§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL rose to call attention to the food situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this Motion on the food situation appeared on the Order Paper as long ago as May 8. At that moment the attention of the nation was absorbed by very grave military events and soon after there was a change of Government and it was thought inadvisable to discuss the 601 subject at that time. We are still of course in a moment of intense and continuing crisis, but nevertheless there is a feeling I think among many members of this House, which is shared, I believe, by His Majesty's Government, that it would be advisable without further delay that the whole food situation of this country should be discussed in Parliament. It is a matter, of course, which is momentous and urgent. The new Minister of Food has a seat, we are glad to see, in this House. We welcome him here. The broadcasts that he has given to the nation, the action that he has taken in various directions inspire a very large measure of confidence, and we shall welcome the Ministerial statement that he will make to-day.
§ In putting down my Motion last May, and again in moving it to-day, I have had no thought of engaging in any censure of His Majesty's Government or indeed in any criticisms. Others in this House who are experts in agricultural matters will no doubt have criticisms to make, but for my own part I propose mainly to put to the Minister a series of interrogations about matters on which I think the public at large, both the town community and the agricultural community, are greatly concerned, and a little while ago I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and to the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture an outline of the questions that I desired to address to them.
§ In the first place what are the nation's needs in the matter of food? Approach the question first from the side of consumption. Have the requirements of the population as a whole, based on a proper standard of nutrition, been calculated as closely as the circumstances allow. We have of course at the present time a much greater knowledge of matters of nutrition than a generation ago, during the last war. The science of nutrition has made great strides. The discovery of the vitamins and the deeply important part that they play in diet was a great step forward. There have been various inquiries into nutrition. The League of Nations issued an exceedingly important report. There was a conference held in this country last year under the auspices of the British Medical Association on problems of nutrition.
§ Have the Government taken full advantage of the scientific advice which has 602 been at their disposal? The Select Committee of the House of Commons on National Expenditure, in one of its Reports a month ago, indicated that they thought that they had not and that there had not been that thorough inquiry into the needs of the nation which should have taken place—and indeed it ought properly to have taken place two or three years ago when we were contemplating the possibility of future war. The Royal Society, the Agricultural Research Council, the Medical Research Council—these bodies have accumulated a great deal of knowledge and have arrived, so it is said, at various conclusions. The Government quite recently have declared that a Committee was being appointed precisely for these purposes. Perhaps the noble Lord would tell us how it was that such a Committee was not appointed long ago, whether the Committee is now meeting and actively at work, and (not least important) if its members disagree—for it is known that from time to time scientific experts do disagree among themselves—what authority there is to resolve the difference. That is the basis of all the rest in considering the food situation.
§ What, within the limits of the obtainable, is it that we need in foodstuffs for our great population? Having ascertained that then the subsequent question is, how can we secure those requirements? The farmers should be told just what it is that they are required to produce, not to be left to guess what is wanted, and they cannot now, as in normal times, be guided by price. When price is high that is a proof of public demand, and it is an inducement to produce the particular article; when price is low vice versa. But in war times such conditions do not apply, and there is no ordinary, more or less automatic, economic guidance of that kind for agriculture to follow. Now the farmer already is required to be a man of very many capacities. He has to be an expert in tillage, an expert as a rule in animal husbandry; he has to be something of an agricultural chemist, he needs to be a motor mechanic, and unless he is to lose his money he has to be a market salesman and nowadays must have a certain knowledge of accountancy. But it cannot be expected that he should, in addition to all these various professional acquirements, be an expert also on national nutrition. Consequently it is for the authorities to give the agricultural 603 guidance as to the requirements of the nation, and not only guidance but inducements, proper financial and other inducements, to lead them to produce the things that are declared to be required.
Sir Daniel Hall, whose name is known to most of us as one of the principal authorities on these questions, wrote a couple of months ago these sentences:
The county war agricultural committees complain that they are not told what farmers should be set to produce. The food campaign, not the least vital section of the war, is being waged without a plan of action.
Perhaps the Minister of Food will tell us how far that difficulty has since been overcome.
§ Consumption can, of course, also be directed into the channels which production makes desirable. Consumption can be directed compulsorily by rationing, or it can be directed by voluntary methods. The whole nation is only anxious to do what it can to help, and is willing to follow guidance on any subject if it is told by the Government that this or that action will conduce to success in the war. Provided only that what they are told is clear and definite, consumers will voluntarily adapt themselves in a very large degree to the needs of the situation. In the third place, consumption can be influenced by price. Those articles which are not of prime necessity can be allowed to rise, those which are of prime necessity may be controlled in price and, if necessary, may be kept cheap by means of subsidies. But there is a limit to the capacity of the country to provide subsidies. In normal times the annual expenditure on food in this country is over £1,000,000,000, and you cannot afford to subsidise the whole of that to any large degree. By the combination of these three methods—the compulsory method of rationing, the voluntary method of propaganda, and the economic method of price control—you may be able to guide your consumption in the direction which the conditions make necessary. Further, of course, there is the obvious desirability of securing economy in consumption by means of proper cooking and utilisation of materials, and also by the avoidance of waste and the utilisation of waste products where waste is unavoidable.604
§ I should like to ask the Minister how far these methods are now being pursued and, furthermore, whether he is satisfied—if he can tell us without disadvantage—with the stocks of food now existing in this country and in prospect. I feel sure the public welcomed his declaration not long ago that he was decentralising stocks, that he was not only using the regional organisation but had also created some hundreds of local centres in which stocks were available and each of which could act independently. Perhaps he could tell us more about that today. Further, could he say whether he is receiving full co-operation from the distributing trades concerned. There may be a temptation in Government Departments sometimes to create a new organisation for each purpose that arises and to centralize and officialize many things. You have a highly developed and efficient trading system in this country, and perhaps the Minister of Food will say what have been his relations with that organisation.
Turning to the second branch—production—how far has the campaign to increase the home production of foodstuffs been successful? Most attention has been devoted to the ploughing up of 2,000,000 acres of grassland, which appears to have been accomplished, and it is interesting to know that there has been among the agricultural community much less opposition to this measure than was experienced during the last war. Great public attention has also been directed to the "Dig for victory" campaign. I believe it is the case that out of 10,000,000 households in this country, about 4,500,000 have gardens or allotments, and an effort has been made to increase that number by another half million. How far is that proving successful? All these gardens and allotments, unfortunately, will probably not go far to fill the gap caused by the stoppage of supplies from Denmark, Holland and Belgium. In the main, it must of course be from the farms that the bulk of our production must come. There, many suggestions must be made for increasing production. A member of this House, Lord McGowan, has emphasized the importance of the increased use of fertilisers. Sir Frederick Keeble, another expert in these matters, sent a memorandum to the late Government which I had an opportunity of seeing, in the course of which he pointed out that there are,
in this country, 18,000,000 acres, of permanent pasture and 6,000,000 acres of temporary pasture. He wrote this with regard to them:
It is known beyond all cavil that the yield of permanent and temporary grass can be increased by 50 per cent. by fertilisers, together with suitable and inexpensive cultivation.
The fertiliser campaign is actively proceeding. Is it proceeding adequately and with success?
§ With regard to potatoes, I have heard much criticism that the Government have not taken adequate action with regard to supplying large quantities of virus-free seed potatoes. If that were done—so I am informed by those who are, perhaps, the best qualified to speak in this country—there would be a very large increase in our potato crop without any additional expenditure of labour. Further, can the country afford the luxury of eating immature potatoes? We are now in the new potato season. Is it right that potatoes should be consumed before they have reached their full development even if, in that form, they are more profitable to the growers? With respect again to labour supply—obviously vital in this connection—we have been impressed for many years by the formidable decrease in the number of workers on the land; but there is one consoling factor that is not often remembered. It is not only the attraction of the towns and the opportunity of earning higher wages that draw the workers away, but the labour force that is required, through the mechanisation of agriculture, is much less than it was for the same production. That Nutrition Conference held last year in this country mentioned in its report that in the last fifteen years—this is a most remarkable and, to me, surprising fact—the output per person employed in farming in this country increased by 40 per cent. Consequently, there is less need for labour on the land in order to get equal production. It does not follow that this great decrease which has taken place in labour supply has been accompanied by a corresponding decrease in output. Furthermore, more highly efficient methods have been able to secure larger yields both in the milk and the poultry industry from an equal number of heads of stock. The milk yield per cow—I quote from the same authority—between 1914 and 1935, has increased by 40 per 606 Cent. and the egg yield per hen has increased by 80 per cent. That is very creditable both to the cows and to the hens, and has greatly relieved our situation with regard to these supplies.
§ As to the labour force which, nevertheless, is necessary in spite of the counterbalancing factors, agriculture is of course a reserved occupation, but are the increased needs of a greater production being met? The Women's Land Army has been formed, but the published figures of the numbers engaged in it are comparatively small, if one compares with France or Germany, where, it appears, hundreds of thousands of women are engaged on agriculture. Lord Derby and Sir Ralph Glyn have proposed the formation of a boys' land army. We know that the great public schools and also the universities are doing much in the way of releasing boys and students for agricultural and forestry work this year. The road workers also are now being turned to the farms. It is absurd in time of war that we should have tens of thousands of able-bodied and skilled men engaged in maintaining our road system in a state of immaculate perfection when there is such urgent need for labour on the land. I am sure there will be general approval of the action taken by the Government in diverting that labour force to agricultural purposes. How far is the demand for tractors being adequately met? America is providing us now with munitions of war. The agricultural tractor is also, in effect, a munition of war, and if the output of this country is not adequate for the needs, are steps being taken to secure some of the vast output of the United States?
§ These are a number of various matters which must demand the attention of the Government, and the question which I would address to them and to this House is whether the Ministry of Agriculture itself is able to cope simultaneously with all these problems. In the last war there was created a Food Production Department, whose specific duty it was to study each problem one by one. It had a large measure of independence, it was characterised by a great deal of initiative and drive, and it carried out a number of separate and highly important schemes. The consequence was that the food situation was met, and one learns from an admirable little booklet, which many of your Lordships will have read, by Sir 607 John Orr and Mr. David Lubbock, entitled Feeding the Population in War Time, that in 1918 the food supply produced in this country per head of the population was not less but even higher than it had been in 1914, at the beginning of the last war. The Ministry of Food is not, of course, a Ministry of Food Production. It deals only with consumption and distribution, and I would specially ask for a reply to this question: whether His Majesty's Government are proposing to establish a Food Production Department as in the last war, and if not, why not? I earnestly trust that they will not hastily give a negative reply.
§ Let them be guided by the experience of the previous Government in the matter of the Ministry of Supply. It is within the memory of all your Lordships how again and again, month after month, in this House not less than in the other House, appeals were made to the Government backed by men of the greatest authority and experience in this Assembly, to establish forthwith a Ministry of Supply for all kinds of munitions, including what was undoubtedly the most necessary of all forms of Government supply, the production of aeroplanes. Repeatedly that appeal was deliberately rejected by the Government—a fatal error. Let His Majesty's Government be warned by that and not find various specious excuses for refusing to take a measure which appears to the layman to be one that is obviously desirable. I sincerely trust no question of the prestige of the Ministry of Agriculture will be allowed to enter into a matter of this sort.
§ My last questions relate to the organisation of the Government for dealing with these great and urgent problems of consumption and production. There are no fewer than seven Departments concerned—the Food Department, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Shipping, the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the Ministry of Health, the Scottish Office, and, of course, the Treasury. Whose task is it to coordinate the work of all these Departments? Is that the function of the Cabinet Committee presided over by Mr. Greenwood? Is that Committee functioning day by day and is it performing its work with success? Most important of all, what are the relations between the 608 Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture? That is the crucial point in the whole matter. Here you have these two Departments, the one dealing with consumption and the other with production, the one with demand and the other with supply, and the harmonious interaction of the two is the vital question. Is that being achieved, because on that depends the full mobilisation of British agriculture as well as of British industry for purposes of war? I beg to move.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, we on these Benches welcome very warmly the opportunity provided by my noble friend Viscount Samuel for a debate on the vital subject of our food supplies, more especially because we are so fortunate as to have the Minister of Food here in person to outline the policy of the Government and to reply to questions that will be addressed to him by different members of your Lordships' House who have had experience in the field of agriculture and in many other fields. We owe his presence here, I imagine, to the practice, begun I believe during the last war by Mr. Lloyd George, of seeking men for high offices outside politics, among those who have made a name for themselves in professional or business circles. It is certainly right and proper in war-time that key administrative positions should not be, as it were, reserved for a chosen few who have served their political and Parliamentary apprenticeship.
I agree entirely with my noble friend who has just spoken that the importance of the Home Front can scarcely be exaggerated. The aim of modern warfare, we all realise, is to undermine the will to resist of the civilian population as well as to destroy the forces of the enemy. That is why an abundant supply of essential foodstuffs will weigh as heavily as military successes in deciding the final outcome of a protracted war. Indeed, I think we learned that lesson twenty-four years ago. This conclusion was reached by Mr. Lloyd George and recorded in what I think is a memorable passage in his War Memoirs. He writes there:The second half of the war brought home to all the belligerents the fact, which ought to have been obvious before, that an adequate supply of food, not only for the troops but for the civilian population, was an essential condition of their continuance in the war. The final event depended more on food than on fighting.609 If further evidence were required, although I do not wish to labour the point, I could supply some of it from personal experience. I was in Barcelona a few weeks before the final collapse of the Spanish Republic, and I saw with my own eyes the wan, pinched faces of the children in the streets and in the classrooms of the schools. It was indeed the starvation of their families at home by land and sea blockade that ensured the defeat of the Republican Army. Our objective is therefore precisely the same as that of the Government. We want, as they do, a plentiful supply of essential foodstuffs at a price which the lowest paid wage-earners can afford and for the duration of what still may be a long war.
We would like to congratulate the Government on getting well off the mark. A Minister of Food with wide powers has already been appointed for some months. In the last war, it may be remembered, we had to wait no less than two years before the second Coalition Government went even thus far. We rejoice that the machinery of food control is ready for action. What the country needs is a definite and clear-cut long-term plan of campaign covering both a suitable war diet and the provision of its constituents. I should like for a moment to refer in this connection to a recommendation of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. Those who drew up that Report make this recommendation among others, and I think it is an important one:It is suggested that what is needed here is to set up an authoritative body of scientists and practical men to work out a basic plan.Such a scheme should only be drawn up on the advice of nutrition experts and of course after consultation between a number of different Government Departments, including the Ministry of Food and several others which were mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I should like to ask the Minister whether the Advisory Committee on Nutrition, or the more recent Committee he appointed, or other scientific advisers are being consulted with a view to framing such a comprehensive plan; and further, whether any machinery exists for frequent—I had almost said continuous—consultation between the numerous Departments affected by food questions. Both the questions were addressed to the noble Lord by the last speaker, but I do not 610 apologise for repeating them because I believe their importance merits emphasis.
What is causing considerable anxiety in many quarters is the conclusion based on recent social surveys that one-third of our total population is still undernourished. I am referring to the excellent little work by Sir John Orr and Mr. Lubbock, which the noble Viscount has already mentioned. The most gravely disturbing aspect of this widespread malnutrition is the fact that one-quarter of our children under fourteen is included in the most ill-nourished section of the community, a section which lacks all the essentials of a normal healthy life. This may not be surprising as a social phenomenon when one recalls that prolonged unemployment and large families are mainly responsible for acute poverty; but it does show, I think, quite conclusively that even if after a time the war does away with poverty due to unemployment, the Government must find another remedy if thousands of children are not to be driven by rising prices below subsistence level and if the conditions of those mentioned is not seriously to deteriorate.
I should like in this connection to refer to a passage in the Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. They draw attention to the fact that the tendency of a Government-controlled price level is to penalise the poorest consumers, because when competition is eliminated it is the small retailer, who sells the cheapest products, who has either to raise his prices or go out of business. With your Lordships' permission, I would quote one passage:In fact it seems true to say that, where as a result of war conditions and Government control there is a tendency towards 'pool' prices and qualities or towards a levelling out of the power of traders to offer competitive price variations, the chief weight of the increase falls on the classes whose purchasing power is such as to force them to seek the cheapest qualities and markets.The illustrations that are given are butter and tea, because the cheapest brand of butter and the cheapest blend of tea have, of course, been eliminated by the controlled prices at which these products are now sold. I am not here to propose remedies; I am merely anxious to draw the attention of the Government to these serious social facts in order that they may take the necessary steps. On the general question of war-time diets, I think there 611 would be agreement about the list of foodstuffs that would provide a minimum diet for everyone. Let us start with bread. The Government are spending, I think, £36,000,000 a year on pegging down the price of the loaf. As most of our wheat comes from abroad, this subsidy, regrettable as subsidies may be unless they are inevitable, seems clearly to be warranted, and we hope that whatever may happen in the future the Government will persist in their present endeavour to stabilise the price of bread.
The position of the foodstuff which I next wish to mention is not satisfactory. The cheapest of the most widely-used energy-giving foodstuffs is sugar; yet the retail price of sugar has been allowed to shoot up 50 per cent. since the outbreak of war and the Government have apparently been able to do nothing to check this meteoric rise. The price of sugar substitutes, such as jam, syrup and confectionery, is not controlled, so that the average working-class household has already experienced definite hardships in this direction. The cheaper brands of butter have risen 23 per cent. since last September, and the majority of wage-earners must therefore, except for the exceedingly well-paid artisans, content themselves with bread and margarine whatever the butter ration may be. I do not think that anyone would maintain that the system of rationing, so far as butter is concerned, has produced an equitable distribution of that product. The nutritive value of good-quality margarine is admittedly high, but it seems regrettable that the gulf between the diet of the rich and that of the poor should be widened in war-time. Potatoes and fresh vegetables would be consumed in far larger quantities by a working-class household if only they were less expensive. I hope the Minister will do all he can, especially as winter approaches, to reduce their price without giving a subsidy. Inquiry should be made into the allegation—whether it is true or not, I am not in a position to say—that the retail distribution of vegetables is wasteful and adds unnecessarily to their cost. I am delighted to hear that I have the support in that view of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, on the opposite Bench.
There is a recommendation, which I will not read, because I do not wish to take up unnecessary time, of the Com- 612 mittee on National Expenditure, the sense of which is that a Committee should be appointed to examine into the whole process of food manufacture and distribution. Indeed, it may well be said that the terms of reference that have been proposed for this Committee are far too wide. I wish, however, to ask the noble Lord whether, as he set an excellent precedent by his Committee of Inquiry into the cost of milk distribution, he might not also set up a Committee of Inquiry into the mechanism for the distribution of that essential article of diet, fresh vegetables.
But what is perhaps the most important aspect of the Government's food policy has been their handling of the nation's supply of fresh liquid milk. It was gratifying to hear that the price of milk was being pinned down during the winter by a Treasury subsidy, which amounted, I think, to £8,000,000 a year. The noble Lord has just told us that this subsidy has been removed and that the price of milk for the general public will rise on July 1 by the large figure of 4d. a gallon. Now we are exceedingly glad to observe that the Minister desires to mitigate the effect of the increased price on the poorer consumer by various measures which he described briefly last week. He is providing cheap milk at 2d. a pint for pregnant and nursing mothers and for children under school age, and we are glad to observe that the scheme is to be administered and presumably financed by the Ministry through its local officers. But the Minister, I am sure, has not forgotten that a similar scheme was prepared by the Ministry of Health which, it is hardly an exaggeration to say, was a complete failure. Perhaps he will quarrel with me.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am delighted to hear that I have the agreement of the Minister on that perhaps sweeping but not, I think, exaggerated statement. I should like to ask the Minister what steps he is taking to make perfectly certain that his scheme also does not turn out to be a paper scheme; and how he can more or less guarantee that the infants and mothers will actually benefit by its operation. From what I have heard, I have a great deal of hope in the scheme that the Minister has announced, but I think that I and large 613 sections of the public would be even more confident if we might have further details about the actual steps which the Minister intends to take. He, I know, would agree that 2d. a pint, even though this is very much below the price charged to the general public, is far more than many working-class families can afford. Indeed, it is a halfpenny more than the price of cheap milk in the schools, which has, of course, been provided at a halfpenny for a third of a pint. I hope that the Minister will not be ungenerous when he scrutinises the family income with a view to deciding whether free milk should be supplied in cases where the person who needs this article of consumption is unable to afford it. In fact, in my view the whole value of this scheme, from the point of view of getting to the wives of the poorly-paid wage-earners, depends on how generous the Government will be in their interpretation of "inadequate means."
I am not absolutely certain, and I should be glad if the Minister would remove any doubt there may be in my mind, whether the old price of 1½d. per pint for cheap milk will still be charged in the schools. I rather gathered from his statement last week that the arrangement in the schools will not be altered. I think, however, that the local authorities would probably be obliged if they could be given a definite statement to cover that point. I think it should be pointed out that even the present price of 1½d. per pint is beyond the means of the lower-paid wage-earners with large families, and that many children are not benefiting for that reason. It is true of course, that free milk also is provided in the schools, but then only if after medical examination it can be shown that the child has suffered in health owing to under-nourishment. That, I must confess, seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse. What we want is to prevent under-nourishment, and not only to cure it after it has been caused. I should like to see in the schools some system of inquiry into the means of the household from which the child comes—which is apparently what will be done in the clinics—and the same system wherever the new scheme is administered for mothers and infants, rather than the present method of waiting until children have definitely suffered in health before they can receive a free supply of milk.
614 We welcome whole-heartedly the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the cost of the distribution of milk and into the whole distributive side of the milk industry. We hope that its findings may enable the Minister to reduce the retail price when he reviews the situation in three months' time. The high cost of milk distribution in this country has caused grave concern and serious misgiving for a long time past among all those who have urged the need for increased consumption of liquid milk. It is an alarming fact that fresh milk is more expensive in England than in any other European country; and there is at least a strong presumption that the element of excessive and unnecessary cost is added to this vital product after it has left the dairy farmer. While we are just as anxious as the noble Viscount who spoke before me that producers and distributors alike in the whole agricultural and food industry should cover their essential costs and earn a reasonable profit, we cannot in war-time allow the extravagant methods or excessive rewards of any private business to deprive the public of necessities.
I should like to say a word—and only a word—on the subject of education in the right use of food. Everyone agrees that in these days people should be shown how to buy the most nourishing foodstuffs and those that add as little as possible to the tremendous strain upon our merchant navy and upon our resources in foreign exchange. The London County Council is running cookery classes on these lines at its technical and evening institutes all over London, but these classes would be better attended if more money were available for local publicity. I believe that the Ministry of Food is interested only in national publicity; yet what induces the average housewife to learn something about food values is not the large poster exhorting her to eat more fresh vegetables or to eat less tinned food, but the tiny leaflet dropped in her letter-box and describing the bill of fare of the cookery class just round the corner. I cannot avoid the conclusion that if the Ministry would help local authorities with their local publicity, even if it meant sacrificing some national publicity, there would be a more widespread demand for food education. I should like to ask the Minister how far the scheme has been taken up by local authorities in other 615 parts of the country. I myself have knowledge of how it is being worked only in the London area. I have been as brief as possible because I am sure that our common desire is to hear at the greatest possible length, and with the maximum amount of detail that he can confide to us, the noble Lord who will speak for the Government. I should like to conclude by wishing the Minister the utmost success in his vital task. I also venture to express the hope that he will override all private interests and routine business methods that may stand in the way of an impregnable food position.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, the noble Viscount who initiated this debate reminded us that there were two totally different aspects of food policy: production and distribution. He reminded us also that his Motion had been postponed two or three times, and consequently we are discussing it to-day in a totally different atmosphere from the atmosphere which would have existed had the debate taken place two months ago, or whenever it was that he first put down this Motion. The food-production policy of the then Government had been very much criticised during the winter, and criticised mainly by people who had had experience of food production in the last war, so that their comments, suggestions and criticisms could not be lightly ignored. We are very fortunate now in having a Minister of Agriculture who is unfettered by any past and who, I am convinced, is strong enough to impose his own policy on the Department should it be necessary to do so. He is fortunate also in his two assistants, the noble Lord who sits in this House, Lord Moyne, who himself has had experience at the Ministry of Agriculture, and in another place, as Parliamentary Secretary, a Member of Parliament who, I think, as far back as 1924 was associated with the Ministry of Agriculture, and who has always taken a keen interest in farming and agriculture. We are very fortunate, therefore, in having a good team.
When one has taken part in criticism it is always satisfactory to know by subsequent action of the Department concerned that events have shown that one was justified in that criticism. I will give only one very brief quotation, a quotation 616 from a newspaper which certainly never criticised the late Administration regarding food production, The Times. In a leading article, The Times said:The best feature is that Mr. Hudson displayed a welcome sense of urgency and drive in the general scheme of his policy. The country should have been told to leap into its full war stride at once. This order has now been issued to agriculture.That shows that the comments and criticisms made by some of us during the past winter were entirely justified. Here you have one of the leading newspapers, which was not a critic of the late Administration, now supporting the increased pace and volume of production.
It is also very satisfactory to know that almost all the suggestions which were made in the past have been adopted. First of all, there is the obvious need of having a survey of the nutritional needs of the population. I do not see how it was possible to devise an agricultural policy until it was known what the nutritional needs of the population were; and it is very satisfactory to know that a strong Committee, presided over by Sir William Bragg, has now been set up, with the terms of reference that it is to consider and advise upon problems of national food requirements and of home food production. That is to say, this important Committee, consisting of experts, is to advise both upon the needs and also upon production. It should surely have been obvious a year ago, after the invasion of Czecho-Slovakia and with the imminence of war, that the first thing that the Government should do was to make a food survey of the requirements of the population in case war broke out, so that on the declaration of war we should have been in a position to go straight ahead. It is lamentable that that has been postponed for a year, because it really means that up to now the Ministry of Agriculture have been drifting in the darkness.
Another criticism which was made but which I am glad to say is no longer valid, was that the Government were not using the technical agricultural experts nearly enough. I am glad to say that that is being done now. I do not know whether one or two Ministers are going to reply to-day, but it would be a help if we could be told exactly what the functions of the liaison officers are to be. I understand that a certain number of 617 gentlemen have been appointed liaison officers over regions and that their function is somehow or other a communication between the Minister in London and the counties. I do not know to what extent they are given authority and responsibility to deal with questions of policy. So much time has been lost that it seems to me that if we are to be in the position to get the maximum production of food in the early autumn it may be necessary to delegate considerable power and authority to what in other Departments are called Regional Commissioners. The point I want to know is whether these so-called liaison officers are in any way Regional Commissioners. Some of them are obviously qualified by their technical knowledge and experience to be entrusted with authority and power.
It has been suggested that the Minister ought to have a Director of Food Production—I myself in the past made that suggestion—but conditions are now entirely different, and I hope that the Minister will be his own Director of Food Production. But I am convinced of one thing, and that is that if he is to accomplish as much as was done in the last war, when the then Minister had the assistance of the then Sir Arthur Lee, the present Viscount Lee of Fareham, it may be necessary for him to strengthen the personnel of his Department by bringing in business men, or whoever it may be, to increase his staff. The Food Production Department in the last war had at the heads of sections persons who in many cases had had no previous knowledge of agriculture, but they had drive and initiative. One of the most successful had, I believe, been an architect in private life. And undoubtedly a great deal was done to stimulate and increase the production of food in the last war by adding to the personnel of those engaged in food production. I hope very much that the Minister may be ready—indeed I am sure he will be ready should he consider it necessary—to take this step.
May I just ask one or two questions, first of all about labour? The policy as regards adding to agricultural labour was terribly slow a year ago. My recollection is that eventually something like 16,000 women were enrolled. It takes some time to train them so that they may 618 be useful. I know because I had some both in the last war and in this war. But, as I understand, out of the 16,000 who were enrolled only 7,400 were used. As a result of that there is now a fresh appeal for a fresh enrolment of 5,000 women, and when they enrol themselves they will have to be trained. There is another point. I do not know to what extent the Department are employing refugees, either skilled or unskilled. There must be in this country a considerable number of refugees who are accustomed to agriculture, and not only as labourers. I know because I have met some of them—people perhaps from Poland, perhaps from Germany, who in their native country were accustomed to run large agricultural estates. I am just wondering whether it is possible to utilise their skill and experience.
I do not know whether the Minister can tell us anything about the additional provision of fertilisers—a most important thing. I think one of the biggest aids to agriculture in recent years has been the policy of cheapening fertilisers, introduced by the present Postmaster-General, Mr. Shakespeare Morrison. Also I would like to supplement the question which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, put—namely, what is being done to increase the supplies of good seed, particularly of virus-free seed potatoes. One of the criticisms made in the past was that the Department concentrated too much merely on ploughing up grassland. That obviously was a necessary part of an agricultural policy, but there was great scope for increasing the output of land already cultivated, and also of increasing the production of grassland which, as a previous speaker has said, forms an enormous proportion of the land of this country. We know that there is now new knowledge and new technique, completely revolutionary, as to the treatment of grassland. Many of the county agricultural advisers are first-rate and completely up to date, but I would like to see that every one is. I hope that we can be assured that steps are being taken to see that the latest knowledge is made available to all farmers of grassland, and that this source of food production is increased.
The next point is the question of price policy and of having prices related to each other. The easiest way to induce a farmer to grow a particular food is to make the production of that food profitable, and the easiest way to discourage 619 the production of any particular commodity is to make the production of that commodity less profitable. It really was very discouraging to find that right up to June, 1940 (the war having begun in September, 1939) farmers were being encouraged by the recent price policy to grow luxury products like fat spring lamb, and I hope very much—for this concerns the Minister of Food, working obviously in the closest consultation with his colleague—that they will be able to enunciate a price policy which presumably will be based upon the report of the Survey Committee to which I have just referred. And that again shows how lamentable it was that this Survey Committee was not set up a year ago, as we are not yet in a position to have a full comprehensive price policy. I do not know whether the noble Lord will be able to tell us anything about the Government's policy as regards pigs. I understand that the pig is the most efficient converter of vegetables into animal foods, certainly is more efficient than the steer. What do the Department intend to do about pigs, particularly in regard to their price policy as related to steers?
A further point: how much of the arable land is to be devoted to fodder crops for livestock, instead of crops for direct human consumption? The policy as stated hitherto is not clear on that. If the Minister could clarify that it would be of assistance. Then there is the very big question of under-farmed land. Land may be under-farmed because the occupier is short of capital or implements, or because his land is second-class land—marginal or sub-marginal land, land which is inherently second-class, or it may be land which is marginal because it is undrained or because it has been allowed to run to waste. And there is another type of land which is not now-producing the full amount of food—namely, good land but in uneconomic units, land where the boundaries ought to be changed, or which has the wrong buildings, or which has an inadequate supply of water. It may be necessary for the Government, in order to make all this land really productive and to do so rapidly, to be as drastic in the steps which they take as other Ministers connected with the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Labour have been under the Emergency Powers Act. 620 If we have to wait until all private interests are consulted and have given agreement, there may be such a delay that we shall not get the best possible output from the type of land I have been indicating. Some of this marginal land is in ownership where the owner is not in a position to deal with it, and it may well be that the Government will decide—if they do decide, they would be taking a right decision—to set up a Land Commission, as they have set up a Forestry Commission, with powers to take over this land and bring it into maximum cultivation as rapidly as possible.
There is other land which is under-farmed because those who are in occupation are not themselves capable of getting the best results. Farming, after all, is like all other professions. In the legal profession there are good lawyers and there are less good lawyers. In the medical profession there are good doctors and there are less good doctors. People are rather apt to be insulted if it is suggested that a farmer does not belong to the best class of farmer. We are proud to know that we have here some of the very best farmers in the world, we have also a lot of good farmers, but—let us face the fact—there are other farmers who do not belong to either of these categories. You are not insulting the profession of farming when you make that statement. I should be very glad to know how the Government propose to deal with that particular problem, because these particular persons are not able, really, to get the maximum output of food from the lands which they farm.
Now I come to distribution, and may I say here, what is generally said outside, that the noble Lord who fills the position of Minister of Food has already inspired confidence? That is a great relief at the present moment. Reference has been made to the policy on milk, and I hope he will be able to give us more information than he did the other day as to what is proposed in connection with that. It was my privilege to preside over a League of Nations Commission on Nutrition, and there it was made quite clear that if you can give enough milk to pregnant mothers and to children up to the age of five, you have broken the back of the problem of malnutrition. That is why it is so satisfactory to know that the noble Lord proposes to deal with this, and I hope he will do so courageously. At the 621 end of the last war I was at the Ministry of Food, and we then devised a scheme for taking public control of the wholesale distribution of milk. That was never put into operation because the war ended. I need not go into details now, but we contemplated then having public control of the wholesale distribution of milk. Had that been done, a great deal more would have been done to cheapen milk for the public. I do not know whether the noble Lord is in a position to tell us anything about the rationalisation of milk distribution or anything like that.
With the policy of evacuation—a policy that is bound to increase as the war goes on—there is another problem, and that is the provision of the right food in the right quantities for the children who have been moved about. If the war goes on any length of time, I should myself expect to see something very nearly approaching communal meals and communal kitchens in many districts, and if we are to have them later, we ought to visualise and contemplate such a policy at the present moment. Another important point is the question of industrial fatigue. Industrial workers have been asked to increase their working hours by giving up holidays, by working on Sundays, and by working longer hours. Everybody knows perfectly well that, after a time, that results in diminished output. That was the experience of the last war, and it is inevitable. The way to counter it is by seeing that enough of the right sort of food is made available for our industrial workers—that is to say, that industrial canteens are universal, and that the right food is available in these industrial canteens. Setting up a building and calling it a canteen does not mean you will have the right food there, and I hope very much that the noble Lord will be able to tell us something of what is being done in that direction.
There is another and totally different subject. During the last war there was one problem that baffled us, and that was the problem of the red deer in Scotland. They are difficult to catch, but, having killed them, it is not easy to distribute them. They are killed in the far-away glens or in the islands off the west coast, and it is by no means easy to get them to the markets. Because there was no adequate policy for dealing with them in the last war, they increased and multiplied, and instead of being a source of 622 food for the public, in many districts they raided the farm lands and diminished the amount of food available. I never like making a criticism without making a suggestion. May I suggest that the shooting season be lengthened by being begun earlier? Do not let us wait until the stags are in prime condition. It sounds heresy to suggest that we should kill deer while the velvet is still on, but long before they are clean they are perfectly edible, and if it were recognised that it is not unsporting to shoot a deer still in the velvet, I am convinced that a great many more could be brought to the larder. The shooting season is very short, and it is very difficult to catch them in a condition fit for human food.
Recent events over the Channel have put us in the position of being a beleaguered island. In the last war, the ships which brought food to this country had to face the danger of attack from submarines. In this war they have to face the danger not only of attack from submarines, but from the air—an attack that is quite as real and serious as the underwater attack. Because of that, the Ministry of Agriculture and all who are connected with the problem of food production have got to visualise an even more drastic, constructive, comprehensive policy of food production. I am perfectly confident that if that is done the noble Lord will continue the policy which he has already begun of seeing that food, either produced here or imported, is made available at suitable places and in suitable quantities for the population that requires it. I am perfectly certain that I voice the sentiments of all in your Lordships' House and outside when I say that if the Government decide to go in for a bold policy it will get whole-hearted support from the public.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I hope I may be forgiven for speaking in this debate, as I took no small share in dealing with the food requirements of the nation during the most critical part of the last war. I should like to say at once how very warmly I welcome the initiation of this debate by my noble friend Lord Samuel. In listening to the various speeches which have been delivered today, not in a spirit of carping criticism but, I venture to hope, helpful suggestion, I cannot help wondering whether it would not materially help us in carrying out the 623 sort of policy which most of us would desire to see for perfecting during a period of emergency the production and distribution of essential foods if, instead of placing Ministers on the defensive as is almost essential as a result of a debate in this House, those of us who are more intimately connected with the problems of food production and food distribution could from time to time meet, possibly in a Committee room of this House or in another place, and have a friendly discussion, with the hope, I might almost say with the confidence, of at any rate leaving something on the minds of those who are mainly responsible for food administration which may be of a really suggestive practical character.
So far as the noble Viscount's observations are concerned, he started with a question which I think all of us must deem to be the most crucial of questions—namely, what is it in the matter of food that the nation wants during this period of extreme emergency? Then, having said that, he went on to say that the farmers must be told. I am not quite satisfied that the farmers are being adequately told at the present time, nor am I altogether satisfied that the Government themselves, through their two chief food Departments, are certain in their minds what it is the nation really needs. The noble Viscount went on to say that having discovered what it is that is needed and what the farmers and other producers—and I want very especially to include the allotment holders and cottage gardeners—are expected to do to assist, let the Government give all possible guidance and inducements. In passing, there is only one other remark made by the noble Viscount to which I want to refer. He spoke of the number of road makers to be seen in many parts of this country, putting, as he expressed it, the roads in a state of immaculate perfection. I noticed with pleasure that this particular criticism of the noble Viscount was received with endorsement on the part of the whole House. It offends at any rate some of us to see these roadworkers, large numbers of them in the prime of life, who obviously are capable of doing more essential war work, spraying tar over the main roads, almost as much as it does to see large gatherings of men, as I see I am sorry to say very frequently in my part of the country, attending dog races 624 with all the consumption of petrol which such attendance involves.
There are others besides the road men who might be turned on to valuable work on the land. We have a considerable and growing number of very competent and experienced immigrants from agricultural countries. I can well remember during the last war how very useful indeed were some of those who came from Belgium, from Denmark, from Portugal and from other parts of the European Continent. Indeed I may say that two of them whom I secured on my own farms remained subsequently on my farms for a matter of twenty years, and one very efficient Dane is working for me to-day. Here is a potential source from which you can draw really expert, hard-working, experienced labour of the kind we so much need. We shall need it all the more when we get to the corn harvest on the farms of this country.
I want to refer shortly to a document to which reference has already been made, that very striking document the Fourth Report of the Committee on National Expenditure. I am not referring to it, I should like to assure my noble friend Lord Woolton, in a spirit of criticism but to ask him certain questions. During the last war there was nothing that exercised the minds of the Minister of Food (who, incidentally, was called Food Controller), indeed the two Ministers with whom I was associated, who were in a very real sense food controllers—they controlled their Departments—more than the danger of profiteering. Now I think that perhaps the most striking of all the recommendations of this National Expenditure Committee is the one in which they deal with the possibility of trade preferences being given in consequence of trade directors being on the staff of the various supply divisions of the Ministry of Food. They say:…it is particularly important that no suspicion should be created that individuals interested in a particular trade have been enabled to exert an influence inside the Ministry on the profit margins to be allowed to such trade.I do not know anything with which the late Lord Devonport dealt with greater severity than even suspicion of any attempt on the part of the representatives of a particular trade to obtain an undue margin in respect of commodities provided by that trade.
625 The Committee mention that they had already made a recommendation that there should be set up a quasi-judicial tribunal which would finally adjudicate in each case in accordance with uniform principles to be laid down by the Government, and on the basis of a statement of facts agreed in each case between the Ministry and the trade interest concerned. They point out that the only really plausible objection to that course was, as alleged by the Ministry, that terms have already been settled in most cases already, and that in those still outstanding the stage of bargaining and negotiation is almost completed. In the light of that they go on to say:What we recommend is that consideration should now be given to the setting up of a special tribunal which, while the provisional settlements are running, should review the terms in all cases and which should then give its approval before such terms are confirmed for further continuation or modification.I want to ask in the first place of the Minister whether anything has been done in pursuance of that important and particular recommendation.
Special reference is made to the necessity of disposing of supplies of various commodities in a systematic manner and so as not to have a large amount of perishable food on hand which would only be wasted if not consumed. By way of illustration they refer to the case of bacon. Bacon is a particularly important commodity to concentrate our attention on during this war, because the main source of bacon other than our own pig keepers has been closed by the fact that Denmark is now in the occupation of the enemy, and from Denmark a very large proportion of the whole of our bacon has, in the past, come. The bacon that came from Denmark and the bacon which, according to the public taste in this country during the last twenty years, has been to an increasing extent provided by our bacon factories, is what is called mild-cured bacon with a relatively small amount of salt and saltpetre used in its preservation. I would venture to suggest that a premium should be put upon the; provision not of a mild-cured bacon but of bacon so cured as to enable it to be kept in store or on consumer's premises for a relatively long time—the sort of bacon that our forbears used to consume before the demand for mild-cured bacon became in recent years so insistent. It is common knowledge that a very large amount of 626 bacon was wasted in this country some three or four months ago because prices were too high to enable it to be disposed of and consequently it decomposed and had to be thrown away.
One very important recommendation made in this Report is that there should be a wide scheme for rationalising the manufacture, storage, transport and selling of food, and on that subject the noble Viscount drew special attention to the fact that a very large number of Government Departments are involved, and that it is enormously important that there should be full co-operation and co-ordination between those Departments if the public are to get their food in sufficient quantities at a reasonable cost. In that connection the Committee say in their Report:We therefore recommend the setting up of a special Committee, composed of persons whose findings would carry great weight, to study the present methods and costs of food manufacture, processing, storage, transport and distribution and to make recommendations as to possible economies.Without going further into that subject I should like to ask the Minister whether and to what extent that particular recommendation has been acted upon.
A further recommendation is made in regard to cocoa. It would appear that in order to help the native population in our West African Colonies, and not in order to supply our own food requirements, a very large quantity of cocoa has been imported into this country—much larger, the Committee say, than can possibly be absorbed by human consumption. They ask the Ministry of Food—and this no doubt is a matter for scientific advice—whether something cannot be done with this cocoa in order to prevent it being wasted and to enable it to be utilised either by human beings or by animals. For instance, they suggest an increased allocation of sugar for chocolate making. I believe that has already been done. They go on to suggest also the possibility of utilising cocoa for the extraction of cocoa butter, using the residue for cattle cake. It is perfectly evident from the announced policy of the Ministry of Agriculture that they fear that there is not going to be an adequate supply of concentrated foodstuffs for certain of our farm livestock, particularly pigs and poultry. If it is possible to extract cocoa butter from the surplus supplies of cocoa and use the residue, as 627 in the case of oil production, for cattle cake, surely it must be to the advantage of food producers in this country.
There is nothing in this Report which I welcome with more genuine enthusiasm than the setting up of this new scientific and economic Committee. I may say in passing—I think the present Minister of Food is aware of the fact—that for the last six months I have been pressing myself the very point which the noble Viscount emphasized, that it is not desirable to have our eminent scientists disagreeing through the public Press as to what is the nutrient value of certain foods or what are the best foods to produce in existing circumstances. To see people like Sir Daniel Hall, lately the very eminent scientific adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture, criticising in print the policy of the Ministry, and to see others differing from some of our great nutrition experts such as Sir John Orr, is, to say the least, not very edifying. I wrote some six months ago to the late Prime Minister urging him to do all in his power to set up some such Committee as this and telling him incidentally that, although my hair is now grey, if I could be of the smallest use, having presided over various scientific Committees and Conferences in the past, I should be only too glad to take part in the work. A Committee has now been set up, and I want to ask the Minister of Food whether and to what extent this Committee is advising on the matters to which the noble Viscount has referred, and if it is possible to tell us, on one particular subject at any rate, what is the nature of that advice—that is, the preference to be given as between different farm animals in regard to imported concentrated foodstuffs.
I cannot help expressing some regret, in the light of my experience during the most critical period of the last war, that the services of Sir William Beveridge have not been made use of at the Food Ministry in some capacity. During that very acute period in 1917–18 Sir William Beveridge was Chief of the Staff at the Ministry of Food, and his work, not only as a man of great economic capacity but also as a man who was in sympathetic contact with the farming community, was simply invaluable. Since that period he has been 628 the Director of the London School of Economics and at the present time he is Master of University College, Oxford. I have reason to know that he would be only too glad to undertake a war-time task of more importance than supervising a somewhat attenuated Oxford College.
Some suggestions are made in this Report in regard to sugar. I was glad to hear the noble Earl on the Front Opposition Bench refer to the relatively considerable rise in the price of sugar. Sugar is a most important commodity so far as the young are concerned. I was what was called Sugar Controller in 1917–18 and we had the unfortunate experience of two sinkings of large sugar-conveying ships in a fortnight. I suppose it is not improper now to mention that we then thought we were within a fortnight of a sugar famine. The main outcry at that time was by mothers on behalf of the children. If there is the smallest danger of a shortage of sugar I would suggest with all respect to those in authority that some extra stimulus should be given to the production of sugar-beet in this country. May I say incidentally how delighted I am to see my noble friend Lord Moyne sitting once more on the Front Government Bench? I had the privilege of working with him at the Ministry of Agriculture and I can truly say, if he will allow me to do so, that I have never worked with anyone more efficient in a Government Department. We are told that a certain amount of sugar is still in use to make boiled sweets and icing for cakes. Without ruining all the small people who are selling these boiled sweets—it would be almost worth while to give them compensation—without too much consideration for this large number of vendors of boiled sweets, can we not divert some of the sugar employed in that way to more useful and essential purposes without cutting down the ration of sugar to too serious an extent?
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
A more useful purpose would certainly be rendering it available for children in their milk puddings and other food. As to iced cakes, I should have thought we might have put a stop to the icing of cakes altogether during the war.
629 I have to admit—we all have to admit—that there must be some limitation of the amount of food which normally comes from overseas for different classes of livestock. In a schedule which was kindly furnished to me by my noble friend the Minister of Food, I find that for feeding animals in this country, what I might call the average import of feeding stuff amounts in a normal year to no less than 6,435,000 tons, employing no less than 5,270,000 tons of shipping. Quite obviously, nothing like that is available to-day. But when you look at the list of foodstuffs; maize and maize meal, wheat offals, rice meal and dust, oilseed cake and meal, oilseeds and nuts, and the large figures that are to be found against maize and maize meal, it is obvious that a very large proportion—I estimate it at something like 60 per cent.—goes to the pigs and the poultry. This is really the question to which I wish to ask both noble Lords in front of me to give me some answer.
There is a great difference of opinion among experts on whether the different categories into which the farm animals have been put for the purpose of these imported supplies is a wise order of preference. On that subject a most illuminating letter has lately appeared in The Times from Professor Halnan, of the School of Agriculture at Cambridge. In it, in effect, he says that the order of preference by the Minister is dairy cattle first—and I am sure that no one would contest the importance of putting dairy cattle first—bullocks, or what my noble friend Lord Astor calls steers, second, that is to say, feeding bovines, as well as feeding sheep. The main object of putting them second on the list is alleged to be to maintain and develop the fertility of the farmland—if I may say so, in a time of grave emergency, a very unconvincing reason. Then come as a poor third pigs, and as a very poor fourth poultry. Now Professor Halnan says this:None will question his first choice, since all will admit that not only is an ample supply of milk essential to the well-being of the nation, but also that the cow is in addition the most economic converter of feeding stuffs.Incidentally, I am rather interested to see that the Minister of Agriculture, in a message recently issued to the Small Pig-keepers' Council, describes the pig as the 630 most economical converter of feeding stuffs. I should probably be inclined myself to support in that connection the contention of the Minister of Agriculture rather than that of Professor Halnan.
But Professor Halnan says:There are, however, grounds for doubting the wisdom of his second choice, since both fat cattle and arable sheep are somewhat wasteful converters of feeding stuffs, and the reason given—that their maintenance is necessary for the maintenance of the fertility of the land—does not appear to be a valid excuse for using feeding stuffs, so badly needed by other classes of livestock, as an indirect method of applying fertilisers to the land.I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Iveagh is here. Lord Iveagh is a very good friend of our oldest agricultural research station, over which I had the honour to preside for many years—namely, Rothamsted. He provided a fund for scientific research, as a result of which it has been demonstrated that you can make farmyard manure with no great difficulty without using animal excreta at all. But however that may be, I do venture to suggest to my noble friend that, although soil fertility has unfortunately decreased in this country very materially during the last twenty-five years, it is not economical, it is not the best use to make of concentrated food to fertilise the land in time of emergency through the bodies of bovine animals. I should very much like to know what the answer to that is. I understand that that view is supported by Sir Daniel Hall, the late scientific adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, and by Mr. Norman Reed, the well-known director of the Hanna Dairy Research Institute.
I may incidentally say this, and I think it is an important point. After all, we are probably having the most bountiful hay harvest that we have known in human memory. Never has there been a liner growth of sward on our meadows; never, probably, has there been better weather for harvesting our hay. Millions of pounds' worth of good, highly nutritious animal food must result from the present hay harvest, and ought materially to alter the estimate of concentrated food that will be required during the coming autumn and winter for feeding our bovine stock and our sheep. Pigs and poultry cannot feed on hay, whereas cattle can. Therefore, if there is any question as to allowing a reasonable 631 proportion of the imported concentrates for pigs and poultry, do give them a better chance than they are likely to get under the present Government scheme, and do not overfeed the beef cattle, but leave them to the large supplies of food which our meadows and pastures are likely this year to provide.
Professor Halnan, as my noble friend no doubt noticed, drew attention to the different categories in which animals were scheduled for this purpose during the last war. He points out that in the worst period of the war the allocations of concentrated food were:Horses kept for agricultural purposes, 10 lb. a head per day; milch cows"—which, curiously enough, were put second on the list—4 lb. a head per day until April, none thereafter until the beginning of August, when an allowance of 2 lb. a head per day was contemplated; calves, a total quantity of ½cwt.; young growing bulls, 3 lb. a head per day until the grass comes; fattening cattle, none; breeding ewes, 14 lb. altogether; lambs and fattening sheep, none; breeding sows, a total of 4 cwt. of meal, with a further allowance of 1 cwt. for each young pig; fattening pigs, none; laying hens, 1 oz. a head per day, with a limited but unspecified allowance for growing-chickens.I will leave it at that, but I should very much like to know whether the new scientific Committee has advised that the order of preference in the matter of imported food is really wise and truly economic.
My noble friend opposite particularly asked the two Government Departments to give guidance. I am bound to say that in my opinion a good deal of guidance is very badly wanted, particularly in the matter of showing the smaller producers—the small farmers, the smallholders, the allotment holders and the cottage gardeners, many of whom are now being asked by the Minister of Agriculture to keep a pig—what are suitable substitutes for the imported food that is no longer available. There is one source of supply which requires a considerable amount of organisation, but which is a very valuable source of supply of food for animals. I refer to the military camps which are scattered up and down the country and which are increasing in number, and from which a very large amount of good, edible food has to be hastily removed for health reasons, because flies collect about it and so on. This would provide an 632 excellent source of food for pigs and poultry if only organisation was available so that it might be used, and to enable it to be transported to those places where the best use can be made of it. As a matter of fact, I am taking part in a scheme whereby this food is going to be employed in feeding pigs in my own county. I am told by those who are utilizing it that they have never had more valuable pig-food on their premises than this camp waste which is available at the present time.
But why stop at the camps? Throughout England to-day there is an enormous amount of waste food being thrown out of the back-doors of houses, and in certain parts of the country, and notably in Tottenham, under the direction of that very enterprising Member of Parliament, Mr. R. C. Morrison, there is not only a scheme for collecting very efficiently all this waste food from the various houses, separating out the inedible part and selling a large proportion of the remainder to farmers outside London, but they are actually keeping pigs themselves on municipal lines and feeding a large part of this waste food to their own municipal pigs. I do not say that that can be done everywhere, but I do suggest that all urban district councils as well as municipal authorities should be urged to organise the collection of this waste domestic food for the better feeding of the pigs and poultry of this country. It requires a drive from the centre. I made an appeal the other day on behalf of what we call the Gloucestershire Home Food Production Society, which has been set up during the war in order to help small-scale food producers. I made an appeal to the City Council of Gloucester, and they are going to see what they can do. I felt all the time, however, that if only there was a drive from the centre, with some help in the matter of organisation, a large amount of this waste food, not merely in large cities but in small urban areas, could be rendered available for the feeding of both pigs and poultry.
I see in an announcement made, I think, this morning, that the women's institutes are having allotted to them the special task of encouraging allotments. I wish them all success. No one has a higher opinion of the women's institute movement than I have; but I cannot help thinking that if in the smaller urban districts, where there are industrial workers 633 normally employed upon allotments, the urban district council was allotted the task of organising the collection of potential pig foods, it would be of very great advantage to many of those who are doubtful to-day as to whether, in spite of the Government's appeal, they ought to keep a pig. I notice that the Minister of Agriculture in a message issued only, I think, a fortnight ago to the Small Pig-Keepers' Council, said quite definitely:A little time ago my predecessor appealed for a further 500,000 allotments. To that appeal there has been a most encouraging response.Incidentally I may say that we ought not to be content with 500,000 allotments; we ought to be content with nothing less than a million allotments, which would approximate more nearly to the number of allotments in cultivation during the last war. I hope that my noble friend opposite will not under-estimate the potentialities of the allotment movement. Nothing was more encouraging in the later stages of the last war than the large and increasing amount of food which was won from the allotments of this country, particularly, by the way, on the outskirts of London. Although it was rather difficult to make an estimate, we estimated that something like one-fifth of the augmented food supply of the country was in fact coming from allotments and cottage gardens.
The Minister of Agriculture, in the message to which I have referred, went on:I want now to suggest another way in which those with allotments and small holdings or even suitable gardens can help to produce more of the food we need. I ask you, if you can, to keep a pig. If you already have a pig, then perhaps you can keep two—and encourage your friends to follow your good example. Remember, the pig is the most efficient machine we have for converting waste into wholesome food. Join your local Pig Club; and if there isn't a club—well, it might be possible for you to start one. In the last war about 400 new clubs were formed. This time we must aim at many more.My comment on that is that those who are seeking to form pig clubs, including members of the women's institutes, are asking to what extent they can rely upon some modicum of cereal food being available for the pigs if the pig club is formed. They can get no very definite answer. I have communicated with the Minister of Food on this subject, however, and I am bound to say that he has—and I thank him for it—given a much more definite 634 reply than anything which we had up to about three weeks ago. If he can give some confidence to these people that if they proceed with the formation of pig clubs there will be at any rate some modicum of food available to feed the pigs, then they will take upon themselves the risk which some of them fear they would be taking by accepting the Minister's advice and forming a pig club.
I should like to ask that careful consideration should be given to the question of what particular plants it is advisable to grow in allotments and cottage gardens during the period of emergency. I notice that in an article in The Times this morning there is a heading: "Guidance on What to Sow." If we had only had guidance on what to sow about five months ago we should be in a much better position to provide the food that is wanted from these small areas of cultivable land than we are in to-day, but better late than never. What I do want to say, however, in this connection is this. Whereas during the last war we put a great premium upon potatoes, as the chief source of starchy food, energy-producing food, and an almost equally great emphasis upon peas and beans and other leguminous crops, as a great source of proteins, or muscle-forming foods, now the policy—no doubt in the light of high medical authority—has very materially altered. If you look at the model plan of a "Dig for victory" garden as issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, you will find that a very large proportion of that garden is to be given to what are called brassicae—namely, cabbages, brussels sprouts, and the like, which contain over ninety per cent. of water and are very perishable, in preference apparently to those leguminous crops which of course form a very much more valuable substitute for meat.
I am told in answer to my criticism on that subject that it is thought by the medical authorities that those plants of the cabbage tribe are valuable as providing vitamins and minerals, and thereby as ensuring what may be called the optimum health of the community. I cannot help feeling that, though under normal conditions we may do all in our power to provide for an optimum condition of health, particularly among the poorer classes, there is something even more important than that, and that is to do all in our power from our own indi- 635 vidual resources to save ourselves and our neighbours from possible starvation; in other words that we should provide what is essential to the maintenance of energy and flesh production, rather than in a time of emergency put a premium even upon the vitamins and the minerals which are deemed advisable for an optimum condition of health. At any rate I submit that suggestion for what it may be worth.
But, having said all this, I want to make it perfectly clear to my noble friends that I have no doubt whatever as to their competence and their determination to make the food position better than it has been in the past, and I venture to hope—what I am afraid was at times a defect in the administration in the last war—that the two Ministries of Agriculture and Food will work in the closest possible co-operation and co-ordination together and, above all, will give the farmers of this country every possible encouragement to produce what the nation wants, indicating, as the noble Viscount opposite said, in the clearest possible way what is expected of them, helping them with guidance and, as he said, if possible also with inducements, to provide what the nation requires in this time of grave emergency. I am sure that any appeal to them will be met with a welcome and patriotic enthusiasm which the farming community in this country has always shown in times of grave emergency.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount opposite and to the noble Lords who have followed him for what has, to me at any rate, been a most instructive debate, and surely it is the right thing that a new Minister should come to your Lordships' House for instruction rather than that he should give instruction. The ground that has been covered is indeed very extensive, and if I were to cover the whole of it in reply I am afraid that we should be sitting a good deal later than I think most of us want to sit. I hope therefore that your Lordships will not feel that there is any discourtesy on my part if I do not deal with all that has been said.
I think the first thing that your Lordships will expect me as the Minister of Food to give to you is a clear statement of the policy on which the Ministry is being run. In the first place it is to 636 secure that we should have in this country sufficient food, either from overseas or from home production; secondly, to secure that the food produced or imported should be suitable food for the very high strain under which the population lives in war. I do welcome Lord Astor's views on that subject, because quite clearly in a period when we are asking people to work very hard we must recognise that there will be both physical and mental strain, and we must provide the foods that are suitable to meet that condition. Then the third thing that we have to do is to secure that where demand is very near to supply there should be an equitable distribution of such foods as are available. Fourthly—and noble Lords opposite will know how sincerely I share their interest in this matter—we must ensure that the prices of food shall be such as all sections of the public can pay. As I have listened to the debate I have not observed that there has been any ground of disagreement on those principles on which the Ministry is being conducted.
There has been some question in your Lordships' minds as to whether the various Government Departments which are concerned one way or another with these problems are working together. I can assure your Lordships on that subject. There is the closest possible co-operation between the officials, but in addition to that there is a Food Policy Committee presided over by the Lord Privy Seal, and an Economic Committee presided over by the Minister without Portfolio. On those two Committees the whole of these various Departments come together and we are working in very close cooperation and, I am glad to say, in agreement. Your Lordships may quite reasonably be concerned with the problem of agriculture as a prime problem in food production. You need have no doubt on the subject as to whether the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture are working in the closest possible co-operation—I was on the verge of saying in the closest possible harmony, but since I am the representative of the buyer and he of the seller there are occasions when his views on prices and mine do not quite agree. But we have no variety of views on the subject of production.
I wish that I were capable of replying fully to the various agricultural points that have been raised. Your Lordships' House is well known as being expert on 637 agricultural questions. I should not have the temerity to address you on that subject with my noble friend Lord Moyne sitting behind me. I can assure your Lordships that the points that you have raised will be conveyed, I am sure by him and by us jointly, to the Minister of Agriculture. I have noted with great care, and naturally with great respect, the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, who has been good enough to help me since I came into office with much very valuable advice. I will see, too, that those views are conveyed to the Minister of Agriculture.
If I may detain your Lordships long enough I should like to give you something of a picture of what this Ministry of Food is trying to do, and the extent of it. Your Lordships have been very good this afternoon in that there has been very little adverse criticism coming from you. I am sure that there must be room for criticism. When you realise that this Ministry of Food, which was born but a few months ago, is in fact an enormous business, that it has a turnover of £600,000,000 per annum, a staff of 23,000 people, and that it is divided into seventeen main divisions and 1,500 subdivisions—that gives your Lordships some idea of the enormous enterprise which has been created in these very few months. The staff of the Ministry is an extraordinary combination. My predecessor succeeded in gathering round him men of great national repute, in addition to civil servants. These men have come in, many of them heads of businesses, prepared to come in as war-workers and take comparatively minor positions in the office. Here in London and in the provinces I have been to see this staff at work, and I want to take the opportunity publicly of expressing to them my gratitude, and an assurance that the nation appreciates the zeal and capacity with which they are working and making this great machine work.
I have been asked by Lord Listowel whether I will override trade obstructionists if I come across them. It is but recently I came from that world, and I know something about the methods of traders. I am glad to say that I find no occasion for overriding. The food trades of this country are very well organised. In peace time they have succeeded in giving a most effective service to the public of this country. They are 638 organised in their local associations and in their national associations, and it is indeed true that if anyone in the Ministry wants to know the opinion of a trade, or the practice of a trade, in any particular, he can get that information at very short notice. The trades have been most helpful. They have suffered curtailment, they have suffered control—these trades that in peace time are fiercely individualistic and competitive—and, worst of all, they have been forced to fill up innumerable returns in order that somebody else besides themselves might know what stocks they have. That has been the only thing to which they have objected. I do not think I need contemplate having to take strong measures with these traders. I have sought, ever since I came into office, to work Government control through the normal channels of business—adjusting, adapting, and limiting both freedom and profits, but in such a manner that when the war is over, when we go back to ordinary commercial life, then these trades will be left unharmed as the result of their association with the Government and, I venture to hope, improved by it.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, has referred at length to the Report, which we call the Schuster Report, of the Committee on National Expenditure. There is very grave danger in Committees investigating Departments deciding that it may not be in the public interest to have this or that person in office in the Ministry because he has great financial interests outside. We have called together in the Ministry of Food the most competent men in the various trades with which we are dealing. They are men of very high commercial reputation. They have come in, in order that they may serve their country in war time. We should be vastly poorer if they were not there. If they are to be subject to the criticism that they are now using their positions in order that they may subsequently obtain commercial advantage, we are rendering them a poor return for the great service they are doing. I can assure your Lordships that, for my part, and I am sure for their part, a position would not for one moment be tolerated in which the trades themselves determined the margins on which they should operate. That is in their interests just as much as in ours, and I can assure your Lordships I shall take very great care on that point. I noted two other suggestions of the noble Viscount. One, 639 which arose out of the Departmental Committee, was that I should set up a tribunal controlling these various questions of margins and profits and so on. The noble Viscount said that in the last war the Minister of Food was called the Food Controller, and that he controlled his Department. I am endeavouring to control my Department.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I did not for one moment take it that way. I do not want to set up any unnecessary number of Committees. There are so many, they take up so much time of so many competent people and officials that I have not taken that advice that was given in the House of Commons Report. Neither have I taken the advice to form a Committee to consider the reorganisation of the distributing trades. We are in the middle of a war. We have not the time now to consider reorganisation of trades. That is a thing I should like to leave until we have won the war.
The next point on which your Lordships will want a reply, and which was raised by Lord Listowel, was how are supplies secured, and have we got enough? We are the sole importers of 85 to 90 per cent. of the foodstuffs that come into this country. Control ensured that, according to our capacity to buy in foreign markets and to obtain shipping, we should secure what we wanted. I wonder whether I have an opportunity here of satisfying the noble Earl. We have known what we wanted. If we are controlling 85 per cent. of the goods that come into this country, and if, in fact, the country is being adequately and properly fed, then there is some evidence that we have known what we wanted.
We have been accused—not by the noble Earl—of not having a plan. We have a plan for imports, and that has been the responsibility of the Ministry I control. We have brought in food on an import programme that has been deliberately built up on food values, and when I tell your Lordships that our imports of food are down by 12 per cent., but that our imports of calories are only down by 1 per cent., then it does indicate that we have been considering 640 the scientific and nutritive question which is involved. We have taken this control of imports in order that we could secure what we wanted. We did not want strawberries; we did want more meat because we had the Forces to feed. We wanted to avoid competitive buying abroad, which would only have put up the prices here. We have to avoid the competitive buying of freight. In order to make these imports we have not set up an organisation of our own. We have called all the importers together and asked them to accept service under the Crown. We have used the normal channels of trade. I wish I could tell your Lordships the extent of some of the deals which have been undertaken by these trades—deals of such magnitude that in years to come those who have carried them through will tell their children what wonderful things they bought without anybody knowing they were buying them on behalf of His Majesty's Government during war-time. We have waited until the market was ready to sell, then, quietly, without anyone knowing the purchases were being made on behalf of His Majesty's Government, we have taken advantage of the buyers' market and obtained goods. We have by that means saved many millions of pounds for the Treasury.
I wish I could tell your Lordships what the stocks were. I did indeed in my inexperience propose to do so, but I was advised it was not the sort of thing that I ought to make public. Will your Lordships accept my assurance that the stocks are adequate? They vary. There are some stocks, and those the most important, in regard to which I can look forward to weeks and weeks of supply if nothing else comes into this country. Indeed most of the essential foodstuffs are covered in that manner. We are not equally covered for everything, but all the essential things are there, and it is, I can assure you, our constant care to see that stocks are kept as high as possible. But it is not only stocks that matter. It is no use having food if it is in the wrong places. The best place for food stocks is in the shops of the various retailers all over the country, because by that means you get the best spread. I have done all I could to encourage the retailers, according to their financial capacity, to fill up their shops. The next best place is in the warehouses that are adjacent to the small centres of population, and then in the 641 warehouses that are associated with large centres of population. The worst place for stocks to be is near docks, and I am happy to tell your Lordships that, entirety as a result of voluntary action on the part of the food trades, we are at the present time in the position of having our docks clearer than I think they have been for a very long time.
We spread our food all over the country. Always in my mind there has been the possibility of emergency, the possibility of the disruption of communications, and I think your Lordships might like me to spend a few moments in telling you how I have tried to meet that problem. I told you we had seventeen different areas in this country, each with a highly competent officer in charge. In the event of a breakdown in communication he takes complete control. He does not have to refer to London for instructions, but gives; his own instructions. He is trained to use every possible initiative. He is competent, because of the returns that have been sent to me, to know just what foodstuffs there are in the counties over which he rules, and he has the power to move foodstuffs from one place to another if he desires to do so. During the course of the last month there has probably been a greater movement of foodstuffs in this country than has ever been witnessed before. By that means we have, I hope, secured the spread. But I have told everyone of the seventeen divisional officers and 1,500 local officers, and I have told all the traders, that in the last resort they are to use their own initiative and their own discretion, resorting to such Government instructions as they have merely to act as guides to them. That, I hope, will deal with the problem of the civilian population staying in their own homes wherever they are and whatever may happen.
When your Lordships raise the question whether we have done anything for the people who are evacuated, I would point out that there we have two different problems. We have, up and down the country, and in places which I hope we have been able to keep secret, iron rations of food to be used only in case of great emergency. In addition to that we have prepared in all the areas round about the large vulnerable centres of population in this country other rations which will be used in the event of a crisis evacuation.
642 Before I conclude I feel I must say something on the problems of rationing and prices. Your Lordships have observed that we have not rationed very many articles of food. We only introduced rationing where the supplies were short, or, alternatively, where they were vulnerable. For example, in the case of sugar, we have done it out of sheer necessity. In the case of meat, we have done it as a precautionary measure. The system is easily capable of expansion. I believe that without straining the organisation I shall be able, if necessary, to undertake the rationing of half a dozen other commodities at very short notice. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, pointed out the importance of having food at prices the people can afford to pay. Well, my Lords, pre-war standards are not now the guide to defining that section of the population that cannot afford to pay. Many people who were in poverty before the war have, as a result of obtaining work and higher wages, no difficulty in buying the food they need, but many others, people who were considered to be quite reasonably and comfortably off, have gone into the other class. The problem has become more difficult and more diffuse.
The action that we have taken in regard to prices is this. For milk, for bread (through the operation of flour) for meat and for bacon, we have said: "These things are so important that we have to ask the Treasury to come to our help in keeping the prices down." The average increase in prices in respect of these commodities has been only 8 per cent. Without subsidies the price would have risen 30 per cent. For other things such as sugar, currants, sultanas, raisins, eggs, cheese, condensed milk, potatoes and butter we have fixed a maximum price. The increase in price here has been 19 per cent., but I must point out to your Lordships that that 19 per cent. as very heavily weighted by the fact that sugar has been increased by 49 per cent., and that the increase in the price of sugar is due to the needs of His Majesty's Treasury. Taxation has caused that price to rise. Uncontrolled foods have risen in price by about 40 per cent. I have been endeavouring since I took office to apply the vast sums of money—some £60,000,000—which His Majesty's Treasury has spent on subsidised foods in such a manner as to secure that sub- 643 sidies shall go to people who most need them. You and I have been benefiting by getting milk at a lower price than should have been paid. There has been one price for milk and many people have not been able to afford to pay it. I have, as I remarked to you a week ago, now arranged that that subsidy on milk shall be so arranged that it goes to the people who most need it, and the rest of the community will pay the ordinary economic price for their milk. That appears to me to be the proper way to use Treasury money.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I am afraid, takes an elaborate view of the dietary of the working man and the poorest people before the war. He feels aggrieved that the price of butter has gone up. But many of the poor never had batter before the war. They had margarine, and except perhaps in the matter of personal taste I am informed that one is now as useful a food as the other. The noble Earl raised a problem of very great difficulty when he told us how many people before the war, according to Sir John Orr's book, were living in poverty. That is a very grave problem. I am constantly being urged to use my powers to try to solve it. Surely I must go cautiously. My prime duty is to secure foodstuffs at prices that people can afford to pay. If I do that, then I think I shall have fulfilled all that it is right that I should attempt to do in the matter of social reform. There are other Ministers of the Crown who are concerned, and I feel, as I say, that I am doing my best by doing the specific job with which I am charged and not trying to take on the reorganisation both of trade and industry and the elimination of poverty. But I would like to tell the noble Earl how I have tried to deal with the problem of the poorest.
In the first place it has been obviously by State help. In the second place I have gone to the traders—and let us remember that the food traders of this country have kept the poor alive in the past. In spite of their poverty they have always been able to obtain, if not sufficient food, at any rate considerable quantities of food and I put the problem precisely like that to the food traders. I said to them: "These people were your clients before the war, and they will 644 be your clients if they are alive after the war. I therefore suggest to you that during the period of the war it is an obligation on the trade to see that it provides goods at prices these people can afford to pay. "And they have risen to this appeal. The traders of the country have immediately recognised their patriotic obligation. The bread people came to me to ask for an increase in price, but after a conversation of that nature, they withdrew their request and said they would not ask for an increase in price for the time being, although they had increased costs as justification for an increase in price. The milk people who came to ask for an increase in price, first at my request made the concession that they would distribute milk to nursing mothers and children under five with no profit to themselves. That at any rate was a gesture.
The food manufacturers in this country have decided, large numbers of them, that they will be prepared to produce foods without any profit to themselves for some proportion of their production if the food can be distributed to the poorer section of the population without undue extra charges. The retailers of the country are now meeting my staff and discussing these things. I am trying by using normal trade channels and the normal pre-war practices of the trade to secure that the poorest classes shall be cared for during war-time. If I cannot get that result through the trade channels then you have given me all the powers that I need to get them in other ways, and I shall not hesitate to use those powers.
I must just say a few words on the subject of food education. Several of your Lordships have referred to the importance of the public being told what foods they ought to eat and how they ought to cook them. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that during the last few months we have conducted a campaign in this country on the nutritive value of foods such as we have never seen before. The Board of Education has taken up the matter very widely, local authorities have helped, voluntary and commercial organisations have placed their resources at our disposal and have lent us their teachers, there have been innumerable articles in the Press and day by day, usually once or twice a day, there are talks on the wireless which, to judge from my mail 645 bag, are very popular indeed, telling people how best they can use their foods. This idea of the "Kitchen Front" has appealed to the women of this country. They feel they are doing a job, as indeed they are, of very great importance.
Now, my Lords, you ask me whether we are using the scientists. If it is any comfort to you to know it I may tell you that the first question I asked when I took office was "Where is my scientific adviser?" I had the advantage in my early days of some scientific training and I know how valuable it can be, but, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, pointed out, the trouble about scientists is that they find it so difficult to agree with one another! All I can do is to listen to the advice of the scientists and then, having listened to it, make up my own mind. Your Lordships are also concerned about the question whether it is necessary to create in this war a Food Production Department such as existed and did such wonderful work in the last war. I am sure that I need not emphasize the danger of assuming that the best way to conduct this war is to duplicate the conditions of the last war. An organisation which was necessary then need not be necessary now. The truth is that the Ministry of Agriculture is the Food Production Department of this country. That really is its job, and I do not think that there is any necessity to create another Department to do the job of the Ministry of Agriculture. Your Lordships know that the Minister of Agriculture has the fullest scientific advice. He has a most competent staff to give him all the advice that he can take. As Lord Astor so wisely said, if you want to get the right things produced you have to pay for them. We have this new Scientific Committee, appointed by the Lord Privy Seal with the most cordial support of the Minister of Agriculture and myself, to advise us on the scientific side of food production. That Committee is meeting; the first thing upon which it is engaged is what it calls the iron ration, and it is advising us on that. It is meeting frequently, and I have very great hopes of the advice that we shall get from it. But when it comes to putting that advice into practice, that is the business of the Minister of Agriculture and myself.
The farmers are perfectly willing to produce anything that we want in this country if we will pay them for it, and accord- 646 ing to the measure in which we want it we pay. The Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food are working so well together and in such close co-operation that I believe that if we were to form another Department to deal with this problem of food production, it would indeed only be a question of duplicating offices. Your Lordships have asked me many questions concerning practical agriculture with which I have not dealt. I can tell you this on the subject of tractors: that sixteen thousand have been delivered this year, and that in the corresponding period a year ago only four thousand were delivered. I can tell you that the Minister of Agriculture is taking most careful note of the importance of virus-free seed potatoes, and that they have not as many as they wish they had; if they had more, then more could have been sold. The subject of fertilizers is under the control of the Ministry of Supply. It is, I can assure you, occupying attention, and I think the position is satisfactory to the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Supply.
There is no reason why I should detain your Lordships longer. I hope that what I have said to you has not indicated that I feel any self-satisfaction in the Ministry of Food. Indeed, I have been there for such a short time that there is no reason why the fact that I find things satisfactory should be regarded as a sign of self-complacency in me. It is for my predecessor and for the men who have built up the Ministry to be congratulated. With markets lost, with crops failing, with populations moving, with the danger of our factories and our stores being bombed, there is no danger of our resting on our laurels. We are grateful that up to now we have been able to feed the people of this country with the minimum of inconvenience to them. Always a substitute has been readily available: if butter has been short, margarine has been plentiful. The solitary exception is sugar; and really it was not my fault that we should have, I suppose, the best fruit harvest that we have had for a very long time concurrently with the failure of the sugar crop in the West Indies.
I can assure your Lordships that I welcome most cordially the suggestion which Viscount Bledisloe has made: that outside this Chamber I should meet members of this House. I should be glad at all times to meet them; I should be indeed grateful 647 to them for their advice, as I have been to-day. I hope that I have not detained your Lordships unduly.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, I want to say a word of apology. I think that all of us who have listened to the noble Lord will have been comforted. I am sure I have seldom had the pleasure of listening to a statement which showed a clearer grasp of a series of very complex problems, and which gave one a better assurance that policy was being directed by the Minister. I have only two observations to make, except to express my hearty concurrence with one statement the Minister made. That was that he demurred at the creation of a special Food Production Department and said it was the business of the Ministry of Agriculture to be the Food Department. I should like to express my hearty agreement. I should say that if the Ministry of Agriculture is not an effective Food Production Department, then it has failed in its first purpose. Therefore I see no reason for duplicating it.
There are two matters which I ask the Minister to think of a little further. One is that of milk. I think that the scheme which he has put up, and of which he very kindly provided me with a draft in advance, for the provision of milk for women and young children and for poorer persons is wholly admirable. I only hope that he will find that its administration will work fairly smoothly. I know he does not expect the impossible; but the ascertainment of the needs of the families of those who will be entitled to obtain the milk at a cheaper rate is a prodigiously difficult problem. It will not be fair to be too critical for some time to come. I hope, however, that he will not rest satisfied with what he calls the "economic" price of the rest of the milk. It will not do. I should not like to leave it to find its own level, if that is what is meant. The present price of milk—I am not going into details now; it is too late—and the price for many years past have been a shocking illustration, in my opinion, of excessive distribution charges. For some years past milk has been a commodity in which the increase of price for distribution has been nearly 100 per cent. of what the farmer has received for his milk. I cannot accept the idea that this has ever been 648 justified, and I find that every Government Commission and other body which has examined this question—and I have a long list of them here—has condemned the retail price of milk as being too high.
The Minister of Food said last week, I believe, that he had set on foot an inquiry into the retail price of milk and that he was going to allow a trial period of three months; at all events he said that he was having an inquiry. All I have to say on that is that it will rejoice my heart if at long last, after many years of protests by a series of Government Committees, who have said with complete unanimity that the distribution cost of milk should be reduced, the Minister of Food succeeds in doing it. I am not criticising the Minister; I am urging him to get on with the good work. I hope that he will have a firm hand, and that he will not leave it to the free finding, so to speak, of some price which is called economic. He must be firm in this matter, because the price has been far too high for multitudes of buyers for many years past.
There is one other point of policy which I should like him to reconsider, and that is the decision, which I suppose that he and the Minister of Agriculture arrived at in conjunction, to put food for poultry at the bottom of the list so far as imported supplies are concerned. I question the soundness of that. I think that all scientists agree that eggs form one of the most important articles of diet, especially for children and adolescents, and they say that more of them ought to be consumed. Owing to the exigencies of the war, however, we have lost all the nearby sources of production, and we are left in the position that the big suppliers of eggs are now to be found many thousands of miles away. It is a long way to New Zealand, which is one of our other big suppliers. The Scandinavian sources of supply are now completely cut off. Yet at the same time the Ministry suggests a policy which will necessarily curtail the home production of eggs. I think that that is wrong and should be reviewed. The bulk occupied by feeding-stuffs imported for poultry is not, I should think, large as compared with that of feeding-stuffs imported for other animals, but, as I have said, the value of the egg as an article of diet is immense. At a time when, owing to the war, we have to obtain our 649 imported supplies of eggs from the other side of the earth—because that is what it amounts to—I do not think that we should have a policy in regard to the importation of feeding-stuffs which necessarily limits the production of eggs here at home. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give the matter further consideration. Apart from that, I should like to express my unbounded pleasure at hearing the statement which the Minister has made.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I feel sure that you will agree that this debate to-day has served a very useful purpose. Perhaps I may be allowed to remove one misapprehension. I have not advocated a separate Ministry of Food Production. There was no separate Ministry of Food Production in the last war; there was a section of the Ministry of Agriculture under a Director-General of Food Production, who was allowed considerable latitude and was able to carry out on his own initiative a number of special schemes. Whether that would be the best thing to do now, or whether the Ministry of Agriculture at present is adequately organised for that special purpose without an internal Department of Food Production specifically devoted to that object, is a matter which can be judged only by those who are closely acquainted with the internal working of the Ministry. For the rest, the public at large must judge by results. If the present organisation of the Ministry produces the results that are needed in the shape of adequate attention to all the special aspects of food production, well and good; if not, then the 650 decision arrived at not to create a special section of food production may be judged to have been erroneous. We must wait and see the consequences.
As for the speech by the Minister of Food to which we have just had the privilege of listening, it is a speech that I feel all of us will agree has been full, comprehensive and satisfying, like a good dietary! The statement which he has made will increase the confidence of the nation in the Minister who is charged with an interest vital to us all. I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.