HL Deb 20 February 1946 vol 139 cc825-7

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the question standing in my name.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government whether they adhere, without qualification, to the statement of the Earl of Huntingdon that the increase in agricultural production during the war was seventy per cent.]


My Lords, a complete answer to this question requires some explanation. The measurement of Changes in the total output of British agriculture is no simple matter. It is easy enough to measure the change in output of a single commodity, for example, potatoes, or milk or eggs; but we cannot add tons of potatoes to gallons of milk or to numbers of eggs. We must have a common standard; and the answer will depend on the standard chosen. Five such standards are available, namely, money value, calories, proteins, shipping space, and crude weight.

Before the war, when profitability was the main consideration, it was usual to take the standard of money. We valued all the items, added them together, and compared the totals from one year to the other. In order to eliminate the effect of changes in prices, we valued the output in different years at the prices in a standard year. On this latter basis, the increase in total net output from our own soil between the period 1936–39 and the year 1943–44, was 30 per cent. This 30 per cent relates to the net output. The increase in the gross output was considerably less. The difference between the gross and the net output consists mainly of imported feeding stuffs, live stock, and seeds. Before the war, British agriculture depended on imports of feeding stuffs to the extent of about 8,000,000 tons per annum. Farmers have now largely replaced these imports by their own production, which has, indeed, been one of the principal accomplishments of British agriculture during the war. I should like to stress the importance of distinguishing between gross and net output in this connexion, because I notice that in some quarters it has been overlooked.

In wartime, the money value of our agricultural output was of less importance than its food value, or than the amount of shipping space that was saved by the increase in output from our soil. On the basis of shipping space, the net output increased by about 120 per cent between the period 1936 to 1939 and the year 1942–43. In view of the desperate need to save every possible kind of shipping space during the war, this was a highly satisfactory achievement.

Food value can be measured on the basis of protein or of calories, a standard which was of fundamental importance in wartime, and is still of the greatest importance. On the basis of protein, the net output has been increased by about 80 per cent. On the basis of calories, the net output has been increased by about 70 per cent., and as the calory is the best single unit of measurement of food values over a wide range of commodities, and as food values have been all important during the war, the figure of 70 per cent was used by the late Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Hudson, and has usually been used in discussions on this question.


The noble Lord will agree that his statement of a few days ago requires considerable qualification.


I do not think the figure requires any qualification, but I admit it is based on calories or food values.