HL Deb 06 November 1940 vol 117 cc609-24

LORD ADDISON rose to ask His Majesty's Government what action they propose to take on the Report of Lord Perry's Committee to the Minister of Food on the prices of milk; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure that every one of us will experience regret that owing to sickness Lord Woolton is not able to be present to-day. He appeared to be in quite good form yesterday, and was looking forward, as he told me, with interest to this discussion. However I have had a letter from him to say he is unfortunately in bed with a high temperature. We all hope he will soon be restored. The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, has told me that on the whole it is desirable that the discussion upon this subject should take place, and I understand he is prepared to reply for Lord Woolton.

I need not apologise to your Lordships for this Motion. Although it concerns a very homely topic it is of first class importance. It concerns the health of millions of children. As we all know, statistics undoubtedly show that vast numbers of our children do not get anything like enough milk, and that those who get more milk are immensely better in health in consequence. The biggest obstacle to the increased consumption of milk for a long time past in this country has been its high price, so that working people, if they are to do what the experts say they ought to do—namely, give each child the equivalent of a pint of milk a day—and if there are three or four children, are saddled with an expense on milk alone which they are quite unable to meet. The result has been that the Minister of Food in July last proposed a scheme which would subsidise milk and would enable children under five years of age to have milk at twopence a pint, whereas the ordinary retail price is four-pence a pint. I should be very interested if the noble Lord can tell us how that experiment is going on, because it is of the utmost consequence that, if possible, it should be a success. So far as I have heard the intimations are very favourable, but I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us the position.

The Minister of Food has been faced with a question with which many others of us who have had similar positions in times past have been faced—namely, the obstacle to the increased consumption of milk which is presented by its high retail price. The fact is that for many years for one reason or another it has cost a shilling, or round about a shilling, to distribute a gallon of milk, and for a long time the cost was practically doubled between what the farmer got who had all the risk of labour involved in producing it, and what those got who received the milk and distributed it to our people. Well, it is a grotesque inequality of service. All the labour and risk of rearing the animals and looking after them for years, feeding them and so forth, brought in round about a shilling a gallon until late years when it has been increased somewhat, and now we find ourselves confronted with the fact that milk doubled in price in some strange way after the farmer parted with it and it got to our doors.

The result has been that Lord Woolton decided to appoint a Committee of a highly responsible kind to inquire into this problem, and I would like the House to recall the membership of that Committee. My noble friend opposite, Lord Perry, was the Chairman and we all know his public service. It was my privilege to meet him first during the last war at the Ministry of Munitions where he rendered distinguished help. He has been the chief business adviser of the Ministry of Food, and, as everybody knows, he has been head of the great firm of Ford, and lots of other things which I will not embarrass him by reciting. He was assisted by Sir Alan Anderson, who is a Director of the Bank of England and an important man in the shipping world, by Mr. J. W. Bowen, who was formerly Secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers, Sir Francis Floud, who for many years was high in the Civil Service, Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and, later on, High Commissioner in Canada, and then, as great distributors, there were Mr. A. G. Short, who is the Managing Director of Messrs. Thomas Wall & Company, which most of us know best I think by seeing the barrows on the street which exhort us to "Stop me and buy one" (but a great distributing business is concerned with it), and, finally, the Managing Director of Messrs. Woolworths, Mr. W. L. Stephenson, one of the biggest distributing concerns, I should say, in the world. These were the six persons who composed the Committee.

I am sure that everyone will agree with me when I say that it would be difficult to bring together a group of people combining a greater amount of business experience than these people represent. Their terms of reference were to investigate the present costs of distributing milk in Great Britain (i.e., the difference between the payment received by the producer and the charge to the consumer) and to advise what steps would have to be taken in order to bring about a substantial reduction in such costs. I may say that these gentlemen were not the first to inquire into this subject. As a matter of fact we have had a succession of official inquiries for years and they have all arrived at the same conclusion. There was the Reorganisation Commission in 1933. They said that the costs of distribution were unnecessarily costly. There was another Report of the Commission known as the Cutforth Commission in 1936. They came to the same conclusion. They said they were satisfied that the cost "could be greatly reduced if the trade were reorganised on a more efficient basis." Then there was the Linlithgow Committee which came to the same conclusion in 1936. There was a Report by the Food Council to the president of the Board of Trade in 1937 which came to an identical conclusion.

In view of this consensus of highly authoritative opinion, the marvel is that nothing has happened. The strange thing is that it is necessary for the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, to make another inquiry. He has had another inquiry and the results are before your Lordships. So far as general conclusions are concerned they are identical with those that went before. I hope that so far as your Lordships have time you will look at this Report. For my part I have never read a Report to a Government Department which is more succinct, more businesslike and more deadly than this. Therefore one is fully warranted in drawing attention to it. Varied reasons are given for the high cost of the distribution of milk and they were examined with meticulous care by the Committee whose Report is before you. One of the reasons given for the high cost of distribution is that milk roundsmen go round and sell groceries. Another is that they distribute milk very often; and many other reasons are given, some of them quite good, for the service being an expensive one. Nevertheless, the Committee say that when they have examined all these causes alleged for the high cost of distribution, none of them explain why the cost of distributing a gallon of milk should vary between 6d. and 1s.—that is, a difference of 100 per cent.—for distributing the same thing.

They contrast the high charge with the experience of some of the co-operative societies. I do not know how many members of your Lordships' House were born north of the Tweed, but those who were may well be proud of the record of the Scottish societies as set out in this Report. It appears that a few years ago the co-operative societies distributed only about 2½ per cent, of the milk of the people and that now it has risen to nearly one-fourth, and in Scotland one-third. It is quite clear, therefore, that for some reason or other the service of these societies is increasingly popular. We have given to us here the records of some of the Scottish societies. The Aberdeen case is really very striking. It appears that there the society supplies the milk of two-thirds of the population of the City and does it profitably at 6d. a gallon. Other examples are given, and the Committee conclude that whatever may be said for or against the services of Scottish societies it is clear that their service in milk distribution is increasingly acceptable. The real reason is that it is managed as a business in itself and is not mixed up with all sorts of other odds and ends.

The Committee conclude that the distribution of milk should be regarded as a national service. They examined the cost and on pages 10 and 11 of the Report you see the result of their examination. What it comes to is that, the Committee concludes, after a meticulous inquiry, that processing, bottling, milk wastage, containers and other charges should be dealt with on an allowance of 2½d. per gallon. Some of the big London distributors do it for an even lower charge. The next service of distribution—roundsmen's wages and other charges in that group—should cost about: 3½d. per gallon, and administrative expenses, 1d. The question of profit is very illuminatingly discussed in paragraph 35 of this Report, on page 12. There it appears that, on the basis of examinations which were previously made, a profit of one-third of a penny per gallon will provide about 7½ per cent, on the capital employed, and a profit of 4d. per gallon will provide about 100 per cent, on the capital employed; so that the Committee conclude that to allow id. per gallon for profit will permit a return of 20 per cent, on the capital employed, if it is efficiently done. In other words, the Committee suggest that a margin of 8d. per gallon should provide for all the costs of efficient distribution and for a good profit. The fact is, however, that we are paying is., and sometimes a little more. The Committee point out that any one who does it for 8d. is making a good profit.

Unfortunately, the Committee do not seem to have received much help from the distributors' organisations. In my view—and I say this as the parent of the Agricultural Marketing Act—the contract which was arranged with the farmers by the Milk Board is an improper one. When providing for the selling of the milk to the Milk Board by the farmers, there is a condition that the retail price shall be so much. In my view, in fixing the price paid to the farmer there should not be a condition that someone else shall charge a much higher price to the public. That form of contract has in fact entrenched an expensive form of distribution much more than it should have been entrenched. As a matter of fact, as it stands at present, the charge for distribution is based upon the least efficient distributor getting a living. That is really the basis of the present agreement, and the reason that no reduction is being obtained, notwithstanding this series of authoritative Reports, is that the organisation of the distributing interests is so powerful that hitherto they have prevented anything being done.

The Committee use very striking language, in view of the fact that this is a Government Report, as to the attitude of the distributors' organisations. In one place it is reported that they showed no inclination to recognise that reforms could be developed, or even that economics were possible. From paragraph 55 it appears that the long and the short of it was that in four interviews with the distributors' organisations, it seemed that nothing could be done; and the Committee conclude in paragraph 59 that The attitude of the English distributors…amounts almost to a flat denial that anything can be done, either voluntarily or under compulsion. That is the language of this official Report, and it is rather strong language. It behoves us, I think, to support the Committee, and the Minister if he is willing, in insisting that something should be done.

Happily, the Committee present us with a very businesslike set of proposals. They propose that a margin should be fixed, and that after due time the organisation of the industry must be such as to enable it to distribute milk within that margin. It is proposed that there should be a margin of 8d. I am not now speaking as a Party politician, but I confess that when I saw these hard-headed business men saying some of the things that they have said in this Report, I felt rather a thrill of satisfaction, although I am not speaking in any way from that point of view. They say that it is most important that The administration of milk distribution in the national interest should be made the active concern of some organisation equipped with all necessary powers and facilities. What it comes to is that there should be an authoritative organisation competent to require an efficient and economical service. They say that an official and economical service can be rendered, and that it can be rendered profitably at a charge of 8d. a gallon, which is a reduction of 1d. per quart for every householder in the country when it is passed on.

In the absence of this more economical and more efficient system the Treasury, as we know, is now subsidising, to a very large extent, the distribution of cheap milk. Even when all this is done, the milk can hardly be described as cheap; still, it will be within the reach of a very much increased number of buyers. And here is now the fifth authoritative Government Report suggesting that active steps should be taken to bring about a more economical, and therefore more advantageous, system of distributing this vital food. I feel myself that the nation is enormously indebted to my noble friend opposite and to those who were with him for presenting us with this highly valuable Report. So far as Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food, is concerned, it presents him with a great opportunity. He has all the power necessary now that the Committee say a national organrsation should possess, and I put this Motion on the Paper in the fervent hope that he will be willing to exercise it. I beg to move for Papers.

EARL DELA WARR

My Lords, I think the House owes its thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Addison, for raising this most important question. Your Lordships may recollect that the noble Lord, Lord Addison, has himself had a considerable amount to do with this particular problem, and he and I indeed had the pleasure of co-operating together for a certain period of our political existence in putting through the Agricultural Marketing Act. I do not think we know yet whether the noble Lord who is to reply on behalf of the Government is going to be able to state the decision of His Majesty's Government on this question or not. It may be that he would prefer to hear the comments of your Lordships' House first. If so, I think we should all feel that that was a very reasonable point of view, and indeed a compliment to your Lordships' House.

As the Report points out, and as the noble Lord has re-emphasized, this is not a new subject. Those of us who have been concerned either with agricultural policy or with food policy generally if they look into this question will, I think, remember that there has been no time at which the problem of the difference between the price to the producer and the price to the consumer has not been one of their main concerns. For myself, I have always felt it to be quite fundamental. In an urbanised country like this it is quite hard enough for a farmer to obtain an adequate reward for his services without his produce having to carry quite unnecessary charges of distribution also. The Report has reminded us of four former Commissions, going back to Sir Edward Grigg's Reorganisation Commission. If its authors had looked further back into history they might see that in 1923 the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, issued a Report, that a year or two before there was a Report by Sir John Murray, and that my noble friend Lord Astor in 1919 issued a Report to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Every one of those Reports has been unanimous—unanimous on the point that distributive charges are too high. They also have one further point in common▀×namely, that nothing whatever has been done about them in regard to distributive charges. I make that a point because on the producer's side when it was recommended that the farmers should organise under the Milk Marketing Board they at once adopted that proposal and did everything that they had been asked to do. But that was only a first step and, as the noble Lord, Lord Addison, said, though that first step, left lone to stand by itself, did a great deal of good, it also did some harm, because the work was not completed and carried into the distributive field. And now we have this final Report—I hope I am right in using that word—of the noble Lord, Lord Perry. I think those of us who read that Report must share with the noble Lord, Lord Addison, the desire to congratulate the noble Lord on what is not merely a most business-like but also a most statesman like production. And it has this great quality in its favour, that it is extraordinarily short and to the point. I think it says at least as much as, if not more than, most of the other documents, and some of them ran into five or six times the number of pages.

Now, my Lords, this is an important subject we are discussing. I do not think any one of us would disagree with the statement that a cheap and adequate supply of milk, especially for the younger portion of our population, would probably do more to reduce the loss and suffering due to disease and bad health than any-other single step. In addition to that, we are discussing produce from the farm worth, in pre-war figures, something like £55,000,000 a year, or no less than approximately one-fifth of the whole agricultural industry. This Report, if I may say so, tackles the problem from quite fundamentally the right point of view. The noble Lord has mentioned certain schemes which have always been very close to my heart—namely, the cheap milk scheme for children in the schools, and now the extension that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has made to mothers and children under five. That is a sound scheme, but nevertheless there must be a limit to a system which, on the one hand, charges too high a general price for milk, and then has to subsidise cheap milk to particular classes. The noble Lord therefore tackles the question of the general price.

It often seemed to me in the years I spent at the Ministry of Agriculture, dealing with some of these questions as Under-secretary, and in other posts, that there is a great danger in discussing this question of high charges of distribution too much merely from the point of view of excessive profits. If I were asked to generalise as to this unnecessary distributive charge, I should say it is, as often as not, something in the proportion of 25 per cent, attributable to excessive profit and 75 per cent, to the bad system that the distributor is being asked to work. The noble Lord, Lord Parry, does not fall into that particular mistake at I suggested. We know that at the present time there are distributors who are distributing at 6d. a gallon, and then are other distributors who need 1s a gallon. There is obviously something wrong with the working of that system. I believe that one of the major points which are wrong—and the noble Lord deals with these points very thoroughly—is the customer himself or herself. It is so often the unnecessary services that the customer demands from the distributor which are responsible for a great deal of the trouble. I was speaking to a small butcher the other day who told me that at twelve o'clock one day he had been rung up by a customer who lived four miles away and asked to send two cutlets up by lunch-time. When he protested, the customer replied, "Very well, then make up my book." He was a small trader, and he had to hire someone to take the cutlets out. Someone had to pay for that, in the same way as someone has to pay for the two or three deliveries of milk that have to be made.

The Report states a reduction is required, and it says what reduction there should be. The Committee suggest an 8d. margin, and then they set out to show how to arrive at that 8d. margin. They take point by point and, if I may say so, very sound points they are too. There is only one suggestion—I do not like to call it criticism—that I venture to make, and that is that while this new margin of 8d. which is being proposed, is I proved by the figures put in the Report to be a perfectly fair margin, we have got to admit that it is a narrow margin. There is nothing much to play with in it, and we are in essence taking this trade one step in the direction of making it a public service. I suggest that if we send this trade in the direction of becoming purveyors of a public service, these purveyors are entitled to the security that is usually given to purveyors of a public service. I am rather sorry, therefore, that the noble Lord did not take his Report one step further and say that the distributors should be granted the compulsion that I believe, in fact, they asked for, at any rate in relation to a certain number of the points enumerated in paragraph 60 of the Recommendations.

Let us look at it from the point of view of the retailer with a number of competitors in a given town. That retailer has to go to his customer and say, "In future I am going to charge you a deposit of 3d. on bottles, and in future I want you to pay me in advance rather than deal with me on credit. In future you are not going to have a half-pint bottle or a quart bottle at your convenience. You are going to have your milk delivered in pint bottles." These are all sound steps, but I do not believe it is fair to leave the retailer in the position of having to go to his customer, with all the possibility that there is some competitor who will not take the same steps. The noble Lord puts forward a perfectly good point here, that he is restoring competition as regards price and that the margin will not allow of some outside retailer doing as I suggest, but there is always in every industry some person who thinks he knows better than anyone else. It happens again and again. Moreover, I suggest to the Government that the margin proposed is going to be so narrow that it is not going to allow very much competition on the lines suggested in the Report. Therefore, I would ask His Majesty's Government to consider carefully this question of adding to the Report and giving distributors the sanction of compulsion behind what we are suggesting they should do to put their house in order.

One last point. The Report refers to future organisation, and suggests—I am inclined to feel rightly—that the problem of future organisation might be dealt with at a slightly later stage. Admittedly that is taking two bites at a cherry, but most of us would admit that the first bite proposed here is a very good bite. I hope at the same time that the Government will keep in mind the future organisation of this trade so that what is being done now, largely in order to obtain a cheap supply of milk during the war, may be consolidated into a permanent, sound organisation for this most important industry and trade.

VISCOUNT ASTOR

My Lords, I propose to make very few remarks and those of a rather general character. The two noble Lord who have preceded me have dealt very fully with the recommendations in the Report. Both noble Lords are qualified by their past experience to deal with this problem. They have been associated with the Department of Agriculture, and both of them have shown in their public life that they are vitally concerned with the welfare of children. That is admittedly bound up with the whole question of milk. They have indicated, as all who study the question know, that there is a vast untapped market for farmers—namely, milk. An enormous expansion is available, but one of the pre-requisites is the cheapening of milk. If we can do that, we shall benefit the farmers and we shall benefit the whole physique of the nation. That is why it is a pity, in a way, that in time of war we are discussing, with the limitations which are necessarily associated with it, a problem that is so vast and really must effect the welfare both of this great industry and also of the rising generation.

It has been my privilege to be associated with bodies that have considered this question in the past. As the noble Lord who has just spoken indicated, an Inter-Departmental Committee, of which I was Chairman, made recommendations on these general lines somewhere about 1919. I remember that at that time I was at the Department which is now the Ministry of Food, with Mr. Clynes. It was towards the end of the war, and I have a very clear recollection that it was the intention of the Department to bring about a national control of the wholesale distribution of milk which, if there had been time—the end of the war prevented that policy being put into execution—would have had far-reaching and most beneficial effects. I merely mention that to show that this is no new question and, as is indicated in one of the paragraphs of this Report now before your Lordships' House, there have been numerous recommendations and proposals which have not been acted upon. Taking a broad line, I only want to refer really to two paragraphs towards the end of this Report, paragraphs 55 and 56. In paragraph 56 the Committee say that they are reluctant to make proposals which, if adopted, would permanently alter conditions in the industry. Surely the fact that we are at war is an inadequate reason for not facing boldly post-war problems, and if in war time we have an opportunity of taking a step which will be of permanent post-war benefit I suggest to your Lordships that we should take it with courage.

What that step should be is really indicated in paragraph 55 which is headed "The control of distribution." Here it is stated that the Milk Marketing Boards are organisations of the producers and their powers have been exercised mainly in the producers' interests, with the result that the general policy "has not been satisfactory." Those are their own words and the Committee said they were definitely of opinion that the administration of milk distribution in the national interest should be made the active concern of some organisation equipped with all necessary powers and facilities. It would be lamentable if an essential step in post-war reconstruction vital to the welfare of agriculture—because, after all, dairying is really the corner stone of British agriculture—and one which will have far-reaching effects in improving the nutrition of the rising generation, should be shirked. If that were so we really should be lacking in imagination and courage. If by adopting this Report to-day we can take even if it is only a half step towards this greater step, I trust the Government will take it.

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH

My Lords, all three noble Lords who have addressed your Lordships on this matter are specially qualified to do so. I claim no such special qualification, but I should not like the Minister to reply without saying just a word in support of the views that have already been expressed. I should like to join in congratulating the noble Lord opposite on having put the question down and on the very admirable speech he made in support of it. I thought that speech showed considerable self-control. I could imagine that the noble Lord might have found some agreeable passages in the Report out of which to make capital. I think he was very wise not to do so, but as a supporter of private enterprise, probably a much warmer supporter of private enterprise than the noble Lord opposite, and perhaps even warmer than the noble Lord sitting beside me (Earl De La Warr) I should like to say that no supporter of private enterprise would deny that, where occasion is called for it, private enterprise must be brought under proper control. There are passages in this Report which I think would have given the noble Lord (Lord Addison) a field had he chosen to exercise his talents upon it. I am glad he did not.

I should like also to congratulate the noble Lord whose Report this is, because I do not think I have ever read a Report comparable to Ibis from a Committee of investigation of the kind. It really is a remarkable document. I notice that the cost of it was about £200, of which £50, roughly, was spent on printing. I should have thought it ought to be a bestseller. Everybody who has not read this Report ought to do so. It really is a very remarkable document. One of the noble Lords who spoke said he thought it was too uncertain what the Government's decision is going to be. I cannot believe that that is so. There is only one possible decision after the Government have considered this Report. If my noble friend Lord Moyne is not able to tell us what that is to-day, I hope it will not be long before we are told. I should like, in conclusion, to express my regret that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has been unable to be here because he is not well, and that, possibly, as a consequence the Government may not be able to say definitely what they are going to do; but I cannot believe myself there ran really be any doubt about it and I sincerely hope that what I believe will turn out to be right.

THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD MOYNE)

My Lords, the noble Lord who put down this Motion has explained the unfortunate absence of Lord Woolton. Lord Woolton was very anxious that we should ventilate this subject because he has the problem of milk distribution very much at heart. He felt that ventilation of it in your Lordships' House would much strengthen his hands and that the well-informed advice which so many in your Lordships' House are in a position to give would be most valuable to him in making his decision. I to-day am of course only his mouthpiece and I am not in any way speaking for the Ministry of Agriculture, who in this particular matter are not directly concerned or affected. In recent years this question of milk prices has occasioned acute controversy. The noble Lord in his opening speech reminded us of the number of inquiries which have taken place and Reports which have been made. The Government to whom those Reports were addressed did their best to tackle the matter and brought in a Milk Bill, as the noble Lord will remember, in, I think, 1936. It was a very comprehensive and rather complicated measure, which would have dealt with the wider ground of the producer as well as the distributor, but unfortunately the Parliamentary fortunes of that Bill were not favourable.

The problem which is now being considered is a somewhat narrower one, affecting merely the distributors and the distribution costs, and therefore of less direct concern to the Ministry of Agriculture than the wider problems that were raised by the previous injuries. The Government have shown the importance which they attach to the matter by already taking action on one part of the problem. The noble Lord asked for information about the National Milk Scheme which was framed and launched by the present Minister of Food in the early days of his responsibility for that Department. It was launched on the 21st of July last and dealt merely with milk for mothers and children under five and expectant mothers, and had nothing to do with the scheme of milk in schools which, of course, is under the Board of Education and in regard to which I have no information and indeed have not been asked for any to-day. The scheme of supplying milk at half price was, as I have said, for mothers and children under the age of rive and free milk for mothers and children below certain income limits. At first progress was comparatively slow, but my noble friend was not disturbed by that as it was expected that for various reasons it would not immediately reach its full volume. It is now an immense success. Three million out of a possible 3,900,000 persons are recipients of this benefit of cheap or free milk and of these people thirty per cent, are getting milk for nothing and seventy per cent. are getting it for twopence a pint. The consumption of milk under this scheme has reached the volume of 11,000,000 gallons per month.

The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, mentioned that this was only a partial solution of the problem. Naturally it is costing a very large sum of public money, but it is treating the symptom of a problem and not really going to the root cause. For that reason it was very necessary that wider measures should be taken. The Government are immensely indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Perry, for the promptitude and efficiency with which he has tackled this very thorny problem, and I am sure the House will recognise that it is impossible for the Government to give a final answer or indeed any answer on such far-reaching and drastic proposals until very careful consideration has been given. By quoting dates, however, I think I can satisfy your Lordships that the matter is being treated as one of urgency and that the Report is certainly not going to be used, and was not intended to be used, as a method of shelving an awkward question. The Committee were appointed on June 15 and were asked to report within three months. They actually signed the Report on September 30. The Government did not wait to get the Report into print before sending it out to the distributors and others concerned. They sent it to them in stencil form and the recipients of these advance copies were asked to let the Government have their observations by the end of the month. Although these observations are not vet in the hands of my noble friend Lord Woolton, he Hopes to receive them shortly and to be able to reach a decision on the steps to be adopted at a very early date.

He will of course take into careful consideration the various criticisms and suggestions made to-day. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, mentioned the question of compulsion. That seems a very important point to prevent unfair competition and undercutting by certain classes of distributors, and I feel sure that that is a point which will be very carefully considered. I can only add that my noble friend Lord Woolton is giving careful and urgent consideration to this matter and will make a statement as to Government action at the earliest possible moment.

EARL DE LA WARR

My Lords, it is only by leave of the House that I can say anything more, but I should like to say that I did omit to mention in my speech that, although I am now acting as personal liaison officer between the Ministry of Agriculture and certain agricultural committees, I of course spoke to-day, with the leave of my right honourable friend the Minister, entirely for myself as a member of your Lordships' House.

LORD ADDISON

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his reply. I appreciate that the Minister of Food only received this Report about five weeks ago. I know, too, that he did circulate it in stencil form and lost no time at all in giving those concerned an opportunity of considering it. I believe we shall have an opportunity in the near future of hearing what they all say about it, and I am sure we all welcome the assurance that we shall have reported to us before very long what is the Ministry's decision in the matter. I thank the noble Lord for what he has told us and I beg leave to with draw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, with-drawn.