LORD ADDISON rose to call attention to the International Food Conference at Hot Springs, Virginia, and matters connected therewith, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I invite your attention to a very important international Paper which is described as "The Final Act of the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture." It is a very great Paper. If we and our Allies in the United Nations prove ourselves worthy of the declarations made in this Paper, it will be one of the greatest charters in history. I cannot say that in the whole of my long Parliamentary career I have ever been more glad to speak on any subject than on this Paper. At the same time I have never been more conscious that I shall not be able to do full justice to it, certainly not to the nobility of its purpose. It is an Act which represents the considered conclusions of the representatives of forty-four nations. They were met to consider, as they tell us in their first sentence,
the goal of freedom from want in relation to food and agriculture. In its resolutions and in its reports, the Conference has recognized that freedom from want means a secure, adequate, and suitable supply of food for every man.
There has never been a more far-reaching, ambitious, and worthy project occupying the minds of any assembly.
The Paper goes on very soon to say that it was apparent that in all countries there are large sections of the populations who do not get adequate and suitable food for health. In many countries the majority of the people are in this situation. Then, "having made that dreadful statement, the Conference went on to consider the possibilities of production, the possibilities of the supply of the needs of the people in the stricken countries immediately after the war, and, further, the supply for the nations of the world after-wards. It went on to deal with the very difficult problems affecting distribution and ways and means, and at the end of these deliberations it made this declaration. I cannot emphasize too much the first-class importance of this declaration. It says:
This Conference, meeting in the midst of the greatest war ever waged, and in full confidence of victory, has considered the world problems of food and agriculture, and declares
its belief that the goal of freedom from want of food, suitable and adequate for the health and strength of all peoples, can be achieved.
I confess that although I was aware, as your Lordships were aware, from the Paper that was furnished to us before-hand, of the ambitious programme for this Conference, I never expected in my most sanguine moments that we should be confronted at the end by a declaration in that positive and encouraging form—that they are satisfied the goal of freedom from want can be achieved. There is no qualification in that.
§ These declarations and recommendations are not airy platitudes which a number of well-meaning people assembled together might desire to express, they are the deliberate considered recommendations of these chosen representatives of the different nations. Having considered the national and international difficulties that stand in the way, and the immense and complicated conflicts of interest which must be taken account of, having taken all these things into account, they have presented us with a long series of definite declarations of beliefs, of possibilities, and of recommendations. I only want to draw your Lordships attention to two or three of the most important of them. In the first place I have read the declaration wherein we are told that a large part of the human race is regularly underfed. We know that in our own country even before the war it had come to be undeniable that at least a quarter of our people were not adequately fed with the proper foods. I think Sir John Orr put the proportion of the population that was inadequately or improperly fed as high as, or higher than, ten millions. At all events it was a very high figure even in this wealthy country. But as this Conference has found, and as we knew beforehand, in many parts of the world, in India, China, South and South-Eastern Europe and many other places, the great majority of the people are regularly underfed.
§ This conference goes on to inquire why they are underfed and they find, as we should have expected, that the first cause of hunger and malnutrition is poverty. I remember many times, when these and kindred subjects have been discussed, on which we have been presented with the statement that it was because the housewives did not know any better, that it was owing to ignorance and various other 242 causes. But these are trivialities compared with the outstanding governing cause which is the world insufficiency of food due to the fact that the people are poor. Why are the majority, hundreds of millions of the human race—that is true—so poor that they cannot afford to buy enough food to keep them in reasonable health? There are two main reasons. The first is that we have worshipped at the shrine of cheapness to our undoing, and the second is that the world's primary producers are subject to a marketing system which has sometimes exploited them but which by its own disorder inevitably checks the springs of enterprise. Let me say a word about cheapness. I find, looking through the figures, that in 1934 rubber was 2½d. per lb., that in 1935 sugar was ½d. per lb., that in 1938 cotton was 4½d. per lb., and wheat 3s. 4d. a bushel. That is cheap enough in all conscience, and I want to ask whether it was to our advantage. Of course if we had lived in isolation we could have had cheap tyres from the rubber, cheap sweets because of the cheap sugar, and cheap cotton garments because of the cheapness of cotton. So far, considered in that isolated way, no doubt it was an advantage; but clearly it was disastrous to the scores of millions of people who are concerned with the production of these essential articles, because it meant that not only did they not have enough money to obtain necessary food and therefore were in this hungry state as the Conference found, but they could not buy our manufactures either.
So far as nutrition at home is concerned, I think the country and your Lordships' House recognize the great obligation that we are under to the noble Lord opposite, the Minister of Food. By securing proper distribution and encouraging the supply of milk and other necessary protective foods for young children, he has, notwithstanding the calamities of war, improved the diet and the good health of the people. That is an example which it would be criminal to forget. To go back to the result of this worship of cheapness, it means that scores of millions of primary producers all over the world are not able to buy our manufactures, and that is the prime cause of unemployment—the inability of people all over the world, be-cause of poverty, to buy goods. I have been greatly comforted that in this im-
portant Report prominence is given to a recognition of the fact that the producer of food wherever he is, whether in China or in Middlesex, must be equally assured that his enterprise will earn him an adequate livelihood. That is the governing principle that this Conference recommends. It puts it even more forcibly, I see, in another place. It says:
It is recognized that to secure an adequate and stable supply of food should be a cardinal aim of every country. It is recognized that that position can be achieved only as a part of a worldwide policy of industrial and agricultural expansion, and it is recognized "—
this is the point—
that in order to secure this result producers should receive a fair return for their labours.
If that is just, and it is just, it is just not only in England but in the East Indies and in China and everywhere else. I am glad that this Conference emphasizes it.
§ Pursuing this subject a little further I made some investigation as to variation in prices because the producer everywhere in the world has been practically helpless as far as prices are concerned. I have only selected a few items. In 1937 wheat was 75. 5d. per bushel, the next year it was 3s. 4d.—less than half the price within twelve months. Copper was £72 a ton in 1937 and in 1938 it was £35— again less than half. Rubber provides the most extraordinary and remarkable instance. In 1925 it was 35¼d. per lb. and in 1932 it was 2½d. per lb. I could continue with the catalogue to make it a very long one. It is impossible for any-body anywhere to conduct a productive enterprise with that uncertainty before him. Therefore this Conference emphasizes the necessity of securing reliability of price and avoiding fluctuation. It recommends that an international commodities organization be created to deal with these matters. We have had discussions before in your Lordships' House on this subject, and I think there was practical unanimity amongst us that there was necessity for large-scale commodity organizations, which could deal with supplies and manage prices and bring us an intelligent and reliable system of price as well as a system dealing with surpluses when they arise.
§ This Conference recommended, I see, that these commodity organizations must be international, that they should be able to establish adequate reserves of food 244 which should be maintained to meet all consumption needs, and that provision should be made where applicable for the orderly disposal of surpluses. That is a matter of great consequence. If your Lordships look at the records of the last two years you will find with regard to surpluses some very extraordinary things. Wheat, as we know, at one time bulged the granaries and stores so that it was consumed by rats and insects. It is not long since farmers in America were paid not to breed pigs, although, of course, there were millions of people who would have been very glad of a slice of bacon. Potatoes, within the last few years, have been deliberately sprayed with kerosene, and thrown into rivers; and, of course, we are all familiar with the fact that the Brazilian Government themselves burnt their coffee. I could prolong the catalogue quite easily. Whatever may be said for our present system, the fact that immense quantities of valuable food are burnt, or made uneatable by pouring kerosene on them, while millions of people are hungry, means that our marketing system, so far as this aspect of it is concerned, can correctly be described as a disgusting and insane anarchy. I am very glad, and we all should be very glad, that this Conference recommends that an end should be made of that wickedness, because it is wickedness and nothing else. I hope that your Lordships will not think that, in saying this, I am preaching any Party doctrines. I really am not doing so. Whatever we may call it, this system cripples enterprise. It may be called private enterprise, but it destroys enterprise in every producing country in the world. It is in the interests of enterprise, and in the interests of good production, that this business should be brought under orderly control.
I hope that the urgent recommendation of the Conference in this respect will be taken notice of by His Majesty's Government. I will read it:
The first steps towards freedom from want of food must not await the final solution of all other problems. Each advance made in one field will strengthen and quicken advance in all others. Work already begun must be continued. Once the war has been won decisive steps can be taken. We must make ready now.
That is the definite conclusion of the Conference as recorded on page 17 of the Paper, in paragraph 7 of the Declaration.
We must make ready now. I hope that the Minister of Food will be able to give us some encouragement with reference to the likelihood of an early decision on our home policy, because in the discussions which we have had in this. House, on more than one occasion, there has been remarkable unanimity of opinion. In fact the instructions given by His Majesty's Government to their Delegation when they went to this Conference—a copy of which was furnished, as your Lordships will remember, to the House—contained declarations, or rather aspirations, of policy which, I think, evoked our enthusiastic assent. It is therefore fitting, I consider, that we should ask His Majesty's Government when they will be able to announce some determination of this long drawn-out consideration of their own policy on the same lines as this precisely, and when they will be able to give us some definite assurances on the matter. We have been very patient. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Woolton will agree that we have waited patiently. But, whatever our patience may do, facts will determine the issue, and the facts before this Conference, I think, must compel His Majesty's Government, who have really been pioneers in this matter, to announce their decisions without further delay.
§ I would like to pay, if I may, a tribute to the part which it is quite manifest that the Government have played in the preparation and in the formulation of the recommendations of this great Conference. It is perfectly evident that we owe a great deal to the British Foreign Office, to the Ministry of Food and to the Ministry of Agriculture, both for this Conference and for this remarkable document, and I am sure that our thanks are due to them. Not long since, we had before us a State Paper of great consequence on social security. It was given a wide and proper publicity, and it was worthy of it. That was a great personal contribution to State policy. Now this is more than a personal contribution, it is more even than a national contribution. It is an international contribution. It is the first concrete act of the United Nations in elaborating postwar policy and concerted action. I should like the Government to decide that tin's Paper should be made available to the people in a popular form with the aid of the arts of those skilful gentlemen at the Ministry of Information, or wherever they may be, who are 246 capable of so presenting it. I would ask that it should be provided at the price of one penny per copy, and that it should be made available in all the world in suitable translations. There is no State Paper that ever I have read that is worthier of world-wide publicity. I confess that in making that suggestion I am seeking anxiously to mobilize in its support the opinion of hungry people all over the world. I hope that His Majesty's Government will do it. If they would do it they would steel the resolution of, and provide a message of hope to, millions of people who now are anxious and oppressed. I beg to move.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, you will all agree, 1 am sure, that the noble Lord who has just spoken has rendered a useful service in bringing this matter to your attention. This most important Report of the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture has received far too little attention, hitherto, both in Parliament and the country, and the Report itself is far too little known. The forty-four nations to whom the noble Lord has referred, who participated in this Conference, and who joined in this Report, comprise, between them, by far the greater part of mankind. They have presented a great range of constructive proposals, and they have done so with unanimity. Our memories go back to the last great Conference on such matters, the World Economic Conference of ten years ago, which was unanimous only in recording its own utter failure. We should be grateful to the President of the United States, who summoned the Conference, and under whose auspices it was held on United States territory, and also to the British Delegation, headed by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Richard Law, and to the very able staff that accompanied them. I think that in this House appreciation should be expressed of the conduct of that Delegation, and of the results which they helped to achieve.
Such a Conference on such a subject could probably never have been held in the nineteenth century. At that time, statesmanship was supposed to devote itself mainly to questions of dynasties and frontiers, and International Conferences dealt with what were regarded as diplomatic questions. Now, however, we have the delegates of great Governments meet- 247 ing together to discuss measures which directly affect the welfare of the common peoples. That difference between this century and the previous century is due in the main, I suggest, to the triumph of democracy in most of the great countries of the world, which still adhere, in spite of the falling off in certain parts of Europe and elsewhere, to the principles of full and free self-government. It is also due to the achievements of science in this century, as compared with the nineteenth. Science is sometimes regarded in this war as the wicked witch of modern civilization, on account of the destructiveness which it has placed in the hands of ruthless and aggressive nations; but it is really the good fairy of our civilization. It is science which has made a conference such as this possible and worth while. It is science which has taught us to under-stand the principles of nutrition. It is science which has enabled us to increase manyfold the production of a given area of soil, and with a given amount of labour. It is science which has enabled us to establish easy transport all over the world, and through refrigeration to secure the transport of perishable goods.
The Conference, at the beginning of its first resolution, made this declaration:This Conference, meeting in the midst of the greatest war ever waged, and in full confidence of victory, has considered the world problems of food and agriculture, and declares its belief that the goal of freedom from want of food, suitable and adequate for the health and strength of all peoples, can be achieved.That is a great declaration, and one which is hopeful for the future of all mankind. It is impossible to summarize these resolutions, which cover more than twenty pages of print, and I shall not attempt to do so. The Conference deals with the immediate tasks which will arise as soon as the war is over, and it says:It is the consensus of the Conference that, despite all efforts to increase production, supplies of essential foodstuffs and … of the necessary instruments of production … and the means of international transportation will all be inadequate to meet basic requirements in the transition period, which may extend for several years after the cessation of hostilities.The delegates, after their expert investigation of the facts, come definitely to the conclusion that there will be a dearth of essentials in many parts of the world as soon as hostilities terminate. We who have been obliged by the hard necessities 248 of the case to employ the terrible weapon of the blockade will be very happy when the moment arrives when we can reverse our action, and when we can aid in everyway that we possibly can the replenishment of Europe with the necessaries of life.
Then the Report proceeds to discuss long-term policy, and recognizes that the prime condition of all else is to win the war, and then to make the peace secure. Economics in our time has become largely strategic. When Adam Smith founded the science he wrote of the Wealth of Nations, and it was then thought that the study of mankind in this province of knowledge should be a study of matters relating to material wealth. In a later generation, it was found that the "classic economics," as it was called, was not adequate, and that there was something more to aim at than wealth—namely, welfare. We therefore had an economics which put welfare in the first place, and regarded the increase of wealth as conditional upon the maintenance and the increase of welfare. Afterwards, when an aggressive spirit in many nations caused unrest throughout Europe, there came a war economics— autarchy—and safety in war was regarded as more important than all else. This Conference found that that state of things is the cause of many of the troubles with which it had to deal.
The Report says:Whereas:certain things ought to be done which it recommends; the Report clearly asserting that it has been strategic considerations, the care of nations for their own safety in the event of war, which have compelled them to adopt policies which are essentially uneconomic and wasteful. The Report goes on to say that the Conference recommends:
- (1)Freedom from want cannot be achieved without freedom from fear;
- (2)Policies of aggression and the fear of aggression have induced the uneconomic employment of human and material resources, the development of uneconomic industries, the imposition of barriers to international trade, the introduction of discriminatory trade practices, and the expenditure of huge sums on armaments; "That the Governments and authorities here represented, by virtue of their determination to achieve freedom from want for all people in all lands, affirm the principle of mutual responsibility and co-ordinated 249 action to establish such conditions of international security as will make possible an expanding and balanced world economy.Then comes what is perhaps one of the most important declarations in the whole document:That these Governments and authorities take in concert all necessary measures to secure the application of this principle and the achievement of this objective.The United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have put their hands to a document which affirms their co-operation in post-war measures to maintain international security and the peace of the world.
Further, the Report: goes on to speak of the necessity for the expansion of consumption, in order to prevent the recurrence of such gluts of produce as happened at the time of the last great depression, and to prevent slumps in prices. It happened that I was in the United States just at the time when things were at their worst, or when they were just beginning to recover from their worst, and one of the measures which had to be adopted at that time was the ploughing up of a great deal of land already planted with cotton, on account of the expected glut of the cotton crop. At the same time, the boll weevil pest was very bad that year, and one of the President's advisers told me that he happened to be in a Southern State when he saw an aeroplane flying over a farm and spraying the crop with insecticide against this pest, while at the same time, in another part of the farm, the farmer with a team of mules was ploughing up his crop. He said he could not help thinking that it would be more economical to cancel both these processes and to leave it to the insect to remedy the incapacity of man. Well, such are the paradoxes that occur when these affairs are so ill-regulated as they have been hitherto.
The Conference proceeded to suggest, as I have said, a number of constructive proposals. I should be less than human if I were to refrain from saying that there is a remarkable similarity between this document and the policy which the Liberal Party in this country has been advocating for very many years past. Next to peace, the Conference says, social security is the most necessary measure to be taken. They say that poverty is the main cause of malnutrition, as we all 250 know, and proceed to suggest that "adequate social security measures, such as family allowances, social insurance and minimum wages "should be recommended for adoption. Then I am sure that noble Lords will be anxious to hear what they say with regard to protective tariffs:Tariffs and other barriers to international trade, and abnormal fluctuations in exchange rates restrict the production, distribution, and consumption of foodstuffs and other commodities.And they say:As an integral part of this programme, to reduce barriers of every kind to international trade, and to eliminate all forms of discriminatory restrictions thereon … as effectively and as rapidly as possibleis mentioned as a policy which is recommended. It is interesting to note that the son of Mr. Bonar Law was not prevented by atavistic tendencies from subscribing to that doctrine.
Further, in another paragraph the Conference emphasizesthat the inherent natural and economic advantages of any area should determine the farming system adopted and the commodities produced in that area.Could there be a more definite condemnation of the sugar beet experiments in this country, which at the cost, directly and indirectly, of tens of millions to the tax-payers and consumers of this land, have produced a crop to which our climate is not naturally adapted and which could be obtained at a fraction of the cost from tropical countries where the sun provides all that subsidies attempt to procure?
§ NOBLE LORDS: In war-time?
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I was about to say—it was my next sentence—that no doubt many would say mark the advantage that we have gained by the home production of sugar during this war. That is an example of how strategic necessities do tend to overcome economic advantage, and I do not deny that it may be necessary for purely strategic reasons to go to great expense in order to produce a crop of which there may be a scarcity in time of war and of insecure communications. But if it be remembered that for every acre devoted in this country to sugar beet you lose one acre devoted to root crops which would be used for other food purposes, and would to an equal or greater degree save shipping in bringing commodities 251 from overseas. But as to the many other measures that they recommend, for example, the provision of agricultural credits, better marketing arrangements, far more active efforts to promote scientific research on the agricultural side, and the improvement of agricultural education—all these arc parts of a policy which for many years past has been advocated by noble Lords on these Benches and by our friends in another place largely under the impetus and enthusiasm of Mr. Lloyd George.
It is easy to declare aims, as this Paper does; it is not so easy to find the measures for attaining them. And of course this Paper does not present any detailed examination of policy. It would be impossible for it to do so when dealing with so many different countries, with such diverse conditions. The Conference proposes that an Interim Commission should be set up representing all the United Nations, to deal immediately with the preparation of a short-term programme. It would prepare the way for a permanent organization growing up year by year to elaborate and superintend the adoption of these measures.
Governing it all is the principle, to which everyone would subscribe, that producers must receive a fair return. Unless agriculturists in all countries of production can work to a profit and feel that their own economic position is secure, nothing great can be achieved in this province, and there comes the difficulty that that principle of receiving a fair return may always be pleaded in defence of inefficiency. In countries where agriculture is backward it can always be said that the agriculturists cannot receive a fair return unless the price of his produce is raised far above what the consumer can fairly be called upon to pay. That is the great problem that will face us after the war in adopting a policy for this country—how the principle of a fair return for the efficient farmer can be brought into full practice, as it should be, without at the same time condoning inefficiency. I would suggest that the Government would do well to have strongly-bound copies of this document prepared and placed on the table of every Minister concerned with any branch of this subject for frequent reference and as a constant reminder, for this is undoubtedly one of the 252 most momentous and significant, and may prove to be one of the most fruitful, State Papers of our time.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I would like to join first of all the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in thanking the noble Lord who has put down this Motion. He said at the beginning that he hoped that none of us would suspect him of putting forward his own Party views. I think we can assure him that he has proved himself in the past such a friend of agriculture that when he speaks we know that fact full well. I wish I could say the same about the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. In his sketch of a General Election policy for the Liberal Party I really could not quite understand his acceptance of this document. He said it was the justification of all Liberalism. I should have thought it was the very burial of the Liberal Party, and of all those who base their policy on laisser faire from which we have suffered for the last forty of fifty years at the hands of the Liberal Party. However, we are not met to discuss that rather gloomy subject at the present moment.
By summoning this Conference I think President Roosevelt has managed to accomplish what most of us in your Lordships' House have utterly failed to do —namely, to bring His Majesty's Government to a realization that the time has come when they have to make up their minds about a food policy for the future of this country, and also a food policy that embraces the whole world. Not only has he done that, but for the first time in our human history we have had the very simple, very obvious, but by no means universally "recognized fact recorded by the Governments of forty-four nations that the gluts, surpluses, and depressions of the past have not been due to overproduction, but to our simple inability to bring the food the producer wants to sell to the consumer who needs it.
As the seconder of the Motion, in 1935, of Mr. Bruce setting up the League of Nations Nutrition Committee—a Committee which is really the parent body of Hot Springs—I naturally find myself a very strong and warm supporter of the general principles put forward in this Report. For all that, after twenty years or so of League of Nations reports and resolutions, and World Economic Conferences from which nothing resulted, perhaps it is not unnatural that some of us 253 should not feel inclined to be quite so enthusiastic as Lord Addison has been, and should ask what exactly the Report means or is likely to mean in concrete terms and what His Majesty's Government intend to do about it. I feel this is a point really worth stressing, and for this reason. If we are going to make a greater success of replanning the world after this war than we made after the last war, this generation has got to be a great deal more concrete. One of the main causes of our failure during the twenty years between the two wars' was that we were far too easily contented with airy platitudes at some of these conferences that led to extraordinarily, tragically little action.
If we turn to the Report, we are bound to admit that while there is not very much in the way of concrete proposals in it, nevertheless it does contain very considerable and wide possibilities. It does lay down very clearly the principle of what I call the expanded market as opposed to restriction—the policy we pursued before the war. It does, incidentally, put forward some very practical proposals, based largely on our war-time experience of feeding this country, as to how to bring about the expansion of markets and how to get the much needed food to those who need it. It also lays down—and this is very important, too—the principle that it is essential in producing food for this country or the world that we keep our minds to a far greater extent than we have done in the past on the necessity of maintaining the security of future supplies by safeguarding the fertility of our soil by our methods of production. It is a very important fact in this respect that a great number of countries which have hitherto pursued the single-crop method of producing, to the great exhaustion of their soil, should actually sign a Report that supports the British method of farming—namely, mixed farming. Here, if I were to turn aside from the Report, I should like to have said a few words on the quite irrelevant remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, about sugar beet.
Where it seems to me that the Report quite definitely does not follow its own course to its logical conclusion, where it is lamentably weak, is that it docs not go further and deal with the problem touched on in the speech Mr. Richard Law made on behalf of the Government, when he 254 laid down that it was essential to have stable prices and stable markets. It is perfectly true that there are certain proposals in the Report for setting up machinery to ascertain the facts of the situation. It is certainly true that there are certain proposals for setting up buffer stocks for evening-out the market. But anyone who has the slightest experience of market regulation would have to admit that there is very little likelihood of buffer stocks alone being able to deal with the type of fluctuations, the gluts and shortages, the ups and downs of prices, to which Lord Addison has referred, such as we experienced during the twenty years between the two wars. The principle of buffer stocks is not going to meet that problem. Therefore, whilst being an enthusiastic supporter of the principle of the expanded market and of the policy of nutrition—before the war some of my colleagues considered I was somewhat over-enthusiastic on that particular subject— I can see no hope of its being put into anything like practical operation unless it is accompanied by a system of regulation ensuring stable markets and stable prices.
The Report contemplates that more will be produced all over the world. It would be folly for producers in any country to embark on a great scheme of increased production with no guarantee whatsoever that they are not going to be returned, within a year or two after the war, to the old system of utterly uncontrolled international trade. Policy, like human beings, requires two legs on which to go forward. In this case the two legs are, first, the controlled or planned market, and, secondly, the expanded market. Before the war we may have relied too much on the first—namely, on control. That is no reason now for going to the other extreme and relying simply on the second. In both cases the single solution is bound to prove inadequate. Therefore, if I may sum up, I should say that this Report represents a very great advance on anything we have had before. It definitely puts forward this principle of the expanded market rather than relying on bringing stability by means of restriction of production, but it is unlikely to pass beyond the stage of being merely a pious resolution unless to it is added the principle of the controlled market.
Now, if I may, I shall pass to my second point, and that is, what do the Government intend to do about it? We 255 cannot ask them to-day to commit themselves to the terms of this great Report. It is far too big a subject, but I think we are entitled to examine, and examine rather carefully, the speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, because after all that speech was made by a Minister. If my experience teaches me aright, that speech must have been before every Government Department before the Under-Secretary left this country, and it must have received the approval of the Cabinet. Therefore I take it that it docs represent the speech of a Minister speaking on behalf of the Government. So far as I could see, he laid down three very clear principles. The first was that we must devise a system of international trade that would bring about stable markets and stable—I think he used the word "fair "—prices, that there should be set up a system of buffer stocks in order to help to bring this about; and, finally, that there should be a system, such as we have in operation at the present moment in this country, of subsidies and price adjustments, in order to ensure that the consumer can get an adequate supply of food, particularly of the most important protective foods.
Whether we like that policy or not, it does seem to me that it is a very definite outline of a very definite policy. That speech was made on May 14, and on May 26 there was a debate in your Lordships' House when the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that not only was there no agricultural policy but that the Government had not yet had time to consider one. I do ask the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, to clear up this position. We have had an Under-Secretary going abroad to an International Conference and announcing what is in effect the agriculture and food policy of this country, and some days later we have had a Minister getting up in your Lordships' House and saying there is no policy and that the Government are far too busy even to have had time to consider it. This position of uncertainty really cannot be tolerated. In November, 1940, the Government promised us an agreed All-Party policy on agriculture and food. Since then, in response to countless debates in your Lordships' House, that pledge has been reiterated until it has become stale.
256 Last year the Minister of Reconstruction announced to the House of Commons that a statement would shortly be made. The Minister of Agriculture undertook, either at the end of last year or at the beginning of this year, that during the spring he was going to enter into discussions with the industry. Now the spring is past and we still have no word except that we hear that a Minister has gone to an International Conference with-out a word to Parliament, and without any consultation with the industry concerned, to announce the outlines of a policy. Therefore, if I may, I would close my remarks by welcoming this Report as being important and good but incomplete, and by asking the Government two very definite questions. The first is, are they to-day going to announce their agriculture and food policy? If not, when are they going to do so? And when we do hear what it is are we going to hear something that has been said at an International Conference or are we to have a definite statement in Parliament after full discussion?
§ LORD BINGLEY
My Lords, so much has been already said about the magnitude of the issues raised in this Report, about the wide scope that it covers and the importance of the results to be anticipated from it, that it is not necessary for me to say anything upon those aspects of the question. I do want to thank again Lord Addison for bringing this subject forward. I agree with what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that not nearly enough has been said about this Report, and not nearly enough people have become acquainted with its provisions. This debate should be of value in making the public better acquainted with it. I should like to carry the subject a little further and consider how our agricultural policy will be affected if the recommendations made in this Report are carried out, and what we can expect from the Government in connexion with it. There is no doubt that this Report and the machinery which is suggested in it ought to help us very considerably. I take it that there are two main objects in our postwar agricultural policy. One is to preserve our own agricultural production without submitting the producers to the perpetual fear of loss and of failure; and the other is to lay emphasis on producing those forms of food which are most 257 needed by the nation. Farmers and agricultural producers have been promised fair prices after the war time and again and we cannot let them down once more. We know what disastrous results there were at the end of the last war, and I believe that now we are really agreed that reasonable prices for farmers and agriculture producers are essential as part of the postwar agricultural policy of this country. In order to achieve that result some of the machinery suggested in this Report will be very helpful.
The Conference at Hot Springs suggests the widest co-operation between nations and the appointment of Commissions to carry out what the nations can agree to produce of essential foods, to improve the distribution of those foods, to develop the agricultural resources of the different countries, to help each other, and, above all, to save waste. The deplorable instances of waste already mentioned in this debate are common knowledge to all of us. It is obvious that in the future we have to make sure that if there is a surplus and there is at the same time a need in the world, this machinery shall be used to pass the surplus on to satisfy the need. The Report as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has just said, does stop rather short when it comes to the question of machinery to carry this out, but I do not quite agree with him. I think that by means of the machinery which has been set up of Interim Commissions, to be followed later on by a Permanent Commission, it should be possible to arrive at agreement as to the machinery that will suit all the various countries.
Then comes the question, how can we apply it? The first thing is, I believe, to secure that our farmers and agricultural producers shall be persuaded to produce the essential foods and not produce them at a loss. We have all, I think, come to agree that a system of tariffs is no longer a satisfactory method of meeting glut and low prices. The farmer looks back to a time when he regarded the tariff as the only means of really saving him from low prices, but we have got beyond that now. We all realize that import boards and quotas are a much more reliable way of dealing with surplus imports and that they not only suffice to prevent prices being raised to too great an extent but also afford means for regulating the amount which can be imported so as to 258 make it accord with the need that there is for the particular article to be imported. It is by means of this system that we have been dealing with foreign meat in recent years, and it has worked very well. Where there is a shortage, as in the spring, of home-produced meat, then we can allow a larger portion of foreign meat to come in, and when there is a large supply of home meat, in the autumn, with cattle coming off the grass, then we can restrict the importation of foreign meat. The result of that policy has on the whole been very satisfactory. But all these things—imports, prices and quotas—are an international matter and their use should be extended far more widely among all the various nations of the world. That is where the machinery which is to be set up will be of value. No doubt it will be made possible to evolve a system something on those lines.
What we shall certainly want to do in this country will be to concentrate on developing those essential foods which are most necessary for the health of the nations, such as milk, poultry, dairy products, fish, green vegetables and meat. All these things were largely imported before the war but could quite easily have been grown here. The reason why they were not produced in larger quantities was that it did not pay to grow them. We must make quite sure that we shall be selfsufficient—that is a point the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, missed in his curious remarks about sugar beet—in sugar as in other things. We must have a sufficient supply to meet a state of emergency. Where it is necessary to encourage consumption it may be necessary to do it by subsidy. I do not want to see a subsidy given to the producer to increase the prices he can get, but rather a subsidy to the consumer to help him purchase the commodity and thereby increase the demand which of itself would mean an increase of profit to the producer. Whatever methods of help arc required we shall expect the Government to do something to make sure that these essential foods are produced on a large scale in this country and that it shall be possible to produce them without loss. We shall, of course, have to place emphasis on milk rather than on beef, for instance, and produce more of the essential foods like vegetables while importing wheat and meat.
259 Consideration of the health of the nation must be the basis of the policy in deciding what particular commodity we shall encourage producers to produce. I saw a farm of about 300 acres the other day which is now entirely devoted to vegetables. That was a result of the increased demand fostered by the war, and the extremely good guidance given by my noble friend Lord Woolton, who has taught those of us who are old and greedy like myself that, although we may regret the loss of the succulent chop and the juicy sirloin and so on, they are not essential. By leading us to consume more vegetable food the noble Lord has led us to a wonderful state of national health and we are all extremely grateful to him. We want control and planning now. We must begin to think about these things because when the war is over the crisis will be upon us. It is essential that there should be some definite policy. We must not, in making our plans, let down the agriculturist. We must maintain the promise made by all Parties, even by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that he shall not be let down again. We must make sure that after this war it shall be possible for agriculture to be reasonably prosperous and thereby remain the safeguard of this country. In doing so we must make provision for the production of essential foods, so that we shall have not only a prosperous agriculture but a healthy nation.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Addison was good enough to ask me to back him up in this vitally important debate. I am glad to do so and I would like to begin, if I may, by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bingley, on the most valuable contribution he has made to the debate. I do not speak on agricultural matters myself, because I am a sailor and know nothing about them, but I congratulate the noble Lord on what he said about the importance of producing the right food for the people. My noble friend Lord Addison pressed for publicity for the remarkable statement of policy which has been criticized by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, or at any rate condemned with faint praise. On that declaration of principles made by Mr. Richard Law at the beginning of the Conference, I congratulate the Government, and, as usual, I am very happy to do so.
260 My noble friend asked for publicity for the Declaration and Final Act and I support that plea. Happily the President of the United States, or some other person in the United States administration, hit on a remarkable publicity policy. The Government of the United States put it about before the Conference at Hot Springs opened that the Press would not be admitted. I am sure my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook will support me in the statement that that was the one way to set agog every newspaper office in the United States and other countries. They sent their star reporters and best journalists down to Hot Springs and they got the Senate to work, with the result that the Conference got publicity in the United States and indeed in other countries to an extent which it would never have got but for this threat to exclude the Press. Unfortunately, that is a thing that cannot be done a second time. You cannot play that sort of trick twice, but I do hope that our Government will play their part in making the whole matter and the recommendations more widely known. Except from the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, there has been a good deal of praise for the statement of policy.
I was very interested in the contest for paternity between the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. Both claimed that they were the real fathers of this statement of principles. Speaking as a member of my own Party, I would say that we do not care who was the father of the policy. What is of interest to us is who is to have the custody of the child. In other words, who is going to carry out the policy, and in what way? Because you may have a policy which on paper is perfect but which can be so administered and manipulated as to be most harmful. You have an example in the proposal for buffer stocks. If the policy of buying up surpluses in order to prevent them being destroyed, and of storing them against the lean period, is carried out in the interests of the consumer, well and good; but if it is carried out in the interests of the producer, solely for the purpose of raising prices and making unreasonable profits, then a great deal of harm can be done. We have had examples in the tin pool and the rubber restriction scheme suggested by the Government before the war for artificially maintaining prices against the consumer, and the great deal 261 of harm they did. The best and earliest example I know of buffer stocks was the policy of Joseph in Egypt. He stored up the surplus grain in the fat years against the scarcity of the lean years. But Joseph and his assistants distributed the corn fairly. Theirs was not a policy of adding to the profit of the producer but of saving people from starvation and want. I hope that Joseph's policy will be followed
The other two main recommendations, which are indeed revolutionary, especially coming from this Government, are the absolute condemnation of the destruction of surplus stocks and the declaration for an expansionist instead of a restrictive policy. That, of course, is a complete reversal of the previous policy fathered and fostered by the Conservative Government before the war. My noble friend Viscount Samuel has been taken to task for disputing the wisdom of the beet sugar subsidy. I would like my noble friend Earl De La Warr to remember that Viscount Samuel's bark is far worse than his bite. He was a member of a Government which continued this subsidy.
When it comes to the point, these subsidies and restrictions, particularly those applying to agriculture, are very hard to get rid of. I do hope that that will prove to be the case with regard to many of our present controls. Might I now address myself personally to my noble friend Lord Woolton in order to remind him that there is a very insidious and persistent campaign beginning and waxing in the country for the removal of all restrictions, rationing and controls and planning after the war? This campaign is deliberate, and it is pernicious. It will do immense harm if it is persisted in. The Englishman in particular, and the Briton generally, is opposed to any sort of restriction on his personal liberty, and it is very easy to exploit that feeling. It is very easy to tell housewives that there should be no more rationing and no more queues after the war; that they should be able to do as they like, that they should be able to buy where they like, and what they like. It will be very easy to say to people: "You have fought for freedom and now is the time for you 262 to have it." If those ideas are fostered the great system of rationing, of controls, of bulk purchases and so forth, which has been built up with such success by the present Minister of Food and other Ministers, will be wrecked.
The implementation of the recommendations of the Conference will be made impossible if you assist or succour this agitation, and you will have on your heads the guilt of inflicting further suffering on millions of innocent people on the Continent of Europe. It is obvious, to anyone who knows the facts, that whatever surpluses there may be in certain food-producing countries, the difficulties of transport, the chaos, anarchy and disorder which will prevail in Europe when this phase of the war is over, will be such that the problem of saving 470,000,000 people from starvation will be of a magnitude to tax all our efforts. If we do away with controls, rationing and restrictions, the task will be made impossible.
I hope that my noble friend Lord Woolton will have the courage—and that he will be given the necessary authority by the Cabinet—to fight this pernicious campaign with its suggestions that we should be able to buy and sell as we like, and have full opportunities for private profit-making directly the fighting ends. It is a criminal thing to attempt to delude the people of this country with such impossible ideas, and a very heavy responsibility will rest on the shoulders of those who are undertaking this campaign. I am very glad that the two Labour Members of the War Cabinet, my right honourable friends Mr. Bevin and Mr. Morrison, have spoken very plainly on this matter, and I am sure that they will be wholeheartedly supported by my noble friend Lord Woolton with his great prestige in the country. I would like also, if I may, to support what has been said by my noble friends Lord Addison and Lord Bingley about the real need of laying our plans in advance. It is all very well to have this pressure for an agricultural policy for the future, but I suggest that it is far more urgent that we should make preparations to deal with the vast emergency which will face us in Europe as soon as the guns cease fire.
May I now be allowed to make some suggestion following on what Lord Bingley has said about the need of the right kind of diet? This is the only other point 263 which I wish to make. We had a most interesting statement on this matter, with regard to the protective foods and medicines, from Lord Geddes in a recent debate. I do not think that enough stress is laid in the Final Act of the Conference, or indeed in the principles enunciated on behalf of His Majesty's Government at the beginning of the Conference, on the great need of a proper balance of foods. We have heard about it from Lord Bingley this afternoon and from Lord Geddes the other day. I wish very humbly to use what influence I have further to stress the need for consideration of this matter.
Too much emphasis is laid on wheat crops and other cereal crops, which are starch producers — the carbohydrates which produce energy but which are not protective or health-giving. I am told that the modern practice is to divide food groups into four. The first group comprises the carbohydrates, sugars, starches and so on. In the second group come fats. Both these groups of foods are energy-producing. They are good for work but they are not protective, and, by themselves, they are not health giving. If the proteins are lacking, and certain salts, minerals and catalysers also, you have an unbalanced diet which tends to produce bad health. This side of the matter has been, I suggest, somewhat neglected in the publications which we have had, and even in statements of Government policy. The third group of foods comprises the proteins, to which my noble friend Lord Bingley has referred. These foods include meat, fish, milk, eggs, cheese and so forth which build tissue, form protoplasm and ensure health. Lastly, there comes the fourth group, which comprises minerals, vitamins and catalysers.
I have followed for some years as a layman the researches of the scientists in these matters, and I may say in passing that my opinion of scientists is that they are perfectly easy to understand if only they will express themselves properly. In particular, I have followed the work— and here may I crave the attention of my noble friend Lord Woolton?—of the Swiss scientist Henry Spahlinger since 1921 and 1922. He has carried out extensive researches into proteins, and his work is known in the Ministry of Health. I would like very much to know if it is also known at the Ministry of Food. I consider that 264 it is essential that it should be. Spahlinger's discoveries have been remarkable and have created great interest in the scientific world. I believe some of his proposals, if adopted at the present time, in view of this terrible problem of food shortages with which we shall be faced after the war, would afford the chief solution of that problem. He can show how you can convey the maximum food value with the minimum of volume. This does not mean using chemical compounds. You cannot feed hungry people with pills. The only real contribution you can make in that direction, I believe, is by the process of dehydration upon which we have heard Lord Woolton speak. But, with a diet properly balanced and with the proper salts and catalysers, you can, with a certain volume and weight, give the utmost nutrition that can be scientifically arranged. When you have got this balanced diet, you can begin tackling the terrible problem of how to feed those hungry, famine-stricken and disease-ridden millions, who will be on our hands in Europe directly the guns cease firing.
I want to make a practical suggestion, and I hope that Lord Woolton will not think that it is too visionary. Once you have decided what foods you have available and how to get the best value out of those foods by a proper balance, you can solve the great transport difficulty with which you will be faced, by using the aeroplane. When fighting ceases in Europe—at least, when national fighting ceases; there may still be internal disorders —transport will be your main difficulty, and aeroplanes, which, up to the end will have been the angels of death and destruction, can become the angels of mercy and relief by carrying foodstuffs to the famine areas of Europe, which will extend, I am afraid, over very large parts of the continent. Is that too visionary an idea? Can I ask the noble Lord to have that considered in the plans which are being made for the future? I am thinking of those innocent scores of millions of people who are in no way to blame for this catastrophe, but who, partly because of our necessary blockade, partly because of the disorganization caused by the war, but mainly through the pillage and spoliation of the enemy, are suffering from hunger and famine. They are the people for whom we have to provide, and the 265 provision of food for them is more important than any future question affecting agriculture in this country.
It is an emergency policy which is needed, and the preparations for it cannot be begun a day too soon. I therefore thank Lord Addison for bringing this matter before your Lordships, and for the proposals which he has made.
THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I should like to add my tribute of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Addison, for having brought to our attention the proceedings of the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture held at Hot Springs. Like others of your Lordships, I have felt that insufficient publicity has been given to the proceedings of this Conference. They ought to have had much more publicity, because the Final Act of this Conference is a very weighty document. It is, as Lord Addison has described it, an International Beveridge Report, because it sets cut how the nations can obtain freedom from want through international co-operation and thus secure one of the principal aims of the Atlantic Charter itself. Other noble Lords have already mentioned many of the salient features of the Final Act, and I do not propose, therefore, to deal with them, but there arc one or two points which I should like to emphasize.
The summation—it is a curious word, but it is quite good English—explains the resolutions and the reports of the Conference. The number of pithy phrases contained in this introduction, phrases which set out principles of the highest value, is really remarkable. Perhaps the statements which struck me most—and I noticed that they also struck the noble Lord, Lord Addison—are as follows:freedom from want means a secure, adequate, and suitable supply of food for every man,the goal of freedom from want can be reached,butit will be first necessary to win freedom from hunger,anda great increase would be needed in the production of food if progress is to be made towards freedom from want.266 We are told that the Conference considered how this increased production could best be effected, and we are given the results of their deliberations. I shall not dwell further on the introduction, but I should like very warmly to support the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, that, in view of the very high importance of the Final Act, His Majesty's Government should consider the issue of a short leaflet setting out the effects of the resolutions of the Conference. I believe that a brief pamphlet of that kind would have a very wide circulation, and would go far to allay any fear that may have arisen as to the post-war policy of the United Nations regarding nutrition and regarding agriculture and, indeed, production generally.
There is one resolution in the Final Act of which no mention is made in the introduction, but to which I personally attach the highest importance. I refer to the recommendation in Resolution XXIII on international security. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, drew attention to that resolution and quoted its terms, as I had intended to do. I do feel that that resolution, which is to the effect that prosperity is not possible without security, contains a cardinal principle and one which is sometimes very apt to be overlooked when planning takes place for future developments after the war. There are other resolutions of special importance, and Resolutions XII and XV are worthy of special mention, Resolution XII because it mentions the efforts required to relieve hunger in the relief period, and Resolution XV because it provides the skeleton of a sound, general, long-term policy for agriculture.
I recognize that many people may take the view that the programme contained in the Final Act is Utopian, and incapable of execution because of its immense scope. Some people have already said that all this is merely hot air. It is true that the programme is vast, and that it may take many years before it is completely fulfilled; but it is no small thing that the representatives of forty-four countries are united not only on an ideal but in a determination to achieve it and on the steps required to do so. I have seldom read a document which gave me so much hope for a better future for both the producer and the consumer—and that means 267 every man, woman and child throughout the world.
Before I conclude, I should like to say a very few words about one other matter connected with the Conference. I think that I shall be in order in doing so, as the Motion refers to matters connected with the Conference. I want to refer to the post-war relief plan sent by the Government of the United States to all the members of the United Nations. The text of the draft was, as your Lordships probably know, published in The Times on June II. I assume that that draft is under consideration by the United Nations, and therefore I shall be rather guarded in my remarks, but, as a former international official with a certain experience, I do want to express the sincere hope that that draft will be fully accepted. The international organization set out in it seems to me admirable and well-calculated to achieve the intended purposes. The scheme is concrete and precise, and above all it avoids the snare of over-regulation.
There is the Council, the policy-making body, which is to meet at least twice a year and may be convoked in an emergency should it be generally thought desirable. There is a Central Committee or Executive composed of the representatives of China, the Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, together with the Chairman of the Committee of Supplies. In this connexion it should be specially noted that provision is made for ad hoc representation on the Central Committee for States not members of that Committee when questions in which they are particularly interested are to be determined. Lastly, there is the Director-General, who is to be chosen by the unanimous vote of the Central Committee, and who will be entrusted with very wide powers; indeed he is to preside over the meetings of the Central Committee. I do not know whether a provision of this kind will be found applicable to all post-war organizations, but in view of the specific purposes of a relief organization I believe that it is wise in this actual case. One analogy that occurs to me is that of the Nansen organization which, as your Lordships know, proved highly successful, and we may, therefore, legitimately hope that such success will again be obtained.
As I have said, the whole plan seems to me to be admirably conceived, and 268 though a pessimistic critic could find potential causes for an ultimate breakdown, happily the facts of experience show that international administrations can and will work, provided the countries which support them maintain their own belief both in the need for and in the possibility of co-operative international action.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
My Lords, it is customary when you rise in this House to begin by thanking the noble Lord who brings the Motion before the House, telling him how glad you are that he has raised the issue, so I begin by thanking the noble Lord. It is usual to end the debate by saying "I beg leave to withdraw"; we shall hear that sentence this time as usual. But I must say that I admired the speech of my noble friend because of his enthusiasm, with which I do not agree. I have not heard anything in a long time quite equalling the starry-eyed enthusiasm of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. He has turned his coat. He has declared with enthusiasm against the restriction of production; and yet a few short years ago he was talking of the restriction of production. In the Government in which the noble Viscount sat, the Government under the leadership of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, he supported the restriction of production.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
Questions as to the banning of the building of the "Queen Mary." I can give you other examples, too.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
The noble Viscount declares himself against the beet subsidy. But in the Government of which he was a member the beet subsidy was voted. He was himself responsible for the beet subsidy. He is a wonderful man in public life. In 1931 he supports the beet subsidy; in 1943 he comes here and denounces it.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I really must interrupt. It is not quite fair to say that. The noble Lord knows that we went into the Coalition Government of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald for a particular purpose—namely, to help to overcome the economic 269 crisis. We were there in a very small minority—two members in a Cabinet of about twenty—and it would, have been absurd for us to say we disagreed with the beet subsidy which had been in force for some years, and to say that we should resign unless it was repealed. Such a thing would have been most unpatriotic.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
You have heard the explanation of the noble Viscount. None the less the noble Viscount sustained that Government and the beet subsidy. If there was a crisis and the beet subsidy was partly responsible for that crisis, why did not he demand that it should be suspended? It was costing money. Why did not he demand that that money should be saved to the nation forthwith in order to shorten the duration of the crisis? It is not because I am against the beet subsidy that I am saying this. On the contrary, I am very strongly for it. The noble Viscount, with his starry-eyed enthusiasm, went on to speak of this Conference declaring itself for freedom from want of food. You cannot abolish that by a Committee meeting, you cannot abolish it by a Conference like this, which passed thirty-two resolution altogether, and then a thirty-third thanking the Chairman. The truth is that this Conference was like many another Conference which has gone before it. The members achieved a popular success, and they did it by deciding to have another Conference. And that is the usual way in which Conferences make a success. You cannot abolish want, and you cannot abolish the want of food by any such means. There is only one way of abolishing the want of food, and that is to sow and then to reap. That is the method by which you will abolish the want of food.
But in any case, what is all this debate about? Post-war discussions in which there is a very large measure of agreement. Should not we concentrate on the war instead of these post-war issues? Should not the war be our concern? Should not we talk about the Russian defence at this hour when the Germans are attacking the Russians? Should not we discuss the naval battle in the Solomons? This House is given too much to shadow-boxing. It is time we came to some in-fighting. How can we tell, in any case, what want of food there is going to be in Europe after the war is over? How can we tell until we know 270 what the decision will be of this grave issue which is put to the test, ordeal by battle? We can never know. Why talk about after the war experiments when Russia needs food now? This is the time to talk of the immediate necessities of Russia. This is the time to talk of the prospect of getting food to Russia, while Russia is in want, while the battle is being fought on the Russian front—not to discuss vast and splendid projects which invariably come to nothing. All this sort of thing was done in the last war. I have not had the opportunity to look up to-day the proceedings then at one Conference after another, when the same resolutions were passed, the same sort of debates took place in this House, and the same sort of conclusion with the noble Lord saying: "I beg leave to withdraw."
I have only one more remark to make. I am one of those pernicious persons, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, who wish to abolish the food rations when the war is over, to abolish them as swiftly as may be. There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the food ration—and I invariably praise the administration of the Food Ministry: it is one of the best Ministries we have in this war. But to suppose that the public of Great Britain is rationed by the Ministry is quite a mistake. A vast number of persons are not rationed at all. My noble friend and I can go out to dinner to-night at a hotel and we will not need any rations. We can go to a British Restaurant and we shall not be asked for any coupons. We can go to the canteens in the factories, and there are no food coupons exacted from us there. A good deal of nonsense is talked about rationing. The real truth is that the people are feeding very much better than before, and the reason they are feeding very much better than before is that they have much more pay in their pockets than they had before, and are able to buy much more food. Now I shall make way for the noble Lord, the Minister of Food, to reply and for my noble friend Lord Addison to withdraw his Motion.
§ THE MINISTER OF FOOD (LORD WOOLTON)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord who has just spoken for giving me an opportunity to reply, but he will not expect me to reply to everything he has said. I am very glad he has made those last remarks. I am digressing, as he 271 did, from the particular Motion which is on the Paper, but it is important that we should recognize in this country that it is because we have been able to combine a precise rationing with a good deal of freedom, that we have been able to keep the country reasonably happy, and I hope we shall continue to keep it reasonably happy. I do not know whether the noble Lord who moved the Motion is going to withdraw it or not. I think we have anticipated his request for Papers by the production of this Paper, "Final Act of the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture," which is probably the Paper he was hoping to get when he originally put down his Motion. The terms of the Motion have given opportunities for a wide range of discussion. I almost felt at one moment as though old Party controversies were on the verge of being raised. I regretted, when the Liberals said they liked this Report and the Labour Party said they liked it, that we did not hear any Conservative saying that he liked it. Otherwise we might have had almost as much unanimity here as they had at Hot Springs.
With your Lordships' consent, I do not propose to answer all the questions which have been asked to-day, and I hope that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, will not be disappointed if, on a Motion drawing attention to the Conference at Hot Springs, I do not make a statement on behalf of His Majesty's Government on the future of home agriculture. I must confine myself to making the statement I am authorized to make on the immediate issue. We were very glad when Mr. Roosevelt called this Conference on Food and Agriculture. We welcomed it unreservedly and hastened to welcome it. International collaboration is surely essential, first in discussion and then in action, because if we only had discussion, and no action followed, then indeed Lord Beaverbrook would be fully justified in his condemnation of such Conferences. We must start somewhere. In the problems of peace it is going to be as difficult as in the problems of war—perhaps more difficult—to get the collaboration of the United Nations, and it was a good thing to begin with food. That was something very tangible, something intelligible to the common man, and it was a very good testing ground as to whether it was possible 272 to get agreement among the United Nations.
The success of this Conference was by no means a foregone conclusion. As we have heard frequently to-day, there were forty-four nations represented at the Conference. But what sort of nations? There were some of them food-exporting countries, some of them mainly consuming countries, some that are temporarily in enemy occupation both in Europe and Asia. They all have widely different food habits and standards of living, and there was indeed every opportunity for disagreement. The Conference recognized that it was playing for high stakes because, if it failed, that would be a poor omen for the future. There was danger in such an undertaking whilst the war was still raging because enemy propaganda would certainly have made the most of any failure to achieve agreement among the United Nations on these issues. The Conference was peculiar. Lord De La Warr asked whether everything that Mr. Law said was carefully prepared beforehand and had been through the ordinary processes of discussion in Cabinet. These gentlemen did not go as plenipotentiaries to this Conference, each out to strike the best bargain that he could make for his own country. They had no authority to commit their Governments to anything. What manner of people were they? They were not theorists and visionaries. The delegates who went to this Conference were a body of very practical men of affairs. Some of them were men of great scientific attainments. Many of them were men of great administrative ability and experience. They were experts with first-hand experience in solving the problems of food and agriculture both in peace and in war, and they arrived at wide-ranging, definite conclusions which—this is very important— were not worked out beforehand, but thrashed out on the spot by hard thinking, by the frank pooling of ideas by men of many nations.
The fact that they achieved agreement, an agreement which has commended itself to your Lordships, seems to me a very hopeful sign. Perhaps the most encouraging outcome, quite as important as the actual recommendations at which they arrived, is that this first United Nations Conference about the post-war world was a striking success in collaboration. His Majesty's Government have been greatly 273 impressed by the fact that more than forty like-minded nations could meet together and could achieve agreement on so many fundamental principles. The thirty-three Resolutions were passed unanimously in a Conference that really had been a Conference. There was no domination by the big Powers of the small Powers. Judge Mervyn Jones, at the closing session, said that there were no super-States and no master races among the United Nations. There were at the Conference no alignments of groups of Powers on political or economic grounds. What counted was whether a delegate seemed to the other delegates to be talking sense, whether, in the vernacular, he "knew his stuff" or not, and could command consent on that account. In spite of the cold bath into which Lord Beaverbrook almost dragged me when I got up to speak. I still feel an enthusiast. I still feel there are real grounds for a new confidence in the possibility of voluntary agreements among the nations, a new hope that the United Nations may be able to unite in peace as well as they have united in war.
Many of your Lordships have said beforehand what I have been anxious to have an opportunity to say in public— namely, to express the obligation of those of us who were primarily interested in this problem, and the obligation of His Majesty's Government, to the extraordinarily able leadership which Mr. Law gave to the British Delegation. We are indeed greatly indebted to him. The success of this Delegation from the British point of view I think was largely because His Majesty's Government sent out a body of coherent and constructive ideas based on no narrow interpretation of British interests. His Majesty's Government recognize that the resolutions were drawn up in the light of the widely different physical, political and economic conditions of the various countries taking part. The application of the resolutions passed by the Conference will depend upon these differences, and for their part His Majesty's Government have no hesitation in accepting the resolutions and the obligation to give effect to them in so far as they apply to conditions in the United Kingdom. Moreover, they will gladly cooperate with other Governments in seeking ways to give effect to the resolutions which call for concerted action. They will commend the resolutions to the Govern- 274 ments of His Majesty's Colonies, Dependencies and overseas territories.
The Conference recommendations have been obviously widely read by your Lordships who have taken part in this discussion. They cover two distinct features of the post-war development, the short-term phase and the long-term phase. The first two years after the war is bound to be a time of great stringency on the food front. We must prepare for that stringency now as well as do what we can to meet the circumstance of the present stringencies which arise in Europe and Asia in devastated areas; and wider areas may yet be laid waste. The rehabilitation of the world of agriculture is going to take some time. The restoration of machinery, the restoration of soil fertility, and the bringing back of personnel to the land will take time. Important food-producing countries may still be in the hands of the Japanese after Germany is out of the war. The shipping shortage cannot be corrected all at once. His Majesty's Government accept without reserve the view that the co-ordination for the procurement of supplies of food must go on as long as the shortage continues. We must maintain our war-time methods and collaboration. There must be no world scramble for food resulting in an upsurge of prices with speculation in foodstuffs, which we had after the last war and which we have had so frequently since. This has never done any good either to the producer or the consumer. If we have not learnt that lesson from the last war the boom and slump will be even more catastrophic than it was last time, and indeed we shall be sinning against the light.
The prevention of the unrestrained competition for food and the rise of prices out of the reach of many of our own people, and the allocation of supplies, will be not less necessary as between nations so long as the shortage continues. The people of this country and of all lands must face the fact that we shall have to act together in the common interest for some time after hostilities cease. And in the matter of personal restraint, we in this country will not be less generous to those in need than the people of the United Nations who are the food-producing nations. During the war the Governments of this country and of the United States and of the Dominions have gained very valuable experience in combined operations regarding world food supplies, and 275 that experience will serve us in very good stead. Food production as well as distribution will need adjustment after this war. The food which we have all specially felt the lack of during the war, the animal products, meat, butter, eggs, the things to which Lord Bingley referred, I hope we shall get as soon as possible after the war. We have also felt the lack of fruit and everybody will get a more abundant supply of these things as soon as possible. The Conference came to the conclusion that we shall just have to exercise a bit of patience in the process of getting back to that standard in which there is enough food to go round. At any rate, luxuries will have to wait.
His Majesty's Government accept the implication of this for home agriculture and hope that every producing country will also be prepared to make the necessary readjustments in their production systems. We have already raised our production in this war of food crops, of milk, of meat and eggs and butter almost if not quite to the maximum, but it is not sufficient to wait until the war is over. The nations must start to increase food production now if we are to have it by the time the war is over. His Majesty's Government have been much impressed by the urgency and importance of this problem, and they are determined to do all that they can for their part to give effect to the resolutions of the Conference on the subject. They earnestly hope that other Governments who were concerned with the Conference will do the same.
The first essential to the easement of a hungry world is that we shall increase the amount of food that the world can get. The Conference regarded as one of the most important recommendations that the Governments of all lands should declare to their people and to one another an intention to secure more and better food for the people. President Roosevelt has already accepted this declaration on behalf of the United States. His Majesty's Government have no hesitation in accepting it on behalf of this country. Both in the generally improved standards of nutrition and particularly in the special provision that is made for what the Conference, in the preamble to Resolution IV, described as "vulnerable groups" —children, pregnant women, nursing women, factory workers, etc.—we in this country have, as your Lordships have said 276 in the course of this debate, really made considerable progress. During this war we have learnt to use food control not merely as a restriction but as a means of directing consumption towards the foods that are necessary for the health of the people. Under-nutrition has been vastly reduced during the war and this is reflected in an improved national health bill. It has taken a war to do it and I am quite certain the people of this country do not intend to lose in peace what we have gained in war.
If I might occupy your Lordships for a few moments longer the Conference emphasized the fundamental interdependence of consumer and producer. Lord Addison referred to the lamentable position of great production side by side with widespread under-nutrition, of food production in many lands being restricted and surplus stocks destroyed. The world was then said to have been suffering from over-production. There never has been any over-production of food. There has never been enough food for the health of all the people. What was called overproduction was due to inadequate consumption, and if nations jointly and severally accept and discharge the responsibility of seeing that their people have the food needed for life and health this will create a demand for food which will provide an ever-expanding market for the produce of the great food-exporting countries. The representatives of these countries at the Conference realized this and that was why it was possible to secure unanimous agreement on a declaration which included the words "production of food must be greatly expanded." At any time in the years before 1939 that observation would have seemed nothing short of ridiculous.
The noble Lord, Lord Addison, has pointed out that unless the Governments concerned take active steps to give effect to them the resolutions of the Conference may be nothing more than pious and platitudinous aspirations. That is true. One of the most valuable proposals of the Conference, therefore, was the creation of a permanent organization in the field of food and agriculture. The Conference purposely left the functions of this organization somewhat vague, but clearly had in mind that it would act as a clearing house for information on the progress of nutrition throughout the world, that it 277 would promote research, and make recommendations to member Governments for action in the field of nutrition, agricultural production and distribution. To work out the functions of such a body and to see that all practicable steps are taken to attain the objectives set forth in the recommendations, the Conference proposed the creation of an Interim Commission on which all United Nations should be represented. President Roosevelt has said that the United States Government will take the necessary action for the immediate establishment of this Commission. It will mean that the work of the Conference will not be just left in mid-air. The Commission will provide a nucleus for the continued international collaboration in this important field. His Majesty's Government intend to participate fully in the work of this Commission and are arranging to appoint representatives to it. They have noted with satisfaction that one of the tasks of this Commission will be to draw up a formal declaration or agreement for the consideration of Governments. In this instrument the Governments would recognize their obligation towards their respective peoples and to one another, to collaborate in raising levels of nutrition and standards of living for their people, and to report to one another on the progress they have made.
It has to be generally realized, as the Conference realized, that to achieve freedom from want is not just a question of producing more food. People in all lands must find a means to acquire enough food and purchasing power. The noble Lord, Lord Addison, said—and I should not be able to say it so well as he said it—that we had to consider the cause of poverty and malnutrition. It was not because of ignorance or the stubbornness of nature that so large a proportion of the people in this and other countries were suffering from malnutrition in the pre-war world in which we lived. Under-nourishment will not disappear as a result of having a Conference. It will only disappear so far as men and the material resources of the world are usefully and fully and steadily employed. Before there can be freedom from want there must be widespread measures by sound industrial as well as agricultural development to promote full employment and a general advance in standards of living. International trade must be encouraged and developed. The 278 Conference recognized that these matters were outside its scope, but also that, apart from the solution of these broader economic problems all of which require effective collaboration among nations, freedom from want is not going to be achieved. There is no short cut to the goal of securing that everyone in the world will have the right kind of food and that it will be where it ought to be.
The debate that has taken place has quite clearly indicated that we in this country are prepared to accept and support the ideals that were put forward at this Conference. The document that we have had before us to-day is surely a very hopeful sign and His Majesty's Government at any rate will seek to play their full part in bringing those ideals of forty-four nations to a full realization. I shall remember and talk to the Minister of Information about what the noble Lord, Lord Addison, said as to the importance of giving wider publicity to the White Paper. I hope we shall be able to do something to meet him in the matter.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I think that when your Lordships read the report of the important statement of the noble Lord the Minister of Food you will find that His Majesty's Government have entered most into important undertakings. I was delighted to hear them. I noticed that the noble Lord was careful to follow the document in front of him, so that they were considered deliberate statements which, to me, are an immense encouragement. I thank him also for his concluding promise to bring to the notice of the Minister of Information the suggestion that wider publicity might be given, perhaps in condensed form, to this Report which is of first-class consequence.
I think we were all greatly cheered by the characteristic speech of my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook. I thank him for his observations with regard to myself, but I am sorry to disappoint him in one respect. This Paper was the purpose of my Motion and therefore he will be sorry to find that it is not necessary for me to withdraw on the assurances of the noble Lord opposite. I hope the Minister will not be put out of his course—somehow I do not think he will—by the well-known dislike of Committees which is felt by my noble friend. Allusion has been made to the food sent to Russia. It has 279 taken a long time to grow, the shipping of it has had to be planned and all kinds of arrangements must have been made before its dispatch. I am sure the famine-stricken countries of Europe will think very badly of us if, when the time comes on the cessation of hostilities, it is found that we have not made plans for the relief of their distress.
I am quite sure that the noble Lord did not really mean that. I am sure that the necessity for making preparations beforehand in connexion with a long-term subject like food production is really self-evident. I am greatly comforted by the reply of the noble Lord. This debate will show that this illustrious House has taken a leading part in recognizing the enormous importance of this subject. I am sure this will not be the last time that the subject will occupy our attention, and we are greatly encouraged, I am sure, by the discussion that has arisen.
§ On Question, Motion for Papers agreed to.