§ VISCOUNT DAWSON OF PENN rose to call attention to the prospective shortage of milk and eggs and the dangers to the health of the people liable to result therefrom; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it might reasonably be asked, "Why this insistence on food supplies?" The answer is that during the summer months the amount and variety of food available for the people of this country are adequate, but the prospect for the coming winter is less secure and in certain respects might easily cause concern. I will support this theme by two examples; the first is milk and the second eggs. It is accepted, I take it, on all hands that milk is the priority food; in short, it is the keystone of the nutrition arch. Its increasing consumption during the years of the present war has played no small part in the maintenance of the health and stamina of the British people. It is disquieting, therefore, that its production should be progressively declining, and the available evidence points to the fact that by the end of this year that decline will have reached 20 per cent. as compared with the immediately preceding war years.
§ We have had warning of this diminishing supply, for there was a diminution of production, comparing the years 1939 and 1940, of about 12 per cent.; and it is a matter of some surprise to me that this warning of the reduction of milk produced, a warning which was apparent as early as 1940, missed the attention of the Ministry of Health, whose espousal of milk consumption has been so prominent for many years past. Are we to face the curtailment of the milk supply in this coming winter—and it is in winter that this essential food is most needed—on the assumption that the children, the sick and the infirm will rightly receive priority? Are the active adult population, all of whom are contributing to the war effort, to be deprived of this essential food? What folly, at a time when the maximum of health and strength is required by the whole adult population ! The Minister of Health appreciated the position when he said that we must maintain our dairy herds at almost any cost. If this diminution of production is to be arrested, concerted action is required here and now; for it will be within the knowledge of your Lordships that, while a cow's milk production 736 does not take long to decline, it takes a long time to build up.
On May 1 the Minister of Agriculture, in answer to a question, stated that he was not aware that a large number of important milk producers were giving up their herds. In my submission there is evidence that too many farmers are already reducing their herds and even, in some instances, abandoning them. To give one testimony amongst others, a well-known and competent man writes as follows:
In my own case, last year I had thirty cows; now I have twenty, and my milk production is 60 per cent. of what it was last year. A neighbour of mine last year was milking 240 cows; now he has 200, and he is selling his herd with the intention of being out of production by the end of October. Another neighbour who had 140 cows has reduced them by 70, and is producing only 55 per cent. of what was produced last year at this season.
Is it not certain that a dispersal of these herds will inevitably lead to the slaughter of a certain amount of these animals for meat, to the permanent deterioration of the production of milk?
I would ask your Lordships to listen to the following. I quote:
We keep one of the largest dairy herds in England. All the milk is tuberculin-tested and accredited, but we are seriously contemplating closing down. I shall be sorry to do this as it has taken many years of hard and interesting work to reach our present standards. If the Government consider new milk a necessity, they must give the dairy farmer the same financial encouragement as the arable farmer is receiving. It is useless to release more cattle food if the controlled price of milk does not permit a fanner to pay for it.
Surely it is vital to know whether there is or is not a fall in the production of milk, and, if there is, to what extent. I would, with respect, urge His Majesty's Government to set up an independent inquiry to clear up this vital matter—if there is shortage, then what shortage—and to study the causes with a view to their removal.
§ Since, in my submission, there is a serious and progressive shortage of milk, I ask leave to consider its causes. Dairy farming is an exacting calling with long hours of labour, often from four or five in the morning till perhaps ten o'clock at night, and it requires corresponding encouragement and inducements. Surely that is an elementary principle of statesmanship. 737 Are these inducements forthcoming? Does the controlled price of milk, with the high price of feeding-stuffs, give the dairy farmer enough profit to compensate him for his exacting labours? It would appear, too, that these dairy farmers are too often in a state of irritation and annoyance with the Milk Marketing Board. Long hours and the harassing nature of their employment may explain this state of mind, but, on the other hand, it is alleged, with some authority, that it is not so much objection on their part to rules and directions as objection to the arbitrary and autocratic way in which these directions are given by the Milk Marketing Board. Next, the milk farmers are suffering, and the public is suffering, by the withdrawal of skilled agricultural workers for the purposes of the Army and the other combatant Forces and for munitions. The consequence is that the milk is handed over to those who are unskilled and inexperienced. There seems to be a fallacy abroad that there is not much need of skill in agricultural employment. Surely in regard to no employment could there be a greater fallacy.
§ The fact of having to employ inexperienced workers adds to the onerous character of the dairy farmer's work, and creates in him a desire to get out of the business if, and when, he gets the opportunity. At the very best he has atrocious hours, which cannot be avoided. He stands up to them, but that is the more reason why he should be helped in every other direction. The unskilled worker is less careful in his cleanliness, less careful of his hands and his churns, and the udders are less well cared for. In the result udder disease is more prone to break out and, as it is a contagious disease, due to a particular form of streptococcal germ, it is very apt to spread from one cow to another. In its early stages this streptococcal inflammation of the udder is not at all easy to detect by the unskilled worker, but it is detected by the worker of experience. The result is that inflammation of the udder gets under way by the time the unskilled worker has found out it is there. Unfortunately, this affection of the udder diminishes not only the quantity but the quality of the milk. The proportion of solids will easily go down eight per cent. under an attack of mastitis in the cow. The agricultural 738 authorities have done their best in that they have devised a certain antiseptic solution for washing the udders but, after all, it is not the solution, it is the hands that wash the udders that count. To my mind the remedy for this state of affairs is, as far as possible, to call back the skilled agricultural workers, and, as a second means of dealing with the situation, why not set up an intensive course of three months for intelligent girls who, under modern education, could very soon learn how to care for the cow and milk production?
§ This absence of skilled handling has other and further bad results, for in these last months there has been a serious wastage of milk owing to the milk having gone sour. I had thought this wastage might be measured by thousands of gallons. Some of my advisers tell me that in the last few months it has to be measured by millions of gallons—milk, a valuable product, absolutely going to waste through mishandling of it in the process of its production. We come to the cause of that. It must be certainly due to lack of the highest standard of cleanliness either on the farm or, it may be, in the collecting stations. This suggests that the collecting stations should get quickly down to pasteurisation, and not only to pasteurisation but efficient pasteurisation, and that local health authorities should be more close in their inspection of the collecting stations themselves. Now these difficulties of milk production surely emphasize that the dairy herds must have all the food they require if we are to maintain the output during the coming winter. It is the output in the winter, I would point out, which is so important, because the value of milk as a food is far more important in winter than it is during the summer months when we have all sorts and varieties (of vegetables to help us through. I am concerned about something that may happen even sooner than the winter. If by any chance we were to have a drought, and it were necessary to replace grass food for the cows by cereals or cake, that would involve, no doubt, the surrender by the bullock of his favourite place, which, with all respect to my noble friend Lord Teviot, it has held for far too long.
§ The production of milk is like a reputation, very easy to lose and very difficult to regain. That is one of the reasons why I 739 am venturing to press your Lordships as I am doing, because it is our one hope at the present time. At this late season of the year, if we are not going to be face to face with great difficulties in the coming winter, we must act here and now to try and prevent that reduction of the production of milk which so seriously threatens. During the last war—and I take this from the Report of the Committee presided over by my noble friend Lord Astor—the average yield per cow fell from 550 gallons to 430 gallons. Such a fall of production would be much more serious in this war, partly because this war is a totalitarian war. It is carried right into the homes of the people. They have to put up with every form of distress, and, therefore, the food supply to them becomes of vast importance.
§ There is another reason why it is more serious in this war, and that is that, fortunately—partly owing to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, himself—the increased consumption of milk has become a habit of the people. It has entered into their lives: it has been the means of enabling them to go through vicissitudes and the failure of other foodstuffs. To deprive them of milk now, therefore, would be a far more dangerous thing than deprivation of milk during the last war. Fortunately the present hay crop offers a pleasant prospect, and the Minister of Agriculture has long been carrying on an intensive campaign to promote the further adoption of silage as winter feed for cattle. If only from this time onwards farmers could in sufficient numbers undertake silage, and make use of the aftermath of the grass crop, the crops by the roadsides, and the odd grass in the fields, the best authorities say that a very considerable amount of foodstuff for winter consumption might result which would mitigate the danger that now stares in front of us.
§ That brings me to my next contention, that to maintain milk production is worth while on its own merits, because the cow as a converter of animal food into human food stands at the top of the list. It gives more value for money than any other animal we know of. If you put the converting power of the milk cow at 35, it means that for every 100 pounds of protein food, or food measured in protein values, you give to the animal the cow produces 35 pounds of milk. 740 There are not many factories, I suggest, which could give so large a production as that. If we start with the cow at the top of the list at 35, the egg-producing fowl comes next at 31 and the pig comes next at 26. And where does the bullock come? The bullock for beef is 7 to 9 in actual value as a food converter. For a long period the Medical Research Council, the health authorities and the whole of the medical profession have been emphasizing these guiding facts, and the Agricultural Research Council itself long ago placed milk first, bracketed the pig and the egg-producing fowl second, and put the bullock at the bottom of the list.
§ Why has it been so long before these facts can be realised? Why have all these voices being crying in the wilderness? Probably because they have been regarded as those of "faddists." That English word seems to cover a lot of narrow-mindedness. Not that we underrate the importance of milk or even of fish, but perforce meat is curtailed in time of war and we have been able to carry on as we have done on account of our milk production having been maintained. We must remember, too, that liquid milk and eggs are very important things to produce at home. They need to be fresh. You can import them, but when imported the quality is not the same, whereas it is relatively easy to import meat, and I have no doubt that with a little greater knowledge we shall be able to preserve it even better than we do now.
§ I come now to one other point. In estimating the importance of the leading foods we need to take account not only of their fuel or energy value—there is something more to it than that—but of their power to give us foods which are digestible and attractive. After all, it is not what we eat, but what we digest that counts, and digestibility depends not only on the physical property of the meal, but upon the anticipation and realisation by the mind of the tastiness of what is partaken. The more eager your expectancy of nice tasty food the more gastric juice you will secrete in anticipation of what you are hoping to enjoy. If you give your dog a biscuit you may throw that biscuit on the ground and let the dog get on with it, but there is an alternative method and that is to break the biscuit up into several 741 portions and then offer each portion to the dog to eat. There will be a vast difference in the effect on the dog of those two methods. That has been proved by experiment, and interestingly enough by one of the most famous scientists, the late Professor Pavloff, of Russia. When you hand the portions of biscuit one by one to the dog, you produce in him a sense of eagerness and anticipatory pleasure, and if you compare the secretion of his digestive juices in those two instances you will find that in the latter instance the digestive juices that the dog will produce will be several times greater than if you throw the biscuit to him and let him get on with it without any interest. If that is true of the dog, how much more true must it be of civilised man?
§ Apart from the high nutritive value of milk, cheese and eggs, they help enormously—I urge this very strongly in regard to milk and eggs in particular—in the preparation of foods, whose background in winter will be bread, cereals, potatoes, carrots, beans and even onions. We cannot as reasonable people neglect culinary values if we are to make foods attractive, variable and therefore digestible. I would point out further that such light foods are essential to tired people with tired stomachs who lead sedentary lives and go home weary at the end of the day, not much caring for food at all. We want for them light and attractive dishes if we are to preserve them in full health and strength which it is important we should do in the dark winter months with long hours of work and a troublesome passage home. It is almost impossible to think of cookery in this Western world without milk and eggs. There is a variety of dishes, quite simple, which can be changed about and made attractive by milk and eggs, and without them eating may become a dull business. The great thing in life among workers is to avoid monotony.
§ We want to avoid monotony in food, and milk and eggs will enable us to do that, especially in the dark winter months. If you do avoid monotony and give attractive meals, you engender rest of body and content of mind and prepare the worker for the next day. Did not Francis Bacon tell us, in his wonderful essay on the Regimen of Health, that "To be free minded and cheerfully disposed at the hours of meat and of sleep and of 742 exercise is one of the best precepts of long lasting"? The Minister of Food should insist on such a production of milk as will ensure no serious curtailment of liquid milk for the adult population. Milk I would rank as a munition of war. Secondly, I would urge that the egg-laying fowl should not be driven from the land to the extent of two-thirds of its population. We must have more eggs, which are not only valuable as food but have a culinary value.
§ No one knows better than myself that the Minister of Food has a large and extremely difficult task. He is sometimes let down by the imperfect implementing of his policy. He is at times called upon to make bricks without straw, and I hope that the result of this discussion will be to give him a larger ration of straw. May I congratulate the noble Lord on the improvement in the cheese position and on his store, actual and prospective, of dried milk and otherwise preserved milk? He will remember that we referred to that in the debate last February. I would also express the hope that he will bear in mind what I said last February about the value of sprayed whey powder, which in cheese making is easy to obtain and is not only valuable as a food but equally valuable as an aid in cookery. If he is interested at all, I may say that I have in my pocket a bottle of sprayed whey powder, and I would suggest that its manufacture be taken up because it can be prepared from waste products. I must in justice say in passing that the first person, I believe, to recognise the value of sprayed whey powder was our distinguished friend, the father almost of biochemistry, Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins.
§ Before ending, I may recall perhaps that in the debate last February I made a suggestion to my noble friend that the subject of vegetable protein should be looked into as an insurance or partial insurance against animal protein shortage. Let me offer, if I may, my felicitations on the very ingenious process which will secure that end which is now materialising. To anyone interested in science, and especially in the science of chemistry, that process cannot produce anything but fascination as well as felicitation. In this struggle for freedom and for all that makes life worth while, the result will depend, in the last resort, on 743 the body and soul of the individual man. We must keep watch on his health and strength and keep ahead of, not behind, time. In designing his food we must be influenced neither by prejudices nor by interests, but by one thing and that is knowledge. I ask your Lordships to give knowledge its pride of place. I beg to move for Papers.
§ LORD DAVIES, given notice that he would call attention to the food situation especially in regard to the supply of fish, and move for Papers, said: My Lords, I have a Motion on the Paper dealing with the subject of food and I felt that it would be for the convenience of your Lordships if both Motions were discussed at the same time. The Motion which I ventured to put down on the Paper is somewhat wide in its scope because I understood that others of your Lordships wished to raise certain points in connection with the food situation. I suggest there are three principles that we have to keep in mind when we are discussing the problem of food. The first is that everything should be done to encourage the maximum amount of food being produced in the country, having regard to the question of priority in the production of foods best calculated to maintain the health of the people. The point has already been very fully dealt with by my noble friend who has just sat down, and I am sure we all feel indebted to him for the clear, able and interesting speech which he has just delivered. The second principle, I venture to suggest, is that there should be a fair distribution of the food supplies of the country at reasonable prices, which means that prices should be most carefully controlled. The third principle is that everything should be done to prevent any waste of food, and all our food resources should be properly husbanded.
In regard to the production of food, obviously that is the function of the Ministry of Agriculture. One cannot help feeling that up to now the maximum efforts have not been made to produce the food which this country is capable of producing, and that food should be produced for human consumption, not merely for animal consumption. I would like to quote a passage from a letter which I received from a director of the most important agricultural economic research institute in this country, in which he says:
I am terribly concerned about the campaign for home consumption. Lord Dawson was absolutely right when he said that milk interests had been sacrificed to beef interests. If you look at the whole of the Minister's food production campaign you will find a reiteration of the need to grow food for live stock, not for human beings. Up to date, I do not believe that he has produced a single extra loaf of bread, gallon of milk or pound of meat. All he has done is to replace some of the imported cattle foods with home-grown.
That is a serious indictment, and I hope the noble Duke who will reply on behalf of the Ministry will be able to reassure us that the appeals made to the farming community were intended to produce more food for human consumption, not merely to maintain the live stock of the country at its pre-war level.
§ The Ministry of Food, of course, is concerned with the second principle—namely, the proper distribution of our food supplies at reasonable prices. It is very disquieting to know that in regard to this matter there have been and apparently still are so many attempts at evasion, and what I believe is described as the "black market." One reads in the papers of these things happening in Germany and other countries, and we think it is only natural and just what we might have expected, but I venture to suggest that this sort of thing going on in this country must cause us a great deal of disquietude and alarm, because it is un-British that in a time of crisis such as we are going through at the present moment anyone should endeavour to evade the regulations and restrictions which are being made because they are essential if we are to win the war. I cannot help feeling that this is a sort of disease. It is, moreover, a very infectious disease, because when one section of the community discovers that sums of money have been made by flouting these food restrictions and regulations, it means that others are tempted to do likewise. One cannot help feeling that this foul growth should have been nipped in the bud by the Minister of Food when he discovered that huge profits were being made in this way. He ought to have put his foot down at once and prevented the disease from spreading.
§ I am sure the noble Lord, the Minister of Food, will agree that the time has gone when we can carry on business as usual. I believe in some quarters there still exists the idea that the country has to carry on 745 business in the way it did before the outbreak of this war. May I venture to suggest to him that he should deal with the question of the licensing of all those persons who have to do with the sale of food? I understand that the London and Liverpool Chambers of Commerce quite recently suggested this, and I ventured to do so in this House some months ago, but I believe there are still leakages and a certain amount of profiteering still going on. One cannot help feeling that if all these people were licensed that might help in solving the difficulty. Of course other Departments are concerned in the question of food as well as the Ministry of Food. I have already referred to the Ministry of Agriculture. Both those Departments are directly concerned. There are also other Departments, such as the Ministry of Health, which should be able to shed some light on the problem of nutrition, to which Lord Dawson referred in his speech. There is; also the Ministry of Transport.
Then, in regard to the question of waste, there are the Services—especially the military Services—and also the local authorities. We all know that in this hot weather the question of preventing waste becomes a very acute problem. I am sure my noble friend has had a great many complaints about meat which has deteriorated during this season, and he must be doing his best to urge all officials in his Department to try to avoid to the utmost extent the perishing of meat and other perishable commodities during this time. There is one point I should like to draw attention to in connection with this matter. I want to refer to an article which appeared in The Times last week which points out the waste that apparently goes on, on some of our troopships, on their voyages. I will give the House a short quotation from this article. It says:
The amount of raw meat cast into the sea each day would provide dripping and cooking fats for hundreds of families. Pounds and pounds of potatoes, peas, beans, and dried apricots, prunes and figs are wasted continually.
I am sure that my noble friend, although this is outside the purview of his attention, would be concerned about such a matter. He is, as we know, concerned in trying to prevent waste wherever it may occur. I venture to suggest that he should bring this matter to the notice of my noble friend who sits beside him and perhaps something
will be done. There is another point I should like to raise in regard to the same matter. I understand that this sort of thing occurred earlier on, in the first period of the war—whether it still goes on I do not know, perhaps my noble friend will be good enough to tell me. I am told that ships before leaving port took on board in this country food not only for the outward voyage, but also for the return voyage. There seems to be no reason why they could not have departed from their prewar custom, and have purchased food for the return journey at the other end of the outward voyage. I would like to suggest to my noble friend that there should he more consultation, more co-ordination between those Departments which are concerned with the production and control of food and the prevention of the waste of food.
§ The other day the Ministry informed the public through the Press, that a scheme was to be launched with regard to eggs. The number of hens was fixed first, I believe, at twelve. T do not know whether that produced many casualties among the poultry population—it certainly caused a certain amount of perturbation among the owners of hen-roosts. Then suddenly the public were informed that the total had jumped from twelve to fifty. There must have been some very hard hitting to cause the score to rise so rapidly. I venture to think that this might have been avoided if there had been proper consultation between the Departments before the Ministry launched this scheme. In that scheme, one notes that in remote parts of Scotland some districts are entirely exempt from the operation of the plan. No doubt that is a very sound idea, but I would suggest that perhaps in my own country of Wales, where we also have remote districts, some modification might also be made. Perhaps my noble friend will look into that, for I am sure that he will agree that his scheme needs a certain amount of flexibility.
§ I now come to the question of fish. The noble Lord has produced his plan for the control of fish which I think he will probably agree is long overdue. May I congratulate him on the fact that he has reduced all the different sorts of fish into three groups? Personally, I could have wished that, if it were practicable and feasible, he could have reduced them to one group and that there should be one charge, one uniform price 747 for a pound of fish which would include all kinds and all varieties. Why should there be a difference still between what are described as luxury fish and other kinds which do not come under that classification? In that connection I would suggest to my noble friend that he will not solve this problem satisfactorily unless he commandeers the trawlers, or rather unless the Government commandeer the trawlers which are now engaged on these fishing enterprises, and runs them under a panel which would consist of persons in the trade who understand this trade and are in sympathy with such a plan as this. After all 25 per cent. of the trawlers are still left. The other 75 per cent. have been already commandeered by the Government for mine sweeping and other work. Why should not the remaining 25 per cent. be also commandeered in order to increase the food supply of the country? Men engaged on the 75 per cent. are now working for the Government and are receiving their ordinary wages, whereas the men employed on the 25 per cent. have apparently made enormous sums of money during this period. Why should they be in a far better position than those who have volunteered for mine sweeping and similar duties?
There are three other questions in connexion with fish which I wish to put forward. First of all, may I ask my noble friend whether he has entered into negotiations for the purchase of what is called, I believe, Icelandic cod? I understand that there are considerable supplies of dried cod in Iceland which could be made available for food in this country. Secondly, I want to draw his attention to a case brought to my notice by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, who wrote the other day:
The fishermen in Campbeltown (Clyde) had to throw 170 boxes of fresh herring back into the sea as the fish buyers would not or could not accept them. Within twelve miles of Campbeltown there are hundreds of evacuees from Clydebank and such like bombed areas who have been unable to get fish at any price.
I understand that there were housewives on the scene who would have been willing and glad to purchase some if not all of these herrings. The noble Duke also refers to another case in which forty boxes of fresh haddock were thrown away at Newhaven. All these matters are reported
in the Press and have a very bad psychological effect on the community. I am sure there must be some explanation. I hope that my noble friend will be able to assure us that these unfortunate happenings were unavoidable.
§ My last point is in respect of fresh-water fish. Can something be done to induce the Minister of Agriculture to relax and modify the restrictions on netting, especially in regard to salmon? It is very unfortunate that owing to the hot weather there has been a considerable amount of disease amongst these fish. For instance, on the banks of my own river at home I believe that about 75 salmon were picked up dead. Several have been picked up quite recently. Because there are so few fishermen, and because of other reasons, including the fact that netting is not carried on as it used to be before the war, we are running a great danger of serious diseases spreading among the salmon population. In certain circumstances the mortality may become very great indeed. I cannot understand why it is not possible to modify the netting restrictions in the upper waters of these rivers, especially in rivers where there are no nettings at all in the estuaries, and where, I expect, salmon are now lying in rows of eight and ten at the bottom of the pools, and where no doubt many will die unless something is done about this.
§ I venture to suggest, therefore, that the Ministry of Agriculture should relax and modify the netting restrictions which are at present in force. I know it is said that we must not deplete the stock, but we all know that it takes five years from the time the salmon spawn until the young salmon return from the sea. We all hope that the war will be over before five years have elapsed, and therefore I cannot understand why we should worry very much about the stock when the war is over. The other argument, I know, is that even if we get all the salmon we shall not increase to any considerable extent the food supply of the country. Surely the point is, however, that there should not be any waste at all, and that we must make the very most of our supplies of food, wherever we find them.
§ I am sure that your Lordships will be very grateful to my noble friend the Minister of Food if, in view of the apprehension which exists in some quarters as 749 to our food supplies, he can tell us, if it is in the public interest to do so, how we stand at the present moment in the matter of food supplies, and especially what the prospects are for the next twelve months. I am sure that we shall be very grateful to him if he will give us some information on that point, and also if he will give us an assurance that the production of food, the distribution of food and the prevention of waste of food are going to be more carefully considered and more drastically dealt with than has been the case up to now.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE DUKE OF NORFOLK)
My Lords, I hope it will be convenient to your Lordships if at this early stage of the debate I make a few remarks. I feel that this is the right moment to do so, because my noble friend the Minister of Food, who will reply to the debate at a later stage, is dependent to a large extent on my Department for the food which he distributes. The noble Viscount who moved this Motion has emphasized the importance of milk on more than one occasion, and he has rather given me the idea that in his view Ministers of Agriculture have overlooked the importance of milk. I feel that nothing could be further from the truth. The Ministry of Agriculture—without, if I may say so, a great deal of help from the medical 0profession—has encouraged for some years past the dairying branch of agriculture.
To prove this statement, I would go back to 1928. In the years from 1928 to 1939, the increase in dairy cows in this country was about 360,000, and the annual supply of milk rose from 1,126,000,000 gallons to over 1,330,000,000 gallons. When the slump of 1930 came in the agricultural world, the milk market became so unstable that the future of the milk industry looked like fading out. It was at that moment, and only just in time, that the Milk Marketing Board came into operation, and the figures which I have just given to your Lordships go to show what happened during the first few years for which the Board were operating. The scheme for milk in schools was introduced, and that has now been extended by my noble friend the Minister of Food into the 750 National Scheme for milk for mothers and also for children of various ages. I think that it was entirely thanks to these measures that 1939 was a record year for the production of milk, and that we were in a very stable position to face the outbreak of war. I do not think it can be doubted that a large part of our success in maintaining the supply of milk at the beginning of the war was due to the fact that we had this invaluable help. Coming to the war period, it is true to say that, apart from a short period last December, we have never, up to this moment, failed to produce the supply of milk that has been demanded. There was a period of some ten days, I think, last December, when there was some difficulty, but that is all.
The noble Viscount has stressed the importance of the dairy cow being given priority, and I think he went so far as to say that there was a misapprehension on the part of some people as to this, and that they thought that feeding-stuffs were being used for other animals rather than for the dairy cow. I cannot accept that statement. It has always been quite definitely the policy of my right honourable friend that the dairy cow should have priority in feeding-stuffs after those grown for human consumption, and I have never heard it stated anywhere, apart from the remark to which I have referred, that that was not the case. Quite shortly, the fact of the matter is that feeding-stuffs are not imported today in such large quanties as formerly. This has had its effect on our dairy cows, which to a large extent existed on these imported feeding-stuffs. Moreover, owing to the fact that we have to produce more food in this country for direct human consumption, we have had to plough up many acres of ground, and that may to some extent and in certain areas have had its effect on the cow population. It is a fact, however, that dairy herds are to-day increasing in this country. I need not go into the figures, but it is a fact that there is to-day an increase in our dairy herds.
§ VISCOUNT DAWSON OF PENN
My Lords, may I intervene to ask the noble Duke not to confine his remarks to the increase in dairy herds, but to give us the evidence, which we should all like so much to have, that there is not at present a diminution in milk production?
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
My Lords, the noble Viscount has asked me not to confine myself to the increase in dairy herds. As a matter of fact, I am coming now to the prospects of next winter. I wish to emphasize some of the difficulties which face the production of milk at the present time. There is, first of all, as I stated just now, the falling off of imports. In addition, we have the question of labour, which has been dealt with before, so that I need not weary your Lordships by going into that. I would only say in that connection that women can easily be trained for work in the cowhouse and the cowshed, and we are doing all we can to induce the farmers to employ women for this work.
The black-out, especially during the winter, must necessarily have a certain effect on milk production. Those of your Lordships who have gone round the various farms will appreciate what the black-out in these long winter months means. But to-day there is enough milk at this moment in this country to meet the demand. When the winter comes there may be some slight shortage. It would be useless for me to give any figure for no one can possibly foretell what that figure will be, but I would like to prepare your Lordships for the fact that it is possible there will be some slight shortage in liquid milk during the winter. Nobody can possibly foretell in a war exactly where we stand, but every possible means at our disposal which we can put forward to the farmers in order to keep milk at the highest possible level of production is being undertaken. If the milk demand is to increase out of all proportion to production, then it is quite obvious there must be shortage. I should like, therefore, to express the hope that, over and above the amount of milk necessary for the health of the nation, there will be no undue increase in demand. The noble Viscount went on to talk about the question of culling. I can only say that it is not the policy of His Majesty's Government to cull immature cattle in any wasteful way. They are necessary to the cultivation of various crops that are grown in the ordinary rotation, and also to tread the straw and for the fertility of the land. I can only assure your Lordships, as I said just now, that my right honourable friend and my noble friend are doing 752 everything they can to see that the production of milk is maintained.
I now come to the second question which the noble Viscount stressed, and that is eggs. Poultry compete with human beings for many feeding-stuffs, and especially this is true of wheat. There is not enough wheat, without imports, to feed our human population and our poultry. It was decided to place poultry farmers on an allowance of one-sixth of their total pre-war consumption of feeding-stuffs. Many of these farmers have managed to find food of various sorts, and to-day we have only a very-slight reduction in the total number of poultry compared with this time last year. Equally we have done what we can to encourage housewives in the backyard to save their waste and feed it to the hens. It is not at this moment possible for us to maintain the poultry population of this country at its pre-war level.
I turn now to fish. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked various questions that concern both my Department and that of my noble friend Lord Woolton. I want to divide the fish question into two—sea fish and fresh-water fish. Sea fish have been under many difficulties. As the noble Lord said, trawlers have been requisitioned, and, apart from that, the restricted areas and, in some cases, the prohibited fishing areas, must tend to deplete the normal catch each week or each month. But, considering everything, the supply is not too unsatisfactory. Everything is done to make use of the trawlers that are left. The noble Lord said something about requisitioning those not already requisitioned. I do not think that would help. There is a difficulty in getting crews to man the various trawlers. Enemy action has also played a certain part, and repairs have to be carried out. I can only assure the noble Lord that everything is done to see that these trawlers are fishing, and, whenever it is possible to open another fishing ground, that has been done.
I now come to the fresh-water fish. The question of nets brings in many arguments, but we come back to, our old friend, labour. There is a great shortage of labour on the rivers as elsewhere, and it is a skilled man's job to use a net. Not everyone can do so. There is equally a shortage in the supply of necessary gear. 753 But if, in spite of the terrible effect it would have on breeding, one were to take all the fish out of all the rivers in England, Scotland, and Wales, the total for one year—I consulted the Scottish Office about these figures—would be, as far as we can see, equivalent to about an average weekly catch in war-time of sea fish. On the question of disease my right honourable friend has taken steps during last week, and he has no confirmation of disease. In fact I have a letter here from which I should like to quote. It comes from the Southern Fishing District in which the noble Lord is interested. It says:Twelve to fifteen fish have succumbed. The rate of mortality will rise if the weather does not change.The writer goes on to say that there is no sign of disease, though the possibility of its occurring does exist. The fishery boards have the power, if they think there is going to be disease, to take the fish out of the water so that they themselves are safeguarded in this matter. I do not propose to say more on that point, but I hope I have relieved the noble Lord's mind and made him realise the reasons why my right honourable friend does not see his way to relax the restrictions upon the netting of these rivers.
There is one other matter that I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention before I sit down, and that is the question of eels. We have done a great deal in this matter of eels and perch during this last twelve months. There have been very large catches, and there is a very large supply still in all the rivers and lakes and ponds of this country. I would, therefore, urge your Lordships to make your friends get some traps and catch these enormous supplies of eels so that the may be put on the market. In conclusion, without any idea of complacency and with all solemnity, I would say that all in my Department and outside it down to the farm labourers are doing everything they can to keep the production of milk as high as possible in order to see that the people of this country shall not go short during the war.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I venture to intervene and to change somewhat the course of the discussion. I want to address myself particularly to 754 my noble friend opposite, the Minister of Food, but I would like before doing so to support what the noble Duke' has just said with regard to the efforts of the Minister of Agriculture to provide food for the maintenance of our dairy herds. I confess that, in view of the limitation of imported feeding-stuffs, I really am surprised the herds have been maintained as they have, but I know that there is now being pursued a very active propaganda in favour of the making of silage and all sorts of alternative foods, and that stress is always laid on providing food for the maintenance of our milking herds. But there is one matter affecting milk which I want to bring once more to the attention of the noble Lord, the Minister of Food. He knows my complaint, but I propose to go on repeating it until he does something about it.
The noble Viscount who introduced this subject said that farmers were under a disability in that some of them were letting go some of their milking herds because they found other branches of agriculture more remunerative. I do not wonder very much. I have here the actual figures of a very large milk farmer, and let me repeat them to your Lordships because they are more forcible than any amount of argument. This milk farmer in the particular months in question sent in 1,487 gallons, and the original price to him was, theoretically, 1s. 8½d. per gallon, but what he actually received when the various deductions had been made was 1s. 2¾d. per gallon. In addition to that he is an expert producer, and he obtained a premium of 2¼d. a gallon because of the high quality of his milk, so that what he actually obtained, including the quality premium, was is. 5d. In that particular town the inhabitants and the people of the villages near it were paying 2s. 8d. per gallon at that time, and now we have the privilege of paying 3s. a gallon. Yet the farmer is getting out of that increase only 1d. more.
Last year the noble Lord appointed a most authoritative Committee presided over by my noble friend Lord Perry, and that Committee presented a Report which, for the censure of the disparity between the prices paid to the producer and by the consumer, was on exactly the same lines as that of four other official Government inquiries that had preceded it, but it was more pungent and more censuring than any of them. Yet, so far, the Minister of Food on this vital matter has done nothing. 755 He actually at one time made a speech—unfortunately I was not here to listen to it—in which he justified his inaction by the small consumption per family that exists in the country. Well it is true that at the present time, owing to war conditions, you could not greatly increase the production of milk, but that does not make it any less wrong that the margin between the producer's price and what the consumer pays is at the present moment in the neighbourhood of 1s. 6d. per gallon. Every body of men that has investigated this margin has contended that it is excessive and ought to be reduced. I shall continue to repeat my complaint on this matter until the noble Lord does something about it.
The Ministry of Food for some reason have, I think, been infected with some kind of disorder in the last few weeks. They have a great disposition to issue orders without having taken the necessary steps to see if they can be complied with, and without having provided the necessary machinery to give effect to them. In consequence, the community has been presented with a succession of quite needless blunders, and the community has been, and is being, exposed to serious and unnecessary hardship. I propose to give chapter and verse. Take the case of potatoes. There were plenty of potatoes in the country; in fact not so long ago there were so many potatoes that the farmers did not know what in the world they were going to do with them. Some time ago we were seriously informed, I suppose by the propaganda department of the Ministry of Food—some of them seem to receive very large salaries; I wish they took a bit more trouble to know something about their jobs—that they had obtained 180,000 tons of potatoes. That was on July 8. That sounds an awful lot to the unthinking member of the public who knows nothing about it, but, of course, it is only a fortnight's consumption. It is altogether wrong, and it is due, I am sorry to say, to gross mismanagement that we should now see people standing in queues a hundred yards long outside greengrocers' shops to buy potatoes. There have been plenty of potatoes in the country, and I hope the Minister will take care that these things are better managed in the future.
In the same way we were plunged into a scheme for managing the distribution of 756 tomatoes. Eggs will be the worst case, but I am coming to that. This is what actually occurred last Saturday with regard to tomatoes. I was approached by the keeper of a little shop who was accustomed to order his tomatoes and his supplies from a wholesaler in Reading. Amongst other things he ordered a box of tomatoes. I can give the noble Lord the name of the place and the precise details of the order if he wants them. These tomatoes, along with other supplies, were brought on a van to the shopkeeper's door from Reading, a distance of about twenty miles, but the shopkeeper was informed that although the tomatoes had been carted twenty miles all he could do, by order of the Ministry of Food, was to look at the box. The driver was not allowed to take the box off the cart and give it to the shopkeeper. He was instructed to take it back to Reading.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I do like to be precise. This is a serious matter. Does the noble Lord suggest I so ordered that somebody should cart a box twenty miles and then take it back again?
§ LORD ADDISON
I do. I am stating the facts. I myself reported the matter and the trader was told that the instructions from the Ministry—not from the Minister personally, of course, from the Minister's agents—were that he was to deliver tomatoes in another area and not in that area and that therefore, although he could put the tomatoes on the van, he must bring them back to the store. That actually happened last Saturday. As a matter of fact, I inquired this morning about the position of the poor shopkeeper. He was told he must order from another person, and he did so, and was told he could not have them. The real reason for that is that the orders were made before the machinery was created to carry them out. I am going to urge that the noble Lord should restrain the zeal of his subordinates in these matters and not let himself in for this kind of misfortune, because it is a misfortune. There is no earthly reason why these things should occur, but I am coming to two which are much worse.
757 Some time ago I mentioned in your Lordships' House—it was on May 28—that the noble Lord was proposing a scheme whereby he would invoke the aid of villagers to contribute fruit from their gardens to a jam-making scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, then said—I am quoting from the Official Report—The noble Lord, Lord Addison, almost gave me a feeling that we were on the verge of failure in this matter.
That, my Lords, was a true statement. It is worse than failure. I have the details of the scheme here. What the noble Lord wanted was to get fruit from villagers' gardens made into jam so far as they had any fruit to spare. He could not supply extra sugar to enable them to make it into jam themselves, and so the problem was how to get these extra supplies of fruit made into jam. That was the purpose and a very proper purpose. But this is the machinery which I said, at the time, would not work.
In the first place the women's institutes were to set up preservation centres. That sounds all right. The next thing they had to do was to obtain a loan of £25. These village women cannot provide £25 and it was suggested, therefore, that they should obtain it from the federal centres of women's institutes. But I find the federal centres in many cases cannot provide loans for all these village institutes. They have not got the money. After that they are told that there is a method of keeping accounts, which they can obtain at a price of 5s. That will tell them how to keep accounts. Then there is a very attractive paragraph about the disposal of profits. I am sure a lot of them would be glad to realise expenses, let alone get any profit. With this borrowed money they are to obtain a great variety of equipment, which is set out. I need not recite all the things but among them is a Little Giant single-burner oil stove, preserving pans and other items. I know very well that they cannot get these oil stoves. They are not to be obtained. I also know that in most villages people cannot get paraffin to put into oil stoves if they have got them. I suggest to the noble Lord that he is asking for trouble when he asks thousands of these villages to go hunting about for oil stoves and separate small supplies of paraffin and all the rest of it. 758 The sensible way to do it is something quite different.
The fact is that whilst there may be a considerable number of centres working, the scheme on the whole has broken down. There is not a doubt about it. For my part, although I have made very careful inquiry, I do not know a single village where there is a centre working. I cannot find one. Of course the scheme has broken down. It is an impossible scheme for village women to work. As I said in the debate on May 28, whoever drew it up had not the faintest idea of what life in an English village is like, and that is true. There are one or two quite practical alternatives. It would have been possible to have had a collection on a co-operative basis, if suitable containers were provided, of surplus fruit, which could have been taken to centres and then transferred to the manufacturers. That would have been a practical scheme which women could have worked quite easily. Or the matter might have been taken a step further, perhaps, if proper machinery had been provided, and the fruit might have been preserved in bulk. As it is, I am sorry to say the result of this complex series of proposals has been, without a doubt, that the scheme is a failure and masses of fruit will be unused in consequence.
I must, finally, press the Minister to mend his ways, or those of his Department, by referring to this egg scheme. This egg scheme was announced in the middle of June. I speak with some little interest in the matter because I myself was Chairman of the Reorganisation Commission for Eggs and Poultry which sat for twelve months, and I had the assistance of some of the most capable business men in the country, including the Chairman of Marks and Spencer, so that we did not lightheartedly arrive at our conclusions. Sixty-eight per cent. of our supply of eggs was produced at home. This scheme was announced in June. All eggs after the 30th were to be sent to the packing stations, and if you had more than twelve hens you were not allowed to sell to others. I think the summary of it which appeared in a little article in the Daily Telegraph puts it very well, and I venture to repeat it:Every poultrykeeper who has more than 12 birds is to be required to sell his eggs 759 through packing stations and he must obtain special permission to retain any for his own consumption. The effect of this would certainly be that a very large number of those who run small flocks of poultry would reduce them to 12 or less.Let me refer first to the proposal here that after that date, about three weeks ahead, the eggs must be sold through packing stations. Ultimately, on a rational and well-arranged scheme for the bulk of our eggs, a packing station is the right system, no doubt, where you get the proper grading, packing and machinery for distribution. I remember that on our Commission we spent a very long time in examining what was necessary, what would have to be done before you could create packing stations, to clear the eggs, arrange suitable distribution areas, and all the rest of it. The Minister was advised that the one fatal thing to do would be to interrupt the supply, the channel between the producer and the consumer—that any interruption would be fatal to any scheme. Of course, things could be done much more quickly in wartime than in peace-time, and we had in mind that there should be an Egg Board to which producers would go for this and that. It all takes time, I agree, but we came to the conclusion that after the decision to have a scheme had been arrived at, it would be eighteen months before you could put it into operation. The noble Lord's proposal envisaged eighteen days, and what has been the result? The result has been the inevitable result, that the packing stations in many parts of the country are not there; they do not exist at all; there is no channel between the local producer and a packing station of any kind, and the result has been that of course you are interrupting the supply between the producer and the consumer.
The noble Viscount quoted a letter which he had received from a very large firm of milk producers, and I seize upon the next paragraph in the letter. Let me read it:I might here mention that we have been supplying 3,000 customers in Oxford with 40 to 50 dozen eggs per day straight from our farm. The last three weeks we have sold to a packing station.They admit that the eggs are still in the packing station and will remain there. 760 There are quite a number of letters on this subject. The Chairman of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmers' Union wrote to say that hundreds of thousands of eggs were lying at packing stations in that county alone, and were going bad because the Food Ministry would not release them. Well, of course they were delayed; it was inevitable that they should be delayed. You cannot bring a great national packing station into operation m three weeks; it cannot be done. The noble Lord was expecting the result before he had taken the means to provide it. That is what has been the trouble.
Now let me say a word about the small producer. His tribulations have been even greater. The small producer of eggs is one of the food producers, and his is one of the most useful methods. These small producers use their kitchen waste and collect it; they have a few hens and they make a very small demand upon outside supplies of food. They produce invaluable food material with little trouble and they ought to be encouraged. If there is one section of food producers who should be encouraged it is that one. Well, this alarming report came out that poultry keepers with more than twelve birds had to send their eggs to the packing station, in the middle of June or thereabouts. A leading solicitor in the County Of Devon wrote to me about that time on another matter, and I have kept this tit-bit from his letter:I am afraid the Food Controller has so arranged matters that we shall, none of us, be able to obtain an egg next winter whether we live in the town or in the country, as owing to his activities fowls have been slaughtered in their thousands all round this district.And that is true.
I knew three maiden ladies, living a few miles from where I do, who kept a few chickens. I called on them to ask what was happening about their hens. The ladies had been needlessly apprehensive of the exhortations put out by the propaganda department of the Ministry of Food. They had been frightened; they had got it into their minds that somebody was going to come into their garden and count their hens and they were not going to be left with more than a dozen. They slaughtered thirty-five hens. It may have been very foolish; it 761 was foolish; I told them so, but it was the exploits of the propaganda department of the noble Lord that made those women kill those hens. It happened all over the country; the damage had been done, and the reason was that it was sought to bring the small producer into the scheme. Here I must revert to the findings of my own Commission. We were impressed with the desirability of not interfering with the small producer any more than could be avoided. We exempted even from obtaining a licence every producer with less than thirty-five hens. Then we said that sales to neighbours and employees were very desirable and should be continued. Also that producer-retailer sales were very desirable, and unless they were very big they should not make any material difference to the scheme. Therefore, unless a person was carrying on producer-retailer sales on a large scale, no action need be taken about it. In other words, we were very anxious to see that no serious interference with the scheme would be occasioned by small sales to the consumers.
We were very anxious not to interfere with the small producers. There is every reason why a person who keeps a few hens in a back yard for the purpose of supplying his own family should be encouraged. This alarming series of actions by the Minister of Food has spread alarm among hundreds of thousands of these modest producers of food, and there has been, in consequence, a wholesale and unnecessary slaughter of food-producing hens. This is not good, if I may say so. The noble Lord received my criticisms about jam with open disdain. I hope that he will not repeat that error in regard to other matters. I say so with great respect, because of what has happened lately about eggs, and the queueing up for potatoes. The failure of the village jam scheme is not; so importent; it does not cut so deeply; is but the cases which I have mentioned are seriously alarming the people. They are causing grave uneasiness. The reason I have been pointing them out with such emphasis' is that each one of them could have been avoided by careful forethought and preparation.
There was no reason why there should have been a shortage of potatoes. There I were potatoes. And if the matter had been carefully reviewed early enough there was 762 no reason at all why people should have been led into sending eggs to non-existent packing stations without proper forethought, and certainly no reason for needlessly alarming so many small, modest and most valuable producers. I do not know what department of the Ministry it is which has caught this disorder lately, but, whichever it is, I do implore the noble Lord to check its operations, because if there is one thing that is likely to undermine the public morale it is needless hardship in connection with the daily supply of their food. I say "needless hardship"; they are willing and anxious to participate in any inconvenience which they know is necessary, but what they do and will resent—and I implore the noble Lord to remember it—is any needless hardship, any foolish interference with their habits.
In conclusion let me tell the noble Lord of something that happened three or four days ago in a town through which I regularly pass. I say that this is to be in conclusion because its significance is very great. Last week it happened that there was a queue—I saw it myself then, and I saw it again this morning—outside a greengrocer's shop. The queue consisted of perhaps eighty or a hundred women, who were marshalled in double rank by a police officer. I suppose that they were waiting for potatoes or for tomatoes.
§ LORD ADDISON
Cigarettes? No. It was a greengrocer's shop. Well, on the occasion of which I am speaking, a woman arrived at the shop in a car. She was evidently a favoured customer. She got out of the car and went into the shop in front of the queue. Shortly afterwards she came out with a bag of potatoes and a parcel of tomatoes. What happened then was that the women in the queue fell upon her, scattered her potatoes and tomatoes all over the road, and tore her dress. I rather think that she deserved it. I do not think anybody would sympathise with her very much. Undoubtedly she should not have done what she did. But the point I want to emphasize to my noble friend is that that kind of thing is very dangerous and most undesirable. Any step that can be taken to avoid such happenings should be taken, and should be the subject of adequate and careful forethought.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I desire merely to touch for a moment on a point arising out of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Dawson of Penn, to which we all listened, I am sure, with much pleasure and instruction. The noble Duke opposite stated most frankly and fairly the case which the Minister of Agriculture was able to make with regard to winter production. I am sure he was wise to warn not only your Lordships but the country generally, that in the winter months we may have to look forward to a reduction in the milk supply. Well that is a serious matter, and the reasons for it are no doubt various. One reason, speaking from the point of view of the milk producer, is that, undoubtedly, a great many cows from the dairy herds were slaughtered. That is unquestionable. A reason for this was that it was published everywhere that there was a coming danger of shortage in the supply of meat, and that the meat ration might have to be reduced. I am quite certain that that had the effect of causing the slaughter of far too many dairy cows.
With the coming shortage of winter keep it is very natural that dairy farmers should seek to get rid of all animals not likely to develop productively. Barren cows, cows which farmers call unthrifty might very well be turned into fat cattle so far as it is possible to make any animal fat in the present circumstances.. I think a good many animals were killed which might well have been spared. It is impossible to suppose that any dairy herd can be composed only of very deep milkers. The average cow ought certainly to be kept alive, but I fear that in a good many cases she was unnecessarily slaughtered. That, as I say, was, in my view, to some extent due to the alarm which was caused with regard to the probable shortage of meat and the feeling that therefore as much home-killed meat as possible ought to be kept preserved for use in the coming winter. I think one can see how that occurred. It is obviously right to make quick decisions, but the objection to quick decisions is that if the circumstances change the decisions have to be very quickly reversed. When it was found that the alarm with regard to a shortage of meat was not so well founded as had been supposed, regrets were expressed that too large a sacrifice of cattle had been made; and many farmers, of 764 course, had been tempted to go further than they should have done in that direction. That is one point.
Another point is this. I have been told that a great many more calves from dairy herds have been put on the market during the last few weeks than formerly. I hope that the noble Duke will see what can be done through the agricultural societies, or through the National Farmers' Union and other organisations which are competent to help, to impress upon farmers the need for looking to the future and not thinking too exclusively of the present. The natural tendency is to think only of what is wanted at the moment. I am certain that the Ministry of Agriculture can do a great deal of good by making it clear that farmers ought to look forward to next summer, with its prospective shortage of feeding-stuffs, after they have got through the coming winter. The noble Lord who has just spoken, and to whom we all listened with interest, touched on the milk question from the point of view of the undue margin existing between the profits to the producer and the price which the consumer has to pay. I shall not dwell on that, but I am sure that the noble Lord, the Minister of Food, will feel it necessary to offer some form of explanation in that regard.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, at this late hour I shall detain your Lordships only for a few moments, but the remarks which fell from the noble Duke mean the death-knell of many thousands of poultry, and in that connection I should like to refer to a sale which is taking place next Saturday in my own neighbourhood, a sale of 2,750 hens from blood-tested stock, 1,500 yearling hens, 1,250 hens, and—and here is the important point—240 fold units of twenty to twenty-five bird-capacity. That means that that particular farm—and I know exactly where it is—is next year going to produce nothing like the food which it did in the past, because it depends very largely for its fertility on these hens, and all that is wanted is 10 per cent. of the ration in whole wheat for the hens in order to keep them alive and maintain the fertility of the land.
There is another point which I should like to put to the noble Duke. In the debate on July 1 he said this, and it cheered me a great deal:Most of us here realise that to get a proper balance of farming means in reality 765 that each farm must be treated on its own basis. From this it follows that for the best results we must allow considerable latitude in each county. For that reason the policy laid down in Whitehall must be left to be worked out by the war agricultural executive committees.I hope that that means that the local committees have authority in some way to relieve the rigidity of this policy which emanates from Whitehall and which means, I am certain, that less food will be produced in the future than is produced to-day, at any rate in the district in which I live.
The noble Duke's statement that only one-sixth of the food is to be allowed for poultry means the death-knell, as I have said, of many thousands of the best fertilizers in the country. Your Lordships will remember that fertilizing is something about which I am particularly anxious at the present time, and I feel that sight is being lost of it. So far as pigs and poultry are concerned, it does not necessitate the use of a single ship; we do not ask that anything should be brought to this country, but merely that the fanner should have discretion to retain a certain amount of the crops which he grows in order to maintain the fertility of his land. Farming is a business, and no farmer is going to retain more than he need when he can sell his crops at such a good price. He wants to do everything he can to maintain the productivity of his soil, and if possible to increase it, and he will retain only that amount which is absolutely necessary to enable him to go on producing this great amount of food which my noble friend wishes him to produce.
My noble friend Lord Addison referred to tomatoes. I do not know whether he is thinking of the case that I have in mind, but it is in the same area. A friend of mine produces an enormous quantity of tomatoes in this area, and hitherto he has been accustomed to send a percentage of them to the local town. He may now do that no longer; they have all to go to London and then come back to this town, employing petrol and transport. The consequence is that the people in that local town—which is a big one—get hardly any tomatoes. I live very close to the town in question, and I find that I cannot buy tomatoes at all; but, as I grow a few, that does not matter so much to me.
766 We hear a great deal about theorists and about scientists. They are splendid people for giving help; but when it comes down to practical farming you must leave it to the agriculturist himself. He is not going to do anything that will damage the productivity of his land; he is not going to damage the soil from which he gets the immense supply of food which is being produced to-day. I do suggest that there is too much control. Immediately control comes in with regard to any commodity, that commodity goes off the market. That has happened over and over again, and I could give my noble friend the Minister of Food plenty of instances of it; but no doubt he knows perfectly well what happens. I do not want to be aggressive in any way, and I do want to compliment my noble friend on the way he has conducted a most difficult task; but lately he seems to have got into rather deep water, and I think that it is due to over-legislation.
Surely the right thing to do, and I feel this is the way to set about it, is to use the present existing organisations of collection and distribution. It is not only the fault of the noble Lord's Ministry, it is the fault of other Ministries, that they will not do so. They always start some scheme of their own. I am quite certain that it would have been better if my noble friend had gone to these existing organisations and said, "Now I want you to carry on, and I want you, instead of distributing your commodities to this place and that place, rather to give preference to the bombed-out areas, which I know should receive preference from us all." That is where I consider the trouble has come. New departments have been set-up, and new men who have not done it before have embarked on a job that, as my noble friend opposite said, takes not only months but almost years to learn adequately how to run. I end on the note which I stressed the other day. I say to your Lordships, please do not forget that we cannot go on producing the amount of food from the soil which we are doing to-day unless we have at the back of our heads all the time how we are going to maintain the fertility of the soil. I do not see how we are going to maintain that fertility if, after to-day's debate, thousands, if not hundred of thousands, of chickens, and in many cases pigs, which are necessary to the fertility of the soil, are disposed of owing to the 767 difficulty of maintaining them. In sitting down, I must apologise to your Lordships for being so hurried.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Dawson, for having once again directed public attention to the importance of securing that there should be adequate supplies of milk, especially for young children, and for once again confirming its indispensability as a food for them. The problem of food control never can be simple, and it resolves itself into a competition between relative merits, between the things that are good and the things that are good for us. I was grateful to the noble Viscount for the support he gave to the almost constant, persistence with which I have spoken about the importance, of milk. There have been significant phrases used in to-day's debate. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, said that he would be glad if I would tell the country where we stood regarding our food supplies. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, in a very critical but very friendly examination of the multitude of sins arising, as he said, perhaps from over-zeal, indicated that he thought the public confidence might be disturbed. Perhaps your Lordships will let me use the occasion to try and put these problems into perspective.
I find it extraordinarily difficult to retain a proper sense of perspective myself in dealing with food. Jam, tomatoes, new potatoes, and eggs—these are the things which have been discussed to-day. I am certain that the noble Lord is right in saying that these things are causing concern in the country. Yet, how fortunate we are that it is these things that are causing concern in the country, because it might indeed be, after twenty-two months of war, that other things were causing concern. I am not saying that to excuse myself in the least. I am only trying to get a perspective of the situation. One of the principal Secretaries of State came to me yesterday—he is very experienced and I am not—and told me that as Minister of Food I was failing in my job because I was not letting the country know how well we were provided with food. He said it would sustain the morale of the people if they could know what the situation really was. The nature of his office enabled him to know the situation 768 and the amount of careful and considered control that we had exercised over the major issues of food supply in order to arrive at the present position. I have had reluctance in following that advice.
The noble Lord, Lord Addison, has talked about my propaganda department. I have a propaganda department. It is called the Public Relations Department. I find it a difficult department to control, because the truth is that if we try to tell the public what we have done, then there immediately comes to some people's minds the charge of complacency, which is, of course, the latest of modern crimes. No person, indeed, who had not the skin of a rhinoceros could possibly be complacent if he were Minister of Food. We are now trying, day by day—I hope with some success—to perfect this organisation which, I assure Lord Teviot, does consist of expert people, people who have handled tomatoes and eggs, people who have built for themselves high reputations in their trades. They are the people whose advice I have taken and, generally speaking—they are human and subject to human frailties—I have found their advice has been good.
I should myself have been inclined to think that the public were the best judges of whether they were being adequately fed; but my colleague pointed out to me that before the war there was no acute consciousness in this country of the fact that so many hundreds of thousands of people were suffering then from malnutrition. It was not one of the subjects they read about daily in the newspapers—that there were, before this war broke out, very many thousands of children in the country who had not enough to eat. The country has become more sensitive to these issues during war-time than it ever was in peace, and it is good that it should be so, although the task that confronts the Ministry of Food of securing the nation's health on supplies that are greatly reduced—and have, during this last year, been decreasing—is a more difficult one than confronts us during the days of peace. Not only have our supplies been reduced, but, if I may refer to the remarks of the noble Marquess, they are changing in character and sometimes changing very rapidly as the course of the battle in which we are engaged removes our sources of supply, so that we have to come to quick conclusions.
769 I sometimes wonder whether we are really sufficiently aware, when we discuss food questions, of the fact that they are largely determined by war conditions. If we still had Holland and Denmark to trade with, this debate would not have taken place; there would be no concern about milk, or cheese, or butter, or eggs; if we had the Channel Islands we should have had supplies of early potatoes which would have filled in the gap that has resulted from the quite unusual weather of the late spring and the early summer. If the Channel Islands had been open to us there would have been no problem of tomatoes in this country, and if the Battle of the Atlantic had not been raging day by day, noiseless and unseen, for the most part unappreciated by the people of this country, we should have had very few difficulties with our supply of meat. In fact, there is no comparison between the conditions in this war and the last war that does not show that, from the point of view of food supplies, we have been faced with problems of much greater difficulty and complexity than we had to face in the last war.
Now let us, if I may, take stock of the position, and see where we stand. In spite of all the nervous strain of air raids, as a nation I believe the noble Viscount would agree we are fit and we are well. I know that there are some individuals and some groups of individuals who are finding special difficulties regarding food and about those I am most concerned. But this was always so, even in the days of peace. All that has happened is that the groups have been changed. We are now nationally conscious of the difficulties, and are taking special steps to meet them group by group as we find them.
I would venture the speculation that there are fewer people who are suffering from malnutrition now, at the end of the second year of war, than there were in the days of peace, and that position is apparently due to Government policy in securing not only adequacy of supplies, bat adequacy of the distribution of supplies of food according to people's needs. We have come through the winter: and we had plenty of potatoes until a fortnight ago. We have had plenty of milk and bread in abundance. Whilst our rations have not been on a generous scale, they have been taken up by the people of the country, thus showing that the food 770 that we have prescribed as a fair share for everybody has been of such amount and at such a price that everybody could get their fair share. Before this war started it would not have been possible to say that nobody in this country wanted for food. As a result of the policy of organisation of the distribution of food, and of selling it at a price within the reach of the ordinary housewife, we can say that many people in this country are more adequately fed now than they were before the war started. Food is certainly more equitably distributed than it was then, and in all the things that are essential to the nutritive life of the nation we stand to-day in the middle of the war in a position of comparative security. I hope that my colleague in the Government was right in urging me to make this statement in public. We have so husbanded our stocks of food that in spite of all the blows that we have sustained—and indeed they have been many—from the U-boats of the enemies, we stand alone among the nations at war in being able to increase rations and to increase allocations that we are making to manufacturers of food.
Moreover, we can look into the future with confidence. I have a superstitious horror of favourable prophecy, but we are so near to the beginning of the third year of war, that perhaps it is not being unduly speculative for me to say that we can face it with much confidence. The same people who have had the control of commodities during the past year will be controlling them next year. They will do it as well; they will probably make fewer mistakes as a result of the experience of this year. We have made all our plans together, as prudent business men, and I do say this—that whilst this year the nutritive values of the foods that have been available in this country have suffered some decline, next year they should be as high as they have ever been in the last 15 years. That means more than it says, because in the years of peace there were great differences between the standard of nutrition of different classes of society. The distribution of food during war-time removes many of the surpluses from those who were able to buy them for money. Without for one moment pretending that there is equality in the capacity to purchase among all classes of the community, we 771 have gone a long way to securing that, in the major foods, there shall be equality of distribution.
That then is the prospect for the future. The complaint against our diet is not that it has been short, but that it has been lacking in variety. The noble Viscount again drew attention to it to-day. I am hoping for some improvement in that respect. As a result of the very generous provision that is being made by the United States of America, I hope we shall remedy this defect in increasing measure from now onwards. We shall have to achieve the same equitable distribution of this variety of foods that we have achieved in the case of the essential foods that now comprise our dietary. That in part is the explanation of the yellow book that I ventured to send round with the ration card this year. May I take this opportunity of expressing my particular gratitude and that of the Government, to Mr. Wickard, the Minister of Agriculture of the United States of America, for the great effort that he is making to secure for us the things that we need—and particularly to secure for us dairy products—milk and eggs and cheese? For months past it has been my daily concern to secure milk, either in its liquid state, or as condensed milk, or as powdered milk, so that we should have supplies next winter. I have appealed to the farmers of this country, who have done a grand job in securing the nation's food supplies. I know that they are going to help us with the milk supplies. I have appealed to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who is here in our midst, and is leaving no stone unturned to secure that the milk that his people have in their country in such quantities, is made into a form in which it can be transported to this country; and the Government of the United States, who are very alive to the need of milk for children, are straining to the uttermost to help us. During this coming winter I have no doubt that, with his help and with the efforts we ourselves are making, we shall secure all the milk that we require, in one form or another, not only for the National Milk Scheme, but for children, for adolescents and for invalids, in full measure. But these classes must have the first call on the available supplies.
772 If I may, I will now turn to the other question that has been referred to in this debate. It concerns distribution. In peace-time, operating under ordinary economic laws, this is no easy problem, and there are many economists in this country who have expressed concern at its inefficiency. In war-time it is infinitely more difficult. There are two methods of controlling distribution. The first is to allow price to determine the direction in which commodities go, and in that case the supply is always equal to the effective demand; the ability to pay determines who gets the goods. When tomatoes were 4s. 6d. a lb. a few weeks ago, there was no shortage. They were there in the shops for the rich to buy. The only shortage was in the number of rich people who could afford to pay or who were willing to pay 4s. 6d. So the price tended to drop until tomatoes found a market. But there was no shortage.
The second method is to control the selling price. This is foreign to our whole economic system of trading in this country. It involves the introduction of some controlling feature that is going to determine among the hundreds of thousands of shops in this country where the goods shall go and in what quantities. The moment anybody tries to introduce a system of that kind there are mistakes such as the ridiculous error to which the noble Lord, Lord Addison, drew attention, for which I do apologise. I am sure there have been many such mistakes made. The system arouses all sorts of opposition among people who have been trained in another school of experience. It also provides opportunities for the people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred—those people who are prepared during war-time to sacrifice the interests of their country for their own private profit and who start surreptitious markets.
Control of price does not, of course, have any effect on the quantity of goods that are available for distribution, but it does increase the demand immeasurably. That is a point often lost sight of. Tomatoes at 1s. 2d. are within the reach of many scores of times the number of people who buy tomatoes at 4s. 6d., and consequently the supply is rapidly absorbed. I have so often heard responsible people say that when goods were controlled 773 they disappeared from the market. The purpose of control is to secure that they shall disappear—but to secure that a smaller quantity shall disappear clown a multitude of throats rather than that a comparatively large quantity shall disappear down the throats of fewer people with a larger capacity to pay. That is the reason why goods disappear when you multiply the number of people who can afford to buy. I have heard so much about tomatoes. A survey made on a wide basis to find out what happened to tomatoes after they were controlled showed that they had been on sale in 6.5 per cent. of the shops on the day of the survey—and samples were taken all over the country—and having been on sale the tomatoes rapidly disappeared, because they were in short supply and there were large numbers of people who wanted them.
The same thing is happening with fish. We only have 25 per cent. of the normal supplies of fish coming into this country. Whilst it is early days yet to talk about it, I am at any rate satisfied that we are getting a wider distribution of fish under the control we have now imposed than we were getting when I spoke on the subject the last week in June.
I am endeavouring to do the same thing for eggs. All my political instinct warned me to leave eggs alone. I would indeed have been very glad if I could have convinced myself that it was right to leave them alone, but the shortage of eggs represented a serious problem in the nutritional diet of the town dweller. I warned the House that I should have to proceed in all these things to which the noble Lord, Lord Addison, referred on the method of trial and error. I went deliberately into this difficult period of trial. I knew that I had already dealt with all the things that were essential, all the things that were in sufficiently large supply to make the problem of controlling them either in their price or in their distribution the sort of problem that anybody likes to tackle hoping they are going to produce a finished and decent sort of job. I knew that I should have to propound schemes and alter them in the light of experience.
Regarding eggs, the position was not only complicated by shortage; there was 774 another feature, to which the noble Lords opposite had drawn my attention—namely, the economic price that the producers required was greater than we were allowing them under the controlled price. There was a conflict between the interests of the consumer and the interests of the producer. Many months ago the Cabinet accepted a proposal that I put to them that the cost of important foodstuffs must be kept, during the war, within the purchasing capacity of the general mass of the people. The price that the producer required for eggs was greater than the mass of the people of this country could pay, and therefore, in agreement with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we decided that we must subsidise eggs. This involved a complete departure from trade practice. Moreover, it involved for general reasons of State into which I need not go here, the production of a scheme that should be in operation before June 30. I had not the time to produce a watertight scheme.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addison, for having told the country that in his view it would take eighteen months to produce a really workable and competent scheme. I had, as he says, something in the neighbourhood of eighteen days in which to do it with the help of the trade and with the good will of all sections of the trade. It was clear, if we were going to spend public funds in subsidizing eggs, that there must be some place where we could count the eggs and determine how much of this public money should be given. This meant that the eggs had to go through some channel where the subsidy could be assessed. We therefore authorised 650 packing stations. They arc not the Ministry of Food packing stations; they are not run by Government officials or by employees of the Ministry of Food; they are in the hands of private traders in this country experienced in the work. It is they who are receiving the eggs and it is from those centres that the Ministry of Food direct the outflow. There has been much criticism of these packing stations, and I am not for one moment going to claim that the are perfect or to say that the criticisms that have been adduced are not true and right. I do not think they are any less perfect since they accepted instructions from the Ministry of Food, but they are doing a much larger job than they ever did before.
775 Let me give you some figures: In the week before this control came into existence, that is the week ending June 28, the number of boxes of eggs going through the packing stations in this country was 23,700. In the week ending July 5 it was 80,000; in the week ending July 12 it was 90,000. This represents a very big development in business, and I am not surprised that even in the most competent of business organisations an increase of turnover as large as this should cause some temporary embarrassment. That is not to say that the scheme I put forward is a failure, because the purpose of the scheme was not to direct eggs to packing stations, but to distribute eggs to the townspeople of this country. That was the end we had in view, and what have we done? Before this scheme came into existence distribution followed its own financial will. Now that we are giving it direction, in the week ending July 5, direction was given to 139,733 boxes of eggs; in the following week, 183,900 boxes; and in the last ten days we have allocated 116,500,000 eggs, one-third of which were home produced. Of the eggs received in the packing stations for the week ending July 12 allocations are already being made.
This is not a story of universal delay all over the country or of universal confusion. It may be that in some parts of the country—those of which we hear—there has been delay. It may be that in some parts of the country the Government have not been able to send transport as quickly as farmers in remote areas want. I anticipated difficulty in this connection as regards Scotland, and therefore left that country out. I will take up the suggestion of Lord Davies and certainly make inquiries (with his help, I hope) into the problem of the remote districts of Wales.
§ LORD WOOLTON
One hundred and twenty. The present trouble in the egg scheme will, I believe, be overcome. We have distributed 116,500,000 eggs. Eggs have been seen in the shops of some of the towns of this country in quantities such as have not been seen for months. Townspeople have been getting eggs to an extent they have not been able to get them for months, and if my Department have to go through some teething troubles 776 it will be worth while, because we shall be spreading supplies more equitably throughout the country. I am sorry to detain your Lordships so long, but I must take up some of the questions. Lord Davies talked about throwing away fish at Clydebank and in Newhaven. I do not know, but all sorts of reasons prompt people to do peculiar things. If he would let me have particulars of what the Duke of Montrose refers to I will be very glad indeed to inquire into it and see whether there are any factors that can prevent such things happening in future.
I know the noble Lord, Lord Addison, will—indeed, I sympathise with him—pursue me quite relentlessly on the question of milk prices. I made a statement some time ago on that subject on behalf of His Majesty's Government. His Majesty's Government have not altered their opinion on that issue. I am very willing to ask them if they are prepared to alter it now. The statement by me was on behalf of the Government. I find little difficulty in dealing with the noble Lord, Lord Addison, because he speaks of failure of which I am unconscious. He said that this jam scheme which I am making was a failure. There were 5,667 centres established in this country for dealing with this problem.
§ LORD ADDISON
I am well aware of the number of centres. I say they have not made the jam; that is the trouble.
§ LORD WOOLTON
We had to have foresight. We had the foresight to know we would not have the sugar to spare to make a distribution to people making jam from the products of their own gardens. We did not have the foresight to know there would be a very small fruit crop. There has been a very small fruit crop. I have myself seen examples of people bringing in small quantities of fruit from their gardens and communally making it into jam. We did all we could and we were in the hands of a competent body, those women who, with great patriotism, were organising the women's institutes. It is not fair, is it, to say they do not know anything about rural life? They certainly know a great deal more about it than I do. I left myself to be guided very largely by them, and they were certainly ready to face the problem if the fruit had been available.
777 On the subject of potatoes I really must protest. In order that there should be ample supplies of potatoes in this country I have done everything that anyone with prudence could do. We had, at the end of the season, when potatoes were already beginning to go bad, 180,000 tons—two weeks' supply. It is true that we had a remarkably late spring and that we had a period of drought, but these things could have happened at any time, and I cannot, on behalf of the Ministry of Food, accept any responsibility for the extraordinary way in which Nature has treated us in the matter of weather this year.
May I make one observation about what the noble Lord, Lord Addison, with his vast experience of office, has said to me? He has asked me to curb the zeal of my staff. I think the noble Lord, Lord Perry, will appreciate that remark. I do not desire to curb the zeal of people who are doing all they can to try to help in this war effort. I must try to secure that they and that 1, who indeed am the responsible person, have more wisdom in seeing that the schemes which they, in their zeal, put up are more readily workable. But sometimes the pressure of circumstances makes you feel, when you see where the country's needs are, that you must take the risk and must work on a system of trial and error, hoping that, when you make your errors, people will, at any rate, bear with you when you adjust them afterward. I am grateful to your Lordships for the very patient hearing which you have given me, and I am grateful to the noble Viscount for having raised this issue. I hope that I have not detained you unduly long, but I felt that it was important, both for this country and for other countries, that this statement as to our present food position and our probable food position next year should be made public.
§ LORD PERRY
My Lords, I would have liked to have spoken before the Minister replied because there are two or three points to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention and concerning which, I am sure, a statement by the Minister would have been interesting. The subjects of tomatoes and the control of tomatoes have been referred to in this debate. With respect to one aspect of the control of tomatoes I made a note while the Minister was speaking—which 778 probably is hardly fair. He spoke of tomatoes as being expensive at 4s. 6d. per pound. Of course, it was because they were scarce that they were 4s. 6d. per pound. It was not because they were 4s. 6d. per pound that they were scarce. I think that the argument was put by the Minister the wrong way round.
The point I wanted to make was this. I presume that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food have laid their heads together to kill and bury the National Mark. It is with very great regret that most of the packing trade finds that because of the Maximum Prices Order which has been placed on tomatoes the work of many years in building up what has been a most admirable help to the Ministry of Agriculture has been, so far as tomatoes are concerned, killed with one stroke. Now, instead of being graded and marked and packed properly, on a system of which packers generally were very proud, tomatoes good, bad and indifferent, unripe, ripe and over-ripe, have to be packed all in a heap together. It is true they fetch the control price today of 1s. 2d. per pound retail, or 9d. per pound wholesale.
I may sound as though I am speaking with a little feeling on the subject of tomatoes. I grow them, so that the matter comes a little near home. I understand that the Minister has caused to be made a survey as to what has happened to tomatoes since the control of them. If I may be allowed to venture an opinion, I, as a tomato grower, would say to your Lordships that the proper price for tomatoes to-day is at the very most 5d. and not 9d. per pound wholesale. In peace-time no prices above that price have ever prevailed, so that it seems to be not the virtue of price control that it brings food into the reach of the poorer people. On the contrary, tomatoes were never a poor man's food except in periods of glut. At 1s. 2d. per pound they are certainly not a poor man's food, as I think your Lordships will agree. Why, therefore, interfere? The price is settled in the way that it is settled between grower and consumer because tomatoes are perishable. They cannot be cornered, or stored or handled in any complicated or intriguing manner. They have to be plucked, and then there is no time or opportunity for conspiracy. Therefore, the price the consumer pays is the price 779 he is willing to pay, and, so far as the grower is concerned, if the price goes up high well and good.
With respect to fish, I would like to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that before the Ministry of Food is capable of controlling the price of fish it interferes with that greatest of all national problems, the problem of wages. The price of fish is only controlled by fixing a ceiling to the earnings of the fisherman. By long practice, the fisherman has been paid by results. He makes his catch, brings it home, and participates in the market price which is obtained for it. If, therefore, you say he shall only get so much per pound, as it says under the order, for his fish, obviously he gets only so much wages. I would have thought that that was a very serious step to have taken even to secure so laudable an interference and to prove, it may be, that a second fish scandal may be avoided.
We have heard a great deal with regard to eggs, but there again a matter to which I would like to draw your Lordships' attention has not been touched upon. Any law which is made which cannot be enforced or policed is a bad law. I would like to ask the Minister of Food how, in the name of conscience, does he presume to think that he can police this poultry order—this egg order. The order confuses poultry and eggs. It is eggs which interest the Minister of Food, and it is poultry which produce them. A number of fowls which was first fixed at twelve is now fifty. Whitehall knows so little about poultry that it apparently overlooked the fact that a chicken, as a general rule, does not lay eggs until it is six months old. With poultry, however, the prohibition starts at two months, so that the unfortunate man who has a few chickens at the present time has to keep his pullets for four months and rely on a balance of broody hens for any eggs which he may get in the meanwhile. There is a great confusion there between eggs, which are what the Minister wants, and the poultry, male and female, which are what the producer has.
It is the growing up of this "Gestapo" to which I want to draw your Lordships' attention. Among the thousands of employees supervised by the Minister—probably nearly as many as the next two biggest Ministries put together, and at any 780 rate a very large number—he has a number who might perhaps be described as "snoopers"; personally, I would call them agents provocateurs.
§ LORD PERRY
I can only refer the Minister to newspaper reports, which seem to prove the contrary. I should also like to direct your Lordships' attention to potatoes. In order to achieve a control over potatoes, the Ministry of Food, with the help of the Treasury, have had to trespass upon one of the most sacred treasures of our Constitution. Potatoes are taxed to-day, not by consent of Parliament but by order under a regulation of the Treasury. They are taxed from 5s. to 7S. 6d. a ton, and every ton of edible potatoes and seed potatoes is taxed. The revenue is estimated to exceed £1,000,000, and obviously this must make a substantial addition to the cost-of-living index figure. I do not know what your Lordships think, but to my mind the fact that under any sort of excuse of distribution the Ministry of Food or the Treasury should be permitted to impose taxation is something which cannot be condoned.
I should also like to say something to your Lordships on the career of the carrot. The Ministry of Food have spent a great deal of money—certainly many tens of thousands of pounds, and it may not be an exaggeration to say hundreds of thousands of pounds—in making the carrot an infernal nuisance. We meet it everywhere; its merits have been proclaimed until we find it on every dinner-table, on every supper-table and on every breakfast-table—or at least, we did find it there. The first weapon which the Ministry of Food use to attain their objective is a maximum price order. This famous little carrot, for which the Minister has spent scores of thousands of pounds in creating a demand, has escaped the one restriction which should have been imposed—a maximum price order—with the consequence that the price of carrots has soared many time higher than the price of any other foodstuffs. Notwithstanding that, we never open a paper and hardly ever listen to the radio without hearing something about the merits of the carrot. 781 Now this advertising, on which I am sure it is no exaggeration to say that the Ministry of Food have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds, is, in the business world, always done in order to create a demand. One advertises one's products to create a demand and, before doing so, one makes sure of one's supply. So badly has the advertising of the Ministry of Food been done that the three articles most advertised—carrots, oatmeal and potatoes—were unprocurable during the height of the advertising season.
§ LORD PERRY
Certainly it is a question of fact, and a question of fact on which I am sure that your Lordships can satisfy yourselves. I feel certain that Lord Teviot's criticism of over-legislation and over-control was a correct one. I am guilty, personally, of a criticism concerning administration, but I should almost like to recommend what I previously condemned; I think that if there were a little more of second thoughts, of the passing of minutes and of reflection before the multitudinous orders are made, it would be for the good of everybody.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I intervene for a few moments only in this debate. I had not meant to say anything at all, but having heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, I should like to express on my own behalf—I do not know about other noble Lords—a most profound sense of disappointment at what the noble Lord said in reply to this most important debate. The noble Lord began by telling us that a Secretary of State had told him that his one Ministerial fault was that he had not told the people of this country how fortunate they were in regard to the food situation. The noble Lord then went on to deliver a speech based on endeavouring to persuade us and the country to submit to war conditions. Do let us be quite clear about this. There is nobody in your Lordships' House or in the country who is not prepared to put up with any conditions, and with any shortages of food, if those shortages and those conditions are necessary for the winning of the war; but the country is not prepared to stand unnecessary and artificial shortages created by Departmental mismanagement.
782 Hardly a single question which has been raised in this debate has been fully answered. The noble Viscount, Lord Dawson of Penn, raised the most important question of a coming milk shortage. From everything that I can see and hear in the countryside, I am convinced that what the noble Viscount warned us of is perfectly true. Only last Sunday I was on a farm in the West Country, in an area from which large quantities of milk usually come. This farm used to have 800 cows, but this winter they will be milking 550. Every one of your Lordships who comes from a country district could doubtless give the House similar instances. The noble Viscount, Lord Dawson, suggested a remedy. He reminded your Lordships of what a difficult and arduous task milk production is—that it means, not laying-off at twelve or one o'clock on Saturdays as on a corn-growing farm, but seven days a week, and that each one of these days starts at half-past four or five. Lord Dawson also drew the noble Lord's attention to the fact that the price of milk does not compare with the price of other commodities. I am not raising the question of the general level of farm prices—they may be too high or too low—but it is a question of balance. The noble Lord has made no reply to the noble Viscount on that point.
Similarly he quite confused the issue regarding tomatoes and eggs. I do not think there is a single member of your Lordships' House who is not perfectly prepared to support him in controlling tomatoes and eggs if that were going to lead to their fairer distribution; but when we are actually short of a commodity like eggs, desperately short, and the scheme of the noble Lord is introduced in such haste that actually, it may be thousands, it may be hundreds of thousands, it may be millions, have gone bad during the last few days and weeks, that is something that needs very much closer reply than the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has given. He attempted to put off responsibility by embarking on a defence of the packing stations. Nobody is attacking the packing stations. I know one packing station that handles 20,000,000 eggs a year and has a turnover of just under £500,000. This scheme started on July 1. The noble Lord talked about instructions from the Ministry of Food. When did they first get these detailed instructions? On July 7, seven days after the inauguration of the 783 scheme. I have the instructions in my pocket with the date written on them. It is these points that the noble Lord has not answered.
It is a terribly difficult task that has been allotted to the noble Lord, and every one of us must feel the greatest unwillingness to embark on any criticism of one who has such a desperate responsibility thrown on him. Yet I do hope that the noble Lord will take back with him from this debate instructions both to his Department and himself that this House—and in this case I believe this House is speaking for the country as a whole, both consumers and producers—is profoundly disturbed about the present handling, in many respects, of the food supply of this country. I hope he will tell his Department that he will expect very much improved handling of the food situation before the country is going to be satisfied.
§ LORD MARCHWOOD
My Lords, I am sorry it has not been possible for me, owing to other duties, to listen to the whole of this discussion this afternoon, because it is one that affects the people very closely. I need hardly tell the Minister that I do not wish to criticise him adversely. I am only too willing to pay tribute to all he has done. But I visited a farm on Friday which has been supplying the district with eggs for a very long time. They came under the order of the Ministry. They had to give their eggs over to the control. A man was sent down to collect these eggs almost a fortnight after they had been laid. The farmer's wife said that during that hot weather the eggs were hardly eatable when they reached the consumer. And the man sent to collect them had obviously no training with eggs or anything else. She thought he had been connected with a bomb factory or something of the sort. He took up the first lot of eggs and dropped the whole case. They were dripping all over the place. He took them away, and when the farmer got his accounts they specified so many delivered and so many broken. The farmer was up in arms regarding this, and said: "We delivered good eggs. Your people, through carelessness, broke these eggs." I should like the Minister, if he could, to tell us what is the percentage of eggs broken in transit, out of the great 784 number delivered under the control, because something should be done to protect the farmer and the consumer from a loss of this nature. It is only on that one point that I wish to speak this afternoon, and it is only because I heard the noble Earl who spoke last mention eggs that I felt it my duty to mention this case.
§ VISCOUNT DAWSON OF PENN
My Lords, at this time of the evening I shall be as brief as possible. I am grateful to the noble Lords opposite for the replies they have made and for the courtesy they have extended towards me, at any rate, in opening this debate. Having said that in regard to the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, I must draw attention to the complete inadequacy, almost futility, of the reply of his Department to statements soberly studied and soberly put forth. I have no doubt that he represents the Ministry, and there is nothing personal, I need hardly say in my remarks, but we are up against this. I am forced to this conclusion, that either the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture is completely indifferent to this subject or it is incompetent—one or the other. The Ministry of Agriculture knew perfectly well, or ought to have known, that in the year 1930–40 the milk supply was beginning to go down. They knew, or they ought to have known, that Germany's milk supply was going up. We need not go into the question of the methods the Germans use, but they only collect their milk because they know it is good for the people and serves a war purpose. Their milk supply was increasing, ours was decreasing. There was the warning.
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
The only available information we have at this moment—I do not say it is very reliable—is that milk supply in Germany is definitely decreasing. There is no liquid milk given except to mothers and children.
§ VISCOUNT DAWSON OF PENN
I am grateful to the noble Duke for that remark, but it does not alter that part of my criticism that we knew perfectly well in 1939–40 that our production was threatening to go down. There was the writing on the wall. Notice should have been taken of it. When we come to this debate, when the matter is put forward 785 seriously, we are told that the dairy herds are increasing. Well, to begin with, it is something to have brought that out in this debate, but even if they are increasing it does not answer the question about the production of milk, but rather makes the falling off in its production all the more serious. It may mean that more cows are diseased. I do not know if that is true or not, or whether there is less production per cow. The noble Duke did not give me, and he did not give your Lordships' House, any facts to controvert what I brought forward and what other noble Lords have brought forward. He gave us no facts to controvert the statement that the production of milk in this country is declining. There are figures which must be in possession of the Minister of Agriculture, and his Department can controvert those facts if they are in a position to do so.
I have taken care to study the figures given by the highest authorities. They put the reduction at 20 per cent. and some even at 25 per cent. at the end of this year as compared with last year. I think we ought to have a little more attention paid to such high authorities as I have referred to in regard to a matter which so gravely concerns the health of this country. The noble Lord, Lord Luke, was unable to remain in the House and he asked me to bring a matter forward. He has received from the Clerk of the Bedfordshire County Council this telegram:Bedfordshire Emergency Committee. Great concern at impending shortage of milk and urge that immediate steps be taken to prevent the present sale of calves and heifers for slaughter.I will pass from that because I do not wish to detain your Lordships, but I know there is a great deal of evidence of the extensive killing of young cattle. It might be worth while to consider whether, by means of propaganda or otherwise, something might be done to stop the slaughter at any rate of the heifers.
The noble Lord, the Minister of Food, said that the nation is well in health. I entirely agree with that remark. The nation is now well in health, whether or not we all agree it was well at the beginning of this war. But surely it is the business of statesmen to watch for indications of changes in the tide. Should not we do something before there are quite clearly signs of a change of the tide? I do 786 not want disease to come suddenly upon us, not in the first winter of the war but in a winter which in all human probability will find the nation rather more tired, rather more weary, suffering a little more from monotony, a little more apt to grouse, a little more easily discontented, than it was in the first winter of the war. In all human probability we shall have difficulties. We may have even more than we had last winter, when we were unusually fortunate in the absence of epidemic disease. I hope that may be the case this winter. We cannot do our duty unless we make provision to deal with the situation if we do get epidemics.
I should hate to be a bad prophet in respect of anything in the nature of an epidemic that may happen, but supposing we had something like the influenza epidemic that we had at the end of the last war. What is our weapon for fighting it? Our chief weapon is to maintain the resistance of our people to enable them to keep well in health. It is the workers who are really the most important people, and it is necessary that we should keep them at the highest level of efficiency to which they can possibly attain. I think one of the best things the noble Lord, the Minister of Food, has done amongst the many good things he has done was the propaganda in support of the consumption of milk, and it was as a result of this that last year we reached the highest consumption of milk this country has ever experienced. As a consequence of that the Ministry of Food were able to carry through the rationing of other foods with such success. It is more important than I can say to maintain our liquid milk supply at the highest level, and that is not going to happen unless very serious measures are taken to ensure that it comes about. Fortunately, as the noble Lord has just told us, we are going to get milk from America and from New Zealand. I emphasize New Zealand, since we were told not so long ago that we could not have any of these things because of the shipping position, and that we had to cut down imports. Now, apparently, we are compelled to take the risk to our shipping and accept these imports.
§ VISCOUNT DAWSON OF PENN
Most devoutly I hope you will succeed in your aim, but I think it is the duty of this 787 country to produce as much of its own liquid fresh milk as it can. You cannot get away from that. I do suggest, as there is a difference of opinion as to whether there is going to be a diminished production of milk or not, that we should have a completely independent inquiry instituted by the Government to show, first, whether there is a threat of diminishing milk production or not—I am not interested in the number of cows, I am interested in the actual milk available for the people of this country—and, secondly, if there is a reduction to what extent it exists, and to what extent it is likely to exist by next Christmas; and, finally, to decide by what means we are going to meet any such reduction in production. I know full well that the Minister of Food in his wisdom long ago began to store up powdered milk, and it is quite true that in an emergency powdered milk is very valuable.
I end where I began, that as regards both milk and eggs we cannot afford to do without them. You are not going to have good cookery without them. However good your potatoes and carrots may be they are only a background; they are good from the point of view of fuel, excellent from the point of view of energy, but you have to serve them up in such a way that the people will be content to accept them and be satisfied in eating them. The more I have thought and inquired into this matter the more convinced I have become that you cannot turn out a variety of dishes by mean of cookery for any length of time without milk and without eggs. Without desiring to see eggs as plentiful as they were in pre-war time, I say, do not let the eggs get down to too low a figure. I am rather encouraged by what the noble Duke said to the effect that we were going to have a larger number of laying hens than we had a short while ago, and I do urge from every point of view, from a fuel food point of view, and from the point of view of the good feeding of the people, feeding that must not be monotonous, that the question of eggs and milk should be kept fully in mind and seen to. Having expressed myself with perhaps not so much brevity as I 788 had intended when I began, I thank your Lordships for your patient hearing and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, in view of what has been said during this debate I shall not press my Motion. I confess that like my noble friend Lord Dawson I am not altogether satisfied with the replies given on behalf of the Government, although I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, for his statement as to food supplies in general. It is very encouraging to know that in his opinion we have every cause for satisfaction on that particular point. On the other hand the future is very uncertain. We do not know what is going to happen in the coming winter, and therefore I would like to impress upon him the necessity for avoiding any kind of waste so that we may utilise to the best advantage every ounce of food we have in the country. That, of course, involves the co-operation of the Ministry of Agriculture. Unless they are prepared to modify existing regulations the activities of the Minister of Food may be brought to nought. I hope that the noble Duke will take up that matter and see whether existing regulations can be in some way modified.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.