§ 2.55 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLTON rose to call attention to the growing danger of a serious shortage of food in this country; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords I submit this Motion for your Lordships' consideration at the request of a number of Peers who share my present fears for the future food supplies. The considerable number of your Lordships who have indicated a desire to speak on this matter is, I think, my justification for occupying the time of the House. I understand that we are to have a two-day debate on the subject.
§ I recognize that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who immediately follows me and who is to reply to my observations is at some disadvantage, because he is not occupied, as he would be were he in the Ministry of Food, with the day-to-day operations. I would like to assure the noble Lord that I shall not seek to embarrass him, and noble Lords on this side of the House have no intention of taking this Motion to a Division. Perhaps he will allow me to say, also, that we are seeking no Party advantage from this debate. All that I personally ask is that His Majesty's Government, when the facts of the situation as disclosed by experience do not conform with the theories to which they subscribed before they had that experience, will let the results of their experience, bought during these last two years, override any earlier judgment that they may have formed. I can assure His Majesty's Government that if, as a result of the combined wisdom of those who support my view, they find themselves in the position of changing their direction, 397 they may at any rate be sure that they year when food shortages become will suffer no gibes from this side of the obvious and most acute. House for doing so.
§ My own opinion is that we are in danger of a food crisis that will be as serious as was the coal crisis—a food crisis that will reduce the physical powers of the country to work, and which will seriously increase the level of unhappiness and weariness which anyone with eyes that are willing to see can observe to-day on the faces of the British public. We are still suffering from the coal crisis—a position in which, without using harsh words, I must say we were gravely misled by the forecasts of the Minister. Either his statements were irresponsible or he did not know what the facts of the case were. The whole object of the observations I shall make to-day is to seek to draw from the Government the facts about food. I am very happy to see that the noble Viscount who leads the House is to wind up the debate, for he in his day was one of the best Ministers of Agriculture that this country has had, and in his present office, in which he is in daily touch with the Dominions, he is in a position to advise us about the food situation in so far as we derive food from those Dominions. We shall greatly welcome his informed advice on our food prospects, both from the Dominions and, if he will give it to us, from our own agriculture.
§ Perhaps noble Lords on this side of the House can help a little. Indeed we are anxious to help, because (if I may disclose a secret to noble Lords opposite) however anxious we are to get rid of them and bring an end to their Government—and about that there is no doubt—at any rate we do not want to achieve that desirable end as a result of the anger of a nation deprived of the sheer necessities of life. That is something which would be so serious that no Party advantage gained at such expense would be worth while. I gather that my fears are shared by the Government, because the recent placards they have spread about are surely preparing the country for a condition of want. And that is what we fear, because, as every housewife in this country knows, the food position is gradually getting worse and worse. We have to remember that the dangerous time for the food supplies of any country is the next few months into which we arc running, the time when the previous harvest has been eaten up. That is the time of the 398 year when food shortages become most obvious and most acute.
§ My noble friend Lord Cherwell has gone to much trouble lately, both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, to give some statistical evidence of our comparative position. It is perfectly true that everybody has not agreed with his figures, but statisticians, like lawyers, rarely agree with one another; and if they did much of the joy would be taken out of their disputatious lives. But the housewife is not interested merely in these higher realms of thought. She knows only the facts as she sees them day by day, and as they concern her family. She is tired, she is weary and she is alarmed; and nothing which up to date has fallen from the lips of His Majesty's Ministers has given her either comfort or confidence. I beg the noble Lords who are to reply to be frank the country, because it is no use placarding the hoardings with slogans about "Work or Want" and then refusing to disclose to those people the extent of our danger. In point of fact, I do not think these slogans will be very much good anyhow, because the country wants food, not "pep" talks, and I doubt whether the heavy workers of the country—to whom I presume the placards are mainly addressed—are getting enough of the right sort of food to enable them to give us increased production.
§ It is no use the Prime Minister saying that Mr. Strachey is faced with a more difficult problem in the second year of peace, when the seas are free, than those which confronted me when the same seas were infested with submarines. The truth is that we know about the difficulties, but housewives are not really very interested in the comparative merits of Ministers. What they want to do, quite simply, is to feed their families; and they know that before the war, when there were no more people in this country than there are to-day, there was plenty of food in the shops for them to buy. It is true—and I am sure noble Lords will not mind my taking this remark out of their mouths—that in those days there were very many people, too many people, who had not the money go and buy the food. It is true that, those people now have the money, but the money is not doing them very much good when they cannot go and get the food to buy, when 399 they cannot enable themselves, their husbands and their families, to have the appearance of respectability, and when they cannot do what every good wife in the country wants to do; that is, when her husband comes home tired from work to put a reasonable table before him, and enable him to enjoy the relaxation as well as get the benefit of food.
§ That is the situation as the public are seeing it to-day. I am well informed about what the public are thinking on this subject at the moment, because they feel constrained to write to me about it, and one of the things which I resent is that they are blaming me for it, because many of them think that I am still the Minister of Food. I hasten to inform them that whatever sins I was responsible for in the past—and there were many—I am not responsible to-day. The question that the public are asking is: "Is all this necessary?" If it is necessary, then they ask the Government to tell them in simple language—language that they can understand and not big words about convertibility or even about sterling areas—just why it is necessary. Without the slightest disposition (I am glad to say) on the part of the public to adopt totalitarian views, they regard it as the business of the Government to make proper provision for two things: first, their defence, and secondly, to secure the essential social services. They tell me that they can see no sense in placing first all this elaborate legislation for the improvement of health, provision of old age pensions or even the provision of family allowances—with which all noble Lords know I am in most hearty agreement. They say, "Those are all right as social services, but unless the first of the social needs of the people, a sufficiency of food, is assured, then what good are all these other things?" They are not certain that there will be a sufficiency of food in the future, and they are very doubtful whether they are getting enough now.
§ Yesterday I read in the Medical Press a special article by a Doctor Frank Bicknell which began: "England is dying of starvation." The editor of the Medical Press was good enough to send me a copy of the article two or three days ago, when I did not know that it was going to be released to the Press as it was yesterday. I realized then that apparently eminent people in the medical profession—for I 400 understand that Doctor Bicknell is one of the leading authorities on vitamins in this country—are getting alarmed about the state of the physical fitness of our people. Doctor Bicknell justifies his observations with much analysis of figures and of calories. I was always suspicious about these calories, because I never knew, when you got the sum right, whether the person was right as well. When Minister of Food I was given a luncheon by the Lord Mayor, who thought I would like to have a lunch of precisely the right number of calories; and I did. I was so hungry within half an hour afterwards that the speech I made was much briefer than, I am afraid, the one I am making to-day. That was the advantage that they had over your Lordships. But this was the startling thing that Dr. Bicknell said: he concluded that the unemployed before the war were better fed than most of the nation to-day. I find that a very alarming statement, coming from a gentleman who, remember, is an M.D. of Oxford and a member of the Royal College of Physicians. And there are noble Lords sitting opposite me who will doubtless be able to testify as to the value of his opinion. I have no competence to deal with it or to deal scientifically with the question; I merely draw your Lordships' attention to the things which have already appeared in the Press. I am, however, certain of one thing, and that is that our present diet is dangerously deficient in fats. I have confirmation of that from Dr. Bicknell, who said this: "Fats are what the miner, the farmer, the heavy worker and every housewife wants. Lack of fats is why we are getting worn out."
§ Those of us who were in a previous Government together will remember that the one foundation of our food supplies at that time was the securing of an adequate amount of fats. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, will remember the immense trouble he went to, twelve months before the time when a shortage was likely to appear, to ensure that we secured adequate fats from groundnuts in West Africa. Dr. Bicknell's statement about fats, scientific as it is, is just how the public see the situation, and they expect the Government to deal with the problem. The public elected the Government and expect them to do their job. On the experience of the public I place even more reliance, because it is the ex- 401 perience of a vast range of day-to-day waiting and searching; and, in my opinion, that belittles all statistics and all surveys. Experience convinces one that this job of providing adequate food for the people of the country is not being done, and the public want to know why. Lately they are asking: "If these methods of Government buying do not give us the goods, would it not be a good deal better if we had less politics and more knowledge in providing our supplies?"
§ Again, the public are getting very weary of being told that all the shortages are due to a dwindling American Loan. They, and many of us, would like to know more about that. Why do we buy with dollars that are scarce things that we do not very much want? The purchase of those luxurious fruits has done an awful lot to undermine public confidence. They want to know, and I think it is right that they should know, whether the Americans insisted, as a condition of the Loan, that we should buy from them these things that we did not particularly want. And did they insist that we should reduce our purchases from elsewhere in some sort of relationship with our necessarily reduced purchases from America? I do not know whether or not they did; I am in the same position as the public. But it is important that we should be told, if we were foolish enough to agree to any such doctrine. The country want to understand this dollar shortage, and, like His Majesty's; Government, they are getting troubled as to what will happen when the dollar shortage is no more merely a shortage but when our Loan credit is exhausted. That seems to me a most difficult position in which we are going to find ourselves.
§ There is another question that the public are asking: That is, would we not be better off if we were allowed to rely on ourselves a little more and to get a little more out of our own land? To the countryman, these placards, "We Work or Want," look a little ridiculous. Of course, the countryman is not concerned with the large problems of industrial life; what he sees is that he and thousands more like him would be very willing indeed to keep a few more hens or an extra pig or two, if only they could get the feeding stuffs for these animals from the local chandler, as they used to. They would like to be told why it is that they cannot 402 use their energies in that direction. They also ask whether the Government are giving British farmers the information, or indeed the instruction, they need to be given if they are to serve the nation's needs. We are fortunate in having experience here—and there is no doubt about the ability or the willingness of the British farmer to do the job that we ask him to do. These instructions should be given in precise and practical terms, otherwise we shall have another year in 'which we shall not get the full benefit of our land.
§ And is it not lamentable, with all this concern about our dollar shortage, that British farmers are not producing as much now as they did during the war? If the right measures are taken at once, the British farmers can us an additional output of £50,000,000 of foodstuffs a year, taken at their present level of prices, and by that amount they could reduce the gap between our imports and exports. There is no doubt that British farmers will look to the Government to make the position clear, and I think many noble Lords with expert knowledge will give definition, as well as support, to these observations of mine.
§ May I occupy your Lordships by looking at some of the food supplies in some detail? I surmise that the meat position is really very serious. On March 5 the Parliamentary Secretary in another place said that the excess over supplies of the consumption of meat—including home-produced, imported, and canned meats—in four months to the end of January was about 65,000 tons. The Parliamentary Secretary added that this discrepancy was normal for the time of the year. She said, "I must remind the honourable gentleman that we have reserve stocks." Last Monday afternoon she stated that consumption exceeded supply by about 59,000 tons in February, and by about 27,000 tons in March. Provisional figures indicate that in April consumption and supply were practically equal. But here we have a run-down in our stocks of meat during this period of 150,000 tons. I do not know whether that is now a normal position, and I ask for information. I do not know what our stocks are now. Can we afford a run-down of 150,000 tons? I should very much doubt it.
§ When the Argentine Government, as a gesture to this country, sent over supplies of meat worth 5d. per ration book, 403 the public got the 5d. They were most disappointed; it was not the money they wanted, but the meat. However, the meat just went into the ration. I am sure the Minister would not have done that if he had not found himself in the position of living from hand to mouth. I thought it was symptomatic of a very dangerous state of stocks. A cut of 20 per cent. in meat allocations to manufacturers of meat products was made on May 5. Before that, the butchers had been deprived of their margin of 5½ per cent. over the bare rations, which is called in the trade, I think, a "cut allocation," but which was used for providing sausages, meat pies and things of that kind. It is obvious that the butchers now are very short. They say that as the result of the cut they have had to issue unsuitable meat on the ration. They are telling us! Do we not know it? I wondered what the explanation was. We knew what the meat was like. The butchers say they have nothing left over now for making sausages and meat pies.
§ This year's loss in livestock, because of the very had winter, has not yet been felt. I understand that when we do feel it—and it will not be long before we do—it is likely to be equal to something like 3 per cent. of our annual consumption of rationed meat. As the figures recently given in another place by the Parliamentary Secretary show, we are living beyond our income of meat, and it seems to me that on the present basis the time is not very far distant when no longer will the housewife be able to rely on handing in her coupons and getting her Sunday joint. I hope the Government will tell us what the position is. Still more do I hope they will tell us what they are going to do about it. It is no use deploring the position, for what the country wants is more meat. Just why are we short? And will they tell us this: is some other country holding us up to ransom by not letting us have the meat supplies that are available in the world?
§ Now let me turn to another line of produce—wheat and flour. Over the first nine months of bread rationing the cost of staff to administer the scheme was £400,000. My information is that the scheme has broken down and that the system of coupons does not work. That is what the bakers tell me. I ask the Government 404 how the consumption of flour by the civilian population in the first quarter of 1947 compares with the civilian consumption in the first quarter of 1946, allowing for changes in the numbers of the civilian population, due to demobilization. In our debate on the food situation on January 22, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said that shipments from Canada had fallen short of expectations, and that a reduction of the ration might yet be inescapable. Will he tell us what the position is now? Cannot something be done to hasten shipments? During the war period we kept, in this country, a minimum of eleven weeks' stock of wheat, and during the period before our major invasion operations—when we knew, as indeed proved to be the case, that sometimes for weeks and weeks on end we would get no increase in our supplies—we ran our stocks up to nineteen weeks, in order that we might be quite sure that our Forces and we ourselves would have enough bread.
§ At that time, my trade advisers, who probably took a conservative view, I admit, told me that we could not rely upon the even flow of wheat through the mills and of flour through the channels of distribution to the bakers, and thus to the public, unless we had a minimum of nine weeks' supply. That was why I added two on and kept a minimum of eleven weeks' supply. I do not know what are the present stocks of wheat. Stories that are current are to the effect that a recent estimate put them down as low as five weeks. Another source, which I thought well-informed, gave me the figure as seven weeks. But if either of these is true, then I believe that we are in grave and immediate danger. This has nothing to do with the losses through bad weather during last autumn or last winter. I ask: What is the position regarding our stocks of wheat?
§ I know that the Government do not like to tell these figures. We refused, during the war, to disclose the figures because we did not want our enemies to know them, but this is not a case of our enemies knowing. The only purpose of secrecy can be to hide the truth from the public. The public have a right to know this. We do not want to be told how badly off somebody else is, in some other part of the world, as an explanation of our being as badly off as we are. The duty of the Government is, first of all. 405 to look after the people of this country. We do not want to be told how unfortunate we are. The truth is that the public are getting a little bit tired of these "hard luck" stories. I admit that the Government have been unlucky. But, you know, Napoleon had a way of dealing with Generals who were unlucky. And the commercial world has a method of dealing with its employees who are unlucky. Under recent contracts with Canada, of which we have heard much, the Government arranged to purchase 160,000,000 bushels of wheat in the current year at a price that was 30 per cent. below the United States price. That looked very good on the surface. It was a long-term contract, mark you.
§ LORD WOOLTON
It was a long contract, I give you that—for you, not against you. But I am told that they made no arrangements, such as would most certainly have been made in private contracts, as to the specific quantities that should be shipped month by month. Canadian farmers, quite understandably, seem to have given priority to the higher bids they were getting from elsewhere, with the result that the shipments of the Canadian farmers did not come up to expectations. I am told the contract did not contain any provision regarding transport and shipping, and, consequently, insufficient wheat was shipped before the St. Lawrence froze. The Government found themselves in the position of having to make desperate attempts to ship wheat to this country from the Pacific ports, and that cost an additional 22s. per ton to get it here. To fill the gap in supplies caused by these disappointing Canadian shipments, the Government made an emergency purchase of 500,000 tons of Argentine wheat at a price of £30 a ton, roughly 50 per cent. more than that paid to Canada. The profit made out of the British people by the Argentine Government on this transaction is estimated at £8,000,000. Those admirers of Government bulk purchase, who have lately been writing to The Times about the wonderful bargain that Mr. Strachey made, might note these facts. It, was not as clever as they seemed to think, and it is certainly true that it would not be regarded as a remarkably good purchase in any commercial organization if a contract were 406 made for a large supply, but conditions were not made as to when we were to get that supply.
I ask the Government, what is the position regarding bread rationing, and what are our prospects? I ask them whether they know that their system of bread units is a failure in many places, and a failure which penalizes only those people like myself who studiously obey the law, either from their respect of the law or from fear of being found out. I ask them whether they are running their units for bread rationing in a business-like manner. The points scheme on which the coupons are used makes the coupons into a form of currency. The shopkeeper and the wholesaler have to produce coupons in order to get fresh supplies. Is that what is happening in bread rationing? Are these coupons being counted, and, if they are, why not make a coupon that people can count?
Meanwhile, I am told that all this bread rationing, with the 2,000 extra civil servants employed, with this raising of the extraction rate and consequent loss of millers' offals to pig and poultry keepers and the senseless destruction of so many birds that we could so well have used, has saved only 290,000 tons of wheat out of an annual consumption of 5,500,000 tons. I wonder whether it was worth it. What has happened? We have been importing from America, and using dollars, to make up the deficit. Last summer 70,000 tons of dried milk were bought from the United States of America. For the same amount of dollars sufficient maize could have been bought in the Argentine to produce 66,000,000 gallons of fresh milk at home, or twice the liquid equivalent of the dried milk. Similarly, £30,000,000 was spent last year on imported dried egg. For an expenditure of £17,000,000 sufficient maize could have been bought to produce the equivalent in fresh eggs at home, and we should have had the additional advantage of building up our own livestock in this country.
Let me hasten to say that perhaps the Government, under the terms of the American loan, had no alternative but to make these purchases. If that is true, I hope they will tell us. My own conclusion, which I think may now be obvious to you, is that we are making a mistake in confusing these two totally separate functions of government and 407 catering. It is important for the peace of the world that Governments should reduce to a minimum the opportunities of conflict and disagreement. Once a Government enter into the detailed operations of buying and selling, then the field for dispute and misunderstanding is vastly enlarged. Traders are accustomed to bargaining, to the swift movement of their field of operation from one part of the world to the other. That is why they kept these exchanges and these futures markets, about which we were talking last week—without much conviction from my side of the House to the other side. But traders can do all that without disturbing international relationships. This country, as the largest importing nation in the world, gained very great advantages in the past from their operations—great advantages for ourselves—without causing any with the people from whom we bought the goods.
They bought very well. This was one of the cheapest countries in the world in which to live. We had the highest standard of life in Europe, and we had a variety of products that made the task of the housewife one with a reasonable amount of pleasure. But all that has gone. This is partly due to war conditions, but I believe it is also partly due to this system of Government purchasing. Government purchasing was necessary during the war. We in this country kept out of it as long as possible. Until the very last possible moment we let the traders buy without disclosing to the people in the other countries the identity of those for whom they were buying. With great wisdom, I thought, the Governments of other countries came to me and said that in the future they would prefer to deal with Government to Government. It would be better, they said. I asked for whom it would be better, but as they were making the proposition the answer to the question was clear. And so we were forced by these war conditions into Government trading. But do not let us delude ourselves that it was to our advantage. It was a necessity that arose out of the war years, and what has happened is that the foreign Governments have built up their selling organizations. One Government, when they knew we were going into the market, prohibited their nationals from exporting. The Government became the selling agency, and 408 they made very handsome profits out of us. They did not hand back these profits directly to the producers of the raw material; they kept them to finance their budgets.
It is always very difficult for anybody in your Lordships' House (and who is, therefore, supposed to be rather better off than those people who are not) to appear to be advocating a return to the conditions of the past. So many of those conditions of the past were bad, but they were not all bad; and I believe that His Majesty's Government, in bringing socialized trading into our food supplies, are making a mistake. I think it will be very difficult to persuade the Argentine Government to go back to freedom of trade between traders in this country, on the one hand, and their own growers of raw materials on the other, because the Argentine Government are making such a handsome profit out of the present arrangements. I am sure, however, that in the long run they will be wise to remember those very amicable arrangements which for many years existed between the traders of our two countries and which did much to build up the prosperity of the Argentine.
Trading and politics make bad companions. I have taken but a few examples to illustrate my argument. Of course, the Government may say, "Look at our purchases. Look at the prices we paid and look at the way prices have risen since then. Do you not admit that—we bought at very advantageous prices as compared with those prevailing now?" Of course they did, and if they had bought land they would have had precisely the same experience; but that is not due to good buying, that is due to bad finance. The truth is that we are living in an inflationary period and they just could not go wrong from that point of view. But in this debate I am not so much concerned with prices as I am with the question of supplies. I have raised this matter in order to get expressions of opinion from a debate in this very well-informed House. We all draw our conclusions from an estimate of the facts as they come under our purview. I am gravely concerned about our present supplies of food, because I consider that the nation's food now is inadequate to maintain the nation's health, but I am even more concerned about the danger of a serious food shortage in the future.
409 We have had, and we shall continue to have, a fuel shortage; but if we are to have a food shortage combined with a fuel shortage, then I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the Government will deserve, and will certainly get, the censure of the people. The people of this country have made many sacrifices during the last few years, and the time has come to make an end of this low standard of living. I beg the Government, if they will hearken to anything I say, to go out and get the food for the people of this country. Never mind what means they use (I mean honourable means; they would not do anything that was not honourable); let them see to it that the people get the food. If that is done, then I believe that once again, with renewed energy, we shall be able to deal with these problems of production which are so vital to our national well being. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.44 P.m.
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord who moved this Motion for giving me at the opening of his speech what I think might be called a rein check, because I am not personally associated with the Ministry of Food. No longer is the noble Lord a Minister, but in the discussion this afternoon he has shown that he has lost none of the skill, the knowledge and, I might add, the persuasiveness which enabled him to be so successful a Minister of Food during the war. We on these Benches take no exception to the action of the noble Lord in initiating a discussion about our food position. Food is, after all, a matter of vital importance to everybody, and it is, as the noble Lord suggested, one of the most con stantly discussed subjects. But I regret the pessimistic and alarmist fashion in which the noble Lord has chosen to word his Motion. He postulates a growing danger of a serious food shortage as something to which we in this country must look forward in the near future. I am not prepared to accept as unquestionable the prophecy that our food supplies are going to become more acute in the future than they have been in the past.
No one who is not omniscient can assert positively what the future will bring. There may, of course, be fresh calamities in store for us, as unforeseen as was the last winter with its deadly blizzards and disastrous floods. In the food exporting countries there may be transport break 410 downs, financial chaos or other causes to prevent or delay the arrival here of the food supplies on which we are counting. But, so far as we can predict with any certainty the future of our food supplies, we do not anticipate any such disastrous increase of serious food shortage as the noble Lord suggests in his Motion. There may be temporary cuts in the quantities of this or that food available for the public, but equally there will be increases in the supplies of other foods. If there is no immediate prospect of a general removal of rationing control, there is no justification for alarmist prophecies of crises.
Until this season's crops at home and abroad are harvested, it is obviously impossible to speak with certainty about the longer-range food situation. The quantity and the price of food we have to import from overseas will depend on the weather in other countries and on economic developments there which lie outside our control, but, so far as can be foreseen at present, it should be possible to maintain the past level of most of our food Imports, and, in respect of some commodities, to exceed it. It is even harder to predict as yet what we may expect from domestic sources. There is no denying the serious nature of the succession of blows which our farmers have suffered during the past winter through the unparalleled severity of the weather, the blizzards and the floods, and the late arrival of spring. Those were calamities for which the Labour Government, whatever else its faults, cannot be held responsible. To what extent we shall, nevertheless, be able to snatch a valuable harvest from our stricken land remains to be seen; and here again the weather conditions during the coming months will be a vital factor. But miracles have been achieved by our farmers and farm workers since they were able to get on to the land again, and the prospects of a fair, though not a bumper, harvest are far better than anyone a month ago could have thought possible. We owe a high tribute of praise to our agricultural comrades for the heroic and untiring efforts they have so successfully made.
Before passing on to a review of the position as regards the main foodstuffs, I should like to say one or two words about the stock position, to which the noble Lord referred in his opening speech. Food stocks generally are, of course, much 411 lower than they were during the period when the noble Lord was Minister of Food. The change in circumstances since that time makes it no longer necessary, or indeed desirable, to maintain stocks at the high level of the war period. So much so, that comparative figures would be entirely misleading.
It is no longer necessary to maintain reserves against the many unforeseen contingencies of war. The noble Lord referred to that. There are no longer, for example, the great uncertainties of transport, particularly of ocean transport, arising from the activities of submarines. There are no longer the risks of damage to stocks, port facilities and inland transport from air attack. A certain minimum of stocks is necessary in order to maintain smooth distribution, and, I cannot, of course, pretend that our stocks in all cases are such as we should desire if the world food position were satisfactory. I propose to deal specifically with particular foods in the course of my remarks, though I must state that I shall not be able to give stock figures for individual commodities, for reasons which have been explained by the Minister of Food on frequent occasions in another place.
I come to wheat and flour. As noble Lords are well aware, we have for a considerable time been labouring under heavy difficulties in maintaining our sup-lies of wheat and flour. In July of last year we introduced bread rationing as a precautionary measure, in order to keep control over the rate of distribution, and our caution was fully justified by the extremely adverse weather conditions we had last summer and autumn, and by the continued difficulties and disappointments which beset the import of wheat from North America, which have added to the problems resulting from the world shortage of cereals. The noble Lord, Lord Wootton, has recalled that in the food debate on January 22 last, in the light of those adverse developments I had to tell your Lordships that "a reduction of the bread ration might yet prove inescapable." I cannot deny that our stock I position is just at present one to cause a good deal of anxiety and to make necessary very careful control. But I am happy to be able to say that there is no need for me to repeat to-day the warning which I uttered then.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I am coming to the position. With the re-opening of the St. Lawrence, supplies from Canada are again coming forward freely, and unless there are unforeseen setbacks the position will steadily improve from this month onwards, and by September our wheat and flour stocks may be expected to stand at a considerably higher level. Our contract with the Canadian Government, as has been mentioned, will ensure the bulk of our requirements of wheat and flour for the next four years.
§ LORD CHERWELL
May they be expected to stand at a higher level than to-day, or at a higher level than last September?
§ LORD HENDERSON
I have said they will stand at a higher level. I think that statement is perfectly plain.
§ LORD HENDERSON
Than the position when I discussed it last time. We can count on a good supply of wheat—500,000 tons—from Argentina's new crop, shipment of which has already commenced, and the United States Government have also promised to send us a large quantity —300,000 tons—during the three months July-September. It would therefore be most inaccurate to speak, as the noble Lord did in his Motion, about an anticipated food shortage as regards our bread supply within the next few months. There is a shortage at present in the sense of a low stock level, but the outlook is for an early liquidation of that shortage. It is too early yet to make a reliable long-distance forecast about the future for wheat and flour supplies. For some time to come there will still be a potential world demand exceeding the world supply, but, on the whole, it seems reasonable to expect that the supplies of wheat and flour on which we shall be able to count in 1947/48 will be distinctly more ample than they have been during the past months. In view of this, as the noble Lord remarked, the Minister of Food has said that if this year's harvests in the Northern Hemisphere are good enough, it may be possible to abandon bread rationing.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I do not want to embarrass the noble Lord. If he will 413 forgive my interrupting, I am asking for this information merely in order to reassure the public, because those rumours about a five weeks' supply are very damaging. Is the noble Lord able to assure us (he bas not done it precisely in what he has said) that we shall be all right for the next few months? I am quite certain we shall be all right in the autumn.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I have indicated that the supplies from several quarters are coming in at a fairly good rate.
§ LORD HENDERSON
Yes. I have indicated that the larger reserve will be put right in the course of a few months. I should have thought that that indicated a much more favourable position than was the case when we had the last debate on food.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I now want to deal with animal feeding stuffs. For some time past, the experience of our farmers, in regard to supplies of animal feeding stuffs—as has been said—has been of repeated disappointments and deferred hopes The noble Lord asked the question why we had not purchased animal feeding stuffs much earlier. I am assured that the reason is that supplies were not available. It has been the purpose of this Government, as it was of their predecessor, to raise the feeding stuffs ration in order to enable farmers to rebuild the pig and poultry population of the country. But hitherto, successful efforts to carry out this purpose have been frustrated by some new setback. Now, however, there is a better supply, particularly of maize, which can be relied on with some confidence, and as from May 1 the ration scales have been increased. We expect to import during the coming twelve months sufficient feeding stuffs to maintain the increased ration scale and to allow for progressive increases in rations under our livestock rehabilitation programme. We anticipate adequate supplies of maize from the Argentine and United States of America, and sufficient oilcake from the Argentine, to furnish a balanced and increasing ration for an expanding livestock population.
414 So far as bacon, eggs, butter, margarine, cooking fats, milk and cheese are concerned, there is every reason to anticipate that the supply position will continue during the remainder of this year at least as good as it is now. Although oils and fats are still subject to a world shortage, we expect to maintain the fats and soap ration through 1947 at their present level. The supply and consumption of milk continue to mount; and what is particularly gratifying is the steady increase in the sale of liquid milk to the public. In 1939 the average monthly consumption of milk in liquid form was 72,000,000 gallons. In 1945 it was l03,600,000 gallons a month. Last year it had risen to 108,700,000 gallons, and in March last the figure was 116,600,000 gallons.
§ LORD CHERWELL
I think the noble Lord will find that it is milk sold through the Milk Marketing Board.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I must protest at this interruption. This is not a question and answer entertainment; we are having a serious debate on food.
§ LORD HENDERSON
The supply of eggs this year should be maintained at its present level, despite the setback to domestic egg production caused by the cut in the feeding-stuffs last autumn. One pleasant aspect of the egg supply is that an ever-increasing proportion of it consists of eggs in shells, as against powdered egg. The weekly average of egg consumption last year was 17 per cent. above the 1944 level, and shell eggs supplied more than the whole of this increase, as the consumption of dried eggs declined. Our prospects of egg imports this year from European sources of supply are encouraging. On sugar, we shall do at least as well this year as last. As for our domestic crop in the coming season, it is too early yet to estimate just how far it will have been reduced by the flooding which has affected certain areas of sugar beet cultivation. The supply of tea is at present being maintained with some difficulty, though not because of any 415 worsening of the world supply position. The allocations of raw cocoa to this country have been fully secured at a level comparing favourably with that of recent years, although the price has risen. There is every prospect of being able to maintain the sweet ration at its present level of 4 oz. per week.
Meat is unquestionably the foodstuff of which the immediate supply position is most difficult. The limitation of supply is, of course, due to the reduced level of domestic meat production. The cause for this is twofold. There was a good deal of over-killing last autumn, because farmers reduced their stock, in view of the lower feeding stuffs ration and the failure of some of their harvesting of food crops on account of the deplorable weather in the late summer and autumn. Then came the deadly blizzards of the winter which wiped out millions of sheep and gravely affected the spring lambing. The floods, too, took their toll of our livestock. On these two counts it is estimated that our meat supply from domestic production this year will be 130,000 to 140,000 tons less than it was in 1946. As regards imported meat, we are buying every ton we can get and afford. But it is by no means certain that we shall be in a position to make good the deficiency of home output, and I must definitely warn your Lordships that we may have to reduce the ration to the level ruling at this time last year.
If we are faced with the prospect of a small reduction of our 1947 meat supplies compared with last year, we look forward to a large increase in our supplies of fish. In the first quarter of 1947, despite the severest winter weather on record, our supplies of white fish, totalling about 200,000 tons, were 14 per cent. greater than in the first quarter of 1946. Over the year 1947 as a whole, we anticipate that our landings of white fish will reach a figure of 1,000,000 tons. This will be 20 per cent. more than last year and 23 per cent. more than 1938. We shall import white fish from nearby European countries to supplement our own catchings in the slacker periods. We also hope to buy frozen white fish to release for consumption in the winter when fish is scarcer. It is expected that about 15,000 tons of home-caught white fish will be quick frozen this year, largely for winter 416 use. Our 1947 landings of herrings by British boats are expected to reach 280,000 tons, or 40 per cent. above the 1946 total. Of these it is calculated that we shall eat several tens of thousands of tons more than we did last year and use the balance for export or to manufacture herring oil and fish meal. Steps are being taken to increase our manufacturing capacity of these products.
I will now deal with vegetables and fruits. A good many wild statements have appeared recently about the prospect of a potato shortage. It is true that some damage was suffered during the winter through frost and floods. But the total loss from these causes is not estimated to amount to more than about 75,000 tons. Moreover, last year's crop was a heavy one and, because of the increased consumption resulting from bread rationing, we have arranged to import a quantity of potatoes. I am happy to be able to assure the House that, so far as we can see, the quantities available for consumption between now and the end of the season are likely to be adequate for demand. As for the new season's crop, it will be rather later than usual because of the weather. The first earlier were planted very late; on average about three weeks behind the normal date. The main crop has also been somewhat belated in planting, and there is some land—though less than at one time seemed probable—which will not be free from flooding in time to carry potatoes this year at all.
Special arrangements have been concerted between the Ministers of Food and of Agriculture to assist the farmers by providing special acreage payments and special price increases so as to induce them to plant as large a potato crop as the difficult conditions will permit. Our target for the United Kingdom is 1,400,000 acres. These inducements apply also to other principal food crops. So far as vegetables are concerned, the shortage lies more in the past than in the future, and was attributable, like much else, to the unique severity of the winter. By mid-June or thereabouts there should be again a reasonably plentiful supply. The aftereffects of the floods may reduce the output of onions and celery in the Fen district, but it is too early to give any definite estimate about that.
As for fruit, the lateness of the spring rather increases the chances that there 417 will be a good fruit crop, undamaged by the late frosts which work such devastation in an early season. Our imports of fruit have been steadily rising since the end of hostilities, and this year's potential supplies are likely to exceed those of last year by not far short of 50 per cent. In addition to importing staple fruits, such as apples, oranges, bananas, lemons and grapefruit, which are distributed on allocation, the Ministry of Food has sanctioned the importation of a large variety of miscellaneous fruits by private traders. There has been some criticism of these fruit imports on the ground that we ought not to spend valuable foreign exchange on purchasing expensive luxuries, such as pineapples, peaches, and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, raised the point himself. This criticism is misconceived. By far the greater proportion of these fruits comes from countries with which our balance of trade is favourable—countries which are having the utmost difficulty in many cases in finding goods which they can send us in payment for our exports.
Clearly in such cases there is everything to be gained by taking from them even less essential goods. It is broadly true to say that up to the present these fruits —which have made a very real and widely appreciated addition to the variety of our diet—have not been imported at the expense of more essential goods. There was at first some criticism of the higher prices of these fruits. The view of the Minister of Food was that if prices were left free of control, high prices would ultimately lead to increased supplies and that prices would then fall, and experience has confirmed this view.
I come now to the question of bulk purchase. The noble Lord made a great deal in his speech of the advantages, as he considers them, of private trading over bulk purchase as a method of obtaining the food we require. He thinks that we should get more food and get it more cheaply if we abandoned bulk purchase. The noble Lord has suggested that the war conditions, which made ordinary commercial practices impossible in the purchase of foodstuffs, have now gone, and that therefore State purchase is no longer necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. Food is just as short in world markets as it was when the noble Lord was Minister of Food and himself instituted or developed many of the bulk purchase arrangements he is now 418 criticizing. In many cases, indeed, world scarcity has increased. The world market has become more and more a sellers' market, and exporting countries in many cases have not been slow to take advantage of their favourable position. As the noble Lord well knows, it is this, and not the existence of bulk purchase, which has not only prevented food prices from falling since the war ended but has in many cases led to material increases. In these circumstances, to abandon the bargaining position which bulk purchase gives us, and to replace a single State buyer with large numbers of private traders, all competing with one another for supplies, would certainly not make the position any better.
§ LORD HENDERSON
It would merely intensify the competition and drive prices to even greater heights. I should like to refer to our buying arrangements for one or two specific foods in order to illustrate the advantages which bulk purchase has in present circumstances. As regards our cereal imports, the Canadian Government have controlled the export of wheat and flour through the Canadian Wheat Board since the early 1930's, and by making our bulk purchase agreements we have been able to secure a guaranteed flow of imports at reasonable prices, while at the same time giving the Canadian farmer an assured market. In the case of our bulk purchase from other countries, we are certainly paying no more than the prices charged to other importing countries. We are using the grain trade to the fullest practicable extent in connexion with our purchases of cereals. Thus, grain exports from Canada and the Argentine are handled through the usual British shippers, and U.S.A. corn and flour are procured commercially on the open market by firms appointed to act for the Ministry.
The meat that we get from Australia and New Zealand is kept by contracts at a price much below what we should have to pay if our method of Government contracting were abandoned and we faced the competition of a free market. Our purchases of dairy produce, meat and bacon from Denmark and other continental countries are examples of the lowering of price that we secure by bulk buying. These countries are anxious to get back into our market on a large scale, and their 419 Governments have in consequence made agreements with ours which involve their selling us large quantities of staple foodstuffs at prices below those they guarantee to their own farmers. Such an arrangement could have been made only between Governments.
As regards tea—to which I will make only a brief reference—under the admirable arrangement initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, the Ministry of Food in 1942 became the sole purchaser of tea from the main exporting countries on behalf of all the countries participating in the scheme of allocation of supplies under the Combined Food Board. This scheme succeeded for five years in preventing a world scramble for supplies, and kept prices at a reasonable level. Unfortunately, the Governments of India and Ceylon decided to terminate the scheme after the 1946 crop, presumably in order to take full advantage of the sellers' market which will exist for tea until the Netherlands East Indies are again able to make their full contribution to the world supply. As a result, it has been necessary for the Ministry of Food to enter the market in competition with other buyers, and to seek to secure supplies by purchase contracts with individual producers.
The consequence of the breakdown of the international allocation arrangements has been a substantial increase in price, but this could not have been avoided by handing back the trade to private buyers. That would only have intensified the competition and still further inflated the price. This is clearly shown by the fact that we are buying tea at prices that are very substantially below those ruling in the free market. At the same time, the producers gain the advantage of a guaranteed outlet for a large part of their supplies. In the case of fats, the noble Lord has suggested that it was the visit of a buying mission from His Majesty's Government to the Argentine in 1946 which led the Argentine Government to cancel private exports and become the sole seller, with the result that they were able to hold us to ransom on the price of linseed.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I am sorry. The noble Lord said earlier that the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, had recently ex- 420 pressed himself in the Press. The noble Lord has himself recently written an article for the Press and made the statement in the course of his article.
§ LORD HENDERSON
I have the article with me. I should have said that I was quoting from his article and I apologize to the noble Lord. I will only say that the Argentine Government needed no prompting from us to set up their bulk selling arrangements. They decided to take full advantage of the shortage of linseed oil and our own urgent need for it, and also to favour the Argentine oil processing industry by stopping sales of linseed and offering only oil and cake together at very high prices, a large share of which they did not pass to producers. Their action may prove to have been short-sighted. The United States of America is doubling, and Canada stepping up by 50 per cent., their linseed acreages.
I have given a broad survey of our food position. I have done my best to answer one or two of the special points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and, as he knows, there will be other Government speakers and it may be that the points I have omitted will receive attention there. What I have said does not, of course, satisfy the desires and hopes of any of us. We are not living in a world of peace and plenty, but in a world that is only slowly—and indeed too slowly—recovering from the ravages and after-effects of war. I claim, however, that what I have said does show that the noble Lord has fallen into an exaggerated condition of alarm and despondency in framing his Motion. The Government are fully alive to their responsibilities and will not shirk them. They may be relied on to the utmost of their powers to see to it that the food standards of the people are maintained, and, wherever possible, raised, within the limits imposed by the food shortage which continues to afflict this stricken world.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
My Lords, I shall not attempt to comment in detail on the most interesting review of the food situation which has been given us by the noble Lord who has just sat down. All of us are most grateful to him for it, but for most of us it will be a feast that we shall feast on again when we see it 421 in print and are able to follow it in all its vast range of detail. I think one may sum up the broad result of this review as telling us that our bread ration is out of danger, that our meat ration is in danger, and that with potatoes and swedes we shall just about scrape through. I do not know what the position is with fats. But apparently there is not to be a crisis, and there is not to be any marked improvement.
I would like to address myself to the details of the food problem as part of the general economic problem in which it is embedded. I shall have some criticisms to make of the Government, and of their action and inaction. One thing must be said from a critical Opposition Bench, and that is that those of us who criticize the Government ought to recognize—and I think most of us do recognize—that the job which the Government have in dealing with food is a much harder one than it has ever been before. We have to accept the fact of a world food. shortage, due to the causes which the noble Lord has just summarized, and to accept the special difficulties of this country in face of that shortage.
The noble Lord who has just sat down pointed out last January that although the large exporting countries had about 7,000,000 tons more bread grains produced last year, they were able to export only 6,000,000 tons less than before, because they had been living on exporting stocks. Figures that were given by the Minister of Food in another place showed that we find an export surplus of bread grains of perhaps 25,000,000 tons facing an important demand of 35,000,000 tons. I think it is clear that any really large increase of bread for human consumption, or of bread grains or any large supply of grains to importing countries, could only have come about for the immediate present if the producing countries, particularly North America. had decided to feed very much less to stock and give a very much larger proportion of their total to export. There is nothing to induce them to do so—no was compulsion, and no financial motive.
The aftermath of the peace food problem is much harder than the war food problem. In the first war I had a good deal to do with food control, and I realize that the food problem of war is comparatively simple—particularly in this 422 country where we depend so much upon imports. You are not in the difficult position of having to extract food from the farmer. It is just a question of bulk imports, of using war-time powers of direction of labour, and of rationing, supported by the ready co-operation of the public. That is what you get in war. I do not say this to diminish in any way the greatness of the services that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, rendered to this country. I sometimes wonder whether the precise nature of those services was the best possible preparation or jumping-off ground for the office which the noble Lord now clothes with equal distinction in the Conservative Party, where he is organizing an anti-Socialist crusade. Presumably, the noble Lord takes expert advice, as he so notably did from the nutrition experts for the feeding of the country—which private enterprise had altogether failed to do. Many another Food Controller might not have shown the same wisdom. But the conditions then operating and the co-operation of the public, solved the problem for him.
Now Lease-Lend has gone; direction of labour has gone; the ready co-operation of the public has gone; and I confess that I find it difficult to understand what the noble Lord meant when he said: "Go out and get the food by whatever means." Does he mean that we should buy food with our dollars, go without materials, and create unemployment? Does he mean that we should spend our dollars very rapidly, long before there is any sign of our being able to balance our accounts—to spend them riotously and then ask the American Congress for another loan, without any hope of our being able to repay it? There was a similar lack of practicality in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who suggested that we should face countries having large monopoly agencies with private traders competing with one another.
The noble Lord painted a picture of this country as the cheapest in the world; but it is no longer cheap, and that is clue to the change in the terns of trade. We are no longer the main or the leading industrial country in the world, and I do not think anything ought to be said to conceal that fundamental fact. I recognize the exceptional difficulties with which the Government are faced in dealing with the food problem as part of the economic pro- 423 blem, but they are not following the prescription of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and acting with complete good sense in all ways. They do not seem to have a real grip of the food problem or of the economic problem of the country as a whole. In this connexion I desire to mention a matter of which I have spoken before, and that is our import policy. It really is not possible to explain to the public the waste of our precious dollars on tobacco and films. But I consider that the illustration given by the noble Lord about the purchase of dried milk rather than maize needs dealing with, and I do not think that the noble Lord who has just spoken for the Government gave any answer upon that point. It would be possible to quote many other cases of weakness by the Government in facing the problem. But I do wish to shorten my remarks, and I will content myself by saying that this is not the only thing which the Government seem to be failing to grip.
Next I would like to say a few words about labour—particularly labour for agriculture—in this country. It is clear that if we are to save our American dollars—and we must save them—one of the best ways of doing it is to increase the volume of our agricultural produce. Everybody knows that, and everybody also knows that a very necessary step is to increase our labour force. But I notice that whereas the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who raised this question in December, gave rather precise estimates of the numbers of additional people that would be required to replace losses, and also of the houses needed, the Government spokesman who replied said nothing at all but merely uttered platitudes. The Government, it was stated, were doing their best. It was never said whether they agreed with the noble Earl's figures. They do not get to grips with this subject at all. It will, of course, be agreed that if we want more home production we must have more labour, and we must house that labour. Questions which arise are Where are the Government going to get the labour from? Is it to he home labour? How can you get people to go into agriculture unless the conditions in agriculture are at least as good as in other industries, and how is that to be brought about when other industries are being allowed to run riot 424 on a five-day week? Are you going to have a five-day week in the agriculture industry for the people who are looking after livestock? It just would not work.
Now take the question of houses. It is clear that you cannot get the people who are required to work on the land unless you have the houses for them. We all know that our housing results are pitiably low. Although we have put a great many people into the housing industry, the output is miserably small. I am not going to discuss to what extent that may, possibly, be due to the men not doing as much work as they might. We do know that one cause is the shortage of raw materials. That is a breakdown of planning—a breakdown on the part of the Government in not putting first things first and in not seeing that they put money into those necessary imports before they tried to build their houses. I turn next, to the question of foreign labour. On this, again, the Government spokesman, the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, I think in December, merely told us that the Government were most anxiously considering the question of using Poles who are in this country. Everybody who goes about this country at all knows that there are enormous numbers of healthy young men—I am referring to Poles—who are entirely unemployed. You see them walking miserably along the roads with nothing to do.
I want to ask the Government for some quite specific figures, it being now two years since the fighting ended. First, how many Poles are actually doing regular agricultural work in this country? My next question deals with one step towards the solution of the problem, for it relates to the building work which would erect the houses and so help agricultural production—how many of these men are definitely under training for either of these purposes? As I know that the numbers in either case must be lamentably small, I would like to ask a third question. That is, what are the obstacles to the more rapid employment of the labour which is available, which is being miserably demoralized by idleness and which could undoubtedly help to solve this problem? Do the obstacles lie with the farmer, with the housing, with the men, or with some other factor? I think if one were to go into the question of manufacturing industries one would see many other causes for uneasiness in the 425 Government's attitude. Frankly, I do not feel happy about their settlement of the dock strike. It looks as though there were 500 men who ought to have gone to do something else who are now going to be allowed, as a result of striking, to remain where they are. I am not sure that similar difficulties do not occur in other directions. I suggest that manpower being the factor which, in many ways, is at the bottom of the agricultural problem, the Government are not facing up to it as they should. That is my first criticism.
My second criticism is that the Government are much too apt to be content with rationing. They are so proud of rationing as an equality factor. I am a little afraid that if we were fated always to have a Labour Government we should always have rationing, because they are so fond of this alternative currency. They really ought not to aim at rationing indefinitely, because rationing, although it averages supplies, is unjust to the individual. It uses staff and time. And the time that it uses is not only the time of the people who are paid, but that of housewives and others. Furthermore, it checks production and competition between individual traders. I hope that the Government will take as their first moral in dealing with the food problem—and they cannot do it all at once—that they must aim not at supplies that will enable them to go on rationing for ever, but at supplies that will make it possible to abolish rationing. That, I would suggest, is the first moral.
The second moral, I submit, is that they themselves should realize in practice and in words, and should emphasize to their supporters, the fact, which I have mentioned already, of the weakened economic position of this country in the world. The days of our effortless progress, the days when we alone were making industrial products that were badly wanted everywhere, and when the people who wanted them were prepared to send us large quantities of grain and raw materials in exchange for those products, are gone for ever. Just think what the simple fact of the industrialization of Russia means. It means that a great country which formerly concentrated largely on growing agricultural products and seeding them to us, no longer does so. The same has happened with regard to many other countries. We are no longer the first industrial nation; therefore we find the 426 terms of trade going against us. We have to sell much greater quantities of our manufactured products in order to get the same amount of food. Therefore, if we want to live as well as we did, we must learn how, with the same amount of labour, to make much more of our manufactured products. That is a point which needs to be got into the minds of everybody.
There was a time when sterling was one of the strongest currencies of the world. Now it is one of the weak currencies of the world. We cannot put that right by seeking to have good times in this country. If we cannot, by argument, get the building operatives of this country to do much more per day than they used to do in the comfortable old days, if we cannot, by argument, get the dockers to stop striking, if we cannot, by argument, get the unions of all kinds, to drop demands for more and more leisure, then we shall be driven to get all this by want. What the Government have tried to say is true, but they say these things and do not hold out as stiffly as they should against the sectional claims put forward against them by one industry after another, by one union after another. That would be my second moral—that we are in a difficult position and we should act as though we were in a difficult position, and that means acting much more stiffly against pressure of all kinds.
If I could make one more final appeal to the Government, it is that in future they should regard it as the first business of a Government to govern, not to legislate: to concentrate upon the problems of administration even at the cost of diminishing, the number of Bills they pot before us and before the lower House. If this Labour Government could make a great success of their administration they would thereby increase enormously their chance of a fresh lease of life. I am not advocating that as an unmixed blessing in itself, but I would gladly take the renewal of their lease of life at the next election if it were won by making a great success of administration in this country, if it were won by giving to Britain again a position of prosperity and the economic influence which she had in the world. I am sure we would all welcome that.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ LORD HARLECH
My Lords, I agree with every word in the latter half of the 427 speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. The trouble that we are in to-day is due to weakness of administration on the part of the Government, coupled with the growing evil of narrow departmentalism, and not to any ill-will or ill policy. The problem we are discussing to-day is not merely a problem of the Ministry of Food. Others are in a much better position than I am to criticize or to defend the actual day-to-day operations of the Ministry of Food as the buyer of our food stuffs and the distributor of the result of these purchases. My anxiety is about the long range view and the outlook. One gained the impression, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, replying for the Government, that he and his colleagues are quite satisfied. They are quite happy that they are getting through the crisis, and that they just managed to get enough wheat, enough meat (although it was a near thing), enough vegetable oils, and the like, to scrape through and meet the existing rations, though it has taken a bit of doing. That, quite frankly, is not a good enough attitude.
And how is even that scraping through managed every time? The noble Lord told us it was through America. It is always United States dollars, or Canadian dollars, or Argentine pesos, that really account for our scraping through and maintaining our existing ration. That is a most serious fact. The fundamental fact is that the world position as regards agriculture and food supplies is such that people in this Island, and not only in this country but in many other countries in the world, are dependent upon two things. We are dependent for our bare existence and our bare food, first, on being able to pay in dollars and pesos—in the hard currencies—and, secondly, upon the luck of the continuation of exceptional harvests in those three countries. That is a serious position.
I am not going to talk politics, I am going to try to get down to the basic world facts, and then see whether we cannot do much more than we are doing inside this Island to face up to the world position. Let me give two or three examples, from my own experience, of the world position. I spent three years of the war in South Africa and before the war I was in the Colonial Office and associated with the Imperial activities of the Government. Before the war, South Africa, like the 428 other Dominions, was mainly anxious about finding markets for its surplus sugar, its surplus maize, and its surplus beef, and wondering where in the world it could get rid of those surpluses. What do we find to-day? The export of sugar from South Africa is prohibited by law. The cattle population during the three years that I was there, owing to killings for war purposes, was down by 2,000,000. There are meatless days in South Africa. South Africa in the last two years until this very season has been an importer of maize, thus dipping into the small available maize pool in the world.
Admittedly that was very largely due to the general upset of the war—the withdrawal of man power, above all to the closing of the Mediterranean, to the feeding of the troops in Egypt and East Africa, and to the revictualling of ships. But the factor which was the most serious was the stoppage of the import of phosphate. South Africa is a country deficient in phosphate. And remember what happened to the main phosphate supply of the world. French North Africa was out, and islands like Nauru Island, Ocean Island, and Christmas Island in the Pacific were all involved in the Japanese war. Moreover we must remember that the pioneers of harnessing phosphates for agricultural purposes were the Germans, and one of the serious factors of the moment is that, because we fear that great chemical factories in Germany might reinforce the possibility of Germany making war, we are destroying the great fertilizer plants in that country. Personally, I think it is mad folly to destroy them. It would be much better to control them and use them, and not scrap them. Fertilizers are amongst the things of which not only our own agriculture but world agriculture are most deficient at this moment.
Of course, there has been an upset. I remember spending some time in Java, when I went from one end to the other and visited all the agricultural research stations. I saw the marvellous agricultural achievement in that most amazing Island. It is smaller than this country. It has few towns, and a population as big as Great Britain. It was not only feeding itself, but exporting food. I remember taking an active part as Vice-Chairman in one of the many International Sugar Conferences. We had all the beet sugar countries and all the cane 429 sugar countries represented. The biggest problem was to scale down the export surplus of Java. Now, apart from providing for itself and its neighbours, Java produces no sugar. There is scarcely sufficient for themselves. The sugar cane depends on seedlings, bred up in the mountains, being brought down from the fringes of the volcanic mountains to the irrigated area. An elaborate irrigation system is necessary to enable the cane to be planted and harvested within twelve months so that the land can go back to producing food for the peasants. None of the great sugar companies in Java had a single acre of sugar left, and by law they were allowed the use of the land for only twelve months, and not a day longer, once in three or four years. Of course, owing to the lighting which took place in that area behind Sourabaya, and owing to the political position, the irrigation system has gone and the whole thing has been completely upset. There is now nothing. That is only one of the things that has upset the balance of agriculture in the world.
Now I come to the biggest factor in the whole position (and it is a factor which sooner or later will affect the position in North America)—the inevitable forcing of agriculture into annual crops and particularly into cereals, which means upsetting the balance of agriculture by the decay of animal husbandry. The serious thing is the total diminution of the animal population. After all, we did not publish widely to the world—but we knew it afterwards—that in the war, partly owing to drought and partly owing to killings, Australia lost of its sheep population more than total the pro-war sheep population of the entire United Kingdom. We did not publish to the world that during the years between the beginning and the end of the war the cattle population of the Argentine went down by over 6,000,000. Above all, in our own case, what has happened? Our sheep population was halved before this winter, and then out of the 13,000,000 left, 4,000,000 have died, still further upsetting the balance of the animal population.
We are one of the few countries that have maintained approximately the same number of cattle, but, of course, the cattle have been changing in type, going over more and more to fresh milk yielders. We are killing off as fast as we can, not merely from the pure milk breed but every single 430 small calf from the dual-purpose breeds. We are rearing practically no bullocks. As I see it, the present outstanding failure of the Ministries of Food and Agriculture is that they are not doing anything effective to prevent the still further increase of cereal production, and the consequent deterioration of the permanent fertility of the land; they are not doing anything effective to ensure the re-expansion of our cattle, sheep, pig, and poultry population. That is the vital thing.
Let me now come to the nutritional aspect. With regard to the bread ration, it is very much better than that of most European countries. With regard to potatoes, we are better off than most countries. With regard to vegetables (it is partly accidental) we are worse off. The sugar ration is small for preserving the fruit which we could preserve if we had more sugar for that purpose. The really serious thing is the position of high protein food—mainly meat. Frankly, the meat supplies of this country, by import and by local production, are quite inadequate for the heavy workers in the mines, on the fields, in the steelworks, and in all heavy industries. I have no doubt that members of your Lordships' House, who could at best be called black-coated or clerical workers, if we were put to it, could become, like the President of the Board of Trade, purely vegetarians. But I defy a miner on the coal-face or a man in the forges of Sheffield, or people in heavy industry—if they are strong healthy men, which they have to be—to get through without a better allowance of protein in beef, mutton, and pork. It is absolutely essential to our whole future that the protein constituent of our rations should go up.
Quite frankly, I do not believe in all this excessive egalitarianism, this fear that there will be criticism if you give to the heavy workers a bigger protein ration than you give to your civil servants in Whitehall. The civil servants of Whitehall do not require it nearly so much as do the heavy brawn workers, I am quite sure that that is essential. In this matter can you not now, to-day, prohibit by law the slaughter of all ewe lambs (Heaven knows there are few enough of them) which have survived this year? Let us look at the statistics of the number of lambs slaughtered last year and in 1945, before they were six months old; and not only ram lambs but ewe lambs. 431 If we are to replenish our herds and flocks, it ought to be made an offence in law to slaughter for food, or for any agent of the Ministry of Food to purchase, a female lamb.
I want to express my earnest hope that rather more attention will be paid to beef production in this country, because—let there be no doubt about it—this is not the only country in which beef is getting scarcer and the milk breeds are going up. May I say this about the milk breeds—especially the dual-purpose breeds? The tendency is to breed solely upon milk record yields, without any regard, or with too little regard, to formation or to the robust vigour and size of the animals. Why? Because, at the present moment, there is more money to be made out of milk than anything else. But in the long run, in the interests of breeds, of the land, of the ration, and of the country, that is a bad policy, and it is a policy which ought to be reversed. I know that the Ministry of Food say they are not concerned with the Ministry of Agriculture, and that they are merely a purchasing and distributing Ministry. That is the trouble. There is no coordination, and no long-range view taken by all the Ministries concerned.
The Minister of Agriculture in every Government—and I have been in a good many—is always in a weak position and his Ministry has always been regarded as one of the inferior Ministries. He used not to be a Minister at all, but only a President of a Board—a' sort of lower-grade job compared with the hierarchies of Secretaries of State. As the first Commissioner of Works, I had the duty of allocating the Ministers' rooms in Parliament when a new Government took office. I cannot tell you what I went through—not so much with the new Ministers as with their permanent secretaries and permanent private secretaries—if I allotted a room smaller by two square feet of space to a Ministry which regarded itself as senior and superior to others—and, of course, the Ministry of Agriculture was always regarded as the rock bottom. That was my own personal experience.
What is at the bottom of this manpower trouble on the land? We are told we have to use the Poles, and after a period of training we can take them on. They have to learn English, to learn the ways of 432 the English farms and English animals, and all the rest of it. Why? It is because the Government will not allow the reconditioning of a single agricultural cottage. They tell the rural district councils that they must have temporary houses, which are entirely designed for electric fittings and electric cookers or at best for gas fittings; and these houses are to be erected in districts where there is no electric power (and no chance of it) and no gas. The Ministry of Health prescribe conditions and limitations which are completely inapplicable, certainly in every county in North Wales. Then others come along with a doctrinaire view and say that if you build an agricultural cottage near to a farm it may become a tied cottage, and we cannot have tied cottages. The great thing is to make the milkman walk as far as possible on a winter morning, and even on a summer morning, in the dark, lest he should be pampered by living near the farm where he is employed! That is not a decision of the Ministry of Agriculture, but of the other Ministries.
It is the fact that in the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Supply, and the Ministry of Fuel and Power, there is not a single countryman, from the Ministers down to the bottom. There is not a single man who cares one fig about food or agriculture. There are only men who are town-minded, who think in terms of towns, and who always turn down the Ministry of Agriculture. That has been the experience in every Party. One did hope that the experience of this war would wake up the people of this country, and that they would realize that the town is not the country and the country is not the town; the town must do something for the country, or the town will starve. It is lamentable. You meet people who know nothing of country conditions— especially animal country—and they talk as if you can turn things out as from a factory. They think in terms of town factories, and they think the whole life in the country is just like factory life. Of course, it is not.
The kind of man who likes to work in the town and the factory can be given all the training in the world and he will never succeed in looking after a bull or a calf. There are plenty who are anxious to do it. I have a waiting list, but I cannot get a gutter, I cannot get a brick, and I cannot get this, that and the other, to do 433 anything on my estate, even to the extent of repairs. It is heartbreaking. One cannot get any sort of thing, because the town has priority. There are Government schemes for temporary houses of standardized town types, and if they are built they must be built by the local authority in blocks, to be near the schools —except that to-day if you have them in one site the school moves to another site before you know where you are, because there is never any co-ordination between the housing schemes and the Ministry of Education. Oh, no! The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health do not speak. That is what is happening in government to-day. That is the trouble so far as the food situation is concerned—short-sightedness, thinking how we can get through the next harvest, how we can maintain the existing ration, not realizing that the whole balance of agriculture is being upset by the decay of animal husbandry, by a decline in the type of animal which is being produced, by a complete lack of long-range view, with no planning to provide buildings and services for improving the farms, and the lack of housing for rural workers.
The greatest scandal of all is this lack of housing for rural workers. If you ask the Government about it, what is their reply? They quote you the figures of the number of temporary and permanent houses begun by rural district councils. We all know that rural district councils inevitably include a great many towns, and there is no guarantee that any of those new houses will be used and lived in by agricultural workers. That is the fact to-day, and I have case after case of it from my own knowledge. Until there is a bigger drive, not merely by one Ministry but by the Government as a whole, to do something to rehabilitate and give a chance to the countryside,. we shall get no satisfaction. I know the present Minister of Health does not care a hoot about the country; he knows nothing about it. He wants a total number of houses, and he knows the enormous claims of the towns and the bombed cities. I can well understand that. But if the Government want food—the right food, the meat and proteins—then they must co-ordinate their policy, and they must give the Minister of Agriculture and the agricultural interests a better chance than they have been given since this Government have been in office.
§ 5.10 p.m.
My Lords, it must have been a humiliating experience to have had to follow to the wicket Mr. G. L. Jessop. Great things come from little beginnings, and when I heard the profound deductions made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, from the fall of a pineapple, I could not help casting my mind back to Sir Isaac Newton and wondering whether the law will be known as "Henderson's Law" or "Strachey's Law." But seriously, any expenditure on foreign exchange which will have enabled His Majesty's Government to discover the profound truths of the effect of free competition on a free market is expenditure well made. There was one point in the noble Lord's speech which struck me with a certain amount of alarm, and that was his complacency about the fact that the stocks were small and need not be so high as they were during the war. I think that anybody who has any knowledge of conditions in some of the producing countries, and particularly the docks in South America, would be very disqúieted to think that our stocks of food were being deliberately kept too low.
Many years ago I read a story. It was a story of a beleaguered city, a key fortress in the defence of its native country. The commander of this fortress was hard pressed, and seemingly had no choice between starvation and surrender. He then came to a very drastic decision: he drove his entire civilian population out to perish miserably between the lines. In the outcome the siege was raised, and his nation was saved. I hasten to add that I am not advocathig any form of euthanasia. If I were, their Lordships opposite might be tempted to start on their critics, and a critic who is a hearty trencherman might stand in some jeopardy; but I tell the story to illustrate that there come in the affairs of the world times when great decisions have to be taken, decisions which, on the face of them, may seem inhuman and unchristian, but which, in their outcome, may prove to be the very reverse.
Let us proceed into some fantasy. Suppose that at the end of the war with Japan the Grand Vizier of the Martians had been sent down here to act as the chief planner for our troubled world. He would have seen that the things required to set the world on its feet were food and 435 raw materials. He would have seen that these were produced in countries vast distances from the consuming centres. This, he would have realized, meant transport, ships, railways and docks. He would have inquired as to the state of these things, and he would have been told that many ships had been sunk and that the railways and ports of the world were worn down. He would have inquired, "Where can these things be remedied?", and he would have been told: "Britain builds the best ships; Britain makes the locomotives, the waggons, the carriages, the axles, the rails and the port equipment." He would have sent for the Prime Minister of Great Britain and said: "I want all these things from you. What do you want from me in order that you can deliver them to me? "The Prime Minister would have said: "Food to fill the bellies of my people, raw materials for our workshops and houses for our workmen."
The Grand Vizier would then have been faced with a great decision: should he distribute the inadequate fruits of the earth in such a way that everybody had a fair share, or should he give a priority to those countries which were key workshops in the path of world recovery? Anyone who had any knowledge of the great tradition of statesmanship among the Martians could have little doubt that he would have made the great decision to provision and equip Britain. He would have said to the Prime Minister: "I will give you these things far above your share. Go now and deliver me what I want, and quickly."
In the outcome, there was no world chief planner; there was no great statesman-like decision, although if President Roosevelt had been spared perhaps there might have been. Britain has not had the food and the raw materials she wanted, and she has failed to produce the goods she might otherwise have done. Although the transport of the war-ravaged countries has been restored to a considerable extent, I doubt very much whether the transport of the other countries is in much better state than it was two years ago, because one must not forget the ever-present wearing down which is, in many cases, cumulative. The vast harvests that we hoped for may be garnered, but will they get to the ports, and will they get from the ports over the oceans to the consuming countries? A bushel in the 436 mill may become worth two in the field. There is also inflation in many of the producing countries of the world. The producers have no inducement to put forth their best because of the lack of British goods; that, too, is hampering world production of agricultural products. The recovery of the world will continue to be slow until the transport system can be completely renovated, and all this because Britain, the key workshop in the situation, has not been getting a big enough share of the food, the raw materials and the houses.
The Government have clung to the principle of the international allocation of foodstuffs. Ministers have probably not fought for, and certainly have not succeeded in getting, more than our fair share, and it was only by getting more than our shard that we could have fulfilled our part in the world recovery. The chances of a Socialist Minister, advised by a British civil servant, of getting more than our fair share are remote. In any case, the Minister probably thinks it wicked to get more than one's fair share of anything, and the civil servant, steeped in long traditions of scrupulous impartiality, is an extremely bad partisan. In the game of international food conferences we lose from the start, for our throws are made with unloaded statistics. We shall never take our proper place in the world again until our food supply is once more what it used to be, and the world has the exports it requires.
When the miners trained their whippets on beef, they produced us all the coal we wanted. The Hindus say that indulgence in meat produces violent spirits and ferocity; a little ferocity is surely what we all need to-day. Meanwhile, the population of Asia goes on ever increasing. I cannot see that the 300,000,000 acres of arable land in India will ever suffice again to feed her teeming population; and the same problem is in existence in all parts of the world. In these circumstances surely we ought to get out of international conferences as soon as we can, and surely we could do so, trusting in the very old connexions that our traders have established, both within and without the Empire. Imperial preference, moreover, has not been a one-way street.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ LORD RUSHOLME
My Lords, I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, 437 into the realm of fantasy, nor can I promise him that ferocity which he thinks so desirable. I think the decision of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, to introduce this debate was fully justified. It has given the Government an opportunity to make a statement which will wipe away many misconceptions in regard to our food situation, and has also given them an Opportunity of making a statement which will be generally accepted throughout the country as being of a reassuring nature. That is, of course, quite apart from the fact that it is sometimes desirable that your Lordships' House should consider this very important question of food. If we are not talking about it we must not get into our minds the idea that everybody else is similarly silent. As a matter of fact, food is the subject that is discussed more than any other subject in this country to-day—and not only in this country.
We all feel, after the strain and stress of war and the difficulties with which our people have had to contend, that if we can possibly do anything to provide a little more for the tables of our households, such a course of action will be well justified. We all know that housewives have had a terribly difficult time, and are still having a difficult time to-day, in placing a reasonably good meal before their husbands cm their return from work. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, referred to the fact that in Britain we used to enjoy a higher standard of living than that of any other country in Europe. I am not prepared to make any statement of that kind, but I would say that we stand reasonably high among European countries. We must not get the impression that our country is the only one which is suffering from a food shortage.
I have been in several countries in Europe and I find in some the appearance of greater quantities of food available for the population than there is in Britain, but that appearance is due to maldistribution and to a greater misuse of supplies. In France and Belgium you may find good food in some hotels and restaurants, but you pay fabulous sums for meals. They are remarkably good meals—for people who have the francs to enable them to buy them. But what is the position for those who have not the money? It was said to me in France last week: "It is terrible for the poor working man, because he cannot afford to buy in the black market." 438 We have here the best system of food distribution in Europe. There is, in effect, no black market; everybody has a reasonably square deal.
I was rather staggered to find that there is a disposition on the part of some members of your Lordships' House to express surprise at the present shortage. We have very short memories! May I remind your Lordships' that at the Food Conference held in London in June, 1945, it was said very clearly that for two years at least— "at least" are the operative words— there would be a food shortage. This was an expression of opinion of a most optimistic character. We have not yet come to the end of those two years. There was to be a shortage of sugar, fats, oils, and livestock products, and for three or four years livestock supplies would be inadequate. In view of these very clear statements, surely we ought not to be surprised that the situation to-day is as it is.
I read recently in an article that the food supplies available to the British people were down to the level of those of the German people. There can be no foundation for such a statement. The food supplies available to the British people in comparison with the rations available to the German people have been very clearly illustrated in an exhibition promoted by the German Control Commission in Germany and in London some time ago. I saw in Picture Post, which I think is a non-political journal, an interesting chart which shows that so far as meat, jams, cheese, sugar and eggs are concerned, the actual consumption per head at the present time is larger than in 1945; and that so far as jam, cheese, and milk are concerned, the consumption is larger per head than in pre-war days. I think that is a good record.
I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, make some reference to the rationing system which I took to mean that he was of the opinion that the rationing system should be abolished; and at a very early date. For my part I hope the Government will not raise the rationing system until there are adequate supplies for every human being in this country. From my experience at the beginning of the war and in other countries, I am convinced that unless a rationing system is maintained during a period of shortages it mean that those who have the money to buy will eat well, 439 and those who have not will eat very badly indeed. It has been suggested that we should drop the system of bulk purchasing. This causes me some surprise.
§ LORD WOOLTON
The suggestion was that we should drop Government bulk purchasing. There is all the difference in the world. Bulk, of course, means a large quantity. No one has suggested that there should not be bulk purchases. It is Government bulk purchasing about which I have protested. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me an opportunity of making that clear and I hope that I have not disturbed the flow of his argument.
§ LORD RUSHOLME
I am not disposed to accept the suggestion—for it appears to me to be a suggestion that has been made, and I hope that in saying so I am not misinterpreting any noble Lord who has spoken—that those who work for the Government must necessarily be less efficient than those who work for private individuals. I think that I may claim, modestly, to have had contact with many Government Departments, and I must say that my experience generally has been that those who are serving the government in the capacity of State employees are just as ardent in their endeavours to give good service as those I have met in private enterprise. Therefore, I regard this question of bulk purchases purely from the point of view of policy, from the point of view of whether it is desirable to purchase in bulk or not. I take it that the Government are able to buy as well as are people in industries. The desirability of bulk purchase was realized by the working-class people of this country more than a century ago, and not only did they develop a system of purchasing in bulk their own local requirements, but they realized the soundness of the policy of extending the system nationally and internationally. Take also the example of our Scandinavian friends—the peoples of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, who, after all, are fairly shrewd business people. The consumers' organizations of those countries, realizing the value of bulk purchase, have set up their own international organizations for acquiring commodities which it is required to import. I think the value of bulk purchase has been amply proved. It is a prac- 440 tice that has been adopted by other Governments, and indeed by private industries throughout this country.
I believe I heard some suggestion during the course of this debate that the Minister of Food was not acting with sufficient energy. That is a suggestion that can hardly be justified. Indeed, I was delighted to see in one of the Sunday papers, the Empire News—which cannot be said to be a paper which has a Labour policy—the following statement:Mr. Strachey is searching the world markets for food and ruthlessly slashing all trade barriers in his efforts to obtain it. He is buying food anywhere he can get it.That seems to me to be wonderful testimony to the energy, the capacity and the ability of the Minister of Food. Coming from the source whence it does, it gives me some cause to believe that, after all, the Minister of Food is acting in a way which gives us every reason for entertaining good hopes.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has referred to one of the points with which I was going to deal, and that is the purchase of wheat in Canada at a very big saving in money to the British people. May I also draw attention to the reply which, I think, was given on April 23 in another place on the subject of the purchase of certain fruits by the Government and by private traders. This was the reply given by the Minister of Food:I have considered the price list of fruits which the honourable member was good enough to send me. Some of them are imported by bulk purchase, some by 'competition through the normal channels of trade' as he so much desires. A comparison of the prices which we have to pay as a result of each method of importation is therefore most instructive. I find that the seven types of fruits and vegetables contained in his list, which are subject to bulk purchase, have increased in price by between 16 per cent. and 250 per cent. On the other hand, the increase in price of the rest, which are imported by private traders, is from 175 per cent. to 980 per cent. This does not suggest that our present bulk purchasing arrangements for the more important fruits should be abandoned.I think it is clear that the position is not wholly black.
Fats, I believe, present the greatest difficulty, so far as housewives are concerned. There is a world-wide shortage of fats, and all importing countries are suffering because they are unable to secure adequate supplies. We should 441 bear in mind that during the war years we were virtually the only European country which could import from North America and from the Southern Dominions. Now the countries formerly occupied by Germany have to get their share.
With reference to tea, it is extremely unfortunate that the people in India and Ceylon who are concerned with this trade have taken advantage of the present difficult situation to inflict what I consider to be a quite unnecessary hardship upon the British people. I was very pleased to hear Lord Woolton's reference to the people of the Argentine and the similar attitude which they have adopted. I hope —in fact I feel sure—that the attitude which those people have now adopted will have a reflex effect upon them, which they will not enjoy at all. Indeed I hear that, according lo the relevant figures, there has already been an increase in the consumption of coffee in this country. If this becomes permanent it will undoubtedly have a very adverse effect upon the tea trade, so far as the people selling it from Ceylon and India are concerned.
May I turn for a moment to the position in Germany, seeing that we are now very largely responsible for the feeding of the German people? I do feel that the German people themselves ought to appreciate that unless they are prepared to play the game, so far as the equitable distribution of food and other supplies in their country is concerned, their conduct is bound to create a very bad impression in the minds of the British people. I read in the Press a little while ago of the large number of cases in which German farmers were failing to provide to the towns a fair share of the commodities which were available. It has also been reported that the Russians claim that in their Zone the ration has always been honoured, and that it is 30 per cent. higher than the ration in the British Zone. If these are the true facts, we ought to make it clear to the people of Germany that we have a right to expect them to recognize their responsibility to their own people in the towns before they have the right to call on Britain, or any other country, to forward supplies to meet needs which could be met out of the supplies available in their own country. I think that that is one of the points which ought to be brought very definitely to their notice.
442 It is quite clear that, at the present time, we are far from providing for our own people the foodstuffs which we should like to see them receiving. But we cannot expect to overcome in six months difficulties which have arisen through a war lasting some six years. While we all agree that we must do everything we possibly can to improve the situation we ought not to attempt to paint the picture in too dark colours. According to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, Doctor Bicknell has alleged that England is dying of starvation. I think if Dr. Bicknell had been able to gaze upon the Opposition Front Bench at the moment when the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, was making that statement he would have realized that the occupants of that Bench did not afford good support for his theory.
§ LORD RUSHOLME
I think that statement was a very much exaggerated one. Further, may I recall to your Lordships' minds a statement which was made by Sir John Boyd Orr in February last. He said:The food position in Britain to-day is worse than at any time during the war, but from a health point of view Britain is, on the whole, better off than it was in 1939. We have evened out the available food. The Lord Provost gets the same ration as the dock labourer.One can go on quoting statements of that character. I give the fullest possible credit to all responsible for dealing with food during the war, and as a consequence of the introduction of that system we have been able to maintain a fair distribution to the whole of our people and to maintain a reasonably good standard of health. Just look at the way our people went through the terribly difficult early years of the war—the terrible cold, no fuel, not too much food—and yet no real epidemics occurred. That shows we have been able to introduce and maintain a food system which reflects the greatest possible credit to the country as a whole.
§ 5.40 P.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords. I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes, but I wish to speak very shortly about food production in this country. Since 1944 the tillage acreage 443 has declined steadily, and we are now faced with the problem of increasing it very considerably. I do not think there is a sufficient sense of urgency in the country about this, and I am quite convinced that we could grow a lot more food than we are doing at the moment. I am bound to say that any farmer who reads the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will not be very much impressed with the need to increase his own production. It seems to me there are three courses open to the Government to increase this acreage. First of all, they can make an appeal to the farmer to produce more, and appeal to his patriotism. The farmer is as patriotic as the next man, and I have no doubt he will do his best in the circumstances. But he cannot live on patriotism alone, and he has been appealed to so many times that it is beginning to pall. I think it is time that the Government got rid of the idea that agricultural production in this country is like a toy balloon which can be inflated or deflated according to the wind prevailing at the time.
Secondly, the Government can reintroduce cropping directions. I have heard that the Minister of Agriculture intends to seek power to make such provision in the Agriculture Bill, notwithstanding that he has the power to serve directions in an emergency under Clause 92. I am sure that cropping directions will have the necessary effect and prevent the decline of tillage, but, against this, it would lead to very great difficulty. First of all, we thought that that was a thing of the past. We thought that the Agriculture Bill was to be sweet reason and advice, except for those under supervision. Secondly, I believe that a great many farmers who act on district committees would not be prepared to recommend the serving of these orders, and they might well resign. It is difficult enough now to find the right men to serve on these committees, and their resignations would make things very hard for county executives. Thirdly, I very much doubt whether it is wise of the Government to secure their objective by compulsion rather than by agreement. If the Government really consider that it is necessary to serve directions, let the Minister declare an emergency and then we shall know where we are.
444 The third course open to the Government is that of the adjustment of prices together with the adequate provision of labour and machinery, followed by visits by the Minister to all parts of the country to give a lead, to encourage, to ginger up, and to give advice—visits such as Mr. Hudson made so successfully when he was Minister. I realize, of course, that the prices have been fixed in agreement with the National Farmers Union. No doubt they are fair, but this is a critical situation, and I feel sure that the best way to produce more food in this country is to make it worth the farmers' while to grow it. We who live in the country are very glad to see the man who is in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture. We are much more impressed by the urgency of the situation when we hear it from the man at the top; and, more important, we can usually tell the Minister one or two things he does not know and which are not very likely to penetrate to Whitehall.
The problem which worries us most is the problem of labour. The Minister has given repeated assurances that he is aware of the shortage of labour, and he has said he will find adequate labour for 1947 and 1948, although he has not given the slightest indication of how he proposes to do so. I imagine the Government have given very careful thought to the question of bringing over displaced persons from Germany. I realize the problem is fraught with difficulty, but, in the short-term view, it would be of advantage both to ourselves and to the displaced persons. At the end of the war I was in command of a displaced persons' camp in Germany in which there were 2,000 Yugoslavs. Now, two years later, they are still there. Many of them are skilled farm workers who have no prospects to look forward to other than sweeping the streets for those Germans against whom they fought so valiantly. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, will tell us what decision the Government has reached in this matter.
In my county we have a total labour force of 10,000 men. Of these, 6,000 are regular workers and 4,000 are employed by the committee. I imagine that this is a typical instance. There can be no doubt that the reason there is such a high proportion of committee labour is that there are no houses, adequate or 445 otherwise, in which these men can be housed. At the present rate of progress it will take a very long time before we can find sufficient houses for all the farm workers who need them. In the meantime, it is the Government's duty to see that the pool labour is organized as much as possible for the benefit of the farmer. At the moment these men are housed in a few hostels scattered all over the county, and this means a great waste of time and a considerable expense. These men are taken to work in lorries driven by men who do nothing else but drive those lorries. Very often they have to go a long way and, as a result, do not do a full day's work. If it were possible to build a large number of hostels in the bigger villages, each accommodating about thirty men, these men could then cycle to their work and save a great deal of time and money. In addition, the hostels could be used to house casual labour (such as Irishmen during the harvest) when sufficient houses had been built.
One of the ways in which the Government can increase the food production is by helping the farmer in his difficulties and by assisting him to smooth out his grievances. For example, there is the question of green ways. There are very large tracts of lane in this country which can be reached only by grass tracks which are impassable in the winter, and, with our weather, very often impassable in summer. If these roads could be metalled by the Government, or if the Government could give grants to the landlord or county council for this purpose, a vast acreage could be cropped very much more intensely than is now possible. Another instance is the vexed question of how much barley a farmer may retain for the feeding of his own livestock. I understand that the latest regulations state that he may retain 20 per cent. of the barley threshed this year. I wonder whether that will be considered very satisfactory by the farmer. I do not see the reason for the regulation, because it is quite impossible to enforce it, and the Government will not gain very much by it. If a producer has a surplus of barley he will not hoard it, particularly if he can get a good price for it.
These may seem very small points after the speeches we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, but it is attention to de-tails that wins battles, and it is attention 446 to this sort of detail that will make for a happy relationship and smooth working in the farming industry. Therefore, let us have a forthright lead from the Government. Let us not be told of disasters at the last moment, and of hurried plans to meet them. Let us have a lead and, above all, a sound plan, and I am sure that the farmers of this country will not fail.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I cannot follow very far the noble Lord who has just sat down, as there are one or two points on other matters that I want to make clear in my speech. I was very much interested in the appeal which he made to His Majesty's Government to give assistance, either to landlords or to farmers, to enable them, in their private capacities, to win through. I think that this Government will be disposed to respond to the appeal that has been made, but I sometimes wish that noble Lords opposite would really make up their minds whether they want the Government to interfere in trade and industry in the interests of the whole people, or whether they want the Government to withdraw and allow private enterprise to have full swing.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
It may be that we are just at the changing of the times, and before many more years are over we may witness the Conservative Party vying with the Labour Party in the establishment of Socialist measures. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, with a good deal of disappointment. I am a very plain man, and I believe in speaking plainly. I rather expected that the noble Lord who did so much work for the country during the war period, and who has so recently come to Party politics, would have raised this debate to the standard we have a right to expect.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The noble Lord prefaced his remarks by saying that he was going to make a non-Party speech. I have always a suspicion of speakers who commence in that way. I anticipate—and with reason—that it is merely the prelude to an attack upon the Government, and an attack upon the Government which is meant to reach the population outside. 447 But I would not mind attacks upon the Government were they made on the basis of substance and not of rumour, and that our attention is not called to hearsay. Surely the noble Lord, when he spoke, could have brought before the House some of those features that call for attention, other than those which have come to him by a kind of side wind?
§ LORD WOOLTON
Of course, if the Government will not give us any facts, we are bound to get facts from outside. I gave the Government an opportunity of contradicting what were certainly well-established trade views.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I do not remember the noble Lord mentioning well-established trade views. I thought he was referring to what was said by the correspondents, now writing to him in his new capacity, complaining of the inactivity of the Labour Government.
§ LORD WOOLTON
That was entirely the noble Lord's thought, with which I, fortunately, have no concern; but I did not say it.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
Well, we will wait until the OFFICIAL REPORT is printed, and then we shall learn all about the correspondence that is now reaching him. I have no doubt that it will be in print. The chief complaint I have is this. As on a previous occasion—namely, in the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act debate—instead of discussing the fundamentals of a problem of this kind, we are merely spending our time in dealing with the superficial features of it. This is not the first time that this country has been faced with a food problem. There have been many occasions in the history of our country when our people have gone short of food. The coming of the Industrial Revolution was a case in point. Under the Corn Laws, where the importation of food was forbidden, the population of our country suffered greatly. It needed an intense agitation, not only in this country but in other countries throughout the world, to bring about the abolition of those laws, which abolition enabled us to get food from any country that we desired. Certainly after the Corn Laws were abolished plenty of food came to this country.
Sometimes we look upon that point with gladness, but it seems to me that it 448 would have been pertinent during that period to question some of the sources from which we then drew our food. Money, for instance, enabled us to buy corn from Russia—Tsarist Russia—when the people of that country were suffering from starvation. Money enabled us to buy food from India, where the poverty-line is apparent to everyone who visits that country; and in many parts of the world we were drawing food from local consumption merely because of the money we had available. The reason I mention that is because money is a factor at the present time. We could get much more produce into this country now if we possessed the wealth we had in former times. It is one of the facts of the situation that we are short of dollars and the exchanges are against us.
Food and money under private enterprise, and in a world such as we have now, are all-important. The fact seems to have escaped noble Lords that the subject of food is now exercising the attention of a new international authority which is a section of the United Nations. Food production is now no longer the sole concern of a single country; it is the concern of all countries, not merely when acting independently of one another, but when acting together, in consultation and in co-operation. Let me quote to your Lordships an extract from a publication that has been issued by the organization I have mentioned. I would ask noble Lords to pay particular attention to these points, because they indicate not what was the financial and industrial position of this country after, but in the period immediately preceding, the war—a very important period of history, that has an effect upon the present situation. Following a reference to the world slump of 1929–32, they say:The pre-1914 concept of one world, economically speaking, had crumbled. Each nation sought to protect its own position, tariffs were raised, import quotas and prohibitions were instituted and currency restrictions were imposed. In the international sphere there was little realization of the fact that the old order had broken down and required replacement by a new system. Meanwhile, producers throughout the world groped their way to solutions by means of international agreements. For lack of power and inspiration to stimulate consumption, the agreements too often were concerned with restricting production.So that, in the period immediately before the war when internationally we made 449 agreements governing food, according to the authority that I have just quoted, those agreements were aimed at restriction and not at the increase of production and consumption.
The new organization is aiming not Merely at regulating the food supply of the world but at increasing the production of food and, indeed, the production of almost every other commodity. In framing their organization to deal not with private traders but with Governments they have to establish Government organizations to look after purchase, to look after distribution and to look after administration. So we are brought to this point: much as we may like or dislike bulk purchase, and much as we may like or dislike it when it is carried through by Governments, the only possible basis upon which the food supply of the world can be administered by an international authority is on the basis of bulk purchase organizations under the respective Governments. Unless they are established there cannot be the necessary regulation and control that are required.
There are people who seem to believe that the bulk purchase organization is at the mercy of the producers or of the sellers. For my part I cannot see that for one moment. I believe that where a multitude of buyers approach a seller, the seller takes advantge of the position and increases his price. But I believe that where there are Governments concerned in production and distribution and exchange, those bodies will get together and do the best they possibly can for each other.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I would ask this question—and with this I will conclude. It may be that the question will be replied to by somebody else. I asked the noble Lord the other day, when dealing with the Liverpool Cotton Exchange, the reason why that Exchange was wound up and replaced by a scheme of Government bulk purchase. The noble Lord at that time said that he did not know; he was not responsible for it and he could not answer. But to-day we understand that this, Government bulk buying of foodstuffs occurred during his time as Minister of Food. Surely on this occasion, if we ask the noble Lord why he resorted to bulk buying he can give us the reason for doing it.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I surmise that the reason why he did it was that private competitive buying had broken down under the stress of war, and that we required bulk buying in order to save the interests of this country.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I believe that if we continue on those lines in the future we shall find the food of our world not merely produced in quantity but distributed equitably, and we shall get rid of all the difficulties under which we have been labouring for so long.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ LORD LUKE
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down took up my noble friend Lord Carrington on the question of Government assistance for landlords or farmers—I am not quite sure of the position. As a short answer, I would say that the Government have got their fingers so effectively into the pie that the individuals are bound hand and foot, and it is not unnatural that the landlords should try and seek a little assistance to keep them out of the mess into which the Government have driven them.
I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in his evaluation of the speech of my noble friend Lord Woolton, for I think that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has initiated a debate not only of considerable value but one which has been pursued on a very high level. I hope that His Majesty's Government will pay very close attention to what has been said by noble Lords in general, and in particular to what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, who is undoubtedly an expert in this matter of food. I would suggest that the best Generals face the fortunes of war not always with the same strategy and tactics; they change them to meet changing situations. I would earnestly suggest that His Majesty's Government copy with advantage the methods of the best Generals, and I would refer, perhaps, more particularly to the Generals in the Ministry of Food.
The noble Lord, Lord Henderson (I hope that I have understood him aright) indicated that a food shortage was not anticipated. I have herd that there were 451 other things that were not anticipated not such a very long time ago; but nevertheless they happened. I hope that behind the complacency which the noble Lord evidenced the Government are seriously bearing in mind an even greater catastrophe to us and our food products. I am well aware that complacency is the bulk buyers' best argument. The noble Lord dealt with the necessity for keeping stocks. During the war it was necessary, of course, to have sufficient stocks to make allowances for our losses. But surely it is almost as necessary to have peace stocks, in order to offset not only the vagaries of climate but also all the other misfortunes that have beset us.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, asked His Majesty's Government to be frank with the people, and I hope that they will be. There are many questions that the people, especially the housewives, are asking, and I hope that, in so far as is possible, frank answers will be given. I appreciate, of course, the necessity for certain secrecy, but the necessity for secrecy is one of the demerits of bulk buying. There is a great repetition of "world shortage" as the sole reason. To keep on talking about a world shortage of this, that and the other, is playing into the hands of the sellers by emphasizing that shortage. I wish we could hear more talk about surpluses. I am well aware that some shortages are still very real, but there are other shortages which are due to some countries cornering the market and holding the price above our ability to pay. That is not a real but a fictitious shortage. I think that that distinction should be given much more prominence, and the public should be told about it.
In my opinion, bulk buying has met its match; bulk Government buying has become old-fashioned. I am well aware that it was part of the Labour Party policy before the war that bulk buying should figure very largely, and now that they have come into office they, of course, have it ready to hand. But its merits are not its only attributes. I have given your Lordships one of its merits, but bulk Government selling is a very serious demerit. What we need is a new strategy and new tactics. I am not suggesting going back to the old methods—do not misunderstand me—but we do need some- 452 thing new. I would suggest that possibly buying in smaller quantities, by more people, might have a better effect than merely going all out for one big bulk purchase, and the bulk selling Government at the other end just rubbing their hands and saving, "Here they come again"—just waiting for us. That is what is happening in certain countries which I will not mention.
I would not say for a moment that our officials in the Ministry of Food are not efficient, but they are very well known to the Government from whom they are buying, and it might not be a bad thing if the Governments who are selling and holding us up to ransom did not know who was buying. I just throw that out as a suggestion. I am not saying that private individuals, as such, should do the buying, but private individuals who are unknown, acting as agents of the Ministry of Food. A great deal has been said about competition and the stimulation of price. That is perfectly true, but it is also true—and I would emphasize this—that the one thing which will destroy the cornering of a market by anyone, or by any one Government, is the sowing of the seed of uncertainty that he might not sell it. If the Government goes along to buy, the seller knows it is a sure thing. If you once get into his head that there is some uncertainty about his selling the goods, then I think you have gone a long way to breaking the price. There is no doubt about it that the certainty of selling makes the bulk seller stick longer to his higher price.
May I touch once more upon this question of shortage? It suits the supplying countries very well to talk of a shortage, and it is a strong selling point. We go to them and they say, "Well, of course, we have not very much to sell." It is the strongest selling point they have, and we are playing into their hands. I may say that countries have sold the idea of shortage pretty effectively. I would ask His Majesty's Government who is the best judge of the actual position, the foreign Government's information department which seeks to emphasize how little that Government has to sell, or a large number of patriotic advisers who know the trade from the inside? I should be very glad if I could have an answer to that at some time. 453 I suggest that His Majesty's Government might very seriously consider the matter from this angle, and I believe they might well benefit from such consideration. My noble friend, Lord Hawke, touched on the question of our supply of capital goods to enable certain countries to ship, at more regular intervals, the food that we need. I think His Majesty's Government might lay emphasis upon our earlier production of exports when talking to other Governments, if they base that earlier production on a greater and better feeding of our people. It would, of course, be once more bargaining forward—bargaining with promises that our own people, when they have more food, will be urged to produce more to pay for that extra food. For once I would like to see the horse before the cart. I think that is the correct way round. We are in danger sometimes of flogging not the horse but the cart, and we do not get very much done that way.
These suggestions that I put forward are, of course, irrespective of my earlier suggestions for a change in strategy. I would suggest perhaps something in the nature of a Food Council of State, and the experts should be called in again. For all I know, the experts may be called in now every day, but I would like to see an increase of the tapping of the brains of those experts. As to the actual methods to be used after they have been called in, I do not think those should be discussed in open debate, because quite obviously you do not want to show how you are going about it when you have a. new strategy. I earnestly hope that His Majesty's Government will consider what I have said, that bulk buying as such is old fashioned, that it has met its match in bulk selling, and we need to adopt new tactics as does a good General.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
My Lords, as I am the last speaker to-night I will endeavour not to detain the House for very long. Historical discussions are often interesting and informative, but I venture to think that the disquisition which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had very little bearing upon our present food shortages. Interpretations of history are very often partial matters, and I find that I was not very deeply convinced by what he said. They are useful, however, if they can reveal 454 the direction in which we are moving, and I must honestly say, with due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who has replied, and to speeches of other noble Lords on the Government Benches, that we got extraordinarily little enlightenment. I never heard noble Lords even mention the word "dollar." One might have thought that we had not to obtain a large amount of our food and raw materials from what are nowadays commonly called "hard currency countries," and that a vast amount of that exchange is met by the Loan. What is going to happen when the Loan runs out, as it will? what is the Government's policy now? We do not want to wait until the Loan has almost gone; we want to know now, and the people ought to be told now.
We heard what I might describe as a mildly, reassuring speech from the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. How does that follow the words which fell from the President of the Board of Trade on Sunday? If the B.B.C. was accurate, he said that owing to the fuel crisis we lost something like £200,000,000 of exports, and should lose a corresponding amount of imports, largely food. Are we going to keep the, rations up, having lost £200.000,000? Has the Ministry of Food been in touch with the President of the Board of Trade? We would like to know, and I ask that that be taken as a note for the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, when he replies to-morrow.
We have had several of these debates in this House, in one which I had the honour of taking part. Apologists for the Government generally take the line that, considering everything, it is remarkable how well fed we are; and if they are subjected to any other criticism they say, "It is all perfectly well, because although the slice of bread is thinner and the pat of margarine a little smaller, at any rate it is spread more evenly; therefore it is all right."
LORD DE LISLE AND DUDLEY
The noble Lord, Lord Ammon, says it is so. I think it may be so, but to my mind it portrays a most dangerous state of things. As the noble Lord, Lord Hawke said, we need more food now, so that we can produce more.
§ LORD AMMON
I did not say what the noble Lord says. I said there would be more for all if it were spread more evenly.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I did not intend to misinterpret what the noble Lord said, but there is still in the Government that same attitude which we noticed over fuel last summer. When I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and compared it with the speech of Sir Stafford Cripps on Sunday, it reminded me of some other Government utterances. He adopted a more congenial tone than the Minister of Fuel and Power but the purport is very much the same. We ought to have from the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, when he replies, a rather more clear statement than we have had so far on what I would call the new economics. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, gave us a glimpse of a rosy future, but I find myself in need of rather more precise definition of what he has in mind. I have heard a great deal of talk of what noble Lords opposite, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, more correctly, called Government purchases. We have had cited to-day the question of the Argentine, and the noble Lord, Lord Rusholme, in words which undoubtedly would be carried back to that country, in very polite terms threatened the country with what was coming to her in the future if she behaved as she did. He also spoke in similar terms of India and Ceylon.
On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said it was a feather in the cap of the Government that the Danish Government had to subsidize their exports to this country. I suggest that the same thing is being said in Denmark about us as we are saying about the Argentine. Government-to-Government trading leads to political and international difficulties. It is not a feather in the cap of the Government to buy in a cornered market at a very high price. What we ought to pay is the just market price at that time, and that is the only way in which trade can be carried on between nations. The new economics prevent demand having a reaction on supply. We see it in the Argentine. The profits are scooped by the Government, the producer does not get them. What is his inducement to produce more and end the scarcity?
Take the case of the Canadian Government. Their attitude has always been 456 extremely correct and extremely generous, and I do not wish to say anything in criticism of it. By mutual agreement, we have, more to eat at below the world price. His Majesty's Government can tell us whether or not my information is correct. But we are told that something like £2,000,000 acres less will be planted in Canada next year. Is there a world shortage of food or is there not? The job of His Majesty's Government is to feed this country. Are we to have international queueing? I am extremely disturbed at what the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, said in our last debate on on January 22. I will venture to read what he said about the international organization:An international organization was then brought into being in order to allot to the wanting world what supplies there were and we could not have more than they allotted to us. So long as we are willing to maintain that system, in order to secure that a vast number of hungry people get something who would otherwise have gone without, we must play fairly and squarely with that organization.To that Lord Cherwell made the comment:I do not want to interrupt but this is a very alarming statement that you have made, because the population of the world will go on. The populations of the people we did not supply during the war is in fact growing. Must we look forward to a continuance of this restriction for all times now, or can the noble Viscount see an end?And the noble Viscount replied:I can see an end to some.Are we going on to queue in the international field? Are we going to submit to an international organization, and if we are, where are we going to be in that queue? We in this country live on a margin which other countries have to export. That margin can grow or contract, and it has an immense effect upon the life of this country. For the last sixty or seventy years, at any rate, we have managed and it has not been contracted. We have lived at a level higher than any other European country. That does not happen by chance, but because we have shown great skill in buying. We have not been able to feed ourselves for a very long time, and we shall be in that position so long as our present population is maintained. The public have a right to know whether in falling in with an international organization we shall get more or less food; and if we get less, are the people 457 of this country prepared to acquiesce in its going elsewhere? If that is our policy we ought to be told, and the people in this country should be told as well.
As we go about the country we see those notices: "We work or want." It would be a sad blow for the people if it turned out that we work and then want, because what we are earning is going to other countries. There is another notice: "Extra effort now means better living sooner." That has become shortened in the last Government slogan. I venture to prophesy that the next will be "Strive or starve. "New interpretations may be put on old apothegms and problems. A new one has been put on the same "No smoke without fire." And I am not sure that we may not find a new meaning applied to "One swallow will not make a summer."
I would not like to end on a note of hilarity because I am certain that our situation is extremely serious. I am certain that the people of this country are not fully cognizant of the full seriousness of their position. If one talks to people and asks what is going to happen when the American Loan runs out, they say, "Well, I suppose the United States will let us have some more." I think that is an extremely dangerous. state of mind. We have got to pay our way in the world, as we have clone in the past. I am confident we can do it in the future, but only if the people of this country realize that it is up to them to do so.
There is one thing more I would like to say. Noble Lords, as I have already remarked, talk a good deal about just distribution of food. We all recognize that in war-time rationing is absolutely essential, but if we are going to stress that slogan: "We work or we want", I think we ought to realize the psychological importance of relating work to immediate rewards. If, however hard you work—at least during the forseeable future—you get no more food, it means that you will not satisfy one of your primary wants. "More effort now means better living sooner," is not really very good psychology. People, on the whole, prefer to see results quickly following their efforts. If we continue in the direction of stricter and stricter rationing, which I think is the line that is being followed by His Majesty's Government, I believe that we shall get into that inflationary spiral 458 of less effort, less food and so on. I ask His Majesty's Government to consider that extremely seriously.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, at the beginning of his speech, asked them to have open minds. Perhaps that was rather a large demand. But I do think that they might, at my rate, treat what we say with seriousness, and I hope they will not fall into that easy error of saying—what seems to come so facilely to the lips of members of the Socialist Party—that when you dare to talk critically about the rationing system you are really making a plea for the rich. I think that we must face the problem as it is, and if we find that through an excessively egalitarian policy we are getting less and less, we must recognize that it is time to reverse that policy to some degree.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and 'debate adjourned accordingly.