HL Deb 03 June 1942 vol 123 cc71-110

LORD TEVIOT rose to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the cost of the distribution of all foodstuffs, and in particular of vegetables, is excessive and calls for reduction. The noble Lord said: My Lords, before discussing the Motion which stands on the Paper in my name, I wish with your Lordships' permission to make a few general remarks. In these very strenuous days, with tremendous battles going on, I would not for one moment, if I did not consider that this question is of great importance to our people, take up the time of your Lordships' House on this subject. In my view this question is of the utmost importance, not only in regard to the present time but also for the time after the war. I do not myself propose to enter into much detail on this subject; I propose to leave that to noble Lords of great experience and knowledge in such matters.

We hear a great deal about planning and the studying of post-war ideas. No doubt other noble Lords, like myself, when we have studied these questions, find on coming to the practical side of any of these plans an obscure horizon which seems to stop us dead, and we are then thrown back, it seems to me, on general and rather vague assumptions. I deplore the tendency of some people who hold out most wonderful hopes and even, in some cases, offer promises that after this appalling tragedy is over and victory is won, we are going to live in a new sort of heaven upon earth. I cannot believe that after all this dreadful carnage, misery and destruction are over we are immediately going to come into anything like that. It will be many a day I believe before we are able to recover from what is going on now. But I do see in the Motion that I have had the temerity to put on the Paper a chance of doing some good now, a chance of narrowing the enormous margin between the price that the producer receives and the price that the consumer pays. I wish to see an immense reduction in this margin; I see no reason why we should not make it now. I believe that we can initiate the reduction and carry it out still further after the war.

As your Lordships are well aware, there are a great many homes in this country which find it impossible to buy some of the most nourishing foods because they are too dear. My authority for making this statement is the various Reports that have been issued by Committees set up by the Government on this subject in the last twenty years, beginning in 1922 with the Linlithgow Report and culminating in the Perry Report on the Distribution of Milk in 1940. As far as I know, up to now these Reports have been ignored, and I propose to read some of the conclusions which they contain. I hope your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments while I do so. Here are some quotations from the Linlithgow Report: The question remitted to us is one of vital moment both to the producer and to the consumer. The fundamental problem of the cheap and efficient distribution of foodstuffs is one of the most pressing and important with which modern society is faced. Prior to our appointment, particularly in the years 1920 and 1921, many of the distributive trades were making large profits, and making them easily. During the war, and for some time after its conclusion, consumers were more concerned with the supply of food than with its cost. With the increase in food supplies and the removal of Control, reaction ensued against the enforced food economy of the war period. This reaction was at first accompanied by a brisk labour market; salaries and wages being high, household expenditure remained a minor consideration, and distributors seized the opportunity to make large profits.

And again: Our investigations have led us to the conclusion that the spread between producer's and consumer's prices is unjustifiably wide. Taken as a whole, distributive costs are a far heavier burden than society will permanently consent to bear. In certain cases, for instance, it should be possible to concentrate in the hands of one intermediary the successive functions now performed by several.

I should like to dwell for a moment on that. I have in front of me a circle, and in that circle are the percentages and numbers of people who are distributing food. A good deal less than one-quarter of it goes through two intermediaries; one-third through three intermediaries; nearly one-fourth through four intermediaries; and over one-eighth through five intermediaries. A very small amount goes through one intermediary. These figures speak for themselves. All these people must get a living. I do not know what your Lordships feel, but I feel very strongly indeed that, somehow or other, we must stop this exploitation for profit on the part of many people in the distributive trades. I now continue with some more quotations: With better organization the regulation of supplies could, to a greater extent, be performed near to the place of production, with a consequent saving in handling and transport.

There again they say: In some trades there are now too many profit snaking agencies engaged in the process of distribution. There is a lot more of that sort with which I shall not weary your Lordships.

But there is one other that I think I should refer to. This is it: In our view, organizations engaged in the distribution of food are under an explicit obligation to dispel suspicion by fully and frankly publishing the general results of their trading. Nothing can contribute more to social unrest and instability than an apprehension, however groundless, that exploitation is rife in the distribution of food. The future is undoubtedly with the big unit, but its toleration will be conditional on an adequate appreciation of the requirements of the common weal. I think that this is a terrible indictment against the present system of the distribution of food in this country. In fact, I am afraid I go so far as to say that it really is a national scandal. I blame no one except the pre-war Governments who, knowing all this, have taken no steps whatever to deal with the situation. The system is wrong, and I am certain from the information I have and from what I have been told by those with whom I have discussed the subject, that it can be improved by better organization, and reduction of waste transport and of the general cost. The gap is really between the producer and the retailer. It seems to me that the retailer is a hard-working man and is not to blame, but it is this gap between the producer and the retailer which should be dealt with. There again I do not blame anyone. The system is there, and traders consider, I suppose quite rightly, that as the system is there they can continue to carry on as they have been doing now for many years.

I have quoted from Reports, and I come now to another question which is of immense importance. Professor Orr and Mr. Rowntree have told us, I think I am right in saying, that between a quarter and a third of the people of our country are, not indeed starving, but suffering from malnutrition. When one remembers that £650,000,000 worth of food either grown in this country or imported into it takes £850,000,000 more to distribute it, one realizes that that is a gigantic figure. It is one which, I feel quite certain, can be immensely reduced. Many of your Lordships have been into certain parts of the country—we all go there at times—and as you have gone about the towns and walked up and down the streets, you have seen malnutrition written on the faces of the children and of many other people. Here is the reason, in my view—the cost of distribution of foodstuffs. I have an idea that this subject is one that my noble friend the Minister of Food has at heart, because I look with great interest to his instruction to the Perry Committee—to be a Committee to investigate the present costs of distributing milk in Great Britain, and to advise what steps would have to be taken in order to bring about a substantial reduction in such costs. So I have great hopes that he will not be unsympathetic to the views that I am expressing, and the hopes that I have on this subject.

Like all the other Reports, however, this Report has been ignored. Again I see happy indications of a little nibbling on this subject already beginning to reduce the margin between producer and consumer to which I have already referred as being far too large. I should say that this is a moment which is very suitable for dealing with the subject. So far as I have been able to ascertain it does not require any legislation. I believe my noble friend has complete power to deal with this matter. He has only to issue the orders and they are bound to be carried out, so that I beg that he will take that remark of mine to heart and perhaps do something about it at a very early date. I say that it can be done without further inquiry or reporting. You do not want any more information; the information is already there to be used.

I never, if I can, make a speech without trying to offer some suggestions, which may, perhaps, be very foolish, because I do not believe that one does much good if one just criticizes and does not try to help. The ideas that occur to me are these. We know where the density of the population is and we know where millions of people are living in small areas. We know also the areas of the country where masses of food are produced. I suggest that there should be a decentralization of the big markets, and in particular Covent Garden. With your Lordships' permission I propose to read part of a letter which I received from my noble friend Lord Cornwallis, who would have been here to-day but unfortunately could not manage to get here. He writes: In a general way it may interest you to know that cabbages grown by the war agricultural committee "——

he is speaking of the County of Kent— had to be sold for less than nine-sixteenths of a penny per pound and all expenses had to come out of this. Prices retailer charged, fourpence, fivepence and even sevenpence a pound. London markets glutted from Corn wall and the West, so no local stuff wanted. At the same time towns on the route from Cornwall, etc., crying out for vegetables at any price. There are plenty of villages all over the country which want vegetables. Yet we have these vast quantities of vegetables travelling up to London, where there is no market for them, while the producers a few miles away cannot sell what they grow. Therefore I suggest that the first thing is to get markets distributed all over the country.

Then the price to the producer should be determined, and it should be a fair price, so that he can go on producing at the same rate as to-day, or even improving on it. The price to the importer also should be determined; and, still more important, it should be determined what the distributor is permitted to charge. It may turn some people out of business, but if it is a fair scheme and a fair business offer is made to those in the distributing trade there will be plenty of people to carry on. If others do not like it they must go out. Finally, in regard to prices the maximum price that the consumer shall pay must be determined. I say " maximum." My aim—and I hope it will be the aim of a great many other people in the country and perhaps of my noble friend—is to reduce that £800,000,000 by £200,000,000. Then you would have £650,000,000 worth of food, and £650,000,000 for the distribution thereof. I believe that that is an ample amount to allow for distributing £650,000,000 of food. The question immediately arises in one's mind whether that would not very materially help to improve the nutrition of the quarter to a third of the population referred to by Professor Orr and Mr. Rowntree. I believe it would. It would very materially help in bringing about the highest consumption of food by our young people.

There is another point. There have been signs, to which I have lightly referred, of apparent over-production. The market has been glutted, we hear. Your Lordships have heard what I quoted from the letter written by Lord Cornwallis. That is bad for the producer. It does not encourage him to do all he can if, when he has taken an immense amount of trouble to produce food, he either cannot get rid of it at all or do so only at a price which docs not pay him. We know perfectly well that when you lower prices you get greater consumption. Then there would be no glut. Instances can be quoted over and over again of prices paid to the consumer which have not even met the cost of production; yet if you go into the retailer's shop you find that the price charged to the consumer is not reduced but remains the same. If we can increase the turnover we know perfectly well that distributive costs will be less.

I have always felt that it is one of the world's scandals that even in countries which produce a great deal of food thousands of people are under-nourished. Britain has always been a pioneer in everything to help the people of the world, and I believe that if we were able to put this thing right in our own country it would have an important bearing on discussions now going on with regard to post-war conditions. We should lay the foundation for doing a great work in eliminating hunger and malnutrition throughout the whole world. More consumption means more production, better crops and better and healthier people. There will be some, as I have said, whose business will be interfered with. They must be fairly treated and given an opportunity to help. If they will not help, then they must go. This system must end. If proper arrangements can be made no greater service, in my view, can be rendered to our people. All sorts of people have tried to help in war work. Have the distributive trades tried? I am very doubtful. In this new world we must banish hunger and if we can do what I have suggested it will help to that end. I ask my noble friend to set about the reduction in the cost of the distribution of foodstuffs immediately and strenuously, and I appeal to him with all the force I can that he will take this matter up now and carry it through. I believe that if he does so his name will go down to posterity as one of the greatest benefactors of our people. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House the cost of the distribution of all foodstuffs, and in particular of vegetables, is excessive and calls for reduction.—(Lord Teviot.)


My Lords, I intervene for a few minutes only as I had to speak to your Lordships yesterday on another subject. My noble friends here and I associate ourselves with this Motion, and we hope that the Minister will make a generous response to the appeal which has been put to him by the noble Lord. I must have spoken upon this subject many times in this House, and I am afraid that I have said the same things in other words every time. There is no subject I know of that has been before more Government Commissions in one form or another than this, even down to the latest one on milk presided over by Lord Perry. And there is no subject upon which different Government inquiries have displayed more remarkable unanimity in their conclusions. Their unanimity has been shown very clearly by the noble Lord who has just spoken.

Whatever else we may be as pioneers we are certainly one of the most patient and tolerant races in the world. I am not sure that in connexion with some of these things the right word is not "lazy", otherwise I cannot imagine how we could have endured a system which—taking the figures given by the noble Lord which I believe to be approximately correct—entails the expenditure of £850,000,000 to distribute £650,000,000 worth of foodstuffs. Expressed in that way it is an absurdity, but it does not diminish the task before the noble Lord, the Minister of Food, to put it that way. He is confronted with a task that hitherto either has been shirked by his predecessors or else it has defied Ministerial action, and the reason is to be found in the enormous power of the distributing organizations. So far as vegetable marketing is concerned, I hope that the noble Lord will proceed on the lines suggested by Lord Teviot. It is quite clear that the establishment of appropriate collecting services and the creation of centres and a system of sale apart from Covent Garden and other big centres, in appropriate places, is the right way to tap supplies nearer their sources of production, and to get a better grading system and a more rational price system. Covent Garden and the system there—as any of your Lordships will know who have taken the trouble, as I and many others have done, to investigate the system not only there but at other places as well—is really a discredit to an intelligent community. If the noble Lord could successfully tackle Covent Garden and all it stands for no testimonial we can render to him will be adequate.

However, I will only say a few words on one other subject. The noble Lord will perhaps think that it is rather threadbare, out I must return to it for a minute or two because I know that it has been the subject of consideration very lately. The subject I refer to is that of milk. Several times I have said how unnecessarily large is the difference between producers' prices and retailers' prices, and if there is any food in the world in respect of which the margin ought not to be any more than is a proper remuneration for efficient distribution, it is milk. Milk is possibly the most vital of all human foods, and yet we have an egregious service of distribution. The noble Lord—and I was glad of it—has called for greater production of milk. But it is presenting a very serious difficulty to all those concerned with agricultural production in the country, because we have had to plough up, to an enormous extent, land which if properly cultivated for that purpose would produce a great amount of animal food. We have had to do so, as I say, and, at the same time, the farmers are asked to produce more milk. I congratulate the noble Lord on this: he has done what many of us have striven to do with less success in previous years—he has enormously increased the consumption of liquid milk. I hope that the public will never lose the habit.

That means that we have got to have more milk produced and that at a time when one may say it is more attractive to devote one's energies to arable cultivation in many places than to have them taken up in an occupation which means seven days of hard work every week. You have to milk fourteen times every week, and you must never miss. It is, as I have said, very hard work and many farmers are feeling rather tempted to say: "I would rather like to drop this seven-days-a-week business and turn to something in which I need not work quite so strenuously." I sympathize with him, and it is a temptation which is brought to the notice of some of those who are working on agricultural war executives every day. The farmers, as the noble Duke knows, are responding very well indeed and it is a matter of great consequence that their confidence should be retained. On that account I would like to express the hope that whatever rearrangement is made for the sale of milk the noble Lord will not do anything which will take away from the value or importance of the Milk Marketing Board. I was, perhaps, what might be called a parent of the Milk Marketing Act, and I think that what has been happening recently has provided a very successful illustration of the usefulness of that Act and has gained the confidence of the farmers. It is of the utmost importance that nothing should be done which will destroy their one agency for helping in the sale of their primary product.

I would like to express one other hope at the same time. I know very well that the noble Lord is confronted with two sets of difficulties. He must have a more economical system of collection, and when he has collected the milk and got it to the centres he must have a more economical system of distribution. The first is a function which, it seems to me, could be properly discharged, under the direction of the Ministry by the Milk Marketing Board, and if the Minister could so use it he would do a great deal to retain the confidence of the producers. It is vital just now that nothing should be done which should seem to damage their one successful agency which does its work at a minimum of cost. What the noble Lord is going to do about the Perry Report I do not know. I have asked him, I think, two or three times. In this reorganization of the distribution of milk, which I know he has been considering, he has at last, under his war-time powers, got a real opportunity to reduce some of the cost to the consumer of the distribution of milk. I hope that he will not be too timid with the distributing trades. I got into trouble with them myself. I was called over the coals by the co-operative organizations the other day for what I said here. I am completely unrepentant. They were making too much out of the distribution of milk; I said so, and I repeat it. If the noble Lord can do anything to reduce that margin of about 11½d. a gallon for the distribution of milk he will indeed have rendered a very great service to the community. I look forward very much to what he will have to tell us on this subject.


My Lords, the noble Lord who opened the discussion started by apologizing for bringing this subject before your notice at the present serious crisis of the war, but I entirely endorse his statement that, apart from the question of the war, there is probably no more important subject than that which he is asking your Lordships to consider this afternoon. A little more than a century ago, Napoleon described this country as a nation of shopkeepers. If that was true then, it is more than ever true to-day. Indeed, the organization of the distributive trades of this country has given them both an industrial and a political power out of all proportion to that which they exercised even fifty years ago. Individually, the food distributive trade have always been, at least in our lifetime, a powerful factor in our national life; collectively, their power has immensely increased. The Government themselves have been to a large extent responsible for increasing their power, and incidentally their profits. I happened, during the most anxious period of the last war, to be serving in the Department of which my noble friend Lord Woolton is now the head, and I was conscious that, while all the conferences which took place with the various wholesale and retail food traders tended to ease the task of the Government, by making it possible to bargain with them not individually but collectively, we were in fact immensely strengthening the collective power of the food distribution interests. Since the last war, that Government-induced strength has continued and developed.

My noble friend Lord Teviot referred, I thought rather pathetically, to the difficulties of the small traders, and to the prospect: of their elimination in the public interest. Of course, as he indicated, what produces a narrow profit to the small trader means a considerable profit to the large-scale trading organizations, with their relatively smaller overhead costs and, incidentally, their command of a much larger bulk of capita], and the reduced danger, if it exists at all, of being under serious obligations to their banks or to their other creditors. I venture to suggest, having both travelled and resided in most of the civilized countries of the world, and in every one of them having participated rather strenuously in the efforts to deal with agricultural problems, that there is no country in the whole world where under normal conditions there is a larger "spread," as it -is called, between the price paid to the food producer and the price ultimately paid by the food consumer, than in this country. There is something rotten, if I may venture to say so, in the State not of Denmark but of England, particularly since we arc an island country, when we find that essential foods cost to the consumer from twice to five times what is paid to the producer.

I am going to say perfectly frankly that I congratulate the Minister of Food on the ability with which he has sought to secure something like reasonable treatment for the producers, the various distributors, and the consumers. I cannot remember any similar effort being made during the past war, although I was then part of the Government machine myself. I cannot remember any effort more courageous and effective than that which the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has undertaken during the last six to twelve months. He has at any rate been endeavouring to fix maximum prices not merely for producers but for wholesalers and retailers, and, with the help of Government subsidies, to reduce the cost of essential foods to the consumers of this country.

We have never been, in the whole of our history, more dependent on the home production of food than we are to-day. Only last week the Minister of Agriculture appealed to the" farmers to plough up more pasture with a view to getting a larger volume of both human and animal food from our own soil. I want to say with some emphasis, however, that, if you really want to put fresh heart into the British farmer, and to stimulate him to a maximum effort in the matter of food production during this critical period, there are two essential desiderata. One is an assurance of Government support to agriculture after the war, not for a year only but for at least ten years. We all know what happened after the last war. With every assurance on the part of the Government of the day that farming was essential to the vitality and health of the nation, and that the farming community would not be let down, after the war was over within something like a year the Act which the farming community regarded as their charter was torn up, and the whole of those assurances went with the wind. The first desideratum, therefore, is that farmers should be given a reasonable assurance that they will not be let down, a reasonable assurance of the maintenance of such Government support as will enable the average efficient farmer to carry on his business at some margin of profit not for a year but for at least ten years after the war.

The second desideratum, which is by no means less important, is an assurance that there is going to continue to be a limitation on the profits of the distributors in regard to essential foodstuffs raised on our own soil. My noble friend Lord Teviot referred—if I may say so, I think rather unfortunately—to cabbages as an illustration of what he wanted to emphasize. Cabbages belong to just that particular branch or section of agricultural products, as do all cruciferous plants, which wilt very readily, and which cannot be preserved to any large extent by storage or otherwise. It is not, however, only in respect of these rapidly wilting products that this large margin is to be found between the producers' price and the consumers' price, but it even extends to far more easily stored products, such as potatoes or carrots or onions or tomatoes. A year ago, as the noble Lord opposite mentioned in this House, the price charged for tomatoes in this Metropolitan area was nothing short of a scandal. At the same time the unfortunate producer was receiving something like one-tenth of what the public were being asked to pay. I mention tomatoes because they happen to be one of those foods which can be raised out of doors on the soil of this country, particularly in good seasons such as we have had during the last two years, which are of very high nutritive value—comparable in that respect to the potato, which belongs to the same natural order of plants.

My noble friend spoke about malnutrition, and said quite frankly that there was no appreciable amount of malnutrition in this country to-day.


May I interrupt? I said that I took as my authority on malnutrition a statement, based roughly speaking on one-quarter to one-third of the population, made by Professor Orr.


I beg my noble friend's pardon, and of course I endorse what he said. But there certainly is a considerable reduction in serious malnutrition as the result of the efforts of the Ministry of Food and its competent and courageous chief. There is malnutrition to some extent to-day, but it is very largely due to ignorance. No one can suggest that, amidst the presently starving countries of the world, any class of the community in this country is suffering to-day from non-nutrition. It is perfectly true that there is malnutrition, especially in regard to those very essential protective foods about which Sir John Orr has carried out his salutary campaign. But it is very largely due to the fact that we do not make the best use of the foods that we have got. In other words, in this country, as in many others, including Germany (and, if I may say so, including New Zealand, of which I have considerable experience) there is very little knowledge as to what a properly balanced ration should consist of; and there is, I think, immense need of instruction in our schools in the matter of domestic economy, pointing out perfectly plainly what a balanced ration should consist of if physical and mental health and stability are to be maintained. I venture to suggest that you must give all the encouragement that you can during this critical period to the producer of essential foods, and I am bound to say that I do not think that so far the producers have received as big a stimulus to production as they might receive if they only were reassured upon some of these important factors, particularly the middleman's profits.

Farmers are being subsidized to-day. Personally I have the strongest possible objection to the subsidization of the production of foods from the soil of the country. But why is this subsidization necessary? It is very largely owing to the lack of sufficient encouragement on the part of successive Governments in the past, with a very serious deterioration not only in the fertility of our soil but—I say quite frankly—in the human material which has found its way, owing to continued agricultural depression, on to the farms of this country. And there again, I would venture to say in passing that if you are going to encourage the general public, and the children in particular, as to what they should eat, you want a much more practical and useful education for every class of the farming community, comparable to that of most other civilized countries of the world. I am afraid that this is not altogether à propos to this debate, but if you really want to get from the land of this country a full proportion of its potential output you must follow countries like Holland and Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, aye and Germany too, in the matter of the decent education and training of your agricultural community of all classes, from the landowner down to the humblest agricultural worker.

I understand that my noble friend Lord Woolton has in his hand to-day a document entitled "Memorandum on Milk Policy." No doubt he will divulge the contents of that document before this debate is over. I had no time when he handed it to me just now to peruse it in detail, but it seems to me that as regards milk it is going to be a fairly effective answer to my noble friend's contention. I think I see the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, shaking his head. He has read it evidently, which I have not, but what I want to say is this. This problem has not only been reported upon by Royal Commissions and Select Committees, but has been an outstanding problem and has been a public scandal for at least a generation. I remember when I was President of the Agricultural Section of the British Association there was handed to me the presidential address of my predecessor as a guide for me to frame my own address upon, and I noticed with interest that Dr. Orwin, the person in question, made the text of his presidential address twenty-three years ago the serious difference between the price paid to the producer of milk and that which had to be paid, after several distributive profits, by the consumer. A few years ago I had a very interesting experience in Cambridge. I went to be the guest of the head of one of the Cambridge colleges in his home in a little street, which was, I think, no more than fifty yards long, and there were no fewer than five different milk distributors delivering milk in that one little street. That showed an extraordinary lack of organization in milk distribution. I believe it was attempted in Manchester some years ago—I do not know whether or not it broke down, but I should like to see, both by Governmental and municipal efforts, a limit put to the number of distributors in any locality, particularly in any large industrial locality.

I do not want to say anything more except to repeat that there never was a more critical time so far as food production is concerned. As we all know, we cannot obtain this year anything like the supplies from overseas of, essential foods that we got even a year ago, and I have good reason to know what the problem is now that the Pacific Ocean is no longer under our effective control in the matter of transport. We must produce from the soil of our country at least 20 per cent. more than we have produced in the past, and we can do it. I am certain that we can do it. But in order to do it you have to make it perfectly clear to the farming community that they are not being exploited, and still more that the consumer is not being exploited to the detriment of public advantage in the matter of products which they arc expected to raise from the soil of this country. One word in conclusion. Because subsidies are being given to our farming community it is being suggested—I think unfairly suggested—that we are mendicants, that we have to go cap in hand to the Government of the country and ask for "doles" because we cannot raise, at a margin of profit, what the public needs for its sustenance. We should not be mendicants, we should not even deserve or receive the name of mendicants to-day, if it were not for the short-sighted policy of successive Governments in this country in relation to the farmer's patriotic and nationally important task. The sooner we can make it perfectly clear that he has an assured future and the means to carry out what is really an essential national duty, the better it will be for all concerned.


My Lords, by raising this debate my noble friend has given the Minister of Food a very good opportunity for saying certain things, which I hope he will say, to encourage not only the production of food but also the general conscience of the country in the matter of distribution which can be organized in future. My excuse for intervening in the debate is that I have been for some time engaged a good deal in trying to organize the small cultivator, to stimulate greater production, and that sort of thing. I must say that one advantage I see of the high prices we are being paid now is that they induce a good many people to see the value of producing things for themselves, partly because of the price they would have to pay if they did not do so, and partly because of the advantage of being able to sell any stuff of which they have more than they need. We must all admit that distribution is certainly the weakest part of the whole system and is one that really does want careful attention.

I do not think that producers as a whole have done very badly. I am not going to say anything about those who deal with Covent Garden market. In my part of the world we have large urban centres near at hand, and the price we have been receiving for vegetables is considerably in excess of what it used to be. I speak as a market gardener of many years' standing. I sell lettuce for fourpence for which formerly I got twopence. The general public, I believe, pay sixpence, which seems a lot to pay for a lettuce. That is the position in the north of England where there are organized markets. There are considerable complaints, especially from small rural districts, of the difficulty of getting rid of certain products. As a rule these complaints largely arise from the fact that growers produce a very large proportion of perishable vegetables. We all know that these perishable vegetables, like lettuces and cabbages, are of immense value if they get into the hands of the people who require them, but the distribution of them is infinitely more difficult. In the campaign we have been carrying on throughout the country we have tried to persuade people not to produce an undue proportion of perishable vegetables, but to go in for root crops, potatoes and the like, that can be dried and stored, rather than for the more immediate and perhaps more easily perishable products which give rise to a very large number of the complaints which are made that people cannot get rid of their products.

There are committees set up in every county in England trying to stimulate production. Their great difficulty has been to try to organize, where necessary, the distribution also. That is where the Minister will, I hope, be able to say something to encourage and help. Efforts are being made to arrange through private means, private transport and so on, to collect and distribute from various small centres, market towns and other places, whatever surplus is available, but that sort of thing is becoming more difficult. There are fewer cars, there is the difficulty of getting petrol to run them, and the problem of distribution is going to be very difficult for these county committees to deal with as time goes on. We must all sympathize with the elaborate distributing schemes which the Minister of Food has organized, by which onions and tomatoes which are badly needed by the general public are sent to selling centres and come back very often to the district where they were grown. We sympathize with the motive of these schemes, which show that an effort is being made to distribute over the country as a whole and not only close to the sources of production, but at the same time it is impossible not to notice that this must increase the cost of distribution. It is partly one of the things we have to pay for, this policy of getting these things fairly distributed.

The Minister has an opportunity now to reassure all those producing vegetables—and any reassurance will be of great value—that the stuff they produce, as far as it can be avoided, is not going to be wasted. We have heard a good deal about glut at Covent Garden, which makes splendid "copy" for the newspapers and has been made much use of. The Minister will do well if he can say something to encourage people to believe they are not producing things that will be wasted. It is, of course, impossible to deal with small packets of perishables, but it ought to be possible to have some less centralized system of distribution than now. In and around many of the little market towns of the country, there is an enormous potential source of production, but the stuff cannot be got into the centres where people can buy it. I hope the Minister of Food will be able to say something to encourage the possibility of distribution at a reasonable cost. All over the country there are demonstration plots and allotments to be seen. I particularly recommend noble Lords, if they care to walk up Park Lane, to have a look at the very good demonstration plot just inside Hyde Park opposite Grosvenor House. There they will see a number of vegetables which it is recommended should be grown on allotments. That is education of the greatest value. I know that the average small gardener thinks he knows everything and that nobody can teach him anything. That must go on until he meets with some disaster which proves him to be wrong. In many cases all over the country, allotment holders have been learning the variety of crops that can be produced in small gardens.

It is no use dealing with the problem from the point of view of a shortage of food this year. This has got to be a long-distance policy for a long-distance problem. Long after the fighting is over, long after the "Cease fire" has sounded, there will be a shortage of food. There will be people to feed all over the world. All the nations of the world will have a large element of starvation present at their doors, and the chance of getting supplies will be a long way off. What we are talking about to-day, and trying to organize in the near future, is of vital importance to the well-being of this country for a good many years to come. I think that if one realizes the extent to which that is true one will see that it is worth making a real effort to reorganize the problem on a better basis than it is on now, and if that is done there will be created greater confidence not only in the consumer but also in the producer himself.


My Lords, I think the course of this debate must have convinced us all, if we had any doubt at any time about it, of the usefulness of the Motion that has been put down by the noble Lord. I venture to express a hope that it has so convinced the Minister of Food, and that he will feel that this is a subject on which not only many in this House but great numbers throughout the country, both producers and consumers alike, feel most strongly. It is a vital agricultural problem; it is a vital problem of health and nutrition; it is a vital and immediate problem affecting the campaign for increased food production. We all know that this is a very old subject. It was an old subject when the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, investigated it in 1922. Unfortunately the Reports that he presented are not yet out of date because so little has been done about them.

It is not only an old subject, but it is a very complex subject, and that perhaps is one of the reasons why successive Governments have found it so extremely difficult to deal with. It is not just a question of profiteering on the part of the retailer. There is the question of the wastefulness of the system under which the retailers have to work. Then there is the temporary question, a very important one, with regard to the price of vegetables. For the moment, there is, for instance, this simple fact to be considered, that the greengrocer has to make his vegetables carry all his costs because he no longer has the fruit and other commodities for sale over which formerly he could distribute his costs. Nor can we simplify the problem by merely comparing the efficiency of the large unit and the small unit. The fact that a company happens to run ten or twenty shops does not necessarily make its business more efficient than a business run by an individual. Very often the small man is not only an efficient unit but he is a highly important and necessary unit in the particular locality which he has set out to serve. I venture here to utter a warning to the small trader. If he continues his opposition to that reasonable rationalization of the trade that so many others want to bring about he may suffer. The small trader is not at the moment benefiting from the present chaotic system of distribution. It is the small trader who again and again is going down. With a properly organized wholesale trade there is more room and more hope for the small retailer than there is at the present moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Bingley, rightly told us that this is a long-term problem. It has got to be dealt with on long-term lines. I had hoped that to-day we were going to have a discussion on milk, amongst other topics. This question was raised on February 18, and it was then that the noble Lord promised us the White Paper that is before us to-day. I suggest to the noble Lord that it is not really helpful to the proceedings of this House that a White Paper promised us nearly three months ago should be issued on the very day that this debate takes place. It means that we all meet here without having had the slightest opportunity of seeing the White Paper. One knows how things happen in these Departments, and no doubt there may have been some unavoidable difficulty, but, considering that there has been a gap of three months it is very difficult to understand why it should have been necessary to treat the House in this way. It means that virtually the largest subject before us to-day, the subject of milk distribution, is really ruled out from any useful discussion at all.


We can have a debate on it on another day.


We do not want to be eternally debating the same subject. This Motion has been down on the paper for weeks. We almost spent weeks discussing with the noble Lord when we should have a discussion upon it, and again and again, in response to appeals of the noble Lord, we put off the debate purely to suit his own convenience.




Yes. Speaking for myself I have been appealed to not to have the discussion because the noble Lord was having discussions with the trade, and I suggest it would have been most useful if we could have had this White Paper before us at an earlier date. The noble Lord, Lord Bingley, told us that this is a long-term problem, and I think we all agree with him in that statement. I regret, therefore, the very cursory character of this note on milk policy. It is laid down that it has been agreed between the parties concerned in the rationalization scheme that the scheme will be for the period of the war only. The reason that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, saw me shaking my head when he said he thought it was likely to be satisfactory was this. Why should we endure wastefulness in peace-time which we are not prepared to endure in war-time? How can you deal with a subject that has defied successive Governments for years on the basis of just a temporary war-time scheme?

But let us turn for a moment to the immediate problem of war-time production. I have a letter before me from a chairman of an agricultural committee who says: It does not help the efforts of food producers when, after they have grown a crop and a good one, they are told it cannot be sold. I am referring particularly, at the moment, to the vegetable crop. I know of two recent cases—the first one where two lorry loads of cabbages went to the London market and were sent back unsold. In the second case a farmer had over an acre of very good cabbages and his merchant said it was no good sending down bags for them as they were unsaleable. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made the point that there was a shortage of vegetables, and that what happened was due to the failure of the organization of distribution. But quite apart from the fact of whether the cabbages got sold or not, we know that there are dislocations of distribution. At any rate cabbage, as the noble Lord has said, is a perishable article.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, also mentioned potatoes. Actually the price of main crop potatoes varies between 6s. and 7s. per cent. wholesale and I2S. and 13s. retail. It is difficult to state the price exactly, because it varies according to the area, but I think the noble Lord will agree that I have stated what is a fair average. What is the control retail price? It is between 12s. and 13s. per cwt. Why is it necessary to have 100 per cent. profit to sell potatoes? Onions go from 25s. to 48s. 8d., and carrots from 6s. to 9s., the retail price varying from 16s. to 18s. according to whether they are washed or not. Leeks are just over 18s., going up to a retail price of 46s. 8d. And those are controlled prices laid down by the Ministry. I hope the noble Lord is going to tell us why he considers it necessary to settle those retail prices at levels which in some cases traders themselves say are excessive. This affects the immediate question of war-time production. I do not know whether the noble Lord appreciates how much we are pressing the farmers. We frequently have to go to the farmers and say to them: "It is not for you to talk about prices. You have to continue production. It is your duty to do so." Farmers see immense profits being made out of commodities which they are producing, and it is a deep discouragement to men of whom we are asking a very great deal at the present moment.

What about the future? The Government are pledged to a post-war agricultural policy. They have promised a certain amount of security, it is true for only one year, but they have also given an assurance that they will bring together the three parties with a view to the production of an agreed policy. The pledge does not go as far as we should like, but it goes a long way. But it is going to be hard enough in this country to have a system of prices adequate to keep agriculture on a prosperous basis even if we eliminate every unnecessary charge. If we are going to attempt to carry the burden of these quite unnecessary distribution charges, I see not the slightest hope that the Government will be able to carry out this pledge, or suggestion of a pledge, to have a sound agricultural policy. I think we were agreed, or were rapidly coming to an agreement before the war, that the real difficulty is not one of solving problems of production but of organizing the distribution of what is produced. Therefore I put it to the noble Lord that the problem is not only one of price but of how to get commodities when they are produced to the people who need them. Doctors and scientists talk of better nutrition, but with the present system of vegetables taking two, three or four days to get to Covent Garden, remaining there two, three or four days and then lying two or three days in the greengrocer's shop getting stale, how are you going to get better nutrition? We shall not get better agriculture or better nutrition until we get a better system of distribution.

It may be that the noble Lord will say that he can go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and get a subsidized price to the consumer. Subsidies may be necessary for nutrition—I do not know—but they ought not to be used to enable us to shirk the problem of high distributive costs. What are we to do? There seem to me to be two clear courses between which we must choose. One of them is that the Ministry of Food, in co-operation with the Ministry of Agriculture, should lay down definite schemes of rationalization which the distributive trades would be compelled to adopt—a Whitehall scheme. The alternative is that the trades should be called together, and be given a period in which to prepare their own scheme of rationalization, a period in which, incidentally, margins will gradually be decreased in order to supply them with a concrete motive for getting on with the job. They should be told that the whole machinery of the Department will be placed at their disposal in order to help them to work out the scheme and in order to ensure that public interests are safeguarded. I should make it quite clear to them that in whatever scheme they put forward not only must the public be safeguarded, but the small legitimate trader must be given a fair chance.

I think every one of us would definitely decide in favour of the second course. The members of the trade are undoubtedly the best people to carry out this task of rationalization, if only they can be given a lead, and if the Minister will show his determination that it should be done. If not, I think we should all be quite clear in our minds that the day is coming when other Ministers will be in power who will adopt far more drastic measures than anything I have suggested or anything that is likely 1o be suggested in your Lordships' House to-day.


My Lords, I do not rise to continue this debate but on a point of order to call attention to an issue raised by the noble Lord which staggered me. I am an old Parliamentary hand. I have never seen the White Paper to which he referred until this moment. I did not know when it was going to be issued. My noble friend Lord Nathan went to try and get a copy for me at the Vote Office and was informed that it was not in the Vote Office at the time of the commencement of this debate. Quite frankly I do not think that is a proper procedure. We are going to have a debate on coal policy at the end of the next series of sittings, and in that case the issue of the White Paper is to be made so that we shall have plenty of time to study it. I am sorry to raise any difficulty about this debate, but in the interests of Parliamentary procedure I feel bound to mention the matter. We are entitled to have a chance of studying this White Paper. It is not right or fair that we should be asked to debate the matter without having read it. Quite frankly it is not good enough. This is not the first time we have found ourselves in a similar position in a matter relating to the noble Lord's Department. Quite recently, when a question was asked about charges for food in restaurants, I raised a point about the service charge which was proposed in addition to the meals charge and we were practically ruled out of the debate because we had not an opportunity of being informed on the matter beforehand. But this is much worse. I do not think we ought to proceed with the debate until we have had an opportunity of reading the White Paper. I therefore move that the debate be adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Addison.)


My Lords, may I appeal to the noble Lord opposite not to press his Motion? I admit there is some justice in his complaint about the White Paper, but there are many other questions to be discussed in this debate and some of us would be very grateful if the Minister were given an opportunity of making a statement.


My Lords, may I also appeal to the noble Lord, as I am in some way responsible for the business of this House? It was quite unknown to me that this White Paper was coming out. I think that there may have been some oversight. I will, personally, undertake to report the matter to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and to see that this does not happen again. I hope that the noble Lord will not proceed with his Motion, for this debate has been going on for some time now, and my noble friend the Minister has come here fully prepared to answer questions. I think it would be very inconvenient to the majority of noble Lords if the debate should now be adjourned.


My Lords, I cannot help feeling that the appeal which has been made by my noble friend Lord Bingley is a reasonable one. I can quite appreciate the objection raised by my noble friend opposite in respect of the non-production of this White Paper. But I think that the subject of milk is so important that you might quite easily devote the whole of a sitting to debating the question of milk alone.. I happen to come from a part of the country where considerable feeling is expressed concerning, among other things, the potato problem—the difficulty of getting potatoes on the market. That is a matter to which I hope the noble Lord the Minister will refer in his reply. I should also like to mention the fact that the noble Lord's Motion has been on the Paper for over three months—something like five months now I think it is. A number of my noble friends and myself have come here prepared to put forward points of view on other aspects of this problem besides milk.


My Lords, I do not know whether it is permissible for me to intervene at this point, but I think it is reasonable that I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Addison, that there has been no deliberate discourtesy in this matter on my part. Here is a Motion which was originally put down some long time ago. It was then postponed, though not at my request——


My Lords, it was originally put down for April 28 and then for May 19. My noble friend the Minister was unable to attend on the latter date, and at his request I postponed the Motion until to-day.


My Lords, on the first day for which the Motion was put down I was here and ready to speak on it. For the convenience of the House, however, it was then put off to a later date, on which date, unfortunately, I was not able to be present in the House and so the Motion was put down for to-day. I took that to be a general Motion. It was not raised by the Government but raised by the noble Lord. I have, for some time, been endeavouring to get out this White Paper on milk, and if the Motion had been put when it was originally intended that it should be put the White Paper, most certainly, would not then have been out. I did hasten it, and, in spite of great difficulties, I tried to get it out for to-day because I thought that it would interest your Lordships if I made a statement on it when I came to reply to the Motion. But I realize at once that it is impossible for your Lordships to debate it. That is why I offered the noble Earl another date on which to debate it if he wanted to do so. I could not have got it out earlier. It was in the Vote Office at 12 o'clock to-day, and a statement was made on it in another place after questions to-day.


My Lords, the point that I am taking is not fully met by what the noble Lord has said. I do not, of course, wish to stand in the way of any statement being made which should be made in the public interest. But I do object very vehemently to a White Paper being issued in respect of a matter of debate which members have not had an opportunity of considering. We ought not to have a Paper put before us in such a way that effective debate upon it is not possible, and effective debate is not possible if you do not see a thing till a few minutes before a debate, or, as in this case, until after the debate has begun. What the noble Lord has said about the history of this Motion I know to be correct because I was a party to previous postponements, and when the Motion was originally on the Paper it had no relation to this White Paper. But I am now dealing with a very important question of Parliamentary procedure, and if I can get the complete assurance that we are not on any future occasion likely to be precipitated into a situation which, so to say, really rules out effective discussion of an official Paper, well then I shall, of course, have no more to say. But I would like to receive that assurance in quite definite terms.


My Lords, may I be allowed to intervene once more? I wonder if this suggestion would help the situation. It has occurred to me that we might, with the permission of the House, continue this debate, eliminating any reference to milk at this stage, and debate the White Paper later.


My Lords, if I may, with the permission of the House, intervene again, may I say that I do not think that the noble Lord, who has just spoken, is very familiar with the procedure of the House—he has not of course been here very long—or he would understand that you cannot eliminate any subject on which noble Lords wish to speak, in the manner which he suggests. A noble Lord who is sitting behind me, I know, wishes to speak about milk. With regard to the protest which has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, I quite see his point. It is a question of Parliamentary procedure, and I think that there is a good deal in what he has said. If he will permit me, I will report what has happened to the Leader of the House, whose absence to-day is due to the fact that he is engaged on public business elsewhere. I will undertake to see that this does not happen again. I can quite appreciate the inconvenience which attaches to it. I hope that after what I have said the noble Lord, Lord Addison, will see his way to withdraw his Motion.


My Lords, I find myself in considerable sympathy with the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, on the ground that it is really showing marked discourtesy to this House that a statement should be made on a White Paper which has been issued earlier to-day in another place, while it is not possible to have a discussion on the subject here. I agree that the ingenious proposition that the debate might be generally proceeded with without any allusion being made to the milk question is one which it is not possible to adopt. To do so would be, I think, a complete departure from the normal procedure of this House. I do feel that a very marked apology is needed from His Majesty's Government as regards the traditions and dignity of this House.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Marquess for stating the case so clearly. I quite agree that the splitting up of the debate would not be practicable, and I think that it is in the public interest that the statement which the noble Lord wishes to make should be made. Having made my protest, and having received, I am sure, the support of everyone who is familiar with Parliamentary procedure, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for the adjournment of the debate, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I find myself somewhat "put off my stroke" by recent proceedings. I should like to thank the noble Lord who opened this debate for doing so, and to express my regret for not being here when he made his speech, because this subject is one of very great importance not only to producers but also to consumers. Further more, I see here an opportunity of elucidating a mystery which has perplexed me and a great many other people for many years, and that is the mystery of why apparently—I say "apparently"— the distributors of foodstuffs are sacrosanct and almost above the law. A great many people have asked that question, and I think that this will be an opportunity of resolving our perplexities.

Your Lordships will have noticed that nearly everybody knows how agriculture ought to be reorganized. Almost every society connected with agriculture, and a great many that are not, have drawn up memoranda showing how agriculture might be completely and beneficially reorganized, and in most cases those memoranda have been sent to the Ministry. The unfortunate thing is that they very seldom agree one with the other. I personally regard that as unfortunate. On the other hand, it is a very fortunate thing for the Ministry, who can obviously set off one against the other. Moreover, the agricultural industry is reorganizing itself now. There are 30,000 of the best farmers in the country who are spending their scanty leisure every week in reorganizing agriculture, improving it and increasing production. On the other hand, if the distributors are doing the same thing, I can only say that they are hiding their light very successfully under a bushel, because I have not noticed it, at all events.

Now, why should food distributors be sacrosanct? Is it because they are perfect? I hardly think so. We have heard to-clay of the vast difference that there is between the price paid by the consumer for articles of food, and more especially vegetables, and the price received by the producer. We have heard of waste in various directions. I was a little astonished at the moderation of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, when he talked about one or two trucks of cabbages which had been destroyed. I have seen with my own eyes over a thousand tons of carrots which could not be sold rotting in the ground. I have seen with my own eyes hundreds of tons of potatoes rotting in the clamp. I suggest to your Lordships that, although we all realize how difficult the distribution of food is, at all events that distribution has not yet become so perfect that it is beyond improvement. I think it undoubtedly does call for improvement.

White Paper or no White Paper, I propose to say a word about milk, because, as far as I am concerned, the White Paper does not exist; I know nothing about it. I have seen hints about it, but I did not expect to have to remain jittering in my seat while there was this talk about a White Paper. I want to say something about milk, however, because milk epitomizes the whole position. We are faced with this remarkable and almost incredible fact that, at all events prior to the war, the man who bought a calf and reared it, who brought it up from the beginning, who fed it and looked after it until it became of marriageable age, who married it, and who, after it was married, watched it and fed it again and finally, when it had given birth to a calf, proceeded to milk it, getting up in the dark in the winter, and whose hours were long and strenuous and who, when he had got the milk, took the churns to a suitable distributing centre, received less money for a gallon of milk, after performing all those operations, than the man who took that milk from the distributing station to the consumer. That is simply incredible, and the reason why there has not been a public revolt over the matter before is that it is so incredible that nobody believes it; everybody thinks that it is an exaggeration. If the general public really grasped that fact, there would have been many edifices destroyed where these people have their homes; but the public did not believe it. Why should they? It is incredible. Nevertheless it is a fact.

Before the war, I had the privilege and honour of serving on the Milk Marketing Board. I say that advisedly, because in my view that Board, under its leaders, Mr. Baxter and Mr. Foster, has rendered a wonderful service not only to producers but to consumers, and I think we owe it a great deal. I appreciate the fact that I was able to spend some time on that body. During the time that I was there, there was a conflict between the Milk Marketing Board and the distributors. It was a very strenuous conflict; we had good men on our side, and they had some doughty champions on theirs. Indeed, it was rather like a tank combat. We thought we had better armament in our arguments; we were able to point to the incredible fact to which I have just referred, and were able to point out that the cost of distribution in this country compared very unfavourably with that in other countries. I even ventured to suggest that the profits made by some of the distributing companies were on rather a handsome scale. When the other tanks came into action, however, we found that they had a very much heavier gun than we had anticipated. What the other side said, almost in these words, was this: "We are not worrying about your arguments; they do not affect us one way or the other. This is the price at which we are going to distribute milk; neither you nor anyone else has the power to stop us doing so, and that is that." And so they won the tank battle quite easily.

Then I should like to bring up the question, which doubtless has been raised already, of the Perry Committee. There you have a Committee of able and fair-minded men, giving up their time under a very able Chairman, and coming to conclusions which I believe were unanimous, and which certainly seemed to those who read them to be remarkably reasonable. The Committee were appointed, I presume, for some purpose, and, when their Report was made, producers and consumers alike waited with anxiety and hope for something to happen. I wonder whether the distributors again brought the big gun to bear which they used against the Milk Marketing Board, and whether they said: "There is no one strong enough to stop us asking what we like for milk and charging our own costs." I am mystified about the position, and my reason for raising it to-day is to express the hope that, when the noble Lord who is to speak for the Government explains his policy, he will be able to dismiss from our minds the perplexity which I and large numbers of others feel about how it is that the distributor is not asked to put his house in order, at a time when other people are putting their houses in order voluntarily and comprehensively.


My Lords, the noble Lord in moving this Motion seemed to sum up in a suggestive phrase what he thought was required. In Libya, General Auchinleck looks at it differently; he would close the gaps, but the mover of this Motion suggests that the gap should be widened.


May I interrupt? I said that the gap should be narrowed.


I come from a country district where cabbages and tomatoes and peas form a large portion of the produce sent up to Covent Garden. I fully share the view that if the Government could see their way to have the produce sent where it was most needed, and not to limit it to a few centres where perhaps it was not needed, we should avoid some of the enormous waste which has been alluded to in this debate. Over and over again we have had dozens of lorries sent up to London by one farmer I know perfectly well, and those lorries came back full of cabbages because the price offered for them was quite unequal to covering the cost. I feel that some new machinery should be found by which it might be possible for the poor people in our great cities, who cannot get cabbages and tomatoes and peas because they cannot afford to pay the price, to obtain such food because the means of transport is not made impossible. Perhaps the price of petrol has led to difficulties, but the fact remains that our fields were very largely manured last season with the cabbages which were intended for feeding the people in the East End of London. I hope and pray that as a result of this Motion those enterprising farmers and gardeners and allotment holders who have been working so hard and so willingly to feed the country will find that their efforts have not been in vain.


My Lords, I think that I shall have the general sympathy of the House when I say I am called upon to deal with a difficult debate, which has covered a rather wide area. Let me say at once to the noble Lord who brings this Motion forward that as to the sentiments that he expressed I am in most cordial agreement with them. My difficulty, of course, always is that on me rests the responsibility of putting sentiment into practice, and that sometimes is a more difficult thing to do. In passing, I might as well say what is obvious, and that is that for many years I have studied the retail and the distributive trades of this country. I have no doubt at all that they represent one of the expensive and luxurious factors in our national life. Surely the reason why they continue to do so is one which is very mystifying, because it is true that in no trade in the country does the force of competition work so keenly—almost unbridled competition. I suppose the truth is that that competition has come in the long run to express itself in pushing down the price which the manufacturer or the producer has been able to get for his goods. That, I think, has been a bad side of our present distributive system, although it may have served the public well enough in giving them goods at comparatively cheap prices.

The noble Lord drew much of his evidence and much of the views that he has brought before us from the Reports of Lord Linlithgow which have been before the country for fifteen or more years and, as I think the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said, nothing has been done about them in all this time. I am very willing to try to do something to the extent of my capacity and to the extent of my powers, but remember that my powers are limited in duration. The noble Earl said that he was sorry to see in the White Paper that conditions were only to operate for the duration of the war. My powers end with the end of the war. The powers of His Majesty's Government clearly do not end, but such instructions, such orders as I am entitled to give in this country on behalf of the Government cannot go further than the powers of the Minister, and my Ministry is one of those war-time Ministries, and my orders are thus circumscribed.

I must at the outset, I think, ask your Lordships' careful attention to the fact-forgive me for saying this elementary thing—that there is a great deal of difference between gross profit and net profit, and when we hear of the very large gap that there is between the price at which the producer sells and the price at which the last customer buys it does not represent profit, it represents perhaps a number of profits.


Yes, that is it.


It represents costs as well. And in point of fact such experience as I have had leads me to say that the amount of the profit that any of these people are making is not excessive. If it were it would be very easy indeed to handle. It is the number of processes through which goods are passing that really constitutes the danger. I started over a year ago to try and tackle this problem and find some way out, and I did what I think you would expect me to do. I took a fairly practical view. It seemed to me that there were two places where we might begin. The public of this country has been very luxurious in its demands. It has asked, and it has been encouraged by tradespeople to ask, for a very wide selection of goods. It has also been encouraged by manufacturers and wholesalers to draw its goods over a very wide area of the country. It seemed to me that the best thing I could do was to try and tackle these two problems of transport costs and of selection. I have done something about it. We have not been negligent in this matter, though I am bound in fairness to say that I have not on any previous occasion made any public reference to what we have done. May I take up your Lordships' time—I am afraid I must take up a little time—by telling you what we have done?

We have taken a number of different food-producing industries quite separately, and we have reorganized their methods of distribution. Margarine is an example. I shall give a number of examples. We have told traders who buy margarine that they must take it, not from where they want to get it, but from the nearest factory that is making it. We have prescribed the places from which the retailer can get his goods because we have got what is, substantially, a standard margarine all over the country, and it is just as good from one place as from another. We called together the bread people. We have arranged that the deliveries of bread shall be zoned, so that people do not go crossing unnecessarily the routes of others. We have been to the millers. We have told the millers that instead of delivering flour as they have been accustomed, according to the places where they had their clients, flour must in future be delivered from the mill that is nearest to the bakery.

I recently have come to an agreement—the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, suggested this method, which is one we are practising—with the cake and biscuit people. I asked them to meet me. I told them we no longer could afford, as I have told all these people, the amount of transport and man-power involved in this extravagant system of distribution, and that questions of their own good will just had to go by the board for the period of the war. The result of that is that 300,000 retailers have been reshuffled among the cake and biscuit manufacturers in this country so that they now draw their supplies from the places which are nearest. We have saved 12,000,000 ton-miles of transport, a matter of 40 per cent. of the transport of these trades. We have done the same thing with the bacon trade. Seventy-four per cent. of the bacon that is in the shops in this country now travels less than twenty-five miles in order to get there instead of going all over the country. We have done the same with sugar, where we have saved 10,000,000 ton-miles as a result.

By these processes—and this will become obvious in a few weeks—we are restricting the choice of the public. They will no longer be able to say that they must have the product of the firm X because they prefer it to the product of the firm Y. Sweets we have restricted into various areas, only one firm supplying the same commodity in that district. We have saved 10,000,000 ton-miles as a result, and 500,000 gallons of petrol. If I may mention beer, we are going to save 1,128,000 gallons of petrol next year, as compared with 1939, as a result of the reorganization of deliveries in the beer trade. This year we are going to determine where tomatoes shall go to. I hope that plan is going to receive the support of tire market gardeners and the agricultural interests generally, because this certainly is true, that whilst your Lordships may on occasion urge me to take a more vigorous line, I do not always find when I have taken that vigorous line that I have got the unanimous support of the agricultural interests behind me. I made a conscientious effort, supported by the voluntary services of some very good citizens in this country, to deal with carrots and onions, but I do not think it met with a great deal of approval in spite of the effort and knowledge which went into it.


It did not deserve it.


That indeed is fair comment, but they did try. I hope this tomato scheme, where we shall move many thousands of tons of tomatoes to places which are deficiency areas and cannot grow them, and away from places where there are surpluses, will meet with the approval of all those concerned. It is not just a case of moving tomatoes. We are going to try and organize the movement. There will be plans made for loading full trucks, and an effort will be made to get a quicker carriage and thus avoid the possibilities of delay and deterioration. I hope we shall in this instance not bring tomatoes into London in order that we may then take them out again to some centre near the place from which they came. These are efforts that my Department is making to deal with this problem. I submit that we are more likely to get success if we deal with the practical problem trade by trade, by cutting down the costs. Then go to the trade afterwards by all means and say: "In so far as the country is concerned with your selling prices ''—and I am concerned now with so many selling prices that 7s. 6d. out of every 10s. a housewife spends is now affected by a controlled price—" let us go into the costs and see what has happened as a result of all this saving of costs of distribution."

One more thing will be announced tomorrow. I am trying to get some orderly arrangement whereby retailers will only be allowed to draw their goods from wholesalers in certain areas. This means some restriction on the free choice of the retailer, but the restriction mainly is concerned with the goods that are already goods coming under control of the Minister of Food and in respect of which we prescribe prices. That scheme, which will divide the country up into a number of sectors and which will prevent all that overlapping that takes places in transport, will save a great deal of money, a great deal of labour—and that is more important than money in these days—and it will save a great deal of petrol. I am glad to say that I have the assurance of all the trades concerned that they recognize the importance of this as a war measure and will be willing to work it. That, my Lords, is what we have done. Except in the last instance I have been giving you facts concerning what we have already done in this process of reorganization of distribution.

Now let me come to the question of milk. It was I who appointed the Perry Committee. I was conscious of the need for something to be done. The Report of that Committee when it was presented proved to be unacceptable. It was too ideal; or perhaps I should rather say, we found that we could not get general acceptance for it. It was a Report of men trained in big business who saw quite clearly an end, and perhaps the end was right, perhaps indeed we shall get to that end, but I was not able to accept the Report as an end which I saw it was possible to get to immediately. But the effort has not been lost. If I may say so, with deep respect, the persistence with which certain of your Lordships have pursued me on the subject of milk in the debates in this House has not been lost, and the very frankness and fearlessness of the last debate that we had on milk have been of immeasurable advantage to me. I am grateful to your Lordships for the things that you said.

I have been able, to-day, to issue on behalf of His Majesty's Government a Paper which I do most humbly regret that your Lordships have not had a chance of reading. It is a scheme which, for the period of the war, will bring order into this somewhat untidy distributive machine. It will cut out the cross-haulage collection; it will certainly give great economies in petrol and in man-power; it will preserve the position, Lord Addison, of your child, the Milk Marketing Board. I am indeed indebted to the Board for very much that it has done. But there will be certain changes in the marketing of milk. All contracts between individual producers and purchasers of milk will be terminated on the 30th September, 1942. As from 1st October the Milk Marketing Board will purchase milk from producers, and the Ministry of Food will purchase the milk from the Board and will simultaneously sell it to the distributors and manufacturers in accordance with the requirements of national policy. A scheme will be introduced during the summer for testing the quality of milk. New standards will be laid down and those producers whose milk is unsuitable for the liquid market will not receive the full price. The milk which is neither fit for the liquid market nor for manufacturing purposes will be rejected, as at present.

Measures will be taken to rationalize the collection and transport of milk to eliminate overlapping collections and cross hauls. All depots required for the collection and distribution of milk will be operated under the direction of the Ministry of Food. My Department will sell the milk, whether for liquid consumption or manufacturing, at uniform prices. A new price structure to meet the costs of distribution is being prepared on the basis of a costings investigation which has recently been carried out. Plans are being made for the rationalization of retail distribution so as to avoid overlapping of deliveries. All dairymen serving any urban locality with a population of over 10,000 people will be constituted into a war-time association. These associations will prepare schemes of rationalization suited to local requirements. All such schemes must contain provision that the individual firms comprising the associations shall be allocated a share of the trade of the district proportionate to that which they were enjoying before the association was established. On condition that local rationalization schemes are prepared, my Department will arrange that consumers in the localities concerned shall no longer have the right to transfer their purchases of milk to another dairyman, thereby disturbing the system of rationalization that has been adopted, unless there are special reasons for such transfer in any individual case. Where distributors themselves fail to produce a scheme, the Ministry of Food will itself introduce and enforce its own scheme, after consideration of local circumstances.

Previous to the preparation of the White Paper full consultations took place with all sections of the milk industry, including producers, depot proprietors, wholesalers, large, medium and small retailers. I am glad to be able to say the principles of the scheme have in all cases been accepted. So, my Lords, after this long period—this unduly long period—we have at last arrived at a position in which we can with the full agreement of the trade work together to produce a new scheme. How long it will last I cannot say, but it will last as long as the powers of the Ministry of Food can order it to last. After that surely if the scheme is as good as rationalization ought to be there is every reason why people should learn from this experience that has come to them.


I am sorry to interrupt but will the noble Lord permit me to ask a question? He used the expression "price structure." Does that mean that we can justifiably expect that the rationalization of distribution which will be effected and the price structure which will also be arrived at after the examination of that system, will not mean that the distributive trades will get away with the benefits of the rationalization but that we may expect some benefit to be realized in the reduction of price to the consumer?


That would be a liberal interpretation. The position is this. I have on behalf of the Government agreed on one or two occasions to increase the price of milk to producers—quite rightly I think. I have had applications for increases in price from the distributors. I have not made any increase latterly to the distributors, although their costs may have gone up. I hope this arrangement will enable their costs to go down. Then perhaps it will not be necessary for any increase in price to take place. But what I have assured the distributors is that we will look at the new arrangements when they have made them and on a costing basis we will discuss what the prices should be. It would be very easy for us to forget the services that the distributors are rendering to this country. Let me tell your Lordships a simple story. When Exeter was bombed I was concerned, as I always am on such occasions, to know whether food supplies would be available. I got a telephone message at half past nine in the morning, saying that there probably would be a shortage of milk; so I proceeded to arrange to send powdered milk there. Within half an hour I got another telephone message telling me not to trouble because the milk distributors would look after the problem. Exeter, the day after the bombing, was served with milk. All through all the disorganizations we have had the milk distributors have stood right up to their jobs. You may say that they have been well paid. Lots of people have been well paid for the work they have done. People in the milk trade read the reports of our debates in this House very carefully, and. I do not want them to feel that we do not appreciate the services they render to the country.

May I tell your Lordships how I propose to carry out this reorganization in cooperation with the Milk Marketing Board and the distributors? Last year I was fortunate in securing from one of the large business houses in this country the services of a gentleman named Mr. W. M. Hood. It was he who was responsible for that vast movement of milk that we had to deficiency areas last winter, which enabled us during a period of short supply to secure that everybody got a more or less reasonable share of milk. Mr. Hood will continue to do that but he will be assisted by Lt.-General Sir Robert Gordon Finlayson, who is known to a great many of your Lordships. He has a great reputation both as an organizer and a servant of the State. His impartial approach to the conflicting interests of the various distributing organizations which I am now seeking to bring into one war-time association in each case will, I think, be invaluable. Sir Robert will have charge of that part of the work. That is all that I have to say on the subject of milk and the reorganization of transport.

I have not dealt with the problem of green vegetables. I looked up the Linlithgow Report. The members of that Committee do not seem to have been able to make many suggestions on the problem of how we should deal with green vegetables. I am anxious that there should be supplies during the winter. The view I have taken is this. My primary responsibility is to get adequate supplies of commodities for the public. We have done all we could to encourage farmers and market gardeners and allotment holders to grow green vegetables. I think your Lordships will agree that we have had a very wide advertising campaign running through this country morning after morning on the wireless telling people to eat vegetables. I believe it is having some effect on the public. It is a most erratic and unpredictable crop, difficult for anybody to seek to control, but I have no doubt about the importance of the Government doing what it is possible for them to do to secure that there shall be an adequate supply both in the summer and in the winter. During the summer I am sure there is going to be an adequate supply; during the winter I can only hope that there is going to be an adequate supply.

I can promise producers every help that my Department can give. If it is necessary I am prepared to buy the product of green vegetables from the market gardeners and the farmers during the winter months in order that they may be directed to the proper places. I have tried one more thing to deal with the problem of purchases and that is to secure some means, other than ploughing them back into the ground, of using them. We have a new process of dehydration whereby vegetables can be preserved. I am now holding in my hand a small disc containing enough vegetables to feed a family of twelve people. It does not look too good, but it is very good when properly treated. It contains cabbage and various mixed vegetables. They have been dehydrated and pressed. We can send these out to the troops in the desert so that they, as well as the people of this country, can have fresh vegetables. The process is in its very early stage, but it is important because I can see by the development of this process a means of taking off large surpluses when they occur and putting them by for the winter.

The debate has covered a very wide field, and your Lordships have indeed shown great patience. I trust that I have answered the general run of the questions which Lord Teviot raised. I hope that, at any rate, I have shown that my Department is most certainly interested in the matter which you have brought before us, and that, if I may say so in all humility, I am trying my best to get some solution to a problem which, I am sure your Lordships will admit, is full of difficulties.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, for his very exhaustive reply to the debate. He looked towards me when referring to one subject, and I would like to say a word upon it. He said that the Linlithgow Report which he had read did not seem to suggest any plan. Well, the Linlithgow Report suggested this plan, and I think it was one of the main objects of the Report, that the cost of all foodstuffs should be materially reduced in order to bring within the range of the pockets of the poor people the food that they could not now afford to buy. I am afraid that I am not altogether satisfied with the noble Lord's reply, but I have certain glimmerings of hope in view of some of the things he said and I will content myself with that for the time being. I would like to add that we have in this House a group of noble Lords who are studying these questions very closely indeed, and I think that perhaps it would be a great help if the Minister would occasionally say to us: "What do you think about this, or what do you think about that?"


Certainly, I would be very glad to have your advice and help.


With the greatest pleasure we shall give the Minister any information we can which is likely to be helpful. Again thanking the noble Lord for the reply, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.