and we place on the table the whole existence of this country.
§ Need I remind your Lordships that at the end of the last War it was variously calculated that we had escaped starvation and defeat by a margin of between two and six weeks? No phase of that War presented the same dangers as the submarine campaign, which restricted our food supplies. Need I remind your Lordships that during the whole of 1917 our Government were trying to build up a stock of wheat in this country amounting to thirteen weeks' supply, and that they failed to do it? Need I remind your Lordships that at one time stocks of sugar were down to three days' supply, and three days only? I heard that only the other day from the noble Lord, Lord Ernie, who was in charge of the production of food at that time. I cannot imagine what has calmed our mind and led us to this indifference. If it be contended that the introduction of the convoy system towards the close of the last War removed the worst of the menace, surely it can never be contended that the far more dangerous air attack on our incoming merchant vessels will be met by that same measure of protection. To bunch twenty, thirty, forty ships together in order to present a more vulnerable object of attack to a squadron of aeroplanes surely can never be our answer again as far as the narrow seas are concerned.
§ And then, if we are to rely on the Navy and convoy protection, what Navy have we got? We started the last War with 110 cruisers. I am told to-day that we have fifty, and that if we are lucky we shall have seventy in five years' time. And in the last War we used the Japanese to convoy our merchant vessels through the Mediterranean and, only to mention one other State, the United States to convoy our merchant vessels across the Atlantic. Are we going to have those allies in the next war? Your Lordships may not know the figures as to the convoys, and I stress them because they 598 show the enormous demand put on the Navy. During the last sixteen months of the War there were no fewer than 1,134 ocean-going convoys, and beyond that there were 51,000 odd short sailings, every one of which required naval protection by either cruisers, trawlers, sloops or destroyers. It required fifty cruisers alone to convoy our merchant ships down to Sierra Leone, and eighty-five destroyers—how many have we to-day?—were engaged in our western approaches alone and only on convoy work. Altogether there were 3,727 small craft engaged in anti-submarine measures in the year 1918. Where are we going to find them to-day? Beyond all this there were 1,000 aircraft operating under the Navy from sixty-six bases at the end of the last War. I believe the corresponding figure to-day is 217 aeroplanes.
§ It is of interest to note that in one day in 1918 there were in the Mediterranean 350 British ships of 1,400 tons and over. What would our position have been if most unfortunately we had been at war with one of the Mediterranean Powers possessed of a considerable navy? Let your Lordships remember at the same time that the tonnage of our Mercantile Marine is, I believe, inferior to what it was at the time of the Great War and has declined by 15 per cent. since 1930. Let your Lordships remember, too, that such tonnage as there may be is contained in larger, and therefore fewer, ships, so that the risk attaching to each ship is all the greater. And we must remember that we had virtually, so long as we retained the mastery of the seas, the whole neutral mercantile tonnage of the world working for us in the last War. Can we hope for such a thing again? We are told that the whole strength of the Government is now going into the work of building up our defences. I think no one would deny that it is high time that our strength was so directed. I only hope that it is not too late. I want to ask the Government what steps they are taking, what steps they have taken, and what steps they propose to take to meet the fearful menace which will exist as long as this country is an island, supporting a population for which it cannot grow sufficient food.
§ It is, perhaps, one reason for our indifference in this matter that when my grandfather was born this particular risk 599 did not attach to this country. By the time he died the situation had altered, and we had become a country largely dependent on overseas supplies for our food. Up to the present all we have been told by the Government is that the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence—and a busy man he must be—said on May 27 that a Sub-Committee under his chairmanship was examining all aspects of our food supply in time of emergency. They included, for example, the protection of shipping, security in ports, distribution and transport questions and reserve of stocks. Your Lordships will note that there is one notable omission. The production of food in this country is not mentioned as part of his reference.
§ I would point out that the Sub-Committee of which your Lordships have also heard, and which is presided over by Sir William Beveridge, is limited at the present stage to considering questions of rationing and consumption. It is in fact a Committee set up to count its chickens before they are hatched, because if there is no food to supply, what is the point of considering rationing? It is the work of the previous Committee to supply the eggs from which these chickens will be hatched. Is there any sign of that Committee installing an incubator or, even better, going a bit broody? I see no signs whatever, and as far as I know the first measure that should be taken—namely, consultation with the trades affected—has not even been commenced. Have the Government, have this Committee, taken note of the very numerous Committees and Commissions of reconstruction and of safety which, during and after the War, considered this very point? I regret that owing partly to the difficulty that besets all your Lordships, that of having too many tasks to perform, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Ernie, are not with us in person to-day. All three of them at one time or another have presided over Committees or Commissions which have gone with the utmost thoroughness into these very questions. Has any notice been taken of their Reports, and why must we wait eighteen years, until the danger is as pressing as it is to-day, before we put into operation any of the measures which those very able Committees recommended?600
§ It is not as if this particular measure of defence could be said to be directed against any country whatever. It is a purely pacific measure which threatens nobody and hurts nobody; and indeed there is no possible reason for concealing our weakness or need for going into this matter. So long as this Achilles' heel of our position stands open for all the world to see, so long is it a direct invitation to what we are accustomed to call the aggressor to come at us on that heel. After all, we have begun to recognise rather tardily that our influence in the counsels of the world depends on our strength and on very little else. So long as this great menace hangs over us, our strength is reduced by a proportion which I would not like to lay down but which, if I were an enemy, I would consider vital. There is therefore no sort of reason why prompt and quick measures should not be taken with regard to this problem. The provision of food supply in time of war would be, after all, the equivalent of many cruisers. It would be the equivalent of a good many divisions, and, without it, no divisions, no cruisers, could be of any use.
§ There is one other allied difficulty to which I wish to refer before I pass on to the measures which I think should be taken. That is the difficulty of mercantile tonnage. I have already referred to the fact that our mercantile tonnage is going down the hill. One-third of what that merchant fleet carries is, broadly speaking, foodstuffs. To the extent that you can relieve our merchant navy, possibly only at the beginning of the war, the most vital moment, of having to carry a proportion of these foodstuffs, to that extent you will make room for the necessary munitions of war which in the next war we are bound to require from foreign countries. It is a matter of common agreement that the next war will be, even more than the last, a war of material. It will demand all our man power either in the Services or in the factories, and, even so, we shall in all probability have to import not only raw materials for our munitions but also some of the finished products. So anything that lightens the demand on British mercantile tonnage becomes of the utmost importance. In the last War it was only with great difficulty, during the period of unrestricted submarine warfare, that we got neutral 601 vessels to ply to our ports. In the end the position got so desperate that the Shipping Controller, after pinching and paring all the committees of supply, reported to the Government that there was not enough mercantile tonnage for both food and munitions, and the Government took the fateful decision that munitions must take priority over food.
§ Fortunately the end of the War robbed us of the most ghastly part of that picture, but that decision was deliberately taken, and what it meant to the nation, or would have meant if the War had extended longer, I tremble to think. In short, in the last War the food available was inadequate, and it is more than certain, that in the next war it will be so too. Even in times of peace we import a tonnage of wheat of about 400,000 per month, and it may surprise some of your Lordships to know that, also monthly, we import 660,000 tons if iron ore and scrap; and in the beginning of a war that latter importation would be of far-reaching importance. What I am trying to point out to noble Lords is that unless we can free some tonnage at the beginning of the next war, assuming it to be a war of the same character as the last, we shall have to make that same decision again as to whether it is to be food or whether it is to be munitions, and I expect we shall have to come down on the side of munitions.
§ So far I have dealt with the nature of the menace. Now I should like to make a few suggestions as to the precautions that ought to be taken. There is one feature of our present food supply which stands out above all other features, and that is our dependence on the imported cereal. I have said that one-third of our total imports consists of foodstuffs. One half of our total imports of foodstuffs consists of wheat and 63 per cent. of our imported foodstuffs consists of cereals. I am speaking now of weight, not of values; it is weight that in this particular matter is of the greatest importance because we are considering freight and shipping. Please bear in mind, my Lords, that we are enormously dependent on the importation of cereals from abroad, that these cereals constitute the great bulk of the foodstuffs we have to import and for which we have to find tonnage. How are we to ease that situation? Personally I should be glad 602 to see a moderate extension of the wheat subsidy, say by another million quarters, which I think would conduce to the bringing of more of the countryside under arable cultivation, and would certainly by that substantial amount add to our security.
§ But that will not touch the main question, which is the old problem that faced Joseph many years ago in Egypt when "he gathered up all the food of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt and laid up the food in cities" against the seven years of dearth that he anticipated. On the other hand Joseph "gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering, for it was without number." I cannot believe that our civil servants would ever proceed with that same sublime disregard of statistics. This is one of those simple things which do not get done, apparently because they are so simple, and the truth of the matter is that if we could store an additional three months' supply of wheat in granaries over here we should have broken, I will not say the problem, but the worst of the problem. We should have afforded the Navy that breathing space at the beginning of a war which would probably be required to hunt the enemy into their own ports.
§ What would that cost? As far as I can calculate, and it is only a rough calculation, the placing in stock of three months' supply of wheat in this country would not cost the nation more than about £1,000,000 a year. Neither would there be any difficulty about it physically or commercially of any weight. At the present time there is a possible supply of wheat in the world of 285,000,000 bushels. Of that amount three months' extra supply in this country would only want one-sixth. That one-sixth is already waiting to come over here on the eastern terminal points in Canada. The only question is to transfer that which is waiting to come over to this side. Providing actual purchase and the storage of this wheat were left in the hands of the trades that understand it, there is no room for any doubt as to deterioration of the article whatever. After all, as I have just pointed out, Joseph laid his wheat up for seven years, and under my scheme it would only have to be laid up for six months at the outside.603
§ It would be most simple and most effective if this storage was carried out at the various mills, and probably in proportion to their capacity. I bring this forward, not because I am a small miller, but because I know that the handling of the transport of this foodstuff would be immensely cheapened by treating it in that way, and handling and transport would be very important in time of war. I think, too, it is important to remember that there are altogether, big and small, about 500 flour mills in this country. Supposing you dispersed your stores over half that number, that measure of dispersal would be a very considerable insurance against the risk of air attack. The millers who have already operated—and I hope my noble friend Lord Peel will support me in this—the Wheat Subsidy Act very much to the satisfaction of those who are concerned, can be quite well trusted to be nationally minded about this matter and not to make money out of it.
§ How do I come to my £1,000,000 a year? I come to it partly by the very simple calculation that at present prices the extra amount of wheat required would cost about £10,000,000, and I allow roughly so much per cent. interest on that amount. The next item of expense would be the provision of storage accommodation. The facts in regard to the storage accommodation are very well known—I mean as to the construction of silos and so on—and we can say that, even if we have to construct afresh the whole amount of additional storage accommodation required, it would not cost us more than about £12,000,000 or £13,000,000, so that you have together there a sum of £23,000,000 on which you have to charge the annual interest against the nation. At this point I think it is well to remove any misapprehension which may have attached to a statement made by Mr. Runciman in another place, when he mentioned that there was only storage capacity for ten days' supply in this country.
Ten days. At the moment he was speaking of public granaries and warehouses only, and he subsequently corrected himself, but I have found that that misapprehension has got very wide advertisement. The facts 604 so far as I can ascertain them are that in public granaries and millers' silos at ports there is at the present time, and generally, about twelve weeks' supply of wheat and flour, and that there is in the hands of bakers between two and four weeks supply, so that altogether you may be pretty sure that, apart from the English wheat harvest, there is about one-quarter of our wheat requirements normally existing in the country. My proposal would be to add another three months' supply to that amount.
I believe that there is already a certain amount of excess storage which is not being used, and it is a fact that millers are increasing their storage, so that I do not anticipate that quite such large sums as I have indicated would be required. There might be one other cost to meet, besides the interest on these outlays and the sinking fund. This would be required to extinguish the cost of the buildings. There might be some loss occasioned by market movements which would affect the three months' supply in hand, but I anticipate it might be possible to hedge against such losses, and in any case, if there are to be such losses, it makes it all the more incumbent on the Government to take the first step towards this, because the longer this process of accumulating a reserve goes on the more cheaply we shall be able to do it. Obviously if we went into the market tomorrow and said we wanted so many million tons extra of wheat, we should at once bull the market against ourselves, but if it can be spread over a period there is no reason to anticipate any considerable rise. Now, are the Government prepared with a scheme which will take the place of what I suggest, or are they willing, as I hope, that the nation should pay this small premium for its security? So far I have dealt only with the national reserve of wheat, and I have given your Lordships my reasons for thinking it is the most important part of the problem. I put it first because it is first in order of time. It can be done most quickly. It presents no difficulties.
Now I turn to the rest of the problem of our food supply in time of war, and I will deal with that in a very few brief sentences. I will only say this, that at the request of the Minister of Health, I think during the War, the Royal Society was asked to examine the then nutrition 605 of the people, to make recommendations, and to say what were the minimum requirements of a working man. Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I have left the figures behind me, but the effect of those figures was this, that the cereals in the workers' food contributed practically, as you would expect, the carbo-hydrates required, but that meat, butter and eggs contributed very nearly the whole of the fats and by far the largest portion of the proteins that a working man must have if he is to do his work. Where are those proteins and fats, which the munitions worker and the soldier must have in time of war, coming from? Can you afford to devote to their carriage over here as much shipping as is now in use? Can you guard that shipping against submarine attack and air attack? If you cannot, as I believe you cannot, what measures are you going to take to encourage the production of these foods in this country? I beg to move.
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on the very moderate way in which he presented a case which I venture to say is devastating. I understand that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will reply, and I hope he will answer the very pertinent questions which the noble Lord has put before your Lordships. The principal question is: Why have not the Government acted? They have known of this problem. We were told by the Secretary of State for War that the situation was desperate, that it was critical, that it could only be compared to the days immediately preceding the War in 1914. He said that in a speech which I ventured to criticise the other day in your Lordships' House. The Secretary of State for War has not been repudiated. The Government therefore accept the situation—I do not, but they do—and they should not have neglected this problem. Neglected it they have. The noble Lord referred to the statement of the President of the Board of Trade about the storage of wheat, and I understood from that that Mr. Runciman declared that in the ports there is storage for 1,500,000 tons of wheat, equivalent to ten weeks' supply or, as the noble Lord says, counting what is in the hands of millers and bakers about twelve weeks' supply. On March 1 last, according to the Corn Trade News, there were only 214,000 tons 606 in store, or about ten days' supply. That was on March 1, six days before the Germans re-entered the Rhineland and created a very serious international crisis.
I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him, but I should like to say that it was subsequently made quite clear that that was the supply contained in public granaries at the ports.
I accept that at once, but that does not weaken the strength of the noble Lord's argument, an argument which I wish to support. During the last two or three years there has been in several countries a very heavy surplus of wheat. The Canadian Government have been taking over the surplus in Canada in order to stabilise prices and relieve Canadian growers. There are still stored in Canada immense quantities of wheat at Government expense. I should have thought it would have been the simplest thing in the world—I would very much like to know whether this solution has occurred to the Government—to come to an arrangement with the Canadian Government by which that same wheat should be stored here and released and paid for as it is required. Surely we could come to an arrangement of that sort with a Dominion Government, and I cannot for the life of me understand why nothing of the kind has been done in this case.
Now, in view of what is happening, it would not be so cheap to do that. As the noble Lord said, if the Government suddenly go into the market as large buyers they will have to pay handsomely for wheat. If we had not waited so long we could have had the wheat much cheaper. Last year there was widespread failure of crops in the Argentine, and this year, as your Lordships are aware, very serious havoc has been caused in the wheat-growing areas of the United States by the drought. I have here a cutting from The Times in which the New York correspondent of that paper says it is calculated that 100,000,000 bushels of wheat have been lost. The same thing is happening in some of the prairie provinces of Canada. Therefore the great surplus which was available last year will not be so great when we begin to act. Furthermore, I would remind your Lordships, the export of wheat from Russia 607 has been diminished. The population of that country is increasing, the standard of living is rising, and Russia will not export so much wheat. Therefore the visible surplus will not be so great in future. That is proved by the hectic gambling of the last few days in the Chicago Wheat Pit. The Government will cost the country dearly when they have to increase the supplies of wheat in this country.
The noble Lord who moved this Motion hoped that it was not too late. I hope so too, and I hope also that he and his colleagues, who have the whip hand over the Government in this House, will press the matter. We are only a few on this side. We will support and help, but we shall be accused of partisanship. I am not speaking as a partisan. I entirely agree with the noble Lord about the new factor introduced by aircraft. We had a very difficult task in the last War in maintaining overseas supplies because of the new weapon of the submarine. Not only the increased efficiency of aircraft but the immense numbers of aircraft built by foreign Powers will represent a most serious menace if we are ever again engaged in war.
That brings me to the question of storage at the ports. They will be the most tempting targets for air attack. Everyone knows that. They are the heel of Achilles of which the noble Lord spoke. Therefore I hope that this problem will be tackled from the point of view of storage being provided in less vulnerable districts. Many of your Lordships have been to Malta. I wonder if the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, has seen the wonderful granaries hewn out of the rock by the Knights of St. John, where years of supply of wheat could be stored so that Malta could stand a siege. They are about the only storehouses to-day which are practically immune from air attack. We could do the same thing with modern concrete and reinforced steel construction quite easily and cheaply.
With regard to the cost of storing wheat, I have seen a statement that does not diverge very much from that of the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore. To store six months' supply instead of twelve weeks' supply would cost about £1,250,000. That is less than the cost of one cruiser. Imagine the relief of the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand 608 Fleet, if we were involved in another war, at knowing that at any rate the country was supplied with foodstuffs and other essentials, and that he could devote his energies, instead of being exercised about the safety of trade routes, to the Royal Navy's proper function of destroying the enemy forces. The same thing would apply to the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, who would be equally concerned.
This is not, of course, only a question of wheat, although, as the noble Lord said, that is the bulkiest of the imports of food and the one of which there should be certain supply. I know that when our own harvests come in and when the harvests are transhipped across the Atlantic we have a better cereal supply, but I should very much like to ask the noble Viscount who is sitting on the Woolsack to say, when he replies, something about the frozen meat position. I understand that in this country we are fortunately placed as regards storage for chilled meat and frozen meat. I believe that is the case. But that again is a seasonal trade and it is surely elementary that we should always arrange that there is a minimum stock of frozen meat kept in the country. That is another great bulk import. The noble Lord mentioned Sir Samuel Hoare's statement about the three months' supplies of raw materials, and we must not forget those raw materials. I admit that food is perhaps the most essential, but if we are engaged in a war in the future, it may last a long time. It depends on who our enemy is. We shall have to keep up our employment, our exports and our credit, and there are great bulk supplies of raw material—of cotton, wool, timber, jute, certain metals, oil and so on—which we must have. I hope that fact is not being lost sight of.
I do not want to widen the debate, but as we have mentioned raw materials I must in a sentence or two, if I may, refer to the question of oil. Without oil in the country you cannot move your food about; the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, will agree to that. I know what the Government have been doing with regard to encouraging hydrogenation and that sort of thing, but I have had calculations made by experts, which are not challenged, showing what it would cost to make us self-supporting here with oil supplies from our own coal. 609 The figures are really fantastic. That is not practicable. You can do a great deal to encourage low-temperature carbonisation, the greater production of benzene, and such processes. But the Lord Chancellor is aware of these figures, and he knows that to make ourselves self-supporting in this country would cost us a capital expenditure of £100,000,000, which is too great. Moreover, we should employ only 50,000 extra miners and 50,000 other workmen and throw out of work a great many sailors and dock workers. We can therefore rule that plan out. I do, however, advocate not only that serious consideration should be given—we have had enough of that—but that action should be taken now with regard to the storage of oil supplies in this country also.
I have a calculation here which I know is approximately correct—it has been "vetted" in the most knowledgable quarters—to show that a year's peacetime supply of oil, three or four months, I suppose, in wartime, but still something substantial, could be provided at a total capital cost of £22,750,000, which includes the capital cost of the oil, £11,250,000, and the cost of storage—that is, with the tanks in a less vulnerable position than that in which they mostly are now. Your Lordships will be aware that the most conspicuous objects of interest at any of our naval ports are the great oil storage tanks. They are the first things you see when you come up Southampton Water. We should, of course, have to have storage for the extra supply, placed well away from them, and we should need for that extra storage an expenditure of £8,500,000. Then we should have to spend £3,000,000 cm extra storage for petrol under ground. I have been referring heretofore to heavy oil, which is less vulnerable in storage than petrol; but you need underground petrol stores as well. You will also have to have a subsidy scheme to set up extra cracking plants so as to make ourselves perfectly safe in oil reserves in time of war. Above all, I hope we may have some success from the deep drillings which are now going on, and that we shall discover some great pools of natural petroleum underneath our own soil.
In the meantime we have no excuse for further dawdling and dilatory action. The Government are sadly lacking in 610 leadership. I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, has come into the House; he has now joined the Cabinet, and I hope he will put a little ginger into the Government on this and other questions, for they badly need it. The Labour Party has a policy that we have been advocating for many years, and I venture to remind the Government and your Lordships that it is an obvious policy. It is not only a war policy, but it is a peace policy too. We believe that the Government should make themselves responsible for the bulk purchase and storage of the main articles of foodstuffs and raw material for commerce and particularly of wheat and meat. By so doing not only would the country be safer in time of war, but we could also prevent fluctuations in the price in peace time. We could buy wheat when it was cheap and store it—to take the wheat example—and could then prevent the sort of thing that is happening to-day. Your Lordships will be aware that already flour has gone up in price and that the price of bread has been increased already by one halfpenny a loaf, and further advances are foreshadowed.
A few days hence this House and the other House will be discussing the new Unemployment Regulations and what is the least amount that the Government can dare to offer to the unemployed man and his family. That figure will be upset if you put up the price of bread. A penny on the 4-lb. loaf means a difference of 7d. to 1s. weekly to every family. But if we had a system of Government purchase, storage and release, as we have been advocating for years in my Party, we could iron out those differences and at any rate let the working man and, still more important, his wife, know approximately what the main articles of food are going to cost from week to week. At present, once you have to put up the price of food in this country, you upset the results of collective bargaining over wages for the men in work and you worsen the lot of everyone out of work, or, at any rate, everyone on a fixed income or salary. That has been our policy, a policy which has been advocated with great brilliance by a right honourable friend of mine, Mr. Thomas Johnston, and which has been adopted by the official Labour Party. If we had had better leadership in our last period of 611 office, we should have carried it through, and there would then have been no need for the noble Lord to bring the matter forward to-day—though no one would, I am sure, be more pleased than he if he had not had to do so, and we should have missed the brilliant speech which he made.
I should like to make this point also. The Conservative Party, which is so strong in this House, dominates the present Government. I was always brought up to believe from my earliest days that the one thing the Conservatives would do was at any rate to look after the defences of the country properly; see that we were strong in case of trouble with foreigners; that we kept up a strong Army and a strong Navy. I thought that was what the Conservatives always did.
The Conservative Party dominates the National Government. They cannot shuffle out of their responsibilities like that. The Conservatives have a clear majority in both Houses and are well able to bring the Government to book, and have been so for a long time, on this as on other questions. As has been stated in another place, the Government had not even enough heavy gun ammunition for the Navy during the crisis last autumn. The Government, with their great majority, have left us short even of shells for our capital ships in a time of crisis, to say nothing of food supplies, frozen meat and so on. They are utterly incompetent; their incompetence is exposed every day.
At any rate all democracies are not quite as bad. The French Government have moved in this matter, I am glad to say. The Socialist Party is strongly represented in France, and the Government are moving with some vigour. I would call your Lordships' attention again to the Bill that has just passed through the French Parliament giving the Government very wide powers over the supplies of wheat in France. The French are going to be Safe, at any rate, and perhaps they can help us. I wish, as my noble friend Lord Snell reminds me that we had the Channel tunnel, at any rate, at the present time; we might then be able to draw wheat and other supplies from France in case of trouble. 612 Under the Bill which the French Minister of Agriculture has passed through Parliament the Department is authorised to fix the price of wheat, flour and bread, and will devote particular attention to the narrowing of the present gap between wheat prices and bread prices. It will have a monopoly of the import and export trade in wheat and flour.
The noble Lord wants the whole matter left in the hands of private traders in this country, and says that he is confident that they will not take advantage of the situation to profiteer. I wish we could be as confident as he is. Our policy is that of the French Government as represented in that Bill. Once more, as I have ventured to do before in your Lordships' House, I would indict the Government for their policy on the one hand of trying to encourage production of certain home foods, as the noble Lord has said, with their cattle subsidy and wheat subsidy, and on the other deliberately restricting the production of other home-produced foods. I will take two examples. The first is potatoes. Your Lordships know what happens there: you are not allowed to grow potatoes now without a permit, and if you grow potatoes without a permit you are fined, and if you do not pay the fine you go to prison. It is a crime to grow food now in the potato fields of this country. The second example—I do not see a representative of the Department here—is fish. The fisherman is not allowed to catch fish now without a permit. We are restricting the number of active fishing vessels at work on the coasts of Britain at the present time, restricting the supplies of fish in the country.
That is a criminal policy. We shall want all the fishermen and all the fishing vessels we can get if we are ever in trouble again. They were of the greatest assistance to us in the War not only as food producers but as auxiliaries to the Navy, and we are throwing these men out of work in order to keep up prices on the market. What sort of policy is that? What sort of Government is it which is tinkering with this question still? Commission after Commission has reported on the danger of the situation, and nothing has been done. There has been nothing but talk. The noble Lord mentioned the Minister for coordinating the Defence Services. He has 613 ray sympathy. That is all he has got. He has not got a proper staff, he is overburdened with work, he has to deal not only with supplies of munitions but with the planning of strategy, and it is a task which it is impossible for one man to perform. The rest of the Cabinet, except Lord Stanhope, who can prove an alibi, dithers and dodders and dawdles about, and heaven help us if a crisis comes.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I cannot but feel deeply grateful to my noble friend for bringing this matter before the House again, because in my personal capacity I have found the deep anxiety which people of this country feel on this matter. It is an anxiety which is not confined to the town but goes to the villages, and it goes through all ranks in this country. There is the very deepest anxiety on this matter, and I do not think that any of those—and I hope there may be many—who will read the speech of Lord Phillimore, will find that their anxiety is much lessened. Many instances have been given of the straits we were in during the War. The case of the three days' sugar supply, which I know to be an undoubted fact, was mentioned, and it was a fact which was used on many a platform when the sugar-beet subsidy came in. It was a very dominating factor on such platforms. There is one thing more which has not been mentioned, and that is the shortage of animal fat, which I believe came also to three days' supply, and which the Germans themselves admit was in the final event the main cause of their downfall.
I think every other nation, and I think every individual in this country—except perhaps a few extremists—knows that peace is the one thing that this nation seeks for earnestly, and means to have, but while we are in the position which has been disclosed to-day, and which we know to be a fact, we invite the attack of any nation which bears us ill-will, and we furnish a cause which may be decisive in promoting a very great war. Do we stand, to-day, in any better position than that in which we stood at the beginning of the last War? In spite of all the great efforts that the Ministry of Agriculture have made, and I would be the last to decry them, it is a fact that to-day there is less land under the plough than there was. It is a fact that to-day there are 614 fewer men employed on the land. It is true that there are more pigs in existence but, on the other hand, there are fewer cattle. Again the Germans, in their analysis at the end of the War, placed as one of the great factors of their downfall the fact that they placed reliance upon pigs rather than upon cattle. I think that situation is accentuated, to-day, when modern taste demands that no pig should have any fat upon it at all.
I know there is a school of thought, and a big school of thought, which does not accept the idea of the importance of this food question, and which says that there are other things to be thought of, such as petrol and metals, and that we must use all our efforts to having such a Navy as will drive our enemies back to their ports immediately. Our command of the sea might be temporarily lost for a short time, but it might be regained again, and it has been pointed out only too clearly that if we can save some cruisers from the duty of escorting vessels which are bringing in supplies of food they will then be available for other purposes. I want to recall to your Lordships the fact that there was a Committee set up at the end of the War on this point, and that they reported in these words:The experience of the present War leads to the conclusion that any measures which resulted in rendering the United Kingdom less dependent on the importation of foodstuffs during the period of a future war, and so in reducing the volume of seaborne traffic, would greatly relieve the strain upon the Navy and add immensely to the national security.We seem to have forgotten that.
We have talked about storage in granaries, and a three months' supply has been mentioned. I am a little doubtful whether that is enough. I hope it is, but that is not the only sort of storage we want. We want storage in the stack. At the present moment there is storage in the stack after harvest, but it gets less and less and is practically exhausted at the present moment. I should have thought it was possible to have corn stored in the stack for a longer period by means of having some bonus for corn so kept, such bonus to be taken off at the other end. There is also another question of importance, and that is the productivity of the soil to replenish the stores when they become exhausted. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that eighty years 615 ago in this land we practically fed the whole of our population, numbering 24,000,000, and the staple food in this country was not what it is to-day, tinned abominations and aperients. On the contrary, it was good English bread and good English beer; and although the standard of wages was miserable, and the standard of living was deplorable, it remains a fact that then the standard for the Army was five inches higher and the chest measurement was four inches more than they are to-day, and rejects were practically negligible. I think that that is worth remembering.
In spite of the efforts of the Minister of Agriculture, and I would in no way wish to decry them—no man in my opinion has ever done so much for the industry of agriculture as he has—nevertheless it is the case that there is less arable land and there are fewer men employed than there were a year or two ago. We must remember that there are 5,000,000 fewer acres in arable cultivation than there were fifty years ago. I know how much the Minister has done. I know that this problem has been lessened by the fact that the present Government have done so much for wheat and so much for sugar. But why have they not done more? Why is it that the productivity of the soil is, as it is undoubtedly, less than it was three or four years ago? I suggest to your Lordships that it is to a certain extent due to the fact that there has been no balanced plan for the whole of agriculture, that where one industry has cried louder than another for help it has got help, and, if that help has been sufficient, other industries less well placed have overflowed their proper boundaries and gone into that special branch of the industry. The great and notable case, of course, is that of milk. Where, owing to there being some slight profit in the sale of milk, the production of beef has gone down to a dangerous figure, the people who should be producing meat have gone into the production of milk, very often in districts where it is undesirable that milk should be produced. And so we heard the cries that "It is the beef man's turn next," and "Up horn and down corn" or the reverse.
I doubt if these things should be. I admit with the greatest pleasure that we have seen in the last few days a measure 616 to help beef. It does not give all that the beef industry wanted. Perhaps the beef industry would have got more had it not been for the cry, and for the very wise decision of the Government, to make national security the very next thing that they would tackle. But it does do something for beef and it will undoubtedly help. And there is a special point in that that I think is worthy of notice. I believe it is the intention that early matured beef will get some additional advantage. I welcome that for this reason, that it means the storage in this country of additional quantities of linseed and other cake, and that, it seems to me, adds some small but nevertheless valuable supplies which will be of use in time of war.
I think that a secure food policy brings together all classes of farmers. The noble Lord who has just sat down has shown that as far as his Party is concerned that is so. It brings together the people of the town and the people of the country, because the people of the town know that if there is a shortage of food it will be they who will be the first to suffer and not the people on the farms. It brings together the pacifist and the jingo. The one knows that he cannot have war unless his people are fed, and the other knows that a well-filled larder is no weapon of offence, but only of defence. There may be the cry that this will cost the country more. So far as I am concerned, I have no wish that it should cost the country one penny more. All that I am suggesting is that some few of these cruisers that will be used in escorting convoys of food to this country may be saved by the production of that corn and that meat in this country itself. That seems to me a worthy object, and I would suggest to your Lordships that whereas a cruiser is a wasting asset a prosperous agricultural countryside is an increasing asset, bringing in its wake employment, health and happiness.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, I am sure we are all extremely indebted to my noble friend, not only for introducing this subject but for supporting his arguments by such a wealth of accurate figures. It has this beneficent effect, that it makes it unnecessary for other speakers, among them myself, to deluge your Lordships with any great number 617 of figures. I was also grateful to the noble Lord opposite for the very impartial and non-Party speech which he delivered to us. He travelled very wide, as he admitted, and he wanted the Government to deal with all sorts of subjects—the control of wheat and oil and meat, and to manage the whole thing. The only trouble was that it has all to be done by Government; yet the Government on this side of the House at any rate is one of the most incompetent, dithering set of people, with the exception of my noble friend Lord Stanhope, that he has ever seen! It is obviously no good, therefore, recommending a policy of that kind to this Government. Well then, I thought we were going to get salvation from the other side, but when he began to speak of his own side it was almost more dithering and absurd than this Government; he said it had no leadership. And I came to this conclusion—very flattering to the noble Lord—that unless the noble Lord himself is to be the Leader of the Labour Party there is no salvation for this country at all.
Some very pertinent questions have been put to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. Perhaps one may say first that the question of the security of our food supplies in time of war varies with the extent of our preparations for war, and therefore the first question that was put by my noble friend to the Lord Chancellor is: What has been done by the Government, and what is going to be done, to put our fighting forces on a secure basis? That is a very wide subject for him to deal with. But there is a further question. It is quite obvious that the security of this country in time of war depends very largely on our foreign policy. That lays a further burden on the Lord Chancellor, because he has got to explain exactly what our foreign policy is, and that, no doubt, is a further duty which he will have to discharge this evening. It is plain, I think, that if you can get a maximum security first of all from your maximum force, and if you have a certain number of allies, then there would be no difficulty, because the whole of your supplies of food and raw materials would come in from neutral countries. No doubt our shipping has deteriorated in proportion to world shipping in the last few years, yet there is a very large amount of world shipping 618 at the present moment which is capable of carrying any amount of food and raw material to this country. But unfortunately we cannot count on quite so satisfactory a position as that. We have to realise the additional factor brought in by the Air Force.
I am not for a moment going to suggest that the next war will be anything like an imitation of the last War, but I think it is very useful nevertheless to recall one or two incidents of the last War which may at least have some bearing on what is going to happen in the future. For the first two years of the War our supply of foodstuffs and of feeding stuffs was generally sufficient. Then gradually that began to be affected increasingly by the loss of tonnage through enemy action and by the diversion of tonnage for the transport of troops and munitions. In 1917 the shortage began to be severely felt. In 1918 there was a severe shortage of practically all kinds of imported feeding stuffs—barley, oats, maize, oilcake—and also of artificial fertilisers. The shortage of these feeding stuffs reacted on the home live-stock industry. The output of milk was hardly maintained, and the output of meat fell from 1917 to 1913 by 10 per cent. and from 1918 to 1919 by more than 25 per cent. of the pre-War average output—and that also at a time when there was a great shortage of tonnage for bringing food supplies and raw material from abroad. It was not until 1927–28, ten years after the War, that the volume of the home production of meat fully recovered from the reductions of herds and flocks necessitated by the War-time shortage of feeding stuffs. This shortage felt in the home output of meat reduced the whole output of British farms, and was not balanced by the tremendous efforts that were made by the Food Production Department and others to increase the quantity of food produced at home.
My noble friend has examined some of the supplies in which we are most vulnerable, and he has selected from a great many other matters the question of wheat. May I say that the figure given by the noble Lord opposite was a somewhat misleading figure? He stated, I think, that the quantity of wheat at a certain time at the ports amounted to only ten days' supply, but the millers have always something like a three weeks' supply, either in the form of flour or 619 wheat, in their granaries, and among the bakers there is also a supply. Therefore you have to add a good many weeks, four at least, to the figure that we were given by the noble Lord. My noble friend Lord Phillimore has referred also to the possibility of increasing, by raising a little more money in quota payments, the wheat supply by another million quarters. I do not consider that a very large figure by which to raise it, because although the subsidy only applies to six million quarters of wheat a good deal more than six million quarters are grown at present in the country—something like eight millions. Of course the quota payment has to be spread more thinly over that larger surface, but I do not think the addition of one million quarters to the supply of wheat would make any very great difference. As to the appeal to the public spirit of the millers in carrying out the Wheat Act, I can endorse absolutely what was said by the noble Lord. There is no criticism of any kind to be brought against them. In fact, they deserve great credit for the way they have carried out the Wheat Act.
In addition to that the noble Lord has discussed this question of storage. Very intricate and technical points are involved in that question of storage of wheat. Even if we take the three months' supply that he has suggested, quite apart from the technical questions involved and apart also from the disturbance to other traders which would no doubt occur and which, however negligible it may be in time of war, has to be considered in time of peace, unless of course you put the whole business into the hands of the State as was largely suggested by the noble Lord—in addition to that you would have to be very careful to see that other stocks of wheat were not diminished in this country, because it is quite possible, if it were known there were large stocks to be turned over in the Government granaries, that might have a tendency to reduce the other supplies, in which case you would not gain very much. Nevertheless, I agree that that is a matter which ought to be fully gone into and considered, and I know it has been considered more than once by the Government. But I do not think that is anything like sufficient to meet the tremendous problem we are discussing to-day. We cannot separate one particular form of food from other forms of food. Home 620 supplies of meat, milk, and eggs are also in time of war highly vulnerable. Your Lordships know the enormous extent, for instance, to which the poultry business has increased in the last few years. That is a matter of common observation, quite apart from any figures with which we may be supplied. All these sources of food are highly vulnerable in time of war because we depend to so large an extent on imported feeding stuffs.
In time of war you may very rapidly be able to increase your wheat area, but to increase your meat very rapidly is far more difficult, except by a general destruction and slaughtering of your farm stock, which has the deplorable results that I pointed out were experienced in the last War. Moreover, we in these islands are in special difficulty as regards the question of meat, because the tendency would be more and more to import our meat from the other hemisphere, from Australia and from New Zealand, where you have, of course, a very long haul and where the use of your tonnage would be much less economical. This does urge upon us the necessity of putting the home live-stock industry on afar better footing than it is at present. In this particular relation I could quote many statistics. I have all the figures and they have been very carefully worked out not only in tonnage but also in matters of food units, but I do not wish to inflict these figures on your Lordships. But these statistics do show that the United Kingdom is far more dependent upon imported supplies of feeding stuffs for animals and poultry than it has ever been before. In the past ten years the tonnage of feeding grain—barley, oats, and so on—and fodder produced at home has declined by fully 20 per cent., while the tonnage of imported feeding stuffs has risen by about 25 per cent. The position as regards all these supplies which depend upon these feeding stuffs has deteriorated very seriously during the last six or seven years. It does seem to me, therefore, that quite apart from what you are going to do with wheat, we can only secure greater independence by a long-term policy which is designed to revive cultivation as a permanent matter of national defence.
I do not pretend to be a great authority on agriculture, as are my noble friends Lord Ernie and Lord Bayford, who are 621 sitting here. I only approach it, as it were, from certain particular angles and I rather appeal to them to confirm what I say. It has been suggested that an animal and a grass policy are not compatible with our arable policy, and that they do not really fit into each other. I would ask whether that is not a complete fallacy. I would also say this, that the extent to which cultivation is carried on in this country is very largely a matter of national policy. There are millions of acres capable of cultivation, which can be cultivated if a fair return is given to the farmer. Farmers are perfectly prepared and are capable of doing their part. If you can get this higher condition of cultivation, that again demands more supplies of feeding stuffs and fertilisers, a large part of which in that case you would be able to get from the country itself. The wheat subsidy has been referred to this afternoon, but the wheat subsidy is not nearly enough. It is only one part of the whole agricultural policy, because in large parts of the country you have barley and oats growing, and a great deal of the increased wheat growing in this country has been to the discredit, as it were, of oats and of barley.
So far as I have been able to obtain statistics there has been comparatively little of the grassland ploughed up in order to grow this extra amount of wheat, and the reason I think is obvious. It is that, if wheat comes into the rotation, a farmer, in considering whether he should grow wheat, has not only to consider the wheat subsidy but he will also consider what he is going to cultivate in the second and third years, and how the crops in those years will pay him. It becomes, therefore, again very largely a matter of Government policy as to whether they can secure that the different factors in the rotation bring in sufficient remuneration to the farmer. Clearly, the greater the output of grain in this country the greater the different classes of offals—I must not call them offals nowadays in the case of wheat, but wheat foods—that are available as feeding stuffs. Therefore, in order to render us less dependent than we are on imported feeding stuffs, it is necessary that the Government should have a long-term policy of this character which in the event of war would give us much greater 622 safety for the output of our meat, our milk and our eggs. Such a policy would also make us less dependent, because there would be more wheat in the country, on the supplies of imported wheat; it would reduce the vulnerability of our food supplies to enemy action; and, incidentally, as has been pointed out already, it would give far more freedom of action to our naval forces.
I do not see why in this respect you should separate your war policy from your policy in time of peace. It is quite clear that, with a policy of this kind steadily carried out—and I entirely agree, if I may say so, with my noble friend who spoke before me—you do want all these different productions in this country to be brought into relation with each other, and, as we have got, unfortunately, this diminishing area of land under cultivation, its best use has become far more valuable than it was thirty or forty years ago. A policy of this kind carried out largely, if you like as a war policy, would mean a certain disturbance in our fiscal policy, but, while regarding it first of all as a war policy, it would have an enormous benefit in times of peace, because it would give greater employment to the agricultural industry and it might commend itself to the towns, because they would see that they had a steady market in the country itself for their goods. This is important in view of the constantly diminishing area of international trade with which we are met on every hand. Therefore, if I may sum up with the suggestion I was going to make, it would be this. I do not deprecate my noble friend's suggestion, but I can sum it up in a few words—it is not so much a question of storing your grain as it is of speeding your plough.
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, I must apologise to the House for having made the mistake of thinking that this discussion began at a quarter past four; consequently I have not heard all the speeches which have already been made; but I want to put a point of view which I have not heard discussed by either of the two previous speakers and that is this. Agriculture is asking the Government a very difficult thing; it is asking the Government to lay down the programme of production in case of war; whereas it is the agricultural community itself that should lay down that 623 programme now and ask the Government for assistance on every point where it is needed. My suggestion would be that the principal agricultural bodies like the Royal Agricultural Society, the National Farmers' Union, the Central Landowners' Association, the Surveyors' Institution, the Land Agents' Society, and all of them, should be asked to frame a programme of production for application in the event of war. Then they should meet, put their programmes together, and when the final programme is completed they should submit it to the Government emphasising the points in which Government assistance is needed. In that way, and in that way only, do I think we should be really justified in asking the Government to do more than express their sympathy with the movement for production.
I take it that nobody has disputed the necessity of increasing our food supplies in time of war. To put it shortly, it is no good arming to the teeth if your teeth have nothing to chew. That is so obvious that everybody is of that opinion. There are certain other minor points, apart from that of the programme of agricultural production, which I should like to ask the Government if they have gone into. I am speaking from my own experience in taking office when the War had been going on for two years and a half. Examining the condition of the farms in this country, I found that some fifty farms, we will say, in a district were stripped bare of men, while others retained their full complement of labour, and in the districts around every blacksmith's shop was closed and similarly every saddler's shop. The first question I would like to ask the Government is whether, assuming, as I suppose we must assume, that we shall have labour conscription from the first, they have made any provision, and what it is, for the systematic calling up of labour from the land. It is no good the Government treating the rural population as a store-house of man-power. They must also look upon them as people who are carrying on an indispensable industry in time of war and they must govern their method of calling up men on that principle.
I should like to ask also if they have considered the method which was adopted in the last War when the final push for men took place. We were then asked to 624 provide 30,000 men from a depleted agricultural population. We did it, and we did it without friction, by doing it through the War Agricultural Committees. I should like to say that it would be one of the best preparations for war if those agricultural committees were asked to frame schemes for calling up the men in their districts, county by county, and for protecting the ancillary indispensable industries like the blacksmith's and even the saddler's. Saddlers, of course, are not so important as they were twenty years ago, but they are still important, and the blacksmiths are invaluable. This recruiting question is one which the Government ought to have considered and to have their plan ready now, and be able to tell us that they have one. There are certain other points of a similar kind, but I do not wish to trespass on your Lordships time by enumerating other practical preparations.
The noble Lord who preceded me spoke of a probable lack of concentrated foodstuffs. That is a very great problem, but I think it could be very largely met by improving our methods of grass treatment. We could probably double the nutritive value of our grass at the present moment. That is not an exaggeration. It is a practical calculation that has been made. There is something that we could set about doing at once and that we ought to do. If the Government would organise a lecture campaign on the subject by a man like Professor Stapledon through our grass country in these islands, I am quite convinced they would have a quick response from the men who own it, and they would be doing something very important to increase our supplies of concentrated foodstuffs.
There is another question to which I should like to refer. I have heard lately a great many people say that we should drop sugar beet and employ the land in growing wheat. I am sure that is a great mistake. The sugar-beet industry, through its by-products, provides a most important concentrated feeding stuff and one that we could very ill spare. Besides that, the land on which sugar beet is being grown will certainly produce, if properly cultivated, 25 per cent. more corn. Therefore the cry against the sugar-beet industry seems to me to be a 625 very great mistake. I am surprised that the Government, whose land policy generally I most cordially approve, should have put a fixed limit to the number of sugar-beet factories in the country and have said that no more are to be established. I doubt whether, from the point of view of preparation for war, that is at all a wise principle to have adopted. The question of storage has already been discussed. I think it is of some importance, but I do not think it is of such importance as the programme for agricultural production which I should like to see drawn up by the expert authorities of our own agricultural industry and, when completed, submitted to the Government.
Another thing to be remembered is that you cannot feed your men at the front unless you have preserved meat. I believe that at the present moment there is not in the whole country one single establishment capable of freezing meat. Surely that is a matter to which the Government should turn their attention. It is not going to be a paying proposition in ordinary times, but of course the question of price does not matter in time of war. It would be a great help to the farmer if he could send his beasts to the freezing factories and be saved the enormous expense of feeding cattle for the Christmas market. Another point to be taken into consideration is that during the War we had to supplement our bread corn by potatoes. I believe it is true that in this country we have not a single factory capable of turning out potato flour. Everybody who knows anything about potato growing knows that there may be in one year a positive glut of potatoes. What are you going to do with that glut? The unfortunate pigs are supposed to consume it, though I do not know whether they get very fat on it. We ought to have factories for making potato flour or, as an alternative, for making industrial alcohol—a spirit of the utmost value—as part of our agricultural operations.
When I took office at the Ministry of Agriculture, I had to consider the quickest way in which to increase the meat supply, and I believe that the "pigs, potatoes and Prothero" were for a time used as a sort of slogan. But you cannot fatten pigs without meal, and at that 626 time everything from the mill was wanted for bread. We had to mix barley into the bread, as everybody knows. Therefore you have to weigh the question whether it is better to feed grain through the pig to the human being or feed it direct to the human being. I think you will find that in time of war it is much better to feed the grain direct to the human being. Therefore the pig may not be the sheet anchor that we think it is. I do not know.
The main point which I rose to make is that the agricultural institutions of this country could not do a better thing than meet together and hammer out a programme, and when they have hammered out a programme submit it to the Government and ask the Government to assist them with its details. One of their proposals would, I hope, be the development of the nutritional value of our grass-lands and the consequent increase in their capacity to produce meat. Simultaneously we ought to be better provided with the means of dealing with cattle ripe for slaughter. I refer particularly to abattoirs and the plant for freezing meat. We felt the want of both during the late War. Our reserves of imported frozen meat were so near to exhaustion that the War Office appealed to us to supply troops serving in this country with fresh meat, until it could build up its reserves of imported frozen meat. The appeal, if known to the public, might have caused a panic. We succeeded in meeting the need without attracting attention. But the scarcity of abattoirs was the main difficulty. The point is one to which the Government might well give attention. I think that is all that I find it necessary to say now to an audience which knows as much of agriculture as I do.
§ LORD GLENRAVEL
My Lords, the reason why I am rising to-day to say a word or two on this subject is that it is a matter which has been very close to my heart for a great many years. I went into it very thoroughly and found that it was absolutely true that unless we could get extra supplies in case of war we could not keep the people fed. The matter has been going on for years. In 1897, discussions were held in another place and the result was that a Royal Commission was appointed. I think it 627 was a very strong Commission. It reported in 1904 or 1905, but no action was taken. In 1911 several of us did our best to get the Government to take action, but we did not succeed. If I may be allowed to refer to the other place, I had been asking questions on this subject, and the then Prime Minister replied to me on March 9, 1914, in these words:The Government have various aspects of the question of food supplies in time of war, including that suggested by the hon. Member, under consideration, but at present a final reply cannot be given.We have had no final reply, and we know now that it is a possible thing for us to erect granaries, to encourage the growth of wheat, potatoes and other things like that, which are necessary for the upkeep of our people, and we want to feel that in time of war we shall not have to sacrifice thousands of our best sailors and a great deal of our tonnage in order to get the foodstuffs here.
At that period I went into the questions of the costs. I have them all on me. It would have cost £4,000,000 to provide granaries with all the modern equipment by which they could turn over the grain—the whole plant. That sum would have put up granaries all over England, as near the ports but as much secluded from view as possible. The extra cost during the coming years would not have been over £800,000 or £900,000. But nothing was done. To-day, I hear, prices are going up and for the next four or five months we have to rely very largely on Canada. If, however, we are in that position, I do not suggest that we should ask the Government to go and buy the grain, but I do suggest that they should put up the granaries and tell the various people that they will make advances on the stuff that is in there, provided that they will keep so many thousand quarters in hand in case they should be needed in time of war. That is not a matter which we can discuss here, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me for bringing it up in this way. But I think that the Government should appoint a strong non-Party Commission to go into the matter and see how this can best be done, and that the sooner we do it the better it will be for our country. From what I have heard lately from abroad, they are realising there that we depend very largely on two of the countries that are nearest to us for a great deal of our 628 farm produce. I am told that 30 per cent. of all our farm produce comes from Holland and Denmark. Those two countries are very liable to trouble in case of war and might find it impossible to send the stuff here. I hope that your Lordships will see your way to advise the Government very strongly to take action at once.
§ LORD CORNWALLIS
My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord who has just spoken has made his maiden speech in your Lordships' House. I trust that he will not think it at all impertinent or pushing for one who is only speaking a second time to offer him my sincere congratulations and to hope that we may hear him on many occasions. One knows that he had a great experience in the other House; I hope he will accept a welcome from one who gives it very sincerely and very modestly. I do not think that any of us need say any more about the seriousness of the situation or of the importance of the Motion which has been put before us to-day. I am not going back over the cereal question nor, perhaps, over the beef question, but if I may I will put to your Lordships just one or two points which are perhaps only minor ones but may have a little bearing on keeping up, for even a short time, the food supply of this country in time of war. Cold storage and freezing have been mentioned by several noble Lords during the course of the debate, but I think that that science is absolutely in its infancy. In the part of the country from which I come we are just learning a tremendous amount, not only about cold storage but also about gas storage, for fruit, vegetables and suchlike necessary articles of food. I was always brought up when young to believe that man cannot live by bread alone. Perhaps he wants beef, but he also wants fruit and vegetables to assist his nutrition.
Cannot the Government do something to help to get us over what the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, called, I think, the "six months' breather" that we may want? Two seasons ago I saw very good fruit simply shovelled into pits because there was no market. When there happened to be a glut here, I saw apples that we should have liked to send to the north simply thrown away because there was no market. Is it not possible, in these days of cold storage and gas 629 storage, to make sure that, when we have a supply of that kind, we may know that we can put some of it up, anyhow for six months. That would be useful if war should happen to come upon us suddenly—and we do not know exactly when it is coming. The same is true of the canning industry. This industry, round my neighbourhood, is growing; it is canning fruit and vegetables, and I cannot see why it should not be—as I think was mentioned by one noble Lord—extended to meat. Why should we not can our own bully-beef, our meat, when we have a canning industry started in this country?
To my mind, perhaps living very near this great town, it seems to me it is not only a question of what is going to happen if war comes suddenly. It is a much bigger question, a question as to the future policy with regard to the agricultural industry—the future supply of food. It is not only a question, it seems to me, of consumables, but a question of land. We have heard Lord Peel state that the area is diminishing. It is diminishing and it is not only diminishing in point of view of acres but also from the point of view of quality. One sees some of the most fertile land in this country and the most productive land, simply being destroyed by sporadic building, what we may call crazy town planning, when perhaps that is the very land which should be kept for the purpose of growing some particular article of food. There is perhaps other land not very far off which could well be taken for building, but because it is near a town this land which is more suitable for agriculture is taken, and until one realises that agricultural land is far more valuable to the nation than building land this process will go on. There is also the diminishing agricultural population, and we may find ourselves in time of crisis, if this process goes on much longer, in a position of not having the skilled agriculturists and agricultural workers on the land, ready to increase our output when we really want it. Owing to the incidence of taxation and other things, as your Lordships know, agricultural estates are being broken up, and, what is much worse, the race of agriculturists is being depleted. If the Government would take a very great interest in the fostering not only of agricultural land but of the agricultural population, 630 I feel that they would be doing something which, if war does not come too soon, may help to increase our supplies if and when in fact it does come.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Phillimore opened this debate with a very closely reasoned plea for the consideration of storage as against war-time needs, with particular reference to wheat, and Lord Strabolgi, who immediately followed him, spoke on that particular line, but he also did something for which I personally feel grateful to him. Not only did he show us what support would come from the Party opposite, but he went for the Government. Now, I do not agree with what he said, but I do regard with great enjoyment the introduction of a factor which has been sadly lacking for some time, and to think that an Opposition is slowly developing itself can only be refreshing to those on this side who have had to be content merely with addressing themselves to the Government on this side.
That, however, is by the way. The debate has developed into a consideration of wider aspects of the whole question, with particular reference to the requirements of the situation in so far as they affect food production at, home. It is quite evident that the more immediate appeal to the industrial millions of this country will be made in the matter of storage. It has immediate effect, it is easily explained, and is sound in itself, and I have not a word to say against it; but it is as certain as anything can be that whereas storage, one might hope, will provide against emergency, no real policy exists which does not include the consideration of agricultural production in our own country. Lord Cornwallis referred very briefly to the constant diminution of the area of land in England under cultivation. Ours is not a large island. I doubt whether it is always fully realised to what an alarming extent available cultivable land in this country—usually the best land—is being used for other purposes.
For years not less than 50,000 acres a year is being so used, and that amount is even exceeded. Every year 50,000 acres of agricultural land goes into other purposes, such as buildings, roads, recreation grounds and so forth, and as 631 the acreage of agricultural land can never be increased by reclamation to any considerable extent, we are all the more compelled to consider the productivity of the land which remains, and it is upon that question that I wish to address the House. Lord Cranworth, who is so well qualified to debate and discuss questions of that kind, has already addressed himself to that particular subject, but it permits of repetition. Lord Ernie asked whether the House would not think it well if a committee were set up to advise the Government. I regret that my noble friend has left the House, but I will tell him what I think he does not know, that a self-constituted committee of the character which he has in mind has been sitting and discussing this matter since the earlier part of the year. It drew up a memorandum, and this was presented to the Prime Minister, who referred the committee and its spokesmen to the Minister for Agriculture, whom we saw only yesterday.
I do not feel that I should be entitled to quote from that memorandum, it being at the moment in the hands of the Government and not released, but there is at the end of it a recommendation. Having propounded eight items which this committee considered to be essential for the development of our home agricultural industry, it recommended that:A strong committee should be set up to work out a policy to be adopted on the above lines, with special reference to the formulation of a long-term policy suitable for peace and war and the availability of adequate nutrition for all classes.The members of that committee were constituted from the kind of bodies which Lord Ernie had in mind—namely, the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the Central Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union, the Central Chambers of Agriculture, and others, and these bodies, having prepared their memorandum, have now offered their services to the Government and are prepared to set up the kind of body which Lord Ernle had in mind.
This deputation, to which I have been referring, had the privilege of meeting the Minister of Agriculture yesterday, and they received from him a short résumé of the position as it appeared to him, which gave us food for very much thought. It would be improper that I should disclose in public that which was 632 said in confidence, but there was one particular point which after the interview rested very strongly in my mind, and it is one to which reference has not yet been made. It was that in anything that we do and have in mind for the improvement of British agricultural production we must remember the cost factor. We are at this moment unquestionably on the eve, in fact we have almost passed the eve, of the finding of great sums of money for the rearmament of our forces. And it is held by those of us who place the necessity for food production in the very forefront that at least a proportion of the money which will be spent upon armaments should be diverted to that most important of all munitions of war—namely, the production and storage of food. The question that the Government will have to decide is how much, if any, of those moneys which are to be found for the purpose of rearmament are to be so diverted, and also what may be the effect upon the great industrial population of this country of a rise in food prices.
The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, very rightly and most helpfully reminded us that whatever may be done in this regard will upset the balance of calculations of other departments in the matter of unemployment pay and the rest of it. I do say that, whereas it is quite easy for an agriculturist to make a very strong and irrefutable case for the increase of agricultural production in this country, the Government are bound to have in mind the very factors which Lord Strabolgi introduced into the debate, and which he and those who think with him would be very largely responsible for accommodating to the view of the industrial population; because if it is considered necessary that the country should he taxed for the improvement and increase of its warlike armaments, it is not impossible that the people may also have to pay for the increase and improvement of that agricultural store. To what extent will they be so prepared I do not know. But it is a certain fact that at the present time agricultural produce is made available to the public at a price very largely below the cost of production, and I refer not only to the production of British agriculturists but of all agriculturists all over the world. That agricultural production comes to our country because we are about the only country 633 which is prepared to pay, and it is better in the estimation of the producers that they should get something rather than nothing at all.
But they are producing below the cost of production. How long will that go on? We are unable to say. It is not going to be possible for agricultural producers of the world to carry the industrial population for ever. I think the time must come when it will be absolutely necessary for the people of this and other countries to pay more for the foods which they eat. That particular point is one which I feel that we, wishing to assist and not to impede the Government, have got to consider and to realise that the Government themselves will have to bear in mind in any scheme they may have in prospect for the improvement of British agricultural production. But the position of British agricultural production is alarming in the highest possible degree. I have already mentioned that the land of England in agricultural occupation is diminishing. Other speakers have referred to the fact that in the last half century we have lost five million acres of cultivable land, and others again have mentioned that no fewer than half a million agricultural workers have gone out of that profession, never to return. Now there is a social side to that—a social side which has always interested me, perhaps more than any other. Believing as I do, and as most of us surely will, that the great strength of any country must really rest in the workers and persons who are bred on the soil, I feel that it is a disaster of the highest magnitude if the population on whom the strength of this country must eventually depend should be constantly diminished and be drawn into the towns and converted into unemployed workers and deteriorated both in morale and in physique. There is that question. I do not think this debate is the proper occasion on which to enlarge upon it, but it should never be forgotten.
My noble friend Lord Cranworth did refer to the decreased fertility of the soil which has been consequent on the continually falling prices which farmers have received for their produce now for many years. When a man is going to get little for what he does, he cannot afford to put much into his cultivation, and he has not done it. And there is 634 nothing more certain than that the productivity of British land has diminished, is diminishing, and will continue to diminish. I am very well aware that the Government have in their possession figures which will show that in certain directions production has not gone down but has increased. We hold as agriculturists that the measure of the increase of production is not in those directions which are most essential to the needs of the country in time of war. Vegetables are necessary no doubt to the well-being of the people, but you can live without vegetables, and it is chiefly in vegetables that production has increased. Pig meat we have already had described to us by the noble Lord, Lord Ernie, and the defects of increasing the number of pigs in any country are those which he so ably pointed out. There are other luxuries—fruits and things of that kind—which have improved, but we are not going to live on those things when we go to war; we have to live on the necessities of life—on bread, on meat, and on fats, and it is in those directions that our deficiencies are so marked.
I have a feeling that, important though the work has been that the Government have already done, more particularly in stabilising the production of wheat in this country, very particularly in the increase of sugar production which their Acts have brought about, it will eventually be found that in the improvement and maintenance of live stock our salvation will rest. It is going to be very much easier to store wheat than it is to store meat, and if you have a supply of fresh meat available in your own country you have at hand a great source of strength. You cannot have a solid and progressive live-stock policy unless you also encourage arable farming, for the good reason that has been pointed out by many speakers, that stock eat; and if you have to import all that they eat you are going to be in the same trouble as if you have to import the stock itself. Consequently you must have a well developed and consistent arable policy in order to feed those very animals on which in time of war, as in time of peace, you must depend.
I come now to consider what is the kind of food grown on arable land that stock eat. The Government have done all they could, and done it exceedingly 635 well, to encourage wheat production, but they have done nothing for those other cereals which are essential to stock. Land is going out of cultivation which used to grow barley by the score of thousands of acres—the kind of land which cannot grow wheat, but can grow barley, and can grow nothing else. Barley and roots both feed stock. It is a short-sighted policy to let arable land go out of cultivation that can and does grow food for stock. It is as short-sighted a policy as to let go out of cultivation land which grows food for human beings, because it is the stock you require for your human food. I do not believe myself that anything more important can now be done than to encourage the growth in suitable areas of those other cereals which to date have had no attention paid to them, not in order that more money may be put into the pockets of their growers, but in order that the country may have what is essential to it, and that is a proper supply of meat and of animal fats in time of war and also in time of peace.
Nutritionists had a field day lately with the Minister, but they are not really at variance with us. Agriculturists do not desire to raise the price of any foodstuffs to the public if by some manner of means the price can be kept down. But price is not on an occasion of this kind the deciding factor. It is a necessity which we are up against, and if to-day the Government can produce a well-planned scheme which is going to be sufficient to defend our essential needs in time of war, they will find that it will be probably the cheapest thing they can do and will avoid the expenditure of vast sums of money at a later date, and that it will have on the people of this country a psychological effect which in itself is almost as valuable as a victory won. I do not propose to detain the House for another moment except to thank my noble friend Lord Phillimore for having introduced this subject into the House.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, like one or two other noble Lords I am at a disadvantage to-day in that I forgot we were meeting at three o'clock instead of at a quarter past four, so that I did not hear two or three of the opening speeches. But I am sure we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord 636 Phillimore, for having raised this matter here as a question of defence. Any one who looks round the world, any one who looks round Europe, must realise that the clouds of war are increasing and darkening, and it behoves all of us who have the welfare of the country at heart to ask ourselves what we should do, not next year, not after the Coronation, but this year, in order to provide for a contingency which may occur at any moment, not necessarily through a deliberate act but, it may be, through some mischance, as has happened before in history. Very briefly, the feeling I have about agriculture in connection with defence is this. First of all, I gather from what I have heard of subsequent speakers that the noble Lord who initiated this debate was advocating a certain measure of storage. If that is the case, I should like to support that as a fundamental policy for agriculture in case of war. If we had that I believe we could base our long-term agricultural policy on our peace needs. The next point we should always bear in mind is the importance of maintaining our overseas trade in time of peace. It is absolutely vital that we should do nothing to ruin our Mercantile Marine or its man-power which is so vital for us in time of war.
One of the great difficulties in discussing agriculture is that there is no industry in the whole world that is undergoing such vast change because of the advance of science. The chemist, the engineer, and the biologist are changing the whole of our methods of agriculture, and it is extraordinarily difficult in trying to frame a Government policy to get away from our methods of food production ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, because modern knowledge is revolutionising the whole management of food production and agriculture. Not only are science and invention altering the conduct of agriculture, but when we make preparations for another war we may be making preparations for the last war. It may well be that the next war, when it comes, will be waged on substantially different lines, and steps which would have been suitable for a war in 1914 may not be up to date or the best steps the country can take in view of developments in the conduct and management of war. It may well be that the next war will be decided much more quickly, so that the wise thing 637 need not be necessarily to prepare for a prolonged siege of an island country. I do not know, but these are points which I think the Government should bear in mind when discussing the question.
What are our requirements in case of war? I said just now that we are discussing agricultural policy in terms of war needs. The noble Lord who has just spoken, and whose contributions are always so interesting, has emphasised the desirability of increasing the number of men engaged in food production. Science makes it extraordinarily difficult not to face the probability of a reduction in the number of people engaged in food production. But what I think is equally important is the point I indicated just now—namely, to do nothing to diminish sustantially the number of men engaged in our overseas trade, to do nothing in any way to reduce our shipbuilding industry. We want to have an efficient, live shipbuilding industry in this country, capable of expansion in case of war, just as we want to have a large naval reserve associated with our Mercantile Marine. When we are discussing the possibility of war we should bear that in mind. We should not attempt to grow so much food here that there would be a danger of reducing substantially our shipping, our shipbuilding industry, or the man-power associated with our overseas trade, because it is on that that we shall very largely depend for the bringing into this country of large quantities of munitions and large numbers of fighting men in case of war.
Then there is another point, and that is the importance of maintaining good relations with our Dominions and with other countries. It was an enormous advantage to us during the last War to have the benevolent neutrality of many of the Scandinavian and other countries in northern Europe. The success of the War very largely depended upon the Dominions being associated with us not only through ties of blood and of interest, but also through economic ties. It is absolutely vital that in considering the future of our agricultural policy we should not deliberately attempt a policy of self-sufficiency in food production. I believe it would be disastrous to the future of this country and the British Empire if we were to attempt to do that. That does rot mean that we ought not to aim at 638 having a flourishing agriculture. Some noble Lords have emphasised the desirability of food production, others of food storage. These policies are not necessarily mutually exclusive. What we want is to have a balanced policy as a whole. I wish this afternoon to emphasise the desirability of increasing the storage of food as compared with the alternative policy of attempting to increase substantially, regardless of cost, the production of food. The question of cost is vital.
In another place there was a very interesting debate yesterday on the evil effects of malnutrition. I have been brought into contact with this very much during the last few months as Chairman of the International Commission set up by the League of Nations. There is abundant and increasing evidence from British sources of the evils of malnutrition, not only in the poor countries, but in the wealthy countries such as ours. Noble Lords will remember the findings of Sir John Orr. We in Plymouth made a social survey a couple of years ago, and we found that roughly 16 per cent. of the population in Plymouth were under the poverty line. The International Labour Office has recently published a report also dealing with malnutrition, and there again they bring out quite clearly the evil effect of poverty on nutrition. Therefore in trying to evolve a wise national agricultural policy we must bear in mind the standard of living of the poor; we must bear in mind the cost of living. The British Medical Association recently brought out a dietary. Since then the cost of food has gone up, not excessively, but the tendency has been upward. In our attempt to win the war through agriculture do not let us evolve an agricultural policy which will lose the peace, because the consumers of this country, who, after all, are in a majority, refuse to pay the price. We must be wise in our generation.
I should like to support what I understand the noble Lord who brought forward this Motion emphasised—namely, the need for storage. It seems to me there are two sorts of food which we ought to store. There are two essentials: first, wheat; secondly, certain feeding stuffs for cattle. Noble Lords have emphasised the importance of the live-stock industry. I think that if we could have three months' storage, six months' storage, a 639 year's storage of wheat we could embark upon a war in a much calmer frame of mind. The noble Lord, my former colleague in the representation of Plymouth, Lord Glenravel, gave certain figures connected with the building of granaries. At the present moment we grow roughly 24 per cent. of our wheat and import 76 per cent. If we were to double our wheat production we should still have to import over half. We are growing 24 per cent. because of the wheat quota. The Government have increased the home production of wheat from 16 per cent. to 24 per cent., an increase of 8 per cent., at a cost of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 per annum. We could, I believe, store a whole year's wheat supply for an annual expenditure of something like £2,500,000.
I do not want to suggest that we should do nothing for wheat. The point I wish to bring before your Lordships is that if we are thinking of war we can have three months', six months', a year's storage of wheat at a relatively small cost compared to any result which would be achieved by attempting to increase substantially the present amount of home-grown wheat. On the question of feeding stuffs I am not going to put forward any definite figure, but I think we are importing something like 3,500,000 tons of cake, linseed, cotton seed and all that sort of thing, and we are importing 2,500,000 tons of maize. If the Government embark upon a policy of storing wheat I hope they will not turn down the possibility of storing maize for cattle. I think that such an expenditure would be worth making, because if we were to add that then we could meet a quick war, and it is possible that the next war may be a quick one. It would mean that we should have our merchant shipping available for the carrying of munitions and of soldiers; and it would mean that we should relieve the Navy from a substantial part of its duty in escorting our foodstuffs. If we had a year's supply of wheat we could use up three months of that supply every year, and we could run a four years' war—a tremendous advantage—if we had that storage here in this country.
As I said just now, the cost of storage is infinitesimal compared to the cost of increasing the production of food, particularly of wheat, and a policy such as that need not interfere with our development of the best agricultural 640 peace policy. If we go in for a policy of storage, then we can develop those branches of agriculture which are most suited to this country and to the world if we are at peace. I believe that if we develop along those lines we can have an agriculture as prosperous as, probably more prosperous than, if we formulate our agricultural policy mainly with the object of growing as much food as possible for war purposes alone. Therefore I venture to hope that when the Government's policy is stated they will be able not only to indicate that they mean to include in their policy the storage of certain foods in anticipation of a possible war, but that they may be able to announce that they intend to do that now without further loss of time. I hope that when they explain to the country their long-term agricultural policy they will base it upon our peace needs and not mainly upon our war needs. I hope that they will do nothing to reduce substantially our overseas shipping for the reasons which I have explained, and that they will do nothing to diminish the economic ties which unite the Dominions to us by attempting to grow at a very high cost those kinds of food which could be grown much more cheaply in the British Dominions.
My Lords, it is very difficult to follow the noble Lords who have spoken already, but there is one question which I feel it is my duty to lay before your Lordships. The small agricultural part of the country to which I belong produces two principal articles of food, fish and beef. The main fishing villages lie along a short strip of coast within seven miles of my home. Fish is caught mainly for export, but quite a small portion of the fishing fleet of this country could very easily take sufficient fish to feed the whole country in time of war, and I hold that fish forms a very great potential reserve of food in time of war. The Government succeeded to a very difficult question, which was handed to them by their predecessors in a very difficult state.
The history of the fishing industry is briefly as follows. Before the War the fishing fleets of this country exported fish to Germany, Russia and Siberia. They held those three markets because we catch superior fish to any other country, and the cheapness and the flavour of our 641 products ensured us the whole of those markets. At the close of the War our fishing fleets found themselves with their productivity but little impaired but every market was closed to them. A little later they managed to get entry, after the raising of the blockade, to the markets of Germany, but that country was not able to buy our fish because it was not able to pay for it, and eventually Germany began to take more and more of the coarser fish supplied by our Norwegian rivals. The first efforts to assist the industry on the part of the Government were perhaps not very happy. Indeed, the first scheme broke down because the Government of that day refused to recognise the position of the exporters in the industry. I suppose the information available was a little out-of-date. Since that time the industry has been obliged more and more to contract its scope, and only recently the Chairman of the Herring Board announced to the industry that still further contraction of the scope of the industry must be pursued unless general bankruptcy was to occur.
The fishing industry is divided into three main branches—the exporters, who are the main marketers of the fish, the curers, who prepare the fish, and the people who catch the fish. The fishermen have been trained to their work from childhood and they are not able to take to any other form of industry. They are, as a matter of fact, a very peculiar people. But they have this great advantage, that I believe them to be essential to this country in time of war. During the last War it was the men of the fishing fleet who manned the mine sweepers and kept the roads of the sea open. I maintain that whatever kind of war comes, if ever it does come, these men are essential to the safety of the nation. These men see themselves menaced by starvation by the announcement of the Chairman of the Herring Board, because they can take to no other industry, and if the fleet is to be still further contracted the majority of them would be out of employment.
I have a special title and a special right to urge the claims of these people upon your Lordships because from a very long time in the past these people were commended to my predecessors by the Government of their country, and for centuries they have steered these people 642 through difficulties and crises, financial and otherwise. One crisis at least which I know, and which your Lordships will probably know, the Darien crisis, was far more severe and prolonged than the 1928 crisis of which we hear so much. After that time, however, the Government of this country took away from my predecessors the somewhat ample powers which they had had at their disposal, and they have also taken away from my predecessors and from myself a considerable portion of the means we had at our disposal for carrying out the task laid upon us by the Government of our country. That task which we successfully accomplished in our time now has fallen upon the Government which took those steps, and I feel it my duty to suggest to the Government that in taking away the duty which they laid upon my predecessors they have assumed it themselves. We were responsible to our King and to the Almighty for the discharge of that task and the Government are responsible to the same authorities.
I am told that in case of war the Admiralty do not want the use of small boats like drifters, but they will require the use of larger boats like trawlers for mine-sweeping. I do not know, but I believe it may be possible that you can take a lad from the plough, put him on a battleship and make a good sailor of him, but you cannot take a lad from the country and send him to sea in a small craft unless he has been trained from youth to the sea, and has devoted himself exclusively to that element. Therefore, the mine-sweepers, whatever vessels they may be, must be manned from the fishing fleet, and it is of the utmost importance that the personnel of the fishing fleet should be maintained somehow. After all, the Government will have to pay one way or another, because it is out of the question that, at this time of day, any large body of men like these fisher-folk are going to be allowed literally to starve—and that is what they are in danger of doing. Some means of help, something perhaps in the nature of unemployment pay, will have, in the end, to be devised.
It occurs to me to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is not possible to take up the question now and do something of this kind. I suggest that there should be some kind of Militia for these fishermen, and that they should be paid so much for the sea time they put in 643 during the fishing season on the condition of their being at the service of the nation during war. This would give the Government something which they greatly need at the present moment. It would ensure a properly manned auxiliary fleet in time of war, and at the same time, if the scheme was properly devised, it would help to make the industry self-supporting. I have not got recent figures with me, but from my own knowledge and memory of the industry I think I can tell your Lordships that very few curers got through the last season without losing sixpence a barrel. It is clear, therefore, that they cannot offer the fishermen a higher price for fish. There is no relief there. If we are to maintain our precarious place even in those foreign markets to which we have entry at present we cannot afford to raise prices. If we are to acquire new markets we must, if possible, lower the price. At present prices fishermen cannot live. There is no question about that. All branches of the trade recognise it. Some scheme of the kind I have suggested would have the effect of enabling those in the trade to sell fish according to market conditions and, besides ensuring us an essential service in time of war, it would probably enable us to extend and expand the market of the herring industry.
Most people in this country, I think, are far more interested in agriculture than in fish, and in regard to agriculture I would say that it has always appeared to me possible for us in this country to grow a far greater proportion of the agricultural food supply we require than we do. A healthy and intelligent and well-nourished population is essential for a country whether in peace or war. In these circumstances I have never been able to understand the policy of His Majesty's Government, seeing that admittedly a large proportion of our people are under-fed and under-nourished. I question the wisdom of the policy and I question the soundness of the principle that has sought to raise prices by limiting supplies. It must always be a very doubtful principle to restrict the home production of the food of the people. How often do we read in the course of history something like this: "A succession of magnificent harvests at last enabled this people to put into practice the design they had so long entertained." There have been occasions in the history of our own country when Governments 644 have not hesitated to take credit for good harvests. I cannot quite understand the policy of a Government of whom it would seem that they wish their historian to write: "Their skill in creating an artificial scarcity of all the fruits of the earth had so enriched the British people that they were at length enabled to put into practice their plans for social amelioration." I cannot see the logic of it; I think it is a most dangerous policy.
I come from a country which has an agricultural system very different from that in this country. It differs very little in many outward signs from the agricultural system of neighbouring counties, but the differences that do exist and that did exist thirty years ago have been such as to make it the countryside par excellence in which a man could rise from the very bottom to wealth and prosperity. This is not an agricultural debate and it would not be becoming for me to take up your Lordships' time in explaining how this comes about. I will merely give your Lordships an instance. The other day, talking to a neighbouring farmer, a friend of mine, who lives near the sea, I asked him how many people he knew who had risen from the plough. After some consideration he turned to me and said: "Within ten miles of my home I could count fifty and of the remainder a quarter are one generation removed from the plough." Under the present agricultural policy of the Government that process has ceased. The Government are not wholly responsible for it; it began twenty-five years ago with the land legislation of that time and has gone on ever since. It is very unusual now to see a man rise from the plough to be a prosperous farmer.
This policy of agricultural restriction has had some very curious effects. One of them was that not very long ago a neighbouring farmer, whom I do not know, was called up by the Milk Board for selling milk to people in a fishing village—I believe fishing villages are admitted by His Majesty's Government to be distressed areas—at twopence a pint. As a result of this correction he was unable to send the milk into the village and had to pour it away. Very shortly after hearing this story I opened my paper and read a very fine speech by a Minister of the Government defending the Potato Board from attack because 645 they had sold potatoes under the market price in the County of Durham, also a distressed area. I know that the difference can be explained, but the fact remained, and it does not become a Government always to be explaining.
The real difficulty in the period that I have mentioned, from 1911 onwards, is that the incessant legislation has produced this effect: it has prevented the people who plough the land from rising to occupy farms or own them. It has altered the distribution of capital in the industry; and finally, it has appropriated most of the capital in the industry. The real difficulty in the agricultural policy of the country is that the equipment of agriculture is defective, and the costs are too high because the defective equipment leads to under-production. The agricultural policy of His Majesty's Government appears to me not to have gone beyond the old barber-surgeon stage: incessant bleeding of the patient and then, when things are in extremis, we get, with all the consequence of science, a little blood transfusion. We get a policy of boards and bonuses instead of letting the industry retain some of its own earnings to put into the business again and cheapen costs and improve production.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but, interesting subject as it is that is being discussed, it has been approached very largely from the interests of agriculture, and I hope your Lordships will pardon me if I bring you back to the sea. For, whatever may be the development of the food supply in this country, for many years to come the principal source of supply must be from overseas. The provision of food from overseas is often alluded to as if it were a question of getting food from a foreign port to one of our home ports. That is of course a fallacy. The journey starts with the producer and ends on the table of the consumer in this country. Thousands of tons of food during the last War rotted in our harbours because it could not be got away. Ships were held up for weeks with their cargoes in their holds unable to unload them, and thousands of tons of food perished abroad on the wharves awaiting shipment to this country, because the ships that ought to have been free to go out and load up were hung up in our own ports unable to discharge their cargoes. In some cases 646 the delay of cargoes ran into weeks, and large stores of foodstuffs were lying on the wharves in the harbours while there was an urgent demand for them in other parts of the country.
No doubt, as has been stated in this debate, the supply of sugar in this country was short at one time, but at another time there were 100,000 tons of sugar on the wharves of Liverpool and six ships waiting in the Mersey full of sugar and unable to discharge it. Many of your Lordships will remember the famous incident of the bacon. At Gravesend at one time forty-five ships wore awaiting an opportunity to unload, and it has been calculated that at one time 1,500,000 tons of Allied shipping was tied up in Allied ports because of the congestion that prevailed. In considering these facts in regard to possible events in the future your Lordships must remember this lamentable fact: that we have now a thousand seagoing steamers less than we had in 1914, and if we had started the last War with a thousand steamers less, it is perfectly certain that we should have gone under.
There were many causes, of course, which contributed to this congestion of ports which kept so many useful ships idle. These causes were tackled in turn and order was produced out of chaos. The problem was, however, with us all through the War. It flared up again when the intensive submarine campaign brought about the convoy system, because ships were arriving in the ports in large numbers at a time, and the ports had been designed and were used for dealing with a normal flow of traffic—ships coming in at the rate of so many a week and getting out to sea again. Specialisation of ports—that is to say, one port dealing with grain and another with coal—prevented any diversion of shipping to a port that had nothing in tit when others were glutted.
In these days, however, we must remember this important factor, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, drew our attention: that the next war is going to be different from the last. In those days, when we got our ships and their cargoes into port they were safe. Today such an accumulation of shipping and stores in one place would prove just the incentive necessary to an enterprising enemy to try to destroy the whole lot by an intensive air attack. I am not one 647 of those who fear or foresee continual and prolonged air attack on this country, because I believe that it would only be incredible bungling that could let us single-handed into a war with one of our powerful neighbours, and so long as we have Continental allies the Continental Air Forces will be fairly well employed with each other. But of course we shall have sporadic attacks on this country, and if we provide tempting objectives by accumulating ships in harbour and stores on the wharves we may be quite sure that they would be just the objectives that the enemy Air Force would like to have.
I submit to your Lordships two things. If this storage which has been pressed upon the Government does take place, and if we are going to build large storage places, do not put them near ports. That is the last place in which they should be put. I also submit to your Lordships that it is very necessary to organise our northern ports now, so that ships can get in quickly, get rid of their cargoes, turn round, and get out to sea again, and so that as soon as the cargoes have been discharged they can be distributed all over the country by means of rail, road, canal, and coastal shipping, almost as soon as the cargoes are in the sheds. I hope very much that the new Government policy, as announced in another place, of taking over the roads of the country foreshadows the planning necessary to deal with the problem of feeding the population of the south from the ports in the north. What is most probable is that the ports of London and Southampton will be unable, for considerable periods, to function at full capacity, even if they are able to carry on at all. The large amount of money spent on the southern harbours may be a good peace investment, but looked at as a preparation for war it is of very doubtful value. It seems to me that with the steady drift of population and factories to the south it is possible that the Government will be confronted at a difficult time with the necessity of shifting large numbers of people to the north in order to facilitate feeding them. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack when he replies will be able to assure the House that while taking the question of food supplies into consideration equal attention will be given by the Government to the question of food distribution.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, I do not want to prolong the debate unduly, but there are one or two things which I would add to what has been already said. First, I would like to go back to the earlier part of the debate and to the speech of Lord Strabolgi, to which I listened with extraordinary interest. He made an attack on the Government, and that in itself is, of course, no unusual thing—no doubt he will do so again in the same rather delightful way—but what really interested me was that the basis of his attack upon the Government was their unpreparedness for defending the country, not only so far as food was concerned but so far as the defence forces were concerned. He cited as an example to the Government the Government of France, which not only through all these years has been keeping its defence forces up to strength, but also, and this is very interesting to me, is one of the most highly protective countries in the world. I was wondering whether he was speaking for his Party and indicating a change of heart with regard to the policy of duties on foodstuffs coming into this country.
I was not referring to the French Government's tariff policy, but to the policy of the new French Government with regard to the control and regulation of wheat supplies, and import and export of wheat and flour, and control of bread prices.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
That I think is a protectionist policy to a high degree. Lord Strabolgi is not the only noble Lord who has gone into the question of the unpreparedness of this country to defend itself at the present time, and I do not propose to cover that ground, except to emphasise the unknown quality of the menace from the air. One noble Lord, I think Lord Cranworth, said it was dangerous from the point of view of the convoy system and of ships being sunk at sea from the air. I do not take that view. I believe that the menace and danger is at the terminal ports, where we may have a complete disorganisation. The noble Earl who spoke last indicated that he thought we should improve the ports in the north of this country and distribute our food from there, but I think I am correct when I say that the modern aeroplane can reach any part of this country with the greatest of ease, 649 so that no port will be safe from the air. That is an unknown factor—the extent of the damage and disorganisation that can be brought about—but it should make us very careful to ensure that we have a food supply adequate to our needs.
There are two things which must not be lost sight of in considering this matter. Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach. That may have been true in the days when it was said, and may be still true, but one must expand it in these days. In Napoleon's day war was a matter of professional armed forces. In these days war is a matter of whole nations, and I think one can say possibly that your defence forces will fight on the stomach of the people they are depending upon. There is another thing. You cannot improvise a food policy in time of war. You have got to do it in time of peace, especially if the danger which you are afraid of is one which means cutting off supplies from overseas. The whole debate has confirmed me in the view which I had formed as to the two courses which must be pursued to safeguard our food supplies. One is the storage of suitable foods, in sufficient quantities, for whatever the Government may consider to be the necessary time. The other is that we must increase our home production so far as we possibly can. Wheat, as we are told, is the biggest single item of foodstuffs that we import. It fortunately is one which is the easiest to store. In spite of what Lord Peel said I do not believe that the technical difficulties are at all great. In Canada it is stored for months at a time. We can and ought to store wheat and, as Lord Astor suggested, we should also store maize or cattle feeding stuffs, because they are food in the raw.
We are left with the protein foods such as meat and vegetables, butter, and so on, all of which can be produced in this country, and which under a real encouragement from the Government would be produced in this country certainly in quantities which would be a considerable increase on what is being done to-day. I am not going to pretend that we can produce all the food that we want in this country. Even if it were physically possible, I believe that economically it is quite impossible, but we can, without doing any great harm to 650 the people of this country, increase our production of these foods very considerably. It might mean a certain increase in the cost of living, and I have no doubt that it would be said that for a Government to put forward a policy which would mean an increase in the cost of living would be almost suicidal; at any rate would lay it open to very considerable criticism from the electorate, If the Government had courage I do not know that the electorate would criticise them very much. I wonder whether the Government are afraid to tell the people of this country the plain facts of the case, and say: "There may be a certain increase in the cost of living but it is your contribution towards defence of this country in time of war." They have not been afraid to tell the taxpayers of this country that they want more money out of them to provide ships and guns and armaments. Why should they be afraid of the ordinary electors? Why should they not tell them straight out that it is an absolute and immediate necessity for us to increase our home production of food, and that that may mean a slight increase in the cost of living? I do not think it would need to be a very great increase, if indeed there was any increase. After all, if you increase the production in this country you will probably tend towards more economic production.
Not only that, but there is a point which has not been mentioned by anybody. The index figure for wholesale prices of foodstuffs in 1935 was 104.8, taking 1913 as 100. The index figure for retail prices is to-day 122, taking 1914 as 100. The figures, of course, are not strictly comparable, but they were the only figures that I could get hold of. There is therefore a considerably greater increase in the retail prices than in the wholesale prices. There is a widening of the margin there which, I take it, must mean an increased cost of distribution. I am not going to say that our methods of distribution before the War were as perfect and as economical as they might be. But cannot the Government, at the same time as they are anxious to increase home production, institute an inquiry into the methods and profits of distribution and, if necessary, take action to alter the methods of distribution so as to make them more economical, and thus prevent that rise in the cost of 651 living which increased production might otherwise mean?
This Motion, brought forward by my noble friend Lord Phillimore, is one of very great importance. Food, as he said, is as important in the defence of this country as a large Army or a large Navy. It is the one subject of defence upon which the Government have been peculiarly reticent. We have had practically no information as to what they are doing or what they are proposing. Noble Lords who have spoken to-day have spoken largely in the dark. It would have been a great help to us in this debate if, instead of only one Government speaker at the end of the debate, we had had some pronouncement, some lead from the Government earlier in the debate. The only reason I can think of why the Government have not done that is that they have nothing particular to say, and they have therefore left it to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to perform that most essential function of a Cabinet Minister, which is to say nothing in such a way as to make his hearers believe that he is giving useful information. But I do hope that, not only on this occasion but on other occasions which are as important as this, we may possibly have a Government pronouncement earlier in the debate, so as to give us that help and that lead which we need.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I am greatly encouraged by the charitable view of the noble Earl who has just sat down that my function is merely to say nothing while making you think I am saying something, and that the reason why I am speaking at the end is that I have nothing to say. The reason why I am speaking at the end is one that I have proclaimed on earlier occasions when I had the honour to be the Leader of this House—namely, that it seems to me more courteous and more useful to your Lordships' House that the Government should speak after they have heard the questions to which answers are desired, rather than that they should speak early and so avoid the opportunity of answering questions which are very important. I have no doubt that if I had spoken early Lord Radnor would have told me that the reason I spoke early was so that I should avoid answering the questions he was about to put.
652 It is true that the question that we are discussing this evening is perhaps as important as any question which it is possible for either House of the Legislature to consider. It is a question which, to an island people like ourselves, has always been regarded as one of cardinal importance. We cannot forget, and we ought not to forget, that situate as we are, of necessity dependent as we are on our imports for existence, the fact that we must be able adequately to protect ourselves against being starved out is a matter which we can never overlook, and which we must always bear in mind. But it is not true to say that that is a question which is confined to food supplies. It is quite true that by cutting off our supplies of food an enemy could reduce us to surrender. But there are many other materials which, under modern conditions, are just as essential to our existence in a time of war as even the food of our people. If I may take one obvious example to which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred, how long could we maintain ourselves in time of war against any major opponent if we had no supply of oil fuel in the country and were unable to obtain it? And one could easily imagine other equally apt illustrations.
The actual question of food supply has been the subject of consideration and discussion for a great number of years. My noble friend Lord Glenravel, in his interesting maiden speech, referred to the Commission which was appointed in the year 1904 and which reported, I think, in the following year. Although the conditions of the problem change with the changing conditions of warfare, the problem itself remains always with us. It was regarded as of such importance in 1904 that on that Commission there was appointed as one of its members no less a personage than the Prince of Wales, afterwards His Majesty King George. The difficulties which even in those days the problem presented are perhaps illustrated by the fact that, although in that Commission there was ultimately a unanimous Report by its seventeen members, fourteen out of the seventeen—all excepting His Royal Highness and the Chairman who drafted the Report and one other—appended minutes of dissent and reservation, many of them on matters of cardinal importance.
It is also worth mentioning, whilst referring to this Report, that whereas my 653 noble friend Lord Glenravel seemed to criticise successive Governments for never having embarked on a policy of storage such as my noble friend Lord Phillimore has advocated this evening, and although my noble friend seemed to be under the impression that in so doing we were disregarding the advice of that Royal Commission, the fact is that that Commission, after going very fully into the question, reported against the policy of storage which Lord Phillimore is anxious we should adopt, in these words:We have come to the conclusion that the disadvantages and evils which it seems to us are inseparable from all or nearly all of these schemes "—that is the schemes to increase the amount of grain normally held in this country—are greater than any benefit which is likely to be derived from them.Obviously that is an opinion in 1905 under conditions very different from those that prevail to-day, but I do not want your Lordships to remain under the impression that as long ago as 1905 those who went into the subject reached the conclusion that storage was a proper solution of the difficulty.
It seems to me at least that there are three different methods of grappling with the problem, and that these three different methods are not necessarily antagonistic—that is to say, that the fact that you adopt one does not necessarily preclude the adoption of the others, but that in any wise system of Government you will weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of all three to see whether it is preferable in the national interest to adopt one or another or a combination of all three. Of the three possible solutions which seem to me to deserve consideration there is first of all an increase of production in this country. That was stressed very well by my noble friend Lord Hastings, who pointed out that the question of increasing production was more important than any other. The second is the free importation of necessary food supplies from abroad to which Lord Astor referred. The third is the question of storage which my noble friend Lord Phillimore desires we should adopt.
One great advantage of the production plan—speaking, of course, purely from the point of view of defence—is that it is more decentralised than either of the other two. If you have a farm or several 654 farms growing one thousand acres of wheat, that wheat is far more difficult to destroy than it would be if it were concentrated at one port or in one granary. The disadvantage of this method of dealing with the problem is that to some degree it lacks flexibility. When the farmer has once sown his crop of wheat, at any rate until that wheat matures, he is committed to that, and the country can only look for grain and not for anything else. When you come to storage, you have, to a very large extent at any rate, the disadvantage of centralisation. If you have a great number of small granaries scattered all over the country the organisation is much more difficult and the expense is probably a good deal greater. Any system that I have seen seriously discussed of building public granaries or using those which are already in existence involves a centralisation of the stores on which you rely, and therefore renders them much more vulnerable and much more liable to destruction. And, of course, what you have stored you have committed yourself to, and the element of flexibility is entirely absent. The advantage of the system of importation is, first of all, that it has complete flexibility, because, until you are actually going to get the particular article you desire you can send your ship wherever you please, and you may fill the ship when it arrives at the exporting port with whatever you most need. Secondly, it is very largely decentralised, because obviously you can divert your ships to whatever ports happen to be safest or the ones from which distribution is most earnestly required.
My noble friend Lord Phillimore was good enough to assert with great emphasis that the Government have done nothing, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, not unnaturally, repeated that criticism with extreme gusto; he would like to believe it even if it is not true! Therefore your Lordships will forgive me if for a few moments I venture to controvert that suggestion by dealing with some of the things the Government have done. I want first of all to take what admittedly is one of the possible ways of dealing with this problem of food supply in time of war, and that is the question of food production at home. It is a gross injustice to the Government to say that the Government have done nothing 655 to encourage food production during five years of office. Since, apparently, some memories are so short, I want to remind your Lordships of some of the things we have done. Take first wheat, which has bulked largely in this discussion. We instituted very soon after the National Government was formed the system of what is compendiously described as levy-subsidy, which has been worked with great smoothness and efficiency under my noble friend Lord Peel, to whom I think the country ought to be more grateful than it is for the admirable way in which that work has been carried out. As the result of that policy of levy-subsidy the acreage of wheat has been increased by 50 per cent. in five years—625,000 acres more than in 1931—and the actual tonnage increase is more like 70 per cent.
Then look at sugar. My noble friend Lord Ernie, who spoke with an authority which we all recognise, and whose return to our debates we all welcome, was pleased with our sugar policy, but I gathered that he thought it did not go quite far enough. That of course is an arguable point of view, but from the point of view we are now considering—that of what we have done to increase food production—I think the record of sugar is remarkable. Before the War there was no sugar production in this country—I think actually it was 1,000 or 1,200 tons. To-day nearly a quarter of our consumption is produced in this country. But, as I am dealing with what the Government have done, I may remind your Lordships that since 1931 the sugar production in this country has gone up by 95 per cent. It has very nearly doubled itself; and only this year, although we were warned that economically sugar production was not a paying proposition in this country by the Commission presided over by Sir Wilfrid Green, the Government nevertheless thought, in the interests of agriculture, that it was necessary to maintain the crop, and they induced Parliament to pass the Reorganisation Act under which a substantial subsidy is given from year to year. I think this year it is 4s. 9d. a cwt.—I am speaking from memory—and under that Act provision is made for the production to go up to some 560,000 tons, I think it is, per year. I do not think that can be fairly be described as doing nothing.
656 Then there are a number of other directions in which we have encouraged production. Poultry and eggs: by duties we have been able at any rate, to increase our poultry population and our egg production, and in the five years to which I am referring the poultry population of the country has gone up by 10 per cent. As to milk, we already produce all the fresh milk which the country needs for its consumption, and the Government have sought to encourage increased consumption of milk, because in that way you can most profitably use the milk which is produced. At the same time you are, incidentally, creating a reserve of butter fat in case of emergency in time of war. The dairy herd population of this country has gone up in the same five years not less than 10 per cent. Then comes meat. In 1931 there was a period of great glut of mutton and lamb just commencing, thanks to over-production, if that is the right phrase to use, largely in our oversea Dominions. The Government, by arranging for quotas and regulating the supply, have been able to restore the mutton and lamb production of this country to a state of reasonable prosperity. With regard to beef we were confronted with excessive competition between Australia and the Argentine, resulting in prices being forced down far below the cost of production. There also we have been able to intervene. We are giving a subsidy to the farmer of 5s. per live cwt. It has been a little less hitherto, but that is what it is going to be. That is to cost the country some £5,000,000 a year. We are arranging in our long-term policy for a duty on foreign imports of meat, and we have been able, by regulation, at any rate to save the fanner at home from some of the worst disasters which might have fallen upon him if it had not been for Government help.
Then bacon. The noble Lord, Lord Ernie, told us quite truly that you must not expect too much from that noble animal the pig. None the less it is a very useful adjunct to our food supply, and, thanks to the arrangements which were advocated by the Commission presided over by Lord Bingley, we have established the Pig Board and the Bacon Board, and by the efforts of those Boards the pig population of this country has gone up by 42 per cent. in the five years to the highest figure that it has ever 657 reached, I believe, in the history of England. Moreover, the bacon production last year had gone up 70 per cent. above what it was five years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Cornwallis, referred to fruit and vegetables and canning. Thanks to our seasonal duties we have been able to encourage the production of vegetables and the production of fruit so that we have an increase in acreage of 7 per cent. in the one case and 8 per cent. in the other. In the case of peas and beans I think the increase is 22 per cent. and 30 per cent. respectively in the five years. Thanks to our policy there has grown up in this country during the last five years a canning industry which does a great deal to preserve for consumption vegetables and fruit for which there is not an immediate demand. We have encouraged market gardening and allotments and thereby have done a good deal to provide most valuable food for our people.
I do not want to weary your Lordships too much by going into the achievements of the Government, though I could go on giving other instances of what the Government have done. We were accused by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, of having done something very wicked with regard to potatoes and with regard to fish. What in fact we have done in each case has been to set up in each industry a Board managed by that industry in order that it may control the industry in the interests of the producers. The noble Lord agrees that is what we have done. Then how can you complain that we are doing nothing for the producers? You may say if you like that the consumer might have cause to complain. I do not think that would be a just complaint. I do not want to go into detail on this occasion, but we have made adequate provision for the protection of the consumers' interests.
It is unhappily true that for a long time past in a great many directions the wholesale price of many of our primary products has been below the cost of production, and that is not good for either the producer or the consumer, but when I find myself accused of having committed every crime for which the Boards of the potato and the fish industries are responsible, I am a little surprised to find that the Government are blamed for having done nothing for the producer, for injuring the producer merely because they 658 allowed producers to manage their industries in the way that was in their own best interests. Of course it is perfectly true that if we chose we could do more for production. It is true that if we liked we could produce in this country the greater part of what this country requires to consume, but the extra cost of that production would be not trifling, as my noble friend Lord Radnor suggested, but enormous, and I doubt very much whether you would persuade the people of this country permanently to acquiesce in a policy which would enormously increase the price of food and which would permanently deprive them of the advantages of cheap food produced abroad which they have been able to enjoy for a great many decades now.
The actual volume of production in 1935 in England and Wales—the figures for Scotland are not yet available—was 19.7 per cent., or nearly one-fifth, more than in 1931. That, I claim, has been largely due to Government encouragement and Government action. Of course, in time of war there would have to be means taken to ensure that there should be an expansion. That must necessarily take time, but we are in an infinitely better position to do it in 1936 than we were in 1914, largely by reason of the organisations—the Pigs Board, the Milk Board, the Potato Board, and so on—which in their respective industries have got into touch with the individual producers all over the country, are in a position therefore to get expert knowledge and expert opinion at short notice, and are able to organise any increase with far more certainty and far more quickly than was possible in the days of August, 1914. The noble Lord, Lord Ernie, asked whether we were thinking about questions of man-power. I can assure him most certainly that the answer is in the affirmative. It is obviously a matter on which one cannot give details—they are highly confidential—but there is in fact a Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence which has plans on that subject.
So much for production. Let me turn to the second possible means of dealing with the problem, the question of importation. That resolves itself into two or three different elements. First you have to be sure that the food which we require is available in the world, and is available at a place which is willing to 659 let you have it. That second consideration is of greater importance to-day than it was at the beginning of the last War, because we have seen how some great countries have declared that their policy in the event of any-war would be to prevent any supplies going to either belligerent. Therefore, it is very important to be as sure as we can that the supplies on which we are relying should be available at a place willing to let them come here. Thanks to our Ottawa policy we have ensured that the things that we most need are being produced in our Colonies and in the Dominions overseas, and they are therefore available if need should arise.
Not only have we to ensure that they are there—it has been pointed out that there are large stocks of wheat in Canada, and mutton and lamb in New Zealand, meat in Australia and so on—but we have to be sure that supplies can get here, and that there is tonnage available to bring them. It has been pointed out more than once that the proportion of British tonnage to the world tonnage has dropped very much since 1914. It was as much as 43 per cent. in 1914. it is about 28 per cent. now. But it is reassuring to remember that that alteration in tonnage is not, to any large extent, due to a reduction in the volume of British tonnage but to an increase in the volume of world tonnage. Actually British tonnage, which was something over 18,000,000 tons in 1914, is over 17,000,000 tons to-day. When we turn to cargo tonnage, which is what we are primarily concerned with, the actual tonnage available, excluding tankers and coastal vessels, was estimated to be 12,000,000 tons in 1933 as against 11,000,000 odd tons in 1914. World tonnage has gone up. It has gone up, I think, to 61,000,000 odd tons, a very substantial increase since 1914. That means not that there is less chance of our being able to import goods, but that there is a better chance, because it would not be in the least true to say that neutral tonnage must be ignored. On the contrary, as we remember, neutral tonnage was very freely available during the War, and I have no doubt at all that it would be available again in the future.
Our actual import requirements are about 55,000,000 tons a year, and of that food constitutes about one-third. That is nearly the same as in 1914. 660 When we remember that although there are fewer ships they are faster and more economical to run and load, that the facilities for loading and discharging are far better now than in 1914, I think there is no doubt that if, unhappily, any war should come upon us in future, the tonnage available would be far greater than in 1914. But, of course, it is no good having tonnage available unless ships can get to this country. There we get to what is a vital element in the policy of the Government, and that is the provision of adequate defence. We have to rely now, as in 1914, primarily on the Navy, but to-day of course we have also to make adequate provision against attacks from the air. When it is a question of protection against attacks far out at sea, it is mainly on the ships of the Navy that we have to rely; when we come nearer there must be co-operation between the Air Force and the Navy; and at the ports we must rely partly on the Air Force and partly also on the Army, the Territorials and anti-aircraft defence.
In this debate your Lordships will not wish me to elaborate the details of our provision for defence which have been laid before you on other occasions, but your Lordships will have seen that some £30,000,000 of Supplementary Estimates have been laid before the House of Commons, making the total Defence Estimates already this year up to, I think, £188,000,000, a very much larger amount than they have been for a great number of years. I am not going to pretend that the efforts which we made to procure world disarmament for a great many years by setting an example ourselves has not put us in a position less favourable than we would wish it to be, but the Government have been frank with the country. We went to the country last year and, with the facts laid before the country, we received a mandate to set our defences in order. I think your Lordships may be satisfied that that mandate is being courageously and rapidly carried into effect.
My noble friend Lord Cork drew attention to a matter of very great importance. That is the difficulty which would arise when ships arrived in port, from the danger of air attack and the disorganisation which would be caused. That, of course, is a perfectly just and cogent consideration. There are at present Committees of the Committee of Imperial 661 Defence—one of them dealing with the diversion of shipping in time of war from the more perilous to the less dangerous ports, another dealing with the distribution of goods from any given port when they have arrived, and a third dealing with the rationing of food supplies to the consumer. Then again, of course, there is the question of taking over control of the whole of the mercantile shipping if the necessity should arise. So that all these matters are being worked out and carefully considered from day to day. Obviously they are not matters on which your Lordships would wish or would expect me to give the details and plans which are worked out, because they are in the last degree confidential. But I can give your Lordships the assurance, and I can give any noble friend the assurance, that they are matters which are being all the time carefully borne in mind.
Then I come to the third alternative, the question of storage. We do not rule out the possibility of having to encourage the storage of some particular articles at some particular time or in some particular place. I doubt very much whether it would be food supplies which we should first find it advisable to store. The oil fuel problem, to which I referred a little earlier, may perhaps be more urgent, and oil may better lend itself to storage than food. But one has to take into consideration a great number of matters which I am not sure have been fully weighed up by those of your Lordships who pronounced yourselves so emphatically in favour of an immediate policy of storing wheat. There are questions of deterioration. I think it was Lord Phillimore who brushed them aside and said that wheat was stored for ever so long in Canada, and could be stored for just as long in England. The climate of England and the climate of the interior of Canada are not quite the same. He may be right, and I hope he is right, but at any rate there are some people who claim to speak with authority who do not share his confidence. Then there is the question of contamination. If you have any large quantity of stores collected they will be very vulnerable, and gas contamination is a matter which has very carefully to be considered before you commit yourself to that policy.
He also spoke of a policy of storing by means of buying up wheat in Canada, 662 bringing it over to this country, keeping it for six months and then turning it over—because obviously you could not keep the same lot of wheat indefinitely. That policy, while of course it is possible, involves—as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who adopted the plan with such enthusiasm, was quick to observe—the Government becoming the main wheat dealer in the world. They are buying £10,000,000 worth of wheat—and, indeed, I take the noble Lord's own figures: £10,000,000 worth—not all at once, but accumulating that quantity; they are constantly selling it, and after six months have passed there will be, of course, a flowing out of wheat and further wheat coming in, and either a profit or loss being made. They would obviously, however, be in effect controlling the market.
I beg the noble Viscount's pardon, but I never suggested that the Government should purchase wheat at all. I suggested that it should be left in the hands of the trade.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if it rested in the hands of the trade there would not be any purchase of wheat by the Government.
I am sorry to have to explain myself again. I suggested that the Government should pay the trade the interest on the money locked up.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Then that gets rid of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, who was enthusiastically welcoming the prospect of all the dealings in wheat being a Government monopoly, and was at once tempted with the prospect, which always attracts every gambler, of buying cheap and selling dear. Everybody who deals in wheat thinks he is going to buy cheap and sell dear, but unfortunately the forces of nature sometimes say that what he thought was a cheap buy shall turn out to be a very expensive one, and then, where he thought he was going to make a large profit, he makes a very big loss. Lord Phillimore proposed that the trade should buy a very large quantity of wheat and that the Government should pay the interest upon it. I should think that that would probably be a much better plan if we were going to embark upon such 663 a policy, but of course you could not stop there, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, pointed out, you would at once get the claim from our farmers that if the Government are going to finance the holding of wheat, why not finance the holding of wheat in a very much more decentralised form—in the stalk? That is a difficult argument to meet. Then, again, it would mean not only paying interest, but also insurance against loss, and delay for the use of the straw in which the wheat would be kept, and you would find a very considerable sum of money being asked for on those grounds. It is not a method which one wishes to rule out, but one wants to be quite sure that it is necessary before we embark upon it.
Some figures have been given to-day as to the storage capacity in this country. I believe that, as far as we are able to ascertain, there were in March last, which is the last date I have, some 690,000 tons stored in the millers' stocks and on the average some 355,000 tons are stored in the public granaries, making 1,045,000 tons in wheat, or flour reckoned as wheat, altogether. That means a good three months' supply. If you were to use all the capacity of the public granaries, it is calculated according to the most recent figures, which are rather less than some earlier ones, that there are about 1,500,000 tons of grain storage in this country. Of course, that could not all be used for wheat, because you have to store quantities of other grains. My noble friend Lord Phillimore I think anticipated the criticism, which was bound to be made at once, that storage at the ports was inviting attack and destruction, by saying that we should build fresh granaries and that we should scatter them all over the country. If they were big ones they would themselves become targets, and if they were small ones they would be very numerous and, I think, a little more expensive than he anticipated.
There is no doubt that if the country thought it right to do it, we could, instead of having three months' supplies, have—at a cost—six months' supplies; or, as I think Lord Astor suggested, twelve months' supplies, or, if you chose to say you would cover four years of war, four years' supplies. There is no limit except what you are willing 664 to spend upon them. The question is whether that is the wisest way to spend money which is available for defence. Your Lordships will appreciate that even if we built any number of granaries and had any quantity of wheat available in this country, yet if we lost command of the sea we should lose the war just as certainly as if we had no wheat at all. We must, in order to wage a successful major war, have and keep the command of the sea. There may be a short period—a period perhaps of three months—during which our command of the sea might be in danger and during which it might be and would be advisable to have some stock to fall back upon; but the question is, how large a stock you require to meet that contingency, not how large a stock you require to carry on the whole war. So far as we are able to calculate, a three months' stock, which is what we have to-day and which is what we normally have, ought to be enough to carry us over any such temporary squeeze. We do not, so far as we are able to judge from the advice we get, see any reason to anticipate that there will be such a shortage of shipping as to render the fact that we have not got to bring in wheat a very great advantage because of the shipping being required for some other purpose.
If I might ask the noble Viscount a question: do I understand that three months is the minimum store which we have always, or does it fall below that at certain times?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Of course, it varies almost from week to week, but three months' is what, on an average, you could say is here. Probably it is a little over three months'—four months'. It may temporarily get a little lower, but roughly, as far as we can ascertain, you may say that there will be at any one moment not less than three months' supplies in the country. Just after the harvest it will, of course, be more; it goes up and down. I gave the figures for March, which were the latest I had, and they seem more or less to bear out that estimate. A noble Lord said it was not only wheat that you needed to store, but what about maize? I think the question of maize is perhaps in some ways a more serious one than the question of wheat, because, although you can substitute oats if grown, if maize 665 is a substance which you need you must import it from abroad.
Then Lord Astor asked: What about storing frozen meat? We have the figures with regard to that. There are some 50,000,000 cubic feet of cold storage in this country, of which about 39,000,000 are available for frozen meat. In fact there is not at any moment a very large quantity of frozen meat in storage in this country. For one thing an increasing quantity of imported beef is not frozen but merely chilled, and when beef is merely chilled it goes into circulation much more quickly. There is, however, no difficulty in warning ships that beef is required to be not merely chilled but frozen, and then you will have large supplies of frozen meat coming in within a short time. I do not say that under no circumstances are we going to invite the country to store a substance for which we are dependent upon importation from overseas, but I want your Lordships to realise that no method of storage is going to save us so long as we do not keep command of the seas, and now of the air. Therefore the primary purpose of our whole policy must be to see that we are adequately prepared against attack, and able to give adequate protection by sea and by air to the imports which are coming in to keep this country going. That is the primary purpose of which we must never lose sight, and if in connection with that policy, and as a subsidiary, it should be necessary to have a certain store of some particular goods which in time of war may not, we think, be available, then there may be a case for storage; but unless that is the case, then the case for storage is not made out.
We have had in the course of this discussion a very large number of very interesting suggestions from one side and another as to the means which should be adopted. We had from Lord Hastings a statement that only yesterday, I think he said, a series of suggestions had been laid before the Minister for Agriculture by an agricultural committee. I am quite sure, although I have not seen them and do not know what they are, that those suggestions will have the most careful consideration at the hands of the Minister for Agriculture, and I think I am safe in claiming, from your Lordships' own experience, that the Minister 666 for Agriculture is not unreceptive of suggestions which come from the agricultural industry. There have been suggestions made to-day which will be considered by the Committee which, as your Lordships have been told, is sitting constantly considering this very problem of food supplies, collecting from a number of Sub-Committees and other sources information about it. It is not a static problem about which conditions never change. As the range and swiftness of aeroplanes alter so necessarily the strategical and tactical problems alter, too. We have to keep these things constantly under review, and under review they will constantly be kept.
If I am not able to give to Lord Phillimore the promise he would like on his policy of storage, it is only because it is not a policy which has been proved at the moment to be necessary. But we shall continue to encourage production at home; we shall continue most urgently to ensure free importation from abroad, and we shall rely only upon storage, as supplementing that policy, if and when those who advise us consider that it is necessary and advisable. I am grateful to your Lordships for having listened to me much longer than I had intended, but the magnitude of the problem made it imperative that I should deal with it at some length, and when I sit down I hope Lord Radnor will be good enough to confess that after all I had something to say.
My Lords, I would like briefly to thank those noble Lords who have supported me in debate and thrown so much light on this important subject. The number of speakers and the range of experience which they have put at our disposal show how much this question interests the country at large and the members of this House. I regret that I do not see quite the same extent of interest in it on the part of the Government; but before I deal with the reply of the noble and learned Viscount I should like to put particular emphasis on a remark of Lord Ernie, that he deprecated the limitation of production. And particularly in connection with sugar beet, I take this opportunity of venturing what I think is a mild correction of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. He took a great deal of credit to the Government for the sugar-beet subsidy. Am I wrong, or was it 667 first granted by the Government of which Lord Snowden was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and was it a Labour Government? I gather from the Leader of the House that the Government can claim the credit, but the Act this year cuts down the amount of sugar beet to be produced, so that as an answer to those who object to the policy of the limitation of production I think the reply of the noble Viscount on the Woolsack leaves something to be desired.
Then I would like to ask whether we had command of the seas during 1917 and 1918. If we had not I do not know what better command of the seas we are likely to get during the next war. If we had, why is it we were nearly starved? It seems to me that the whole idea of starvation does not present itself very easily to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. To me it is a real thing, and the real trouble is that the command of the sea is of no use to a man who is dead of starvation, nor is it if he is half-dead of starvation. In other words, food supplies come first. Then I would say this, that I never recommended, as other speakers have said, large central stores. What I recommended was the dispersal of that storage. If anybody can find a better method to meet air attack I should be glad to hear it. I would like to know on what ground the noble and learned Viscount said that neutral tonnage during the last War was freely available, and, if he thinks that, why he thinks that it would be the case in the next war. I may remind him that during 1917–18 we had to drive violent bargains with neutral countries in order to get them to ply to and from our ports. We had to put the greatest possible pressure, and almost the threat of starvation, upon them in order to get them to do that. Neither do I see the slightest reason to suppose that in the next war neutral tonnage will be as freely available to us.
But, after all, what is the gravamen of the charge that I do bring against the Government? In the words of the noble and learned Viscount, it is because I see a wise Government weighing the advantages and the disadvantages of the measures which should be taken. On July 8, 1914, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne was addressing this House on the Government of Ireland Bill. In 668 January, 1918, at the end of a long and exhausting war, he presided over a Commission to consider this question which we are now discussing. Did any of your Lordships who were present in July, 1914, realise that within a month of that discussion on the Government of Ireland Bill we should be at war? And yet we have a wise Government still weighing the pros and cons of the measures that should be taken for the preservation of this country's existence! It is not sufficient to say that we have been thinking about disarmament and have been deceived. I submit that we have to take the first measures that we can in order to put this country in a really defensive position; and the very quickest in some respects of all the measures that we can take is at least to fill up the national larder with all the food that it can at present accommodate. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has clearly no Papers for which I can ask, and, in the circumstances I cannot press my Motion to a Division, for it would do no good. But I do beg and pray the Government to be more active, to be more ready, to show a far greater foresight than they have shown in preparing this country for warfare, which is, I am afraid, only too possible.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.