HL Deb 30 May 1946 vol 141 cc648-84

LORD LLEWELLIN rose to call attention to the food situation, and to move to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, the standard of feeding of the people of this country should not be further reduced, but on the contrary should be improved as speedily as possible. The noble Lord said: My Lords, throughout the last six years the people of this country have been consistently and continuously more strictly rationed than those of any other country, and despite that fact they have shown as great courage, as great staying power, as great fortitude and as great energy as any other people in the world. The womenfolk of these islands have shown the greatest ingenuity and the greatest patience (which the noble Lord who has just addressed us extolled as a great virtue) in making a little go a long way. These facts, because they are facts, are sufficient excuse, if indeed excuse be needed by an ex-Minister of Food, to raise in your Lordships' House the topic with which my Motion deals.

Before I come to the terms of that Motion, there are one or two matters relevant to it and leading up to it with which I must deal. The first of these is the Combined Food Board on which I should like to make just a few observations. I am perhaps in a better position than anyone else in this country to do this, except perhaps my old colleague at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, Sir Ben Smith. In passing, may I say on personal grounds that I am sorry he has had to give up the job which I handed over to him, and, if I may say so, despite the then pending Election, handed over to him with a field all clear, at any rate to the end of last year. But his resignation I think goes to show that the job of Minister of Food is no sinecure. You have to be watching your sources of supply all the time; you have to be taking the housewives of this country into your complete confidence all the time, because they are not mere marionettes. What the Minister of Food may do, or fail to do, affects in the main mothers of families and the means they have of feeding their children, their husbands, and the people in the homes up and down this country. If the Minister of Food cannot provide the bread—and I use the word "bread" in the generic sense in which it is used in the Lord's Prayer—the breadwinner may work in vain to provide his wife and children with the sustenance they need.

As I was saying, I am perhaps as well qualified as anyone from my twelve months in Washington as Minister Resident for Supply, and my twenty-one months as Minister of Food, to make a few observations on the working of the Combined Food Board, for during those three years of war I had direct and almost daily contact with this Board. The Board was set up by those two wise men in planning for victory, Roosevelt and Churchill, as part of the close working partnership of the United States of America and ourselves. It was not long before Canada, the greatest exporter of food in the world, was brought in. Not many people know that working alongside and in full touch with that Board has been the London Food Council over which I presided when I was Minister of Food, and of which the High Commissioners for Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and a representative for India were members, as well as the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Minister of War Transport and the Minister of Agriculture in Great Britain. A complete link between these two bodies was made in the person of the Minister of Food and his Department working under the Combined Food Board and, just to complete the picture, there were a number of commodity committees dealing with all the main commodities in short supply.

Let me in passing try to remove one misconception which seems to have arisen in certain quarters—I am not saying in the minds of the Government, but in certain quarters. This misconception seems to be that the Combined Food Board is some extraneous creation whose members can make decisions of their own and without: reference to the Governments who appoint them, and that it is some kind of super-State. It is, of course, nothing of the sort, and I do not intend to say anything against members of that Board who have been doing this difficult task. In fact, I should like, if I may, to pay a tribute to Mr. Maurice Hutton who has been our representative on that Board, whom I appointed to that job, and who continues to this day doing it conscientiously and well. His decisions were really my decisions, sometimes directly mine, and sometimes made within the discretion properly allowed to him. But whichever way it was, the Minister of Food must be responsible to Parliament and to the country for the decisions made in his, name by his representative on that Board. That is why this idea which I see has been adumbrated in recent weeks of a world food Tsar seems to me quite an impossible one. I see that very shortly afterwards the members of the existing Combined Food Board, the United States member, our own and the Canadian member, put forward different proposals—proposals to enlarge the scope of the Combined Food Board. Well, I recognize that it could not forever remain just representative of three countries, but I do think—and I ask the Government to think this over—that the proposal to bring in no less than twenty nations is going to make that rather a cumbrous body which is liable merely to wait for formal agreement instead of being a close-working day-to-day partnership which the Combined Food Board has been, and which has made it such an advantageous instrument in the distribution of food since it was set up.

This brings me to the underlying reason for my Motion to-day. Many of the countries it is proposed to put on that Board, many of those who are now members of the United Nations, have done—and let us be frank about it—very little to help in this world food situation, and on present form seem not very likely to do much more. We had great help from the Argentine in our meat supplies during the war, but I am told that in that country at the present time there is considerable waste of food which would be valuable if exported elsewhere in the world. We had great help from Brazil, but the consumption there has gone up considerably during past years. We have had valuable sugar from Cuba, but at the same time the amount of sugar which is being made into gin has noticeably increased. In no case—and let us be frank about it because I think we should be frank—have any of the South American countries done any cutting down of their own consumption at all. They have not been rationed for six long years, as have our people at home. They have only sent the surplus after they have provided all that their people could buy, and wanted to buy. They joined the United Nations and practically all of them came to the first meeting of U.N.R.R.A. I am not saying anything now in their absence that I did not say to their faces at Atlantic City. They were in such a position that they could not play any effective part in securing the victory.

I am not saying that they should have done much more about that. But now they have all joined the United Nations and they can take steps to help towards the winning of the peace by making available much larger supplies than they have been doing in the past and by cutting down their own consumption. It would not be much of a hardship on their peoples to submit to this so as to enable more of their food to be sent overseas. I would ask, as they were not in a position to help towards the actual winning of the war, are they not going to make some sacrifice to help to win the peace at the end of the war, for a firm and lasting peace cannot be built up on conditions of starvation in the world?

I next come to the position of our own British Dominions. No others have ever done so well by the mother country and the world as those main British Dominions have done during these years of war. We only had to ask and they sent more, and they are still playing their part to-day. But the fact remains that none of them is, or has been, so strictly rationed, or rationed so long, as the people of the home country. Then there is that great friendly country the United States of America which has done much to help this country over the past difficult years. The people of that great conglomeration of States are animated by a feeling of deep benevolence towards mankind, they have great human sympathies, and much food has been sent from there to this country and to other parts of the world. But it is to be noted that all the time they have had ample food for an increased number of hogs—as they call them, or pigs as we call them—and of poultry to be bred and reared. There has never been occasion when anyone needed to go short of an egg or a chicken on their table in the United States of America. That is a state of affairs which is to be contrasted with the position here at the present day, when the feeding stuffs that we had hoped to provide—that the then Minister of Agriculture and myself had started to provide—for feeding our pig and poultry populations, have had to be cut down.

This brings me to a comment that I think should be made. I believe it is time that all other countries in the United Nations Organization came down to something like our level of consumption before our people are asked to restrict themselves still more. It is, after all, the duty of the Government of this country to stand up for our people, who have borne the greatest brunt and burden of this war, and that is what, in my view, Mr. Herbert Morrison did not wholly do in the United States of America. Of course, he was faced when he got over there with a criticism about the extent of our stocks. That started in the autumn and winter of 1944, when I consented to a stock level inquiry. The Americans had all the facilities they wanted for this, and they produced what we agreed was a reasonable report on what our stock levels should be. It was thought then—I am speaking of about January, 1945—that that had been settled. When I got to Washington at Easter last year it was the first thing with which I was faced, and I again had to settle it as I hoped once and for all, so that when Mr. Morrison comes back and says that that is one of his achievements, all I have to say is that it was once one of mine. But it was not, perhaps, so final as one had thought.

I would like to know, and I think the country ought to be told, how far after these differences (which I hope are now resolved) the statement stands that The United States Government have now felt able to associate themselves unreservedly with the task of supplying India and the British zone of Germany to the full extent that available resources allow, and they have instructed their representatives on the Combined Food Board Board accordingly. I am, of course, reading from Mr. Morrison's original answer in the House of Commons. So far as Germany is concerned they have accepted the proposition that there should not be a starving or a more under-fed British zone in Germany side by side with an American zone which is getting assured food supplies, but that both zones shall work to the same standard of rationing and shall have the same degree of assurance that their supplies will not suddenly come to an end. I should like whoever is to reply for the Government to tell me whether that statement still stands. I do not know myself what is meant by the words "to the full extent that available resources allow." They are obviously meant by somebody to be limiting words. I hope they are not too limiting, and that they do not mean that only what is surplus when everybody has bought all they need will be available for the purposes indicated. Where I chiefly differ from the line that the Lord President of the Council took is in reference to some words that he used in his second reply in the House of Commons. He said: One passage in particular was interpreted in some quarters as implying that the United States Government had assumed specific commitments to export American wheat to particular areas, thus by-passing the established procedure by which these questions are settled through the Combined Food Board. There are precedents for breaking that established procedure. When the then Minister of Production and I went to Washington last Easter we got direct commitments from the American Administration. We signed them as representatives of the Government, not going back through the Combined Food Board at all.

We signed agreements by which the Americans consented to come down to the same level of sugar consumption for the whole of the rest of last year as ourselves, to have the same fats consumption up to June of this current year (I think that it has got another month to go, but I really forget whether it expires tomorrow or on June 30), and by which we had an assured supply of 240,000 tons of meat from America itself in the last quarter of last year. Those were all firm commitments, not waiting for any future sanction from the Combined Food Board. I believe that that is a better way of doing business than giving away the 200,000 toils which were ear-marked for us, and which was counted on by the Ministry of Food, without getting any firm commitment in return. That is where I think he made a mistake, and that is why I think that in future, for the sake of the people of this country, he had better be kept at home. I am not sure he does a great deal of good at home, but at any rate his excursions abroad do not seem to have done us very much good:

I come to another matter—the source of the demand for extra food for Germany. I do not intend to occupy the time of the House by going into the size of those demands because my noble friend Lord Cherwell, who is to speak later in this debate, has made a study of that problem. Suffice it for me to say that the figures which I have seen quoted seem to me to be excessive in the extreme, as do some of the demands that U.N.R.R.A.

is making. I hope that all those demands will be carefully scrutinized and compared with what the countries were exporting in the days before the war, and that consideration will also be given to all the other relevant factors that are available to the Government. I hope that those demands will be most severely pruned before we start giving away what little we have to give. Our demands have been carefully scrutinized and pruned all these years. Our stock levels have been inquired into three times, within my own personal knowledge, and it is just as well that that kind of procedure should be adopted with other demands, whether they are put forward by Mr. La Guard[...] or anybody else.

From all reports I have been able to get, it seems that it is only the people in the large towns of Germany who are in any way suffering from the shortage of food. The rural districts get as much as they need. I am not sure, too, that a great number of the people in the towns are not in actual fact adequately fed, although statistically they may not have enough. I say that not merely because of what has appeared in the Press. I have been talking recently to two people who have been living in Germany, and they tell me—I only pass it on for what it is worth, because I have no means of checking it—that many people in Germany have taken a leaf out of the book of the Dutch and the Belgians during the time when the Germans were in occupation of those countries.

There is a very nice little system, which in those days we applauded, by which a large number of residents of those countries have more than one ration book. There is quite a considerable amount of evidence to support a prima facie case for an inquiry as to whether the ration book issue is checked with the numbers of the population. It is being done by the Germans themselves, and I saw it when I was over in Germany looking into these matters last July. We ourselves have not enough staff, but I do think that the time has come for an overall check to see whether the number of ration books issued corresponds with the numbers in the population of different areas. The noble Lord nods his head. I take that to mean that it has already been done. If so, that is one good thing. If it is not so, I throw it out as a suggestion of what should be done to cure this evil, if it does exist. If the evil does not exist the check will alleviate the suspicions that are growing in the minds of our people that what I have described is happening.

But the main reason for the huge demands for food from Germany, and from the West, arises from the fact that the curtain has come down on all those areas which are in the Russian zone. The Potsdam Agreement made it abundantly clear that we were going to treat Germany as a whole; if reparations were to come they were to come (in the main in machinery) from the zones in the occupation of the Americans and ourselves. To that there was a countervailing corollary that the food should still flow from the areas from which the great industrial centres of Germany had been supplied in the past. There is another matter which is accentuating this difficulty. Noble Lords may not be aware as I happen to be, because I led the British Delegation at the first meeting in Atlantic City of U.N.R.R.A., how U.N.R.R.A. came to be the supplying agency for the areas which it does supply. Those who were going to provide large sums for U.N.R.R.A.—and I per cent. of a country's annual income is a goodish sum—found on looking round, that a number of countries had gold and dollar balances which were far bigger than anything we in this country possess. It was suggested that the countries which had these balances should pay. They agreed to pay, but said, "If we pay we are going to procure the food, and we are going to distribute it."

Thus it came about that U.N.R.R.A. started by looking after only Greece, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Poland; it is quite true that Italy was later added. But three of those countries, Yugoslavia, Czechoslavia and Poland are the wrong side of the curtain to which I have referred, and if because of this we are to continue sending food supplies from the west, through U.N.R.R.A., to those countries, a state of affairs has arisen which we could not have contemplated when we were in Atlantic City in 1943. But it has arisen. I see that in some answer given by the Government to the Deputy Prime Minister of Poland the Government gave an assurance that another 17,000 tons—of wheat, I think—was just going to arrive in Gdynia. It is time, I think, that that should be looked into. Areas in the highly fertile valleys of the Danube, great food-producing areas, should produce a great deal more than is necessary to provide the people of those countries with all they need, and there ought to be a surplus available to help other parts of Germany which used to get their supplies from that neighbourhood.

I do not know how far we can conduct negotiations on this with the Russians, but I think we should point that out to them pretty forcibly. And I think we should go slow on letting anything go out of the other parts of Germany until the Russians agree that food should flow through from east to west as it formerly did. I think it might be time to give instructions to our representative on the Combined Food Board to question very strongly any supplies going from west to east which are going to be delivered by U.N.R.R.A. to countries on the other side of that unfortunate curtain, because it is having another effect. It is so easy to show that under the present system the Germans are better fed, under Communist auspices, than they are under the auspices of the United States or ourselves, and that ought not to be allowed to continue.

I come now to another area, that of India. Normally, India imported what she needed to import from the east and not from the west at all, and she imported rice rather than wheat. The problem there has two aspects, not always fully realized. The first is that in the last ten years the population of India has grown by more than the whole population of the British Isles, and, at the same time, they have not taken steps to see that they produce enough food for the extra 50,000,000 people. The second aspect is this, that, before Burma was occupied by the Japanese, some millions of tons of rice went each year that short haul to India from Rangoon, I think mostly to Calcutta, and I concluded arrangements with the then Secretary of State for War on the day that Rangoon fell, to have a party immediately sent into Burma. The War Office released the appropriate people, who mainly were on the Civil Affairs side, to see that all possible rice was exported from that country. I would like to know how much has been received, and whether supplies are really now beginning to flow from Burma to help to solve this Indian problem.

It was also arranged in the armistice terms with Siam, which, after all, was at war with us, although not at war with the United States, that by way of reparations she should deliver quite considerable amounts of rice to us. I would like to know how much was promised, how much of it has been delivered, and, if it has not arrived, I would like to ask, "Why not?" And what steps are we going to take to see that these armistice conditions are fulfilled? An ex-enemy country with a surplus of food should be made to carry out its obligations before the people of this country are asked to make more sacrifices.

In conclusion, I would like to turn to the actual terms of my Motion. They are: "That, in the opinion of this House, the standard of feeding of the people of this country should not be further reduced, but on the contrary should be improved as speedily as possible" It is so worded because it is intended to be of help in strengthening the hands of the Government. The procedure of this House is fortunately elastic enough for a Motion like this to be tabled at the appropriate time, and I believe that this is an appropriate time. Other people in the world talk about the difficulties they have with Houses of Congress, and with similar bodies, and it is well to remind the world that we have a Mother of Parliaments which has some voice in affairs. It would be a good thing if our representative on the Combined Food Board could say: "This is an opinion which has the authority of one of our Houses of Parliament." I have not the slightest doubt that if the procedure in another place allowed a Motion like this to be brought forward it would be passed unanimously there.

I worked hard and continuously for twenty-one months to ensure that the people of this country were as adequately fed as possible. I know what the advice was that was then being given to me by those very able nutritional advisers who were at the Ministry of Food, and I can well imagine what advice they are giving to the Minister to-day. We cannot afford, if we want the full energy and effort from our people, to lower our standard any more. I would like to quote a reply given by Sir Ben Smith in the House of Commons on May 15. He said: We have now reached the position when we have no reserve surplus to our own processing and distribution requirements, and I am not, therefore, prepared to deplete our stocks further in the way suggested by my honourable friend —who happened to be Mr. Stokes— since this would mean more cuts in consumption which would seriously imperil the efficiency and health of our nation. Those are strong words from a man who was at that time in the responsible position of Minister of Food. Unfortunately, since he said that we have learned that there is to be a cut of 200,000 tons. It is quite true that the 200,000 tons is not coming out of stock, but it is corning out of what the Ministry of Food was looking to to replenish these stocks. If you have a reservoir of water, and want to get 200,000.gallons of water out of it, and water is running in only at the rate of 20,000 gallons a day it does not very much matter to you if you are the person who has to look after the water supply of the town, which depends for its water on that reservoir, whether the inlet pipe is cut for ten days, or whether you lose 200,000 gallons out of the reservoir.

I believe what has been done in Washington will bring our reserve down below the level set by the then Minister of Food. I hope it will not, but it is quite clear that the situation is serious. It is time that this House should pass a resolution such as that which I have put on the Paper to-day. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That, in the opinion of this House, the standard of feeding of the people of this country should not be further reduced, but on the contrary should be improved as speedily as possible.—[Lord Llewellin.]

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, the occasion which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has chosen for bringing this Motion before your Lordships is certainly a propitious one, if only for the reason that we have at this moment a new Minister of Food appointed, whose future work we shall all both hopefully and hungrily observe.

The Motion which has been put down is, I am sure, intended by the noble Lord responsible for it to be in no way a hindrance but indeed a help to the new Minister in giving him indications as to the direction to which he might usefully turn his mind. The noble Lord brings to the task of speaking on this subject the dual qualification of his former positions as Minister Resident in Washington and as Minister of Food. To that informed and informative speech, if I may say so, to which we have just listened, it is to be hoped that not only the Minister but those outside the Legislature who read that speech will pay the attention which it deserves. It is difficult for one who has none of that invaluable experience behind him to speak on this subject, except for one reason: that this, unfortunately, is a subject that touches every individual member of the public, and we are all, therefore, in a greater or lesser degree, concerned. We have all come to the conclusion, in the course of our more recent experience, with increasing fervour, that food is a desirable, an elusive but, even under present conditions, occasionally a palatable substance, and that we do not get enough of it; also that such amount as we do get has to be obtained in circumstances of extreme difficulty by those who have to do the actual procuring of it from the shops.

But one of the great difficulties of this subject and of any discussion upon it does lie in that personal application of it, because it is fundamentally a technical question which, at the same time, makes a very personal appeal to every individual. The difficulty of anybody occupying the position of Minister of Food, and of any Government behind him, is, to a very large extent, to tell the public what is going on, why further sacrifices are necessary (as they have been in the past, and I hope will not be in the future) in terms which the public can understand. I think the country as a whole has been, during recent months, increasingly bewildered that it is now, from the point of view of food, distinctly in a worse condition than it was when the war came to an end. It was prepared for no considerable improvement for some period of time, but I think the number of people—however probable the situation may have been to the informed—who faced up in their minds to a situation in which they were going to be worse off after the conclusion of fighting than they had been during the actual hostilities, was very few; and any explanation in intelligible terms which can be given to them of that situation will be of extreme use.

I say "intelligible terms," not in criticism of the form in which any communiqués are issued or speeches made, except with one reservation. I do suggest, being entirely non-technical and inexpert in these matters, that from the point of view of public instruction and information we have got too much into the habit of talking in calories. Calories make a great impression upon the minds of such extremely learned persons as the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, for instance, who is an expert in these matters; but I am bound to say that if I am told that a person in Germany is living on a certain number of calories, a person in the Argentine on another number, and I myself on yet another, I may take those facts into consideration and look at the figures, but in really tangible, solid, material terms it means completely nothing to me, and I believe it means equally little to the great bulk of the people of this country. If you could tell people in solid facts, in quantities of food and types of food, what people are living on in other countries as compared with what they are living on here, I believe you would get a great deal more understanding of the conditions here and a great deal more appreciation of the immense danger, which I believe does threaten some countries, of really serious conditions.

We turn for light and leading to the Press in this matter, and we are apt to get only light and leading articles in return. But the trouble about those articles, whether they be light or leading, is that they are generally in conflict, and it is almost impossible, with the best will in the world, and even if one had unlimited time at one's disposal for the perusal of the Press, to paint for oneself any solid and convincing picture of what the position is throughout Europe. You read one day of starving Europe; you see the next day photographs of shops fully stocked with what look to us the most desirable types of foodstuffs, and on the third day you read another article pathetically stressing the condition of the people in a third country. It is, I think, the most difficult question upon which the public is called to make up its mind, and an additional difficulty is that it is one upon which it is extremely hard to look except from a somewhat personal angle.

There is this also to be said. There is some doubt in people's minds, I think, as to whether this is really a question of essential shortage of food or whether it is a question of the failure of distribution of such foods as actually exist. I am not saying—I have not the knowledge or the information behind me—whether there is any substance in that view, but I think it is a view which is present in the minds of a number of people. Each one of us could give, probably from his own experience or the experience of people who have recently been travelling abroad, the sort of information that comes back. I have talked only recently to a responsible observer who has lately returned from the Far East and whose view was that there was shipping at Singapore, there was labour in Malaya and there was food in Burma, and if the three could be got together you would solve your problem of distribution and its fundamentals, and would then be in a position to put food upon the market. I cannot test that type of information, but it is a feeling which is very prevalent in people's minds, and one cannot help wondering sometimes whether there may not be some substance in it, more especially as in a country like France there has been some substantial improvement, I believe, in the food position over what it was in the original days, increasing in 'proportion as communications were put into action, more bridges built, railway lines renewed and the flow of food towards the urban centres which required it from the country districts once more re-established. I hope that the Government will see their way to accept this Resolution. For my own part, I fully share the view which it enshrines, namely, that this country should be asked to make no further sacrifices in the way of food.

I want to refer to one more point only, the point which the noble Lord raised at an early stage in his speech when he was talking about the Combined Food Board. He spoke of the undesirability of having a food Tsar, and with that expression of opinion I entirely associate myself. But he went on to express some doubt as to the feasibility or desirability of the kind of body which was being discussed to exercise overall control over the food situation. There he touched upon ground which I had ventured to cover on former occasions in talking to your Lordships and suggesting that what was required was something over and above the Combined Food Board, something not strictly upon the lines but on the same sort of model as the Supreme Economic Council which was established at the end of the last war, which could co-ordinate the work of the Combined Food Board and the food agencies in the various countries concerned and give them a direction into the most necessary channels by diverting those channels as priorities required. In spite of the noble Lord's instructive criticism of that proposal, I still believe that it merits the very closest attention of the Government and of the Governments associated with it. Net only is it, I think, necessary to establish priorities on an overall basis, but at the same time it is necessary to enlist not merely the detached interest but the active co-operation of far more countries than are represented on the Combined Food Board in order to secure their co-operation in the whole work of the pooling of the resources of the world for the benefit of those parts of the world which are, in the best opinion, those most in need of them at any particular time.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I want to express my thanks to be noble Lord who initiated this debate for a very helpful speech and also to express my gratitude to him for the generous reference he has made to my old colleague and friend, Sir Ben Smith, in his retirement. It looks to me as though this may be one of the cases, which are not unknown, where one may sow and others may reap. Anyway, we appreciate very much the noble Lord's tribute to him. Let me assure the noble Lord that His Majesty's Government have the very greatest sympathy with the objects put forward in the Resolution he has submitted and we fully appreciate the hardships and suffering of our people at the present time. We are conscious too —and I want to pay tribute to it—of the very great loyalty with which they have obeyed and supported he regulations. The fact that there is no considerable Black Market in this country is about the highest tribute which can possibly be paid to people under such conditions. It is the hope of His Majesty' Government that as soon as possible something may be done to relieve the growing weariness of austerity and the eternal queues.

I might say, too, with reference to some points raised by the noble Lord—and he will understand me—that it is better to leave them as he has said them, with his weight of authority and experience, rather than that I should further comment upon them. Some of the points that he raised will be answered probably more fully by my noble friend the Leader of the House who will close the debate. My main purpose is to give your Lordships some idea of the food stocks which we have in hand so that the public may be re-assured that there is no slackness in endeavouring to see that everything possible is done to meet the needs of the situation.

With regard to the point he raised about the statements made by the Lord President of the Council, the only answer one can give is that the Lord President has made another statement in another place reaffirming his previous statement. I do not think one can comment on that; one must let it speak for itself and accept it, as I am sure we shall, in that manner. As to the other points which he raised, such as the ration books and the position in the Russian Zone, if that information can be got, it will be given to him before the close of the debate.

I would be very willing to accept the Motion submitted by the noble Lord subject to the clear understanding that it expresses the view of your Lordships' House as to the desirability of maintaining and improving the standard of feeding of the people of this country and that it does not in any way convey the understanding that there will be no further restrictions or limitations of our present food supplies. In face of the world food situation which now confronts us, that is an undertaking which no Government could possibly give. No one could possibly guarantee that all the items of food supply for which we depend upon other countries and upon the unpredictable chances of weather and harvest yields will in fact be available. Nor can we commit ourselves to a declaration that no further reductions of our supplies will take place, if that carries the implication that in no circumstances could we share even the smallest fraction of our food supplies with anyone else, even if he were starving. That has never been, and I trust will never be, the attitude of the British nation. Besides, we have to bear in mind that we carry a large measure of responsibility for the procurement of food for people outside this island—for countries in our Empire and Commonwealth such as India and South-East Asia, and for the population in our zone of Germany, who are subsisting on rations far lower than our own. Weary though we be of austerity, we cannot ignore these responsibilities.

With those understandings, all of which are I think quite reasonable, there will be no difficulty in accepting the Resolution put forward by the noble Lord. As the noble Lord knows—and nobody knows better than he does—the world is passing through a period of acute food shortage. Hundreds of millions are going hungry and not a few are in danger of starvation. In such a situation we cannot demand any large expansion of the food supply to this country.

I will now, with your Lordships' permission, give an indication of how we stand with regard to the commodities at present in this country. I am afraid the statement will be dull because the matters I now propose to bring before the House are like a provision dealer's stock-taking. Your Lordships know for instance, the position in regard to butter and cheese. The ration of the former commodity has been raised and the ration of the second has been kept up for a month longer than in former years. It is good news to know that at least one queue has disappeared, the fish queue, and that there is now a plentiful supply of fish. In fact in the first four months of this year fish supplies were seventy-five per cent. higher than in 1945. It is estimated that the fish supplies during 1946 will provide twenty-six pounds of edible fish per head of the whole population. I have been told that since queues have disappeared and supplies have been plentiful there has been quite a remarkable improvement in the manners and courtesy of fishmongers! I perhaps should say in that connexion that the Ministry of Food has recently taken advantage of this situation to licence an increased number of retail fishmongers' shops and hawkers' vehicles.

Now I take a long jump from fish to sugar. Sugar is one of the foods of which there is at present a world shortage. But we are continuing to maintain this year with Canada the Tripartite Agreement which operated last year between the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America, under which sugar was shared out equally. As a result of the reduction in Service demands and in supplies to brewers and bakers and flour confectioners, we have been able to give the public a little extra sweetening in other directions. More sugar is also being allocated for ice-cream and soft drinks, and for commercial jam manufacture.

During the present four-week period the public are being granted two pounds of jam per head instead of one pound, and it is expected that the extra sugar allowed to jam manufacturers will enable this concession to be repeated later on in the year. Manufacture is about to commence in this country of some 12,000 tons of grapefruit marmalade. I should say that there is an arrangement for a shipment of ginger in syrup from China and of crystallised fruits and glace cherries from France.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, and I do not expect an answer now, but would he make representations to the Minister of Food that the sugar for jam be issued as soon as possible? I am told it is being issued rather too late. Some of the soft fruit is ready now, and a lot of people would like the sugar now.


I will certainly do that. I think it will be agreed there is not so much complaint on the quantity or even the quality of the food, and some of these things will help to relieve the dullness of the diet.

The tea ration has been maintained at 2¢ ounces every week since it was raised to this figure at the end of July last. We expect tea production to show an increase next spring, with a revival of output by the Dutch East Indies. We have good stocks of coffee, especially of the good qualities, and distribution is 140 per cent. of the pre-war level. As regards cocoa, the whole world supply for the next few years is none too good.

Next I will deal with potatoes. There are ample supplies, and there will be enough to meet all food requirements until the new crop comes in. Indeed, we have been able to spare 80,000 tons for the British zone of Germany, to help them out in their present grave food shortage. During the first six months of this year, up to the end of June, the total quantity of shell eggs will be over 100,000 tons, enough to provide thirty-five allocations to the ordinary consumer, in addition to supplying priorities at the rate of three eggs a week, and meeting the demands of the Services, ships' stores, etc. From the middle of June, it is proposed to increase the allocation of manufacturing meat by 1,250 tons a week. This is equal to increasing the sausage supply by 2,500 tons a week. Further varieties of canned meats, both home and imported, are also becoming available on points.

As regards drinks, it will no doubt be of interest to mention that supplies of soft drinks are being maintained at above the pre-war level. Cider is being produced at the pre-war rate. The consumption of liquid milk has been steadily on the increase ever since the introduction of the national milk scheme. This year we were able to increase the allowance to non-priority consumers from two to two-and-a-half pints weekly a full month earlier than was done last year, and the rise to three pints was again a fortnight earlier. With the continued rise in the birth-rate, and the demobilization of the Forces, it is expected that by September the demand for liquid milk will be 5,000,000 gallons a month bigger than in September of last year. I am told there are other beverages than lemonade and milk in which some people may be interested.

In the interests of grain economy, we have had to cut down brewing to ninety per cent. of the pre-war standard barrel-age, though at present densities this gives more than the pre-war bulk barrelage. I think they used to call that arms and legs. During this year it is expected to bring in, from the Continent and the Dominions, some 1,500 tons of brandy, compared with pre-war imports of 2,000 tons, and 37,755 tons of wine, a little more than half the pre-war average; also some well-matured rum, enough to provide two years' consumption at the prewar rate. Everybody seems to be catered for and a good many satisfied.

Turning to the question of cereals, that is not so good a story. One does not want to go over the whole history of it again, because the record was set out recently in the White Paper on the world food shortage, Command Paper 6785, which was published last month. I might say that even countries that are normally granaries and exporters of cereals, such as Poland and the Ukraine, have become supplicants for supplies. China, devastated by nearly fifteen years of war, seeks rice. Burma's rice fields had gone to waste under Japanese occupation. There were droughts in Africa and the Argentine, and finally the failure of the monsoon in India, created a vast new demand for grain. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the effect of this has been that with demands for cereals vastly exceeding supplies, we have not been able to ensure that we should maintain our stocks at the level we consider desirable. We have to take our place in the queue with regard to many of these things, but the suppliers can look past our shoulder at the pinched and hungry faces of those coming behind and limit their allotments to us accordingly. That is in fact what has been happening.

We are further handicapped because we have been responsible for pressing on America, not only our own claims, but the claims of famine-stricken India and of the British zone of Germany. Her retort has been to insist that we should contribute to the needs of those countries out of our own residual stocks. Faced with this demand, we have taken drastic measures to meet the situation. We have successively raised our extraction rate from eighty per cent. to ninety per cent. We have cut down the standard loaf from 2 pounds to 1¾ pounds. We have cut biscuits and cakes by twenty-five per cent. We have made big cuts in the barley used for brewing and distilling. We have taken measures to increase our domestic wheat production. We have undertaken a great publicity campaign to urge economy and avoidance of waste of bread. We are prepared, if need be, to take even more drastic measures to eke out our bread supply. I think it worth while that that statement should go out to critics in other countries, in order that they may realize the efforts being made at home here.

With regard to the British zone of Germany one of the factors in this situation, though by no means the only one, is our responsibility for seeing that the population in our zone of Germany is fed. Normally its bread supply would be drawn from the corn lands of Eastern Germany, but at present nothing is coming from that source, and it is not certain whether there is anything that could come. Our zone includes the most highly industrialized part of Germany, the Ruhr Basin, and the bulk of the population are living under urban conditions, wholly dependent on their food rations.

Those rations are extremely meagre—so meagre that among Germans held by us in prisoner-of-war camps and fed only on them, hunger œdema appeared to an alarming extent. If we failed to maintain even this meagre level of rations, we should be turning the Ruhr into another Belsen. I doubt if there is anyone in this country, however strongly he condemns the Germans, who would wish to imitate the Beast of Belsen. Not only are we morally bound to keep these Germans fed: there is also the legal obligation resting on us under international law to ensure the feeding of people whose countries we are occupying as an act of war. We condemned the Germans for their breach of that law when they were occupying Greece, and left the Greeks to starve. We cannot be guilty of a similar illegality.

Self-interest also compels us to keep the Germans from starving. If their food supply falls to a level that leads to not and disorder, we shall need to increase very considerably our occupying Forces, with a corresponding setback to our own industry. And the collapse of coal production in the Ruhr will be a disaster to the reviving industries of France and the Low Countries. In so far, therefore, as our sacrifices of wheat supplies have been brought about by the necessity to preserve a minimum food standard in our zone in Germany, they are much the lesser of two evils. They are the only possible course of wise statesmanship.

May I say in conclusion that during the six years of austerity in this country, the health of the nation has improved, its mortality rates, especially those relating to infants and mothers, have declined to new low records, and the health of children and their weight and height have given encouraging returns. We shall all be glad to see the end of austerity. His Majesty's Government will do everything possible to hasten that end. But if in face of the present world famine we have to continue to endure some measure of it for a period, or even to face some added hardship, we can console ourselves with the knowledge that, as a nation, we have not suffered physical damage from our privations, and could indeed endure worse without disaster.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Llewellin, I should like first of all to give your Lordships the impression of one coming back to this country after being abroad for a good many years. I think one gets impressions of one's own people rather more acutely when one has been out of the country and then returns to it, than if one has been here all the time. The outstanding impression I got on my return was definitely one of tiredness. There may have been a good deal of what we call "war-weariness," but I am convinced that a certain degree of that was connected with the food problem. There can be no doubt, I think, that this country gave through the war, and is still giving, in proportion to its size and its population, as regards food, more than any other country in the world. If we look back to the period between the two wars we recall how we supported the League of Nations and the principle of disarmament to a great degree, in fact to such a degree that, as a consequence, we very nearly lost this last war. I am rather nervous lest we may lead in this giving up of food now to much the same degree as we led in supporting the principle of disarmament after the 1914–18 war, and that we may give away those most essential things, the health and the future recovery of our nation.

I do not say that we are starving to-day in any way, but I do feel that in order to get that recovery, that is to say, to get the coal out of the pits, to get the workmen in all the heavy industries and in the factories to produce what we want, it is not exhortation that is needed—it is more food. Those workers are working hard, so are the housewives, and I feel absolutely convinced that the more we can do to increase the amount of food that is made available, the quicker will be our recovery. The recovery of England, I hold, is one of the essential factors to the peace of the world. That is really the important side of the matter. We must not give up too much, for I think that a good many nations are rather sitting back now and saying: "Oh, we needn't worry, the British Empire will keep us going." The moment must come when we must say: "Thus far and no further," and in my own mind I feel that that moment has come to-day.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I agree in very many ways with what has been said by my noble friend Lord Grenfell. When I intervened in the debate which we had on this subject on February 20, I expressed surprise at the suddenness with which the food crisis had overwhelmed the Government, and asked how it was possible to reconcile the figures which had been displayed in the White Paper (to which Lord Ammon has referred), for the needs of the various regions with the numbers of inhabitants of those regions. I rise to-day to reiterate broadly the questions which I put then. We are told that we are suffering from a world food shortage, that demands exceed supply, that the position is most grave. But our statistics are bully, as I believe them to be, those conclusions are completely invalid. On this occasion, it is true, we have not got a White Paper. But authoritative figures have been given for the supposed minimum needs of various parts of the world.

To show why I doubt the statistics that have been put before us, I propose to examine one particular figure, namely the tonnage of wheat which it is alleged that Europe requires between now and the harvest. It is easy to show that this quantity would suffice to feed completely more than half the total population of Continental Europe on this side of the iron curtain. And surely nobody thinks that anything like this number of persons in Europe are totally devoid of home-grown food or reserves of any sort or description. May it not be possible that many of the demands on which the requirements are based have been exaggerated, and that the position really is not so black as it is painted?

I hope that to-day the Government will be a little more generous with their information. Surely it is only fair that this country, which has been subjected to so many privations all through the war and disappointed in its hope of easement now that victory has been won, should be told not only which countries are giving food, but which countries are getting it. We are indeed anxious to help others in urgent need, even at great personal sacrifice. But surely we are entitled to know who is in urgent need, and to whom help is to be given? The snippets of news given in the Press, which may or may not be exact, do not suffice to build up a coherent picture of what is happening. Let me turn to the specific instance—Mr. Hoover's estimate, widely quoted in the Press on May 14, that Europe's minimum needs for wheat between that date and the end of September are 839,000,000 tons. I do not say this figure is wrong, but I do say that it needs a great deal of explanation. I know that the quantitative approach is not very popular. Broad, sweeping generalizations, usually based upon ill-observed single instances have far greater emotional appeal. But I hope your Lordships will bear with me while I rehearse a little elementary arithmetic.


Not 800,000,000 tons surely?


8.39 million tons. I apologize.


That is better.


I do not know whether the rules of arithmetic have been nationalized, or whether perhaps some studies of dialectic materialism have transformed the multiplication table. Only some such explanation can possibly account for the incongruity of the figures which I propose to examine! To avoid the possibility of question I will display the very simple calculation step by step. I am afraid that I shall have to fail in courtesy to the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, and work in calories.


I shall admire it the more.


It is extremely difficult to compare food values of different types of food unless one has some common measure on which to compare, for instance, the nourishment which can be derived from an apple or a bunch of grapes with that of a lobster or a pound of caviare. I am selecting foodstuffs which I hope will be familiar to the noble Lord. The activities of all living creatures are derived from chemical energy which is produced by the digestion of their food. Warm-blooded creatures—and human beings are no exception to the rule—require extra heat, in order to maintain their body temperature above that of their surroundings. It is commonly stated that about 2,000 calories a day are sufficient for the average adult. Anything below 1,500 calories is probably inadequate. The ration at Belsen, I believe, was equivalent to about 800 calories a day. Let us assume that 1,600 calories a day is sufficient for minimum needs. One pound of wheat produces about 1,600 calories. With one pound of wheat a day, therefore—that is 1,600 calories a day—we may take it that nobody need starve.

Now the point which I hope the Government spokesman will be able to elucidate is as follows. Mr. Hoover gave estimates for the minimum needs of various countries between May 15 and September 30. Between those dates there are 138 days. If one pound a day is sufficient for the minimum needs of one person we must reckon 138 lb. per person during that interval. And since there are 2,240 lb. to the ton each ton of wheat supplied should suffice for the minimum needs between May 15 and September 30 of just over sixteen people. But Mr. Hoover says that the minimum requirements of Europe for this period are 8,390,000 tons. Since each ton will suffice for just over sixteen people, these so-called minimum demands will feed sixteen times 8.39 million people, that is 136,000,000 people who have nothing else whatsoever to live upon. Is it contended that there are really 136,000,000 people in Europe to-day entirely without any sort of food? This is what the statement that Europe's minimum needs are 8.39 million tons, implies. The total population of Europe this side of the iron curtain is only 200,000,000, allowing half for Germany and Austria. It is not clear whether any supplies to the United Kingdom are included in the 8.39 million. I sincerely hope there may be some; but even if we were allowed 7 million tons the remaining 7,700,000 would be sufficient to feed completely 124,000,000 people for the four and a half months in question.

This result is sufficiently curious as it stands, but there are other factors which make it even more incongruous. The first arises from the fact, stressed during our debate in February by the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay. He intervened to say that the rural population of Europe was not badly off, and that he was concerned mainly for the townspeople who were in danger of starvation. That was the point which my noble friend Lord Llewellin made just now. And that the rural population has plenty of food seems to be confirmed by all the evidence. I have spoken to natives of many of the countries of Western Europe, and to travellers returning from those parts, and they all confirm that the countryside is well off and that it is in the large towns where there are food shortages.

It is admittedly rather arbitrary to say what is a large town. Suppose we take as a basis towns of half a million inhabitants. In England there are many towns with a population of over half a million. In England 12,500,000 people live in towns which have a population of over 500,000; 8.2 million live in London alone. But on the Continent, apart from Russia, only 35,000,000 people, in peacetime, live in cities of this size. Of these 22,000,000 are in Western Europe and 13,000,000 are behind the iron curtain. We must remember, however, that these numbers have been reduced considerably, since the 11,000,000 Germans in large cities have already dispersed themselves to a great extent owing to the destruction of their homes by bombardment. But even if we take the whole of this 35,000,000 and assume that they have not one single pound of food apart from the wheat which Mr. Hoover is anxious to give them, 2.15 million tons would suffice to give them all one pound of wheat per day, which is equivalent to 1,600 calories. Why then do we require 8.39 million tons?

It may be said that I ought to have included people in towns with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants. Even if we go down to 50,000, and assume that there is no food whatsoever for people in towns of over 50,000, less than 3,000,000 tons would be required to feed all the people in those towns on this side of the iron curtain—as opposed to the 8.39 million which are said to be the minimum needs. But as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin said, the assumption that the people in these towns have no food is wide of the facts.

I do not want to go into the question of the Black Market, although from all accounts this flourishes exceedingly in all parts of the Continent. In one country, I am told, it is cheaper to buy in the Black Market than to buy on the ration. Apart from that, town dwellers are, quite legitimately, getting a certain amount of food over and above their rations from friends and relatives in the country. Most of them have some sort of connexions in the districts around the towns, and it would be very strange and shocking if they received no help from them. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin said, there is considerable doubt whether there are not many multiple ration cards in circulation. I read a report the other day that in one province, Schleswig-Holstein, more than one and a half times as many ration cards had been issued as the total pre-war population of the province. There is more evidence that people get more than the 1,050 calories a day with which they are credited. This emerges when we consider the conditions in some of the internment camps. There was one such camp for Nazis whore, owing to shortages, we reduced the ration to 1,250 calories. That was really all they had. We were told that they instantly began to show signs of starvation, whereas people outside who were ostensibly getting only 1,050 calories a day appeared to be perfectly healthy and happy. Obviously, if the townspeople are getting extra food off the ration, then the minimum requirements for extra food required from outside might be reduced below 1,600 calories a day, and Mr. Hoover's figures would be more mystifying than ever.

In any event, as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said, I think the people of this country are entitled to be given some detailed explanation. Surely we should be told where all this food is going. Russia, we hear, has abolished bread rationing, and reduced the price. She, at any rate, cannot be on the list. With regard to all the countries under her ægis, Poland, Finland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and those parts which used to be great exporting countries, surely Russia ought to look after them, instead of asking us to supply food to those regions? I should have thought that they had a prior claim on Russia to the French to whom she gave large amounts of wheat—admittedly just before the referendum.

Where, then, are the 136,000,000 with no food whatsoever, whose needs are stated to be 8.39 million tons? Quite frankly I am not impressed by the statistics which have been published in the Press. A figure like 8.39 million tons—not 8.4 million—gives an impression of great accuracy, as though everything had been worked out to the nearest 10,000 tons. I believe this to be spurious, and indeed, it makes me extremely suspicious. Figures exact to one-eighth of 1 per cent. cannot be derived from any calculations; they can only be obtained by adding up demands from all sorts of sources. How do we know that: we can trust those demands, when we know that they come from all sorts of foreign countries, each one anxious to prove that it should obtain the biggest possible allocation? I have the best of reasons for knowing how difficult it is to get accurate figures, even when dealing with highly trained, absolutely disinterested honest British civil servants. It is very difficult for me to believe that figures can be trusted which allege that 136,000,000 people in Europe are utterly without home-grown food or reserves for the next four and a half months. It may be said that these are not the Government's figures, but are figures produced in America. But it seems to me that they are the figures on which the Combined Food Board is working. If that is so, I do think we are entitled, before we are asked to give up more food, to press the Combined Food Board to give us the exact figures and to justify the exact figures.

I personally cannot see that there should be any difficulty or objection to stating country by country, what amounts have been asked for and what amounts have been allocated. The figures must have been produced, otherwise the Combined Food Board cannot come to any conclusion. If they are right, nobody has anything to be ashamed of. Why not tell us what they are? The Lord President said the other day that it would not be convenient to state how much was being sent from the various exporting countries. I confess I find this rather difficult to understand. The figures must be known. Why should there be any secrecy about a perfectly normal transaction of this nature? At any rate, let us know where the food is going, if we cannot be told whence it is coming. Anyone who has been through the war will recall innumerable heartrending pleas from all sorts of quarters for men or munitions, vehicles or food, supported usually by most convincing arguments, and terrifying predictions and warnings of the dire results which would follow if these minimum requirements were not met. Of course, in total these so-called minimum requirements far exceeded the capacity of the country, and it was no pleasant task to have to scale them down. But it had to be done, and at the end of a process of searching, and what was often regarded as hostile criticism, all the demands were in the end brought within the limits of what was possible. And although they were enormously reduced, I cannot recall one case in which the dire results which had been threatened materialized.

I am irresistibly reminded of these experiences by these claims now made upon the food supplies of the world. Even the superficial examination of this one instance, which was feasible, in the absence of details about the others, seems to reveal, to put it mildly, considerable room for doubt as to their accuracy and validity. If I am right, and they are exaggerated, then the situation is not so black as it is painted, and we can all rejoice together. If I am wrong, then, at any rate, the Government might explain the apparent discrepancies, and set at rest the minds of all those who, like myself, find it difficult to form a coherent picture from the inadequate and scrappy bits of information which reach us at intervals through the Press.

The British people do not like to be driven in blinkers. They will face difficulties and hardships with a good heart if they understand what it is all about. There are plenty of people in this country who have themselves done the elementary sums which I have brought to your Lordships' attention this afternoon, and I am sure that many of them find it extremely difficult to understand how and why these constantly recurring crises in the food situation arise. Surely it would be in the Government's interest to set out the facts of the case simply and straightforwardly without any beating about the bush. Broad generalizations and talk about bad harvests and acts of God are not enough. Let us have the exact facts and figures. Once they are convinced that the need is real, and that the quantities demanded are really essential, the people of this country will, I am sure, not shrink from any sacrifice that may be necessary.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid my intervention in this debate to-day, following the speech which we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, is really in the nature of descending from the sublime to the ridiculous, because I have no intention of making a speech. I only want to ask His Majesty's Government a question. On March 6 we had a debate in this House on reciprocal economic aid in the British Commonwealth. On that occasion I made what I may call an extremely good speech! I am not sure that anybody else thought so. But I did try in that speech to stress the contribution which the Colonies, and more especially the East African Colonies, could make to this question of world food supplies. I pointed out that the production in these Colonies was extremely low compared with what it could be with a certain amount of encouragement and organization on the part of the Colonial Office and the Government. The only reason I again raise this question is that somebody else must have read that speech, because I have had confirmation from East Africa that what I said was, to a great extent, true. I am not going to repeat that speech now.

There is an enormous amount of food which can be procured from East Africa, and I have had confirmation of that from various people in the territories of East Africa, who have taken the trouble to write and say, "You are perfectly right." In particular, with regard to meat, by taking a lot of the surplus cattle away from the country, you would very greatly improve the general agricultural position of those countries. All I want to do is to ask the Government if they have had any confirmation. It would be too much to ask if they had considered the suggestions that I. made, because, frankly, I do not see why they should. But they were good ones. I want to know if they have had any confirmation that the possible food supplies from East Africa could be very greatly increased, and whether they are going to do anything about it. Because the whole point of what I said in March and what I say now is that what is required is very speedy action on the part of the Government. I am afraid, after the marvellous speech we have heard from Lord Cherwell, that this is "a bit of a come down"; but I have given notice of this question and I hope I may be able to get some answer.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all of us must feel glad that we have had this discussion, and that we are greatly indebted to the noble Lord for initiating it. May I refer first to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, which warmed my heart. I am afraid the scepticism towards figures which he has displayed more than once in your Lordships' House is fully shared by myself. What has struck me so often and so painfully in the large number of examinations we have had to make of his question has been that one could rarely get the same group of figures on the same subject a week in succession. The variations in the figures that have been supplied are as remarkable as the analysis of the statistics which the noble Lord himself made, and it is extremely difficult to assess them fairly. Nevertheless, I assure him, I was exceedingly interested in his analysis of the figures, and I hope that that analysis, which I am sure is arithmetically correct, although I did not check it, will be widely studied both at home and abroad, because I am certain it would have a most wholesome effect.

It is true, too, that the demands which have been made as from one country to another have varied extraordinarily, and one has wondered sometimes whether the claims that have been put forward have not been the result of an admixture of political with economic motives. It is exceedingly difficult, as the noble Lord very rightly says, to lave firm knowledge in these matters. But at all events, we are not responsible for the figures to which he referred, and, quite frankly, I myself hope very sincerely that they will be subject to searching re-examination. If they are, it may be helpful to the world. And that does not apply only to that group of figures, by any means.

We are told—and nobody knows it better than the noble Lord sitting opposite me—that there are commercial and other objections to the publication of figures. Not being a commercial man myself, but rather, shall I say, endowed with a professional prejudice, I invariably approach those arguments with the same scepticism as the noble Lord who has just spoken. I do hope that it will be possible very soon—I will not put it any earlier than that—to give some more reliable guiding figures. I quite agree with the noble Lord that it would be altogether an advantage if they could first be obtained and then published provided they are reliable. But always the difficulty which makes one hesitate about publishing them is that they seem to vary so much. One is afraid to commit oneself to publication of figures until one is sure they are correct.


Have we not these figures, at any rate? Before the war every country published figures of its exports of staple commodities—not only the aggregate exports per month, but the countries of destination to which they were going. That, at least, we could have.


My noble friend Lord Nathan reminds me that it has been pointed out in our White Papers that many of those figures were not accurate, and, as a matter of fact, very few countries, so far as I know, have yet recovered enough from the miseries and disorders of the war to have accumulated figures with any degree of accuracy. Quite honestly, and without in the least trying to evade the point, the figures have varied so remarkably that the hesitation in putting out any particular body of them is justified. At the same time, of course, we do know our own requirements, and also we know the destinations of the various cargoes which have been dealt with by the Combined Food Board. For the present I am afraid I am not in a position to reveal them. I can say this, however: that the figures of food allotted to the different countries of Europe and outside it by the Combined Food Board have been very much less than the total demand. I consider that that is justified, because I am sure that from some countries the total demand was greatly exaggerated. Anyhow, the figures for the Combined Food Board have been very much cut clown. And we ourselves are suffering in the process—it is no good blinking our eyes to that fact.

But it is not simply the figures of the allocations which are perplexing; it is what is actually shipped. As a matter of fact, taking transatlantic shippings, some of the present difficulties arise out of the fact that the actual movements of supplies have been very much less than anticipations—far less. That has given rise very largely to the stringency at the present time. It is through no fault of ours—I do not say it is anybody's fault—but that is the fact. It is also true—and I was very glad indeed that Lord Llewellin spoke with the frankness he did on this subject—that there have been countries, some of which he mentioned, whose deprivations appear to have been trivial or non-existent, and where the amount of food fed, for example, not only to human beings but to animals, has been, I believe, even larger than it was in pre-war days. That means, of course, that there is less to export. He spoke with that degree of freedom which he is happily able to exercise, but which I am afraid I am not quite able to imitate. However, I welcomed what he said and I hope it will be pondered in different parts of the world across the seas.

It is a fact, as we all know—it is no good pretending it is not—that whilst the British people have been depriving themselves, standing in queues and suffering all manner of inconveniences for years and years, a good many of these people have suffered hardly any inconveniences at all. That is the simple truth, and it is not unnatural that we should feel that we should like to see others make a more substantial contribution to meeting the world shortage. Anyhow, I was rather comforted when I heard the noble Lord speaking and I do not wish in any way to detract from the force of his observations. I can say that we are making now very substantial efforts to get increased supplies from the South American continent. There is a strong mission in the Argentine at the present moment and I hope we shall very soon get considerable supplies from that country, because at the moment the supplies of cereals from across the Atlantic are mainly derived from the United States and Canada. I hope that we shall find increased supplies coming at all events from the Argentine before long.

I should like to associate myself with what the noble Lord said about the Dominions. He said, "You ask for something and they send you more." As to that, one of the Dominion Ministers, in a friendly conversation with me the other day, was telling me how he had explained the British Commonwealth method of working to an enquirer. He put it in terms of the late Prime Minister and said, "If Winston had told me to do something, I should have told him to go away, but if he had asked me to do something I should have said 'Yes, I will do it, and I will do more'." I think it is true to say that in no case have we asked the Dominions for help but that they have done all we have asked and more besides. They are at present rationing themselves in order to help us.

In this connexion perhaps I might say a word about the inquiry which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, addressed to me with regard to rice supplies in India and adjoining countries. He referred to the arrangement which was made with Siam for what was called "free rice." That was one of those arrangements which looked very well on paper, but which did not actually work. The arrangement was that, as a war reparation, Siam was to supply so many thousands of tons of rice free of cost. But the rice was in the interior of Siam and the people who had it did not want to give it up for nothing. The Government of Siam could only get it from them by giving them pieces of paper which the people did not want, because they could not buy goods with them—in other words they had no faith in the currency. The result was that the rice remained in the interior of Siam and we have had to abandon the "free rice" dream, for it was a dream, because it is not forthcoming on that basis and it has got to be paid for. How has it to be paid for? Unfortunately, the writ of the Siamese Government, just like its currency, does not seem to run very far from the capital.

We have had a very strong Committee working for many months past, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Nathan and, largely by the efforts of himself and his colleagues here, combined with those of Lord Killearn out there, I am glad to tell the House that the organization has been put on a much better basis. What the Siamese people want is something they can buy; in other words, they want consumer goods which they can get in exchange for the pieces of paper offered to them by their Government. Therefore we have had to organize the sending out of large supplies of consumer goods to Siam in order to get the rice. I am glad to say that, thanks to the combined efforts of this organization, the rice is now coming along. The exports from Siam in the last four months were—leaving out the odd figures—32,000 tons, 31,000 tons, 14,000 tons and 36,000 tons—that is up to the end of April. So that we got out 114,000 tons in those four months and I am glad to say that supplies are coming along much better now. In Burma supplies are coming forward much better. The total amount of rice which has been obtained from there in the last four months is 107,000 tons and supplies are gradually improving. That organization is now, I am glad to say, beginning to work very efficiently. That affords an excellent illustration of the difference between paper arrangements and realities. It is only by the export of consumer goods, the provision of shipping facilities, transport facilities from the interior to the coast and a hundred other realities that supplies are gradually being obtained.

With regard to East Africa, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, made a good speech. I remember listening to it and admiring it very much. One result was that when I went back to my office I examined the map of Tanganyika more carefully than I had done before. So far as the meat position there is concerned, I understand that certain difficulties arose, which have not yet been overcome, owing to the termination of the war. Apparently the demobilized troops, on going back to their villages and settlements, use their war gratuities to purchase cattle, and they thereby take them off the market. There is another thing which has happened. During the war the natives were required to make deliveries according to certain specified requirements, and since the War those requirements have, of course, had to be suspended. However, alternative means of securing supplies are now being developed rapidly and I understand they are coming forward but it will take some considerable time to get the supplies forward through the former channels. I understand the difficulties are largely due to these habits of the people which are associated with their return to their native places.

The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, raised a point which I am sure is in everybody's mind—it has been in mine. How is it that a year after the war is theoretically over, we are still suffering these deprivations? That is a question which a good many of us have asked ourselves, and other people too. There are certain obvious reasons for it. It must be remembered that during the war the shipping and the supplies were deliberately and properly diverted to these shores for our own supply, many of which have now had to go elsewhere. For instance, there is now considerable shipping to various parts of the Continent, even to Japan, Italy and other places, which were not, of course, the case during the war. And there has been a great diversion of shipping and of supplies of food to many other destinations which was not the case during the war.

It is a fact, notwithstanding the versions which the noble Lord suggested, that there really have been droughts; there really have been bad spells of weather in very extensive districts; there really have been floods in various parts of India as opposed to droughts. In fact there really have been these calamities which have greatly reduced world supplies coming forward. There is no doubt about the truth of that. The changeover in shipping destination, and a series of entirely unforeseen large-scale calamities which have diminished supplies, have all contributed to this unhappy result.

With regard to the supplies in Western Europe, I am afraid that what the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said about the iron curtain is unhappily true, that supplies are not coming from the Danube Valley for the supply of Western Germany and other parts, as they did normally in prewar times. I agree with him too that Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland could quite properly look to those districts for their feeding stuffs, and I think too that we must continue to hope that we shall get some across the border into our area, because Western Germany, of course, was not the main producing area.

As to the statements made with respect to the visit to the U.S.A. of the Lord President of the Council, the noble Lord has read the statements. They are correct statements, and I have nothing to say with regard to them except that I do not agree, if I may say so, with the suggestion which I think came from the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, that it might have been better if he had not gone, or words to that effect.


It was I who made the suggestion.


I beg the noble Marquess's pardon, and I say to the noble Lord, that on the contrary—very much on the contrary—the Lord President of the Council has rendered an immense service to this country by going there. So far as the feeding of the western zones in Germany is concerned, the statement the noble Lord made is perfectly correct. There have been inequalities, and it is agreed that they should be supplied on a similar and equal basis, which is exceedingly valuable so far as we are concerned. Let me say this, that whilst I think it is true that the country people in our zone seem mostly well fed, so far as people who have been there and have seen them tell us, yet it is of first-rate importance that the state of affairs in the parts of Germany occupied by ourselves, the United States of America and France, should not deteriorate, and that they should be economically self-supporting as far as possible. We do not want it to be the fact that the parts of Germany for which we are responsible are the most unhappy parts of Germany. There are all sorts of far-reaching international difficulties which might arise out of that circumstance.

I am afraid I have been a little longer than I intended, but I think I have made, if not a full, at all events a discursive answer to the different points which have been raised. I have myself no hesitation at all, knowing the facts of the case, and knowing that we are not expected to do the impossible, in accepting the noble Lord's Resolution, and I think the debate initiated by him in his valuable speech on this subject will be altogether useful.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount who has just sat down for his reference to me in his speech. I did not completely follow the large number of reservations read out by the noble Lord, Lord Ammon. They seemed to cover every point which might possibly arise in any circumstances, and I thought I almost recognized the hand of the draughtsman. As the noble Lord has just said, and as we are all agreed, I do not expect the Government to do the impossible. Those are the terms on which I am glad to think my Motion has been accepted. I am obliged to the whole House for the way they have received it, and I am glad that we are now going to put it on the records of this House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.