§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Woolton, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the growing danger of a serious shortage of food in this country.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I think all noble Lords who were present yesterday and who had the privilege of listening to the debate, as well as those who have read through Hansard this morning, will feel that I am speaking for them in saying that the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, is one of great importance, not only for this House but for the country as a whole. I cannot help feeling, however, that there is one point which perhaps disappointed us, if we did not find it more than disappointing and indeed most disturbing. I could not help feeling deeply disturbed at the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, because to me it represented a complacency about the whole situation which is really frightening for the future. He opened by deploring the alarmism of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, whereas I think most of your Lordships felt that Lord Woolton delivered a speech of really deep statesmanship.
The speech delivered by the noble Lord from the Government Bench is disturbing, particularly to those of us who have been trying to help not only the Government but the country by using what little influence we have in the countryside to persuade farmers to do even more than they have done. How can we go amongst the farmers, telling them that the position is desperate and asking for greater efforts from them, when we have from the Front Bench in either House of Parliament such, as I would venture to suggest, unjustifiably reassuring speeches as that which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, delivered to us yesterday? Recently I had the experience of going to a large farmers' meeting on the day after Mr. Turner, the President of the National Farmers' Union, had delivered what many of us felt to be a most important and deeply moving appeal to the farmers of the country. It was, incidentally, the day after Mr. John Strachey, the Minister of Food, arrived back from his Canadian tour. The response I received from the farmers was a very clear one. They said, "Why 463 should we put ourselves out to produce this extra food when"—and they brandished a paper in front of me— "the Minister of Food says that all is well?"
What was it that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, really had to promise? So far as I could see, all he really promised was that there was not likely to be any serious deterioration. He said, in effect, "Things will not be better but they are not going to be very much worse." I hope I am not being unfair to the noble Lord in so paraphrasing what he says, but he said there is no great danger except with regard to our supply of meat and fats. He might have gone on to say that these are the two most important food deficiencies from which we are suffering to-day. This so-called reassuring message was based on the assumption of a continuance of good harvests in North America. What right have we to take such a gamble as that? In case I am being unfair to the noble Lord, I have here a description of his speech in the Press, and in order to be quite sure, I naturally selected the only paper that tells the truth—the Daily Herald. They have headlined his speech "Food Crisis Talk Nailed." How are we to bring the people of this country to a realization of the gravity of the position when that is the lead that is given?
The noble Lord went on to say that, in his view, we need not be worried about a deterioration in the stocks of food because it is no longer necessary to have high stocks. It is perfectly true that he added: "at the same high level as the war period." I think probably we would all agree that it would be unnecessary to keep our food stocks at the level of the war period, though I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, would say. But are there not other risks against which we have to provide? Are there not strikes, not only in this country but in other countries? Have there not been strikes at the docks and in the transport industry in the great exporting countries? Are there not general transport difficulties and shortages? I mentioned that the noble Lord's assumptions of optimism about the grain position were largely dependent upon continued good harvests in the North Americas. Does he not realize that we have had a run of four or five good harvests in the North American sphere, and that on the law of averages we cannot possibly hope for, or gamble 464 on, a continuance of that situation? And what about the weather here? Have we not learned anything from the last six months in this country—the winter losses and the spring losses? Have we not to provide stocks against, if not a total, at least a partial recurrence of such happenings?
Finally, there is one other factor which nobody has yet mentioned. From all the reports I have received from the Continent, the losses of winter corn were a great deal more serious than in this country because they had less snow. We at least had the protection of snow sitting on our crops. The first figure I was given of the losses in France was between 70 and 8o per cent. One can only hope that this was exaggerated—one knows that these loss figures are very often exaggerated in the first instance. However, the losses were certainly high. I would impress upon noble Lords the importance of stocks at the present moment, when virtually we are buying whatever we buy in a blackmail market. It is important to have high stocks, in order to be able to use them as a bargaining counter. There was one other omission in the speech of the noble Lord that struck many of us as curious, but possibly this was because he hoped some other noble Lord, perhaps the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, would deal with the point. It seems extraordinary to think that anyone can make a speech about the food situation to-day without mentioning the word "dollar." I read his speech very carefully this morning to try and find the word somewhere. The noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, referred to the speech of Sir Stafford Cripps during the week end. He quoted Sir Stafford Cripps as having mentioned the figure of £200,000,000 losses due to the fuel shortage. Does that not bear upon the food situation or is it that Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. John Strachey are not even on speaking terms? We hope the troubles in His Majesty's Government have not developed so far as that, but certainly the speeches of Sir Stafford Cripps do not affect the briefs handed out by Mr. Strachey because there was no reference to dollars.
The noble Lords opposite devoted much of their speeches to a justification of bulk purchase. I do not want to touch upon that point because it seems to me that the most important subject before us today is not the method we shall employ 465 in purchasing our food, but rather the question of whether, when our dollar loans run out, we shall be able to pay for our imports, whether we purchase them by one method or another. I would like to devote the few remarks I am going to make to that specific point, and try to persuade His Majesty's Government that we must produce more food from our own soil; that we can produce more food from our own soil; and, finally, to say that His Majesty's Government may rely on all the help that it is possible to give front a united agricultural industry, if only they will take steps sufficiently drastic for dealing with the situation, and if they will give us the tools for the job. It has to be realized that desperate situations need desperate remedies, and, although I hesitate to say this to so notable a band of planners, they need a plan.
One of the noble Lords on the other side of the House (I think the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd) said that we on this side of the House must make up our minds whether or not we wanted the total withdrawal of the State from these economic affairs. The reply is quite simple. We want better planning and less interference. There is nothing mystic about planning; it is what we must all have in our daily affairs. It is merely looking ahead and seeing problems before they overwhelm us. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, made a point (quite an amusing one, which we all enjoyed) about the activities during the war of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. All that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, did was to show that he had a perfectly open and flexible mind and was prepared to apply whatever remedy he considered most suitable at a particular time. Undoubtedly, in the conditions of the war, we all of us owed a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, for the methods which he applied, and which were the most suitable. That does not mean to say that they are the most suitable methods for peace-time. Incidentally, he showed that he was competent to operate any machinery of purchase, and I do not think many noble Lords—even on the other side of the House—would contend that all Ministers are able to do that.
What is the position? Let us look at the Economic Survey for 1947, which we discussed at some length recently in your 466 Lordships' House. What came out of that debate? I am afraid that the points which emerged were only too clear; that we are facing a deficit on our balance of trade of something just under £400,000,000 a year (between £350,000,000 and £400,000,000), and that we are proposing next year to expend £725,000,000 on imports of food, mostly from dollar countries. Those figures were given us before we knew the appalling losses—as yet really inadequately estimated—of this winter. Therefore, that £725,000,000 is likely to be a minimum figure, rather than a maximum. In addition, in our overseas indebtedness we owe amounts up to £3,000,000,000 a problem which we are glad to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now beginning to tackle, but as yet more in the realm of pious hope than anything else.
There is another factor which is fundamental to the consideration of this problem but which is not, I think, sufficiently realized. It is that this tendency to import more than we export is not entirely a new tendency, confined to this period of crisis. It is a tendency which was started before the war. In those days we were already what I think is called "in the rain" on our balance of payments by about £60,000,000. Before the war those great raw material producing countries were increasing their own secondary industries, a tendency which we know has been multiplied five or ten fold as a result of the war. Not only in the realm of secondary industries but in the realm of agriculture there has been a change. These great exporting countries learned during the war that it not only pays them better economically but makes for better farming, and for bet ter fertility of their soil, to use their own animals and process foodstuffs which in toe past they used to send to us extremely cheaply and which we used to process. Those countries are not likely to abandon this.
Finally, there is another factor which is quite different from what it was before the war. We built op our economy in the last few generations on cheap food. Who to-day is prepared to contend that food from overseas is cheaper than we are producing it? is it a fact (I have asked the noble Lord: I have never been able to get the exact figures from him, but he can correct rue if I am wrong) that wheat from Canada is costing as much as we are paying to our own 467 farmers to-day in this country; that wheat from America is costing us more, and that wheat from the Argentine (in so far as it is obtainable at all) is also costing a great deal more? I think I am right in saying that he told us the other day that we had been able to make only one purchase of linseed oil from India at £53 a ton, whereas, as a great concession during the last month or so, and making it very clear that it is only for one year, we are to pay our own farmers £45 a ton. It seems to me that these are the real facts that we have to face in a debate of this kind.
I know how big and appalling the winter losses have been, but it seems to me that there is considerable danger in exaggerating them, in the sense that we may allow the gravity of those losses to obscure the real problem that is before us. These losses have done nothing more than to advance the crisis, it may be by four, six or twelve months—that is a matter of guess-work. There is a danger of obscuring the true nature of the problem which I thought the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, put so extraordinarily clearly yesterday, and with which the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, also dealt—that the whole basis of our old prosperity built up during the last few generations has now been undermined by the factors which I have ventured to mention. And the danger of not admitting that is surely, that so long as we hang on to the fantasy that we can rebuild our prosperity on the old basis, so long does it mean that we cannot concentrate our attention on rebuilding our prosperity on a new basis. For instance (again I use the word fantasy) it is a complete fantasy to think we can ever attain to 175 per cent. of our pre-war exports. That is dangerous, because it is allowing us to think we can continue to live on our food production as it is and not determine to increase it to a far greater extent.
I venture to stress the long-term side of the problem in this debate on the Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has moved, and which is really a crisis Motion, because it seems to me that we are not going to deal with this emergency or crisis unless we recognize that we are not faced with something that is temporary, but with a long-term change in our economic life. We therefore have this paradox before us: that we cannot 468 deal with the crisis because we are tending too much to think of it in terms of a crisis instead of as a long-term change. I need not say in this House that agriculture is not an emergency industry. It is not an industry which you can pick up and develop when you are afraid of the food situation, and then drop again as soon as there is promise of easier markets. The steps that are needed to get an immediate increase—nobody is more aware of this than the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, who has done such wonderful work for agriculture and has continually made this point himself—and the steps that are needed to help agriculture to deal with the crisis, are in fact long-term steps. Surely all this drives us to one point, and one point only—that we must produce more food here at home. Once we have reached that point, we shall begin to realize that the increase can be very great.
It is obvious that we are all agreed on the general thesis. Where I do not think we agree—unless, that is, the noble Lord, Lord Huntingdon, has seriously changed his views lately—is on the size of the increase. But surely that is the point that matters. We have heard so much of the White Paper that was published the other day that I almost hesitate to mention it again, but it is absolutely fundamental to the whole problem. It was during the course of a speech in which the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, was attempting to prove as impossible the increased production of the size that the noble Lord Lord Teviot, and I were pressing on your Lordships, that he inadvertently referred to this document.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Well, quite deliberately. At any rate, I could not help noticing that the noble Viscount was not very familiar with that document because, as he generously admitted to the House afterwards, he had misquoted. What does that mean? It means that there has been in the pigeon-holes of the Government, ever since, I think, the spring of 1945, a document worked out by two of the great Departments of State responsible for food production and food distribution, which not only informed them that something like £150,000,000 worth of extra food per annum could be produced, but worked out in detail how that should be done. Yet the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, 469 was obviously unaware of the date of that document. In terms of our total trade, £150,000,000 is one-third, or more than one-third; and that production could be accomplished by one industry. I should have thought that all the members of the Cabinet would know such a document by heart if they were taking the present position really seriously.
That document, we have to admit, is two years old, and it would be fair for any of your Lordships to ask me whether it is sufficiently up to date to be applicable to the present situation. Only one change has taken place, and that is that production has gone down very considerably since the document was produced. Therefore, we are starting from a very much lower level, and it should be possible for the increase from the present level of production to be very much greater than £150,000,000. It is barely a month since there was held what was probably one of the most important conferences ever held in the agricultural world. It was called by the Royal Agricultural Society of England, and there were representatives of every section of agriculture; no fewer than seventeen of the leading agricultural bodies were represented, and there were representatives from Scotland, Wales and Ulster, and of all classes and all sections. They issued a Report (no doubt the noble Viscount has a copy of that Report; it has been laid before the Minister of Agriculture) which laid it down that, in their view, increased production of the extent that I am discussing—namely £150,000,000, which was £50,000,000 more than the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, in our debate on February 19 said was possible—was, in their view, possible.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I said nothing of the kind. All I said was that it could not be done in the time the noble Earl talked about.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I do not think the noble Viscount can point anywhere to the fact that I said it could be done in a year. I certainly did not say that. Every speech I have made on this project in your Lordship' House has emphasized the time it will take to do these things, and therefore, the necessity of getting on with it quickly. The fact remains that the noble Viscount would accept that Motion only if we took out the figure of £100,000,000, and it has now become 470 quite clear that the figure could in fact have been £150,000,000. Looking back to the debate that we had on this subject on December 11 of last year (Hansard, Column 808), I find that the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, then said:The truth, however, is that there is no possibility of a further large expansion unless we extend agriculture an to unsuitable land or make calls on materials and labour (which are very scarce) and on fertilizers and machinery which would be out of all proportion to the expected benefits …How are we to gain increased production from an industry, when that is the leadership that is being given to us?
I think I can guess what noble Lords on the other side of the House will say. They will probably say that the Opposition are always criticizing, and ask why we do not make concrete proposals. So sure am I that they will adopt that attitude, that I am going to take the risk of repeating to your Lordships—I apologize, because it has been done in debates three or four times already—what in fact are our practical proposals: We did it in March, 1946, we did it again in June and December of that year, and also on February 19 of this year. We then made the proposal that there should be definite production targets given to the agriculture industry, as was done by Mr. Hudson during the war. I do not believe these agricultural executive committees will be in a position to carry out their task—and it is a very difficult task—unless they are given some definite guidance as to what is wanted. There must be a larger tillage area. We have lost 1,250,000 acres since the war, and a very large proportion of that, at any rate, has to be made up. I know that many of your Lordships think the land is already overcrowded, and that we ought to concentrate more on livestock. But how many of us are prepared to go to the small farmers and tell them to build up their pigs and poultry again, as they have been told before, without some guarantee that we shall be able to maintain the supply of feeding stuffs? I suggest that the only way we can guarantee an increase in feeding stuffs is to grow more ourselves.
The only difference between the tillage policy that I would recommend and that which we had during the war is that we should concentrate a great deal more on the growing of feeding stuffs and less on the growing of wheat. There should be 471 a great campaign for grassland improvement. I believe there is hardly a field of grass in the country, with the exception of certain lands—the noble Lord, Lord Hazlerigg, is a representative of one of them—that could not be virtually doubled in production, if not by actual ploughing and reseeding, then at least by cultivation and manures. I think the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, put forward a suggestion that the slaughter of calves, not only of the beef breed but of the dual purpose breeds, should be discouraged. He went further, I think, and said "prohibited." I do not know whether I would go the whole way on that, because one has not had time to think it out. But certainly it should be discouraged and, after these terrible losses from the winter, the same policy should be applied to all ewe lambs.
Of course, there is also the increased production of pigs and poultry which is the big exchange saver. After all, to-day it is a platitude to say we are thinking in terms of saving exchange rather than shipping. I apologize again for repetition, but I think it is better to be quite clear as to what we propose, and to say that we have concrete proposals. It has been said again and again in your Lordships' House that the very essence of this problem is the problem of labour. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, was good enough to refer to the fact that I had already given quite detailed figures of what seemed to me to be the requirements of labour, and that we need something like a minimum of 100,000 to replace the German prisoners of war. That leaves us with nothing with which to increase production, and therefore we need a minimum of another 100,000 to increase production. And we must have houses for them. If the towns want to be fed, then they must allow the countryside to have priority on housing. I am not going back to the problem of reconditioning—we have already spoken about it so much—but we must definitely have not only new houses but reconditioned houses. Many of them, by virtue of reconditioning, could be put in such a state that they could take another man and, therefore, in fact be worth another house. We also need machinery, but this again is repetition, so I will not stress the point.
472 Finally—and I think the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, will be familiar with this—a question has arisen lately in regard to fertilizers. I tell him quite definitely that crops this harvest are going to be considerably smaller than they should be owing to the shortage of fertilizers. After my having said this, I hope noble Lords opposite will not complain that we have not any concrete proposals. I have dealt with these points quickly because this is not a technical debate, and because we have dealt with them before. But surely what really matters at the moment is not the technical details; what matters is that we should get into the minds of His Majesty's Ministers—although I know they will get up and say they agree with so much of this and will try to laugh it off—that in the soil of this country to-day lies a minimum of £150,000,000 per annum of food and dollars that we desperately need, and that the agricultural industry is asking to be allowed to help to put that immense sum of wealth at the disposal of the country. If the Government refuse this advice and this offer, then henceforth it must be quite clear, when the storm bursts, where the responsibility lies. The Government were warned throughout this last year by your Lordships' House and by another place, and the country should know that the land owners, the farmers, and the workers, as a united industry, are convinced that more could be done and are prepared to do it if we give them the tools.
I hope noble Lords opposite will appreciate that although some of us feel very strongly on the subject, because the life of the country is at stake, this Motion is not put down designedly as a political vote of censure. It is put down as a warning and as an offer, and I am prepared to make a prophecy that at the end of this debate the noble Viscount, Lord Addison (and we are all extremely fond of the noble Viscount) will get up and make a charming speech. He will make us all laugh a bit, and he will have a few "digs" at us for having dared to criticize the Government, and therefore having been so Party-minded. He will tell us we are only pushing at an open door, and that this is what he wants and has wanted for years.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I know it is true, but in a very departmentalized Government the noble Viscount is not Minister of Food or Minister of Agriculture.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
And in fact such is the position of the country that we have got past the stage where speeches matter very much. We have to judge by results. We could not have a Minister of Agriculture more friendly to the industry than we have to-day, but we are not getting the labour; we are not getting the houses; we are not getting the machinery and we are not getting the fertilizers. And that is how we have to judge it to-day. We are up against facts, not speeches. I implore the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, who feels so deeply about agriculture, not merely to make a reassuring speech to-day, but to use his influence in the Government to see that the agricultural industry is put into a state and given the tools that will enable it to grow the food which the country is going to need so desperately.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON)
My Lords, I do not wish to talk about bulk purchasing or the Canadian wheat agreement, fascinating though those subjects may be. I wish to deal with only one aspect of this debate, and that is food production in this country. In an extremely powerful and eloquent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, suggested that His Majesty's Government should be very frank and tell this House and the people of this country what the position is, and not try to cover up the facts. I am going to take the noble Lord's advice to deal with the question frankly, and tell your Lordships that in these last few months the agricultural industry has suffered a major disaster. It is no good hiding that fact, and it is no good ignoring the effect that it will have on the diet of our people. Nearly 700,00o acres of land were flooded. The winds blew, the rain and snows came, waterways and dykes were burst, and as a result all those acres of some of our best agricultural land were inundated. So far as we can tell at this stage, 71,000 acres will not be croppable this year.
474 Owing to the bad conditions, a very large part of the country has been so waterlogged as to cause great difficulty in regard to cultivation, and in fact, allowing for losses and the replacement of winter corn by spring corn, the likely acreage for wheat this year is about 1,940,000 acres, compared with our target of 2,500,000 acres. That is a very serious reduction indeed. Our acreage in sugar beet is likely to fall by 25,000 acres, and 75,000 tons of last year's crops of potatoes Were utterly destroyed. Actually, potatoes may be planted up to the end of this month, but we must expect some reduction in this year's supplies. As to vegetable losses, we have not exact figures, but there will be large losses this spring and until July many things are likely to be in very short supply.
When the Government realized the extent of the disaster which had befallen us they treated the whole matter as a war operation. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture were sent immediately to survey the extent of the disaster; and battle headquarters were set up. Help was given by all the Services, including the R.A.F., engineers, sappers, and the National Fire Service; everybody that we could think of was brought in to help in this disaster. I should like to take the opportunity of paying a tribute to the people who did such magnificent work —both local authorities and the Services—and to the help of the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, who laboured in extremely difficult conditions to try and stop the floods front spreading. We were faced with an extremely difficult problem. In some cases we sank tanks and other vehicles in the dykes; we obtained the loan from the Dutch Government of emergency cranes and pumps; we mobilized pumps from the Admiralty and the Metropolitan Water Board. All the personnel whom we could get gave valuable help, and as a result many acres were saved. But the damage to farm buildings, to land, and to implements, has been very considerable.
That is only one aspect. Apart from our flooded areas—and that was a serious enough matter—there is the question of the flocks and herds up in the hill farms. These wretched farmers were cut off by the blizzards, in some cases completely. They had the greatest difficulty in finding means of feeding their animals. Even 475 before the emergency we had taken steps to get feeding stuffs to them. But no one could anticipate the magnitude of the disaster which followed. In extreme cases we mobilized the R.A.F., and the pilots flew out in very difficult weather conditions. I think seventy-seven sorties were flown, and as a result food was brought to many outlying farms which otherwise would have been in extreme difficulties. The county war agricultural committees also did a very fine job of work, mobilizing feeding stuffs for all quarters. We gave priority in transport to this matter. One thing which has had great success has been the mobilizing of teams of tractors, working sometimes eight or more together, so that whenever an area of land became workable these teams went on it and started the work of cultivation.
As regard horticulturists and various other people who also suffered, special arrangements were made in conjunction with the manufacturers and the National Farmers' Union for the diversion of horticultural glass and timber to areas where supplies were most needed. Over 2,000,000 square feet of glass have been diverted under these arrangements. We also stopped the export of necessary tractors and machinery for the time being. In spite of all our efforts, however, and particularly in regard to the hill areas, I am sorry to say that the total loss of cattle is over 50,000 head, whilst over 4,000,000 sheep and lambs were lost. I do not need to impress on your Lordships how serious this will be for the Bill famers. These were foundation stocks; this was an industry which had been depressed for many years, and your Lordships will remember that a Bill was recently passed to help this industry to rehabilitate itself.
The question next before us was what we could do on the longer-term basis to help these people. I do not want to go into all the details, but I would remind your Lordships that we are helping very considerably with subsidies. For instance, we have given a subsidy and are allowing the hill and sheep farmers to claim an advance on their subsidy up to a limit of s. per ewe this year, and 75. 6d. per ewe next year—part of the subsidy that will be paid in 1948 and 1949 respectively. This will help those farmers who, owing to heavy losses, will have few lambs or draft ewes to sell and, therefore, a much-reduced income. As a means of giving 476 confidence to farmers to rebuild their flocks we have also guaranteed that in 1948 and 1949 the subsidy will not fall below a minimum of l0s. per ewe, which compares with the present subsidy of 8s. 9d. per ewe.
In addition there is the Lord Mayor's Fund, to which the Government have contributed £1,000,000, and the Agricultural Disaster Fund, to which the Government are giving approximately pound for pound for what is subscribed. We are giving special acreage payments in respect of land which has been abnormally flooded. This varies between £3 and £15 per acre, according to the crops grown. The principal food crops—potatoes, sugar beet, barley and horticultural crops for human consumption—are all included in this scheme, and we hope that with this backing many farmers will be encouraged to maintain the fullest possible cultivation.
Special prices for spring sown crops and milk have also been authorized, because, owing to the abnormally severe winter, heavy arrears of spring work have to be concentrated into a very short period. The Government have decided, therefore, to make these special additions to the prices of barley, oats, potatoes, sugar beet, linseed and milk, and we believe that this assistance will encourage the effort to give us the largest area that can possibly be sown in the present conditions. We are introducing in another place a Bill that will shortly come to your Lordships' House and which, I trust, will have a speedy passage, to enable these payments to be made. In addition to that, we are allowing 20 per cent. of millable wheat and barley to remain with the farmers for the feeding of their stocks.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
No; next year. I wish we could do it this year, but the cereal position is such that we cannot. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, warned us, if I remember rightly, of the dangers overhanging us and of an impending food crisis. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, reinforced this argument in a very powerful speech today, in which he dealt with the dangers which he suggested were bound to come if we were not very careful. I do not think I am misquoting the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, when I mention that he said also that the British housewife was not so much interested in what 477 was happening in foreign countries as in the question of whether she was getting, and would be able to get, her necessary supplies.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I think that in this the noble Lord rather misjudged the temper of the people of this country. I think one of the most encouraging signs which we see to-day is that the housewife of this country does recognize how we are dependent on foreign countries. She, and the people generally, I believe, recognize the situation not only in Europe but in the Americas also, and they appreciate that this country is not an isolated plot but one part of an integral whole. But whether the housewife is interested or not, this Government certainly must be. We cannot, for one moment, divorce ourselves from the situation outside our shores. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, also put forward various arguments to show that it would have been better to buy feeding stuffs rather than to import dried eggs and various other commodities. Of course, we heartily agree—nothing could be more true. But the great difficulty is, and always has been, to get hold of the feeding stuffs. That has been the limiting factor and the regulator of the whole business.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
Actually we could not. I can state this fact: that the Government have never hesitated to pay any price if it was possible to get maize.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
That I do not know, but certainly we did our utmost to get maize and we were unable to do so.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said yesterday, quite clearly, that we were to get very largely increased supplies of shell eggs from the Continent. Can the noble Earl tell us where the people on the Continent get their feeding stuffs?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I am not an authority as to how people on the Continent feed their chickens. We have been using every endeavour to get hold of feeding stuffs for our livestock including poultry, but until very recently we have found it almost impossible to do so. That is a matter which it is easy to gloss over, but it has been one of our great difficulties. To proceed on those assumptions, there is also the point to be taken into consideration that are still bound to a certain extent by international agreements on this subject. Unless we are to break up the whole system of international co-operation we must pay some attention to these agreements. We are but one among many peoples who earnestly want to procure food for human beings and feeding stuffs for livestock. Another point I wish to make touches upon the need which was so strongly stressed by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for fertilizers. I am glad to be able to announce that the supply position with regard to potash is very encouraging. For some months potash has been in short supply, but the rate of imports has lately been increased, and during April they were the highest, with one exception, for any month since 1944.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I am afraid I do not know the position with regard to nitrates. With respect to potash, however, the position and prospects are so much better that further arrivals of potash are to be directed for use in compounds or as a straight fertilizer, according to demand. I think that will be good news for the farmers. Another matter to which the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has drawn our attention is Command Paper 7072, which deals with certain assumptions and forecasts with regard to agricultural production which were made by the late Minister of Agriculture. The noble Earl rather suggested that we were not very familiar with the contents of this Paper. I am wondering if the noble Earl himself is very familiar with it. If he 479 reads it carefully he will find that these calculations, which were based entirely on suppositions, were very strongly qualified by Paragraph 8, which emphasized that certain conditions must exist. For example, it was laid down that there should be no undue shortage of labour. I only wish we could say that there is no such shortage.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I wish we could say that there was no undue shortage of houses. We have to recognize, as I hope the noble Earl himself recognizes, that this is a heritage of the past, a heritage of the period between the wars and a legacy of the war period itself, when we could not get the necessary labour and material for housing. Could the supposition referred to be fulfilled, it is true that the position might be different; but without the fulfilment of this, and especially having regard to the terrible shortage of cereals that has existed in the last few years and the consequent shortage of feeding stuffs, our difficulties have been extreme. In this connexion there is one thing which I should like to make clear, in case there is any mistake about it. Although the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, rather suggested that we would laugh this off and agree with him, in practice, the truth is that we are all out for maximum production. There is no difference at all between us there, so far as I can see. If difference there be, it arises over this important matter—that if, is our policy to switch over to livestock production.
It has been said once or twice—I think the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, mentioned it and it is extremely important—that we must save foreign exchange, particularly "hard currency"—dollars. We have not emphasized this so much because we have assumed that everybody knew it. The dollar is really the key to the situation. That is why we are trying to produce meat, eggs, bacon, vegetables and other products which we have to buy from America and other hard currency countries. It is vital to our exchange position that we should do this, and it will become even more important in the future. Noble Lords must realize that we are in a transitional period, and 480 if they see a fall in wheat acreage in this country (I am not now referring to the recent crisis) it is because we are switching over and are trying, under great difficulties with regard to shortages of feeding-stuffs and other things, to carry out the policy of building up our herds and our livestock generally. We believe that that is vital to this country. At the same time, while doing that, we want maximum production from the land, and anything that noble Lords can do to encourage the farmers to increase all their produce to the maximum extent, will obviously be of great value from the point of view of His Majesty's Government.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
May I interrupt the noble Earl to ask whether His Majesty's Government are prepared to encourage the building by private enterprise of the cottages, which are so badly needed for farm labourers in this country?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
If I may be allowed to do so I would rather come to that later. At the moment I would like to proceed with what I was saying about our livestock policy. We have been asked very persistently what we are doing in regard to the promotion of maximum production; in other words, what are the Government doing for the agricultural industry? I think the answer is, first, that they are promoting the Agriculture Bill, which is being discussed in another place and which we hope will soon come before your Lordships. A wise person has remarked that the Bill will not produce one bushel of wheat, and that of course, is absolutely true. No Bill produces any wheat; those who produce the bushel are the farmer and the farm worker, with their skill and industry. What we can do by means of this Bill is to give the industry confidence and to provide conditions in which the farmer knows that if he does his work and produces his wheat he will receive a fair return for his money and labour.
I think it is true to say that the one thing for which primary producers all over the world have prayed all their lives is some form of stability which will ensure that when, in spite of all adverse circumstances—the weather and the various things that may happen to them—they finally produce their crops, they will not be at the mercy of world exchanges and 481 of international finance which may render all their labours useless by bringing about an undue fall in prices. It is that which we are seeking to stop by means of this Bill. We are guaranteeing them markets, and we are guaranteeing them stable prices. We have set out a system by which the prices are discussed every year, so that the farmer knows before he plants his crops what he will get for them, and when he is breeding his herds he knows the minimum prices he will get for his stock in future years. I suggest that that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, is the greatest charter for agriculture which has ever been produced, by any Government, for any farming community in the world. I should say, incidentally, that the energy with which this Government have tackled this crisis and the generosity with which they have recognized the farmers' needs should be an earnest of what they wish to do and of what they will do in the future.
I want to go on being frank with your Lordships. I recognize that there is one fundamental difficulty. It is a very serious one, and one which cannot be glossed over. It is the difficulty of obtaining labour. Many noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, amongst others—have referred to this difficulty and have asked what is going to happen. His Majesty's Government are not worried so much about this harvest. That is not the problem; the problem is what will happen when the German prisoners go back. I doubt whether any noble Lord will seriously suggest that we could go on keeping these prisoners in this country indefinitely, as a sort of slave labour force. If that is agreed, then the problem of what we are going to do to get labour remains. Various steps have been taken for this harvest. We are keeping on the Women's Land Army, who have done a magnificent job of work in helping the industry. We have volunteer agricultural camps and school harvest camps, and the Services have helped considerably. We hope to tide ourselves over the gap to a certain extent by using Poles and displaced persons. The Government scheme for recruiting displaced persons for work in the essential undermanned industries has already been announced and the movement of such workers to this country started at the end of last month. The Ministry of Labour officers who are engaged in the selection of such workers in 482 the British Zones of Germany and Austria are looking out for those suitable for heavy and medium work in agriculture, and discussions with the industry upon the absorption of such workers into agriculture are proceeding. The use of Poles and displaced persons will serve as a stop-gap, but there is no doubt that the ultimate solution of the problem is to get British labour back on to the land.
In that regard it is encouraging to notice—and this is a point which is sometimes ignored by the members of the Opposition—that the number of regular British workers in agriculture is actually higher now than in 1939. In fact the figure is the highest for over ten years. That means that, to a certain extent, they are going back to the land, but if we are to get them in the numbers we want we must undoubtedly provide amenities, and we must provide good wages, which I think the present system will secure. But, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, suggested, the key to it all is housing; we must have houses. I am not going to deal with that subject because it will be dealt with very fully by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House when he winds up tins debate. I will not anticipate his remarks, but I mention the matter to show that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture realizes intensely the fundamental importance of the problem of housing, which is indeed the key to the whole labour situation.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Our appetites have been whetted and we shall all look forward to this feast. Could the noble Earl assure us that when the time comes—and we will not press the matter until then—there will be a definite Government pronouncement on the Hobhouse Report?
§ LORD BEVERIDGE
Before the noble Earl passes from the question of labour, may I point out that I put some definite questions on that yesterday. Does the noble Earl propose to answer them, or will that be done by the Leader of the House?
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
I did not answer those questions because the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, is to answer them personally. I am afraid I 483 have taken up rather a lot of your Lordships' time, but I feel that I may have been justified in doing so if I have at all managed to persuade your Lordships that the Government's attitude towards agriculture is not a complacent one and that we do realize the vital importance of food production in this country. We may have to put one thing down and to bring another up, but fundamentally we want to encourage the farmer to produce the maximum amount that he can possibly produce. If I have said anything to convince him of that need, and to persuade him that this Government will not let him down but that they are behind him in all his efforts, and are anxious to help him, in spite of very great difficulties, then I think my words will not have been unjustified.
§ 3.49 P.m.
THE EARL OF GAINSBOROUGH
My Lords, I do not wish to intervene for long in this debate (which is, if I may say so, a timely and valuable one) because there are many other noble Lords who wish to speak. I would like to associate myself with the very good company of noble Lords who think that more food could be grown and produced in this country, because I feel strongly that that is the case. To do that, we must have labour. I am not going to say very much on that because a great deal has already been said about it by noble Lords whose knowledge of it is greater than mine. We must, in particular, have stockmen, and the stockman is a skilled man. Looking into the future, we must have British skilled labour for that job. Stockmen must live with their stock, or very near to it, and I would like to ask, if it is not out of place to do so on a Motion of this kind, if more consideration could be given to that fact, and whether His Majesty's Government could reconsider their decision to restrict the ratio of public authority and private enterprise building to 4 to 1, even in rural areas where cottages could be built. I know of two farmers in my own county who wanted to build two cottages and who were told that no more licences could be granted to private enterprise this year. They wanted to build two cottages for stockmen, because they run very large herds of Shorthorn cattle, a dual purpose breed which is very important at this moment. I need not say very much 484 about the Hobhouse Report because the attitude of His Majesty's Government is fairly clear—they do not intend to do anything about it at the moment, but next year they may be prepared to introduce legislation. We can only look forward eagerly and hopefully to that new legislation.
From my limited experience I can say that lately the farmworker, the small farmer and, indeed, the large farmer, have been working hard for very long hours, and they are not crying out for more food as are some other workers, however justified people may be in asking for more at the present time. But the people on the land are working long hours, and if there is any more food to be distributed among workers in this country I think they might be considered. On that score I would refer to a debate in another place, when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Food made the somewhat surprising statement that the Government would like to see farmers set up canteens. That might be an admirable thing, but I suggest that farmers have much more to do than to set up canteens. If there is any food [...] spare, and I take it there must be if canteens can be set up, could that food be distributed to these people?
We have heard many speeches, and no doubt we shall be privileged to hear many more, from people who are experts, and it is clear that the utmost urgency should be attached to this question. In company with other noble Lords, I venture to think that it is not being so treated at the moment. May I instance the case of certain spare parts during this recent trouble? I know of three American "crawler" tractors which are idle for lack of spare parts which, I am informed, it is not possible to obtain. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, could look into this matter, because I am sure that something could be done to obtain these spare parts for "crawler" tractors, which can do so much more work than the ordinary tractor obtainable in this country to-day.
§ 3.55 P.m.
§ VISCOUNT LAMBERT
My Lords, this is the first occasion on which I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships' House, but I hope you will excuse me if I do not follow the advice given to maiden speakers in another place, 485 which is to say nothing, but to say it nicely. The noble Lord who introduced this Motion has rendered one mole service to the country. When he was appointed Minister of Food I thought he would be greatly criticized, but, in reality, his foresight and his persuasive ability on the radio brought him to the hearts of all women. The situation to-day seems to me to be a really acute and a dangerous one. For years in another place I advocated the claims of agriculture for more stability and better prices. But the lessons of the 1914 war ware forgotten, and there was never a greater period of agricultural depression than in 1930. Here I will say, having seen the whole situation, that one of the best Ministers of Agriculture we ever had, struggling against adversity, was Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith. Every time he tried to raise prices he was met by opposition, but fortunately he succeeded. Then the war came, and everything was changed.
The value of food is calculated in calories and vitamins. I know the situation in my own county, where I meet the agricultural workers. They are underfed, and other manual workers are also underfed. They have colds and chills because they have not a sufficiently varied diet. One labourer, a first-rate fellow, spoke to me last autumn. He was very interested in a phrase that had been used in another place about "a song in my heart." He asked me about and I said, "Yes, Jim, It was Mr. Dalton." His reply was caustic, crude, and pointed: "You go up and tell that Mr. Dalton that if he has got a song in his heart I have got a rumble in my belly. He has got the music and I have got the wind."
The Government are not putting first things first. I speak as a farmer, and what we want to-day is labour, fertilizers, feeding stuffs, materials and machinery. The Minister of Agriculture, one of the best fellows living, has given us the Agriculture Bill. An Agriculture Bill may be all very well in a few years' time, but to-day we want action for production. If Acts of Parliament, forms and coupons were food, we should be the best fed country in Europe. So far as I can see it—and I have no Government information but I have observed these things for many years—the position is gradually getting worse. There is no doubt about it. Ask any housewife and she will tell you that 486 things are getting worse and it is much more difficult to get essential foodstuffs.
I observed that the Minister of Food said last Saturday (it was reported in Monday's edition of The Times) that he did not think we were in any danger of a food crisis such as had arisen with fuel. I certainly hope not We can shiver for Shinwell, but we could not starve under Strachey! We have to consider that we are living on charity—the charity of the Americans and Canadians. I do not blame the Government. They have a very difficult task. I thought, since the General Election, that it was necessary for us to have a Labour Government; and had there been any other Government in power the country would be in twice as great confusion as it is now.
I addressed some meetings at the General Election. There was one thing stressed above all others—Russia. Russia was the paradise; Stalin was the Saviour. Mr Bevin—all honour to him—is doing his job extraordinarily well, and we take a little credit for that in Devonshire, because his only education was at a village school about seven miles from where I was born. It shows what grit, courage and ability can do, and one welcomes the fact that men born in the lowest circumstances can rise to such high positions. I am an old Liberal. I am not ashamed to admit that I am an old Gladstonian Liberal. I was in the House of Commons with Mr. Gladstone. I differ entirely from the fundamental conception of the Government in ensuring production. The Government conception relies upon Parliament. My own idea is that you should rely upon the people. They are the ones who will increase production in the country. Parliament—I have a long experience of it and I know it—is mixed up with politics; and politics do not mix with industry. If your Lordships will forgive me, I will just illustrate how Ministers are appointed. I was put on to a farm when a little under fifteen years of age. I had to manage it; the farm was my university. One thing about it was that it taught me to think. A man cannot be a farmer without thinking.
I got into Parliament. In 1905 Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman offered me a position in his Government; it was at the Admiralty. There was I—a farmer. I 487 went to the Admiralty. And I can tell your Lordships quite plainly that for two years I was "at sea." I was there for eight or nine years, and then a political crisis came. I had got to know something about it then. There was to be a representative of the Admiralty in the House of Lords. I was not eligible and I went out. That is my own experience. I do not in the least complain. But why are Ministers appointed? Not because they are fit for the job but because they must be rewarded for some political service to their Party. I have not the smallest doubt that the Prime Minister had the same difficulties when he appointed his Ministers in July, 1945. We have a Minister of Food. I do not say a word against him; he is a most versatile and agile politician. But what does he know about food and food buying? The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, was a business man. He was brought up in the hard mill of competition. He succeeded. Then we had Sir Ben Smith.
Now we have the present Minister of Food. He has to spend scores of millions of pounds in buying food. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said yesterday that this bulk buying is very advantageous. I am very dubious of it in the long run. If a Government buyer comes along, he is well-known; everybody is on the look-out for him. Suppose he goes to America or to Canada: The Canadians and the Americans have been extremely generous, but if he went to the Argentine, or even to India to discuss tea, he would not find that they are all myopic philanthropists there. They want to get the best price they can. And they do. Again, to ensure an amount of foodstuffs in this country essential for our population, it has to be remembered that coal is an essential industry. We have a Minister of Fuel and Power. He, too, is a most accomplished Parliamentarian, but he is elected by a mining constituency. He cannot he quite impartial; it is impossible. I can tell noble Lords—if they have not had the experience—that if you want to make a Member of Parliament pop about like peas on a hot frying pan you have only got to touch his seat. The Minister of Fuel is elected by the miners and they see that he behaves himself—from the miners' point of view. You cannot expect impartial justice when one of the parties to 488 the suit can dismiss the judge. Politics and industry do not mix.
At the Election we had great promises of social reform—including the Beveridge Report. It was then constantly improved. The greatest social reform we could have to-day would be an abundance of commodities for our population. What is the value to-day of our money? I do not know, and no one can say. A man can come to London with, say, £100. But he cannot get a suit of clothes, a shirt, a pair of boots or a pair of socks without coupons Coupons are the valuable things to-day. I shall not detain your Lordships long, but I want to say again that I am a great believer in Mr. Gladstone's principle, that "the duty of a Government is to govern and not to trade." Further, I will give another of his precepts: "Let money fructify in the pockets of the people." To-day, in my judgment, the greatest deterrents to production are high taxes and, now, high rates. Taxes and rates are harbingers of want. Taxes are collected, rates are collected, and they are spent. But are they spent in producing wheat, or meat. or boots, or shoes, or clothes? If your Lordships think about it, almost all the taxes spent to-day are used by consumers and not producers.
Take the case of the miners. I know nothing about mining, but I imagine that there is no greater deterrent to coal production than taxes. A miner works four days a week, and earns as much as he can spend; therefore why should he work two days more? The miner is a human being, and he does not think of adding to the national savings. It seems to me to be simple human nature. If P.A.Y.E. were abolished, I believe there would be a great increase in production. Men do not want to work those extra days of the week, because they are taxed so heavily, and they do not work for fun. A point which I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has missed is that the real directing brains of the country are being frustrated. It is not a question of manpower but of well-directed manpower, and there are few men who have the ability to direct manpower well. Take the recent example of Mr. Henry Ford. He accumulated a large fortune, not because of his blue eyes but because he gave the world what it wanted. So a business man who directs labour in the wisest way will give the public what he wants, and will make a 489 profit. An appalling thing is profit, but you make a profit in business only if you serve the community. I cannot help thinking that the Government (I do not expect they will, because the idea would be very unpopular with them) should set about reducing taxes at the earliest possible moment, and reduce them drastically. Take the food subsidies. The food subsidies are costing the country to-day something like £1,000,000 a day.
§ VISCOUNT LAMBERT
I am always moderate. That enormous sum is added to the Budget. What is to be the value of the pound in the future if the Budget does not balance? I do not know, and I am sure that none of your Lordships knows. When I was in America last autumn I was told that the pound was going to fall. What would be the value of the pound to-day were it not for the Canadian and American loans? If I had any influence with the Government I would certainly take off some of the food subsidies. It is said that that will create hardship; but it would not create half the hardship that will be experienced later on when the pound depreciates in value, as undoubtedly it will. I shall probably get into hot water for saying what I propose to say now. I understand that the Government are proposing to maintain Armed Forces to the tune of something like 1,000,000 men in 1948. I do not think the country can afford it without very considerable privation amongst our people. Before the war we had, I think, something less than 500,000 men in the Armed Forces. The other place is strangely excited about conscription, but I think we want men home now for production. I know I shall get into trouble with the Admirals, the Generals, and the Air Marshals, but that does not interest me, because although I know nothing about naval, military or air strategy, I do know that an Army must be fed, and an Army must have munitions. I may be alone in that, but it does not matter—it is what I think.
Take the great increase in the Civil Service. How many civil servants are producing food? How many are producing clothes or boots: and how many are producing material to send abroad to pay for food? There is this monstrous army of civilians overlooking other people, consuming all the time but producing nothing 490 but vexation. Then we have Government planners—there was a super-planner recently appointed. I have one remedy for planners—Government planners I mean—and that is to sack the lot. But the country will have to learn by suffering. There has been a vast amount of propaganda, telling us that our Labour friends would bring so much prosperity and plenty to the country. That propaganda has not been exhausted yet, but I am afraid the time is coming when there will be a very sharp awakening by our people. It seems to me, speaking again as an old Liberal, that all the emphasis against the profit motive has been wrongly directed. Profit can only be made by service.
Then there are the trade unions. They are admirable institutions. The father of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, was a great ornament in the trade unions, and a good Foreign Secretary, too, if I may say so. But the trade unions have got out of hand; there are strikes everywhere. When I read of the strikes in Covent Garden of the men who refused to unload food, I thought: They should think themselves lucky that they have any food at all. It is not a question of distribution of food, but really of getting the food here at all. I am grateful to your Lordships for listening to me. I observed yesterday that the Prime Minister had a meeting with his trade union colleagues, and I began to think that your Lordships' House is no longer the Upper House; the real Upper House is at Smith Square, and the real Lords of Parliament are at Transport House. I wish the Prime Minister, as well as consulting his trade union colleagues, would consult those leaders of industry who have built up the prosperity of our country.
§ 4.20 p.m.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, the duty falls upon me, on behalf of your Lordships, of offering the noble Viscount, Lord Lambert, our heartiest congratulations, not only on his splendid speech but also on the fact that he has joined your Lordships' House. If I may say so—and I say it with a good deal of diffidence, being a somewhat younger man—the task should have fallen upon shoulders more qualified than mine to offer our congratulations, but I do so feeling that your Lordships will support me in every way. Everything the noble Lord said had sound substance, although I am not entirely 491 with him in his argument regarding military service. At one moment I was wondering whether he was in the wrong seat and, as a good progressive Tory, he was on the wrong side of the House. We hope he will be long spared to give us the benefit of his advice. We are very sorry, that he has first sat in your Lordships' House with a rumble in his "tummy," but I have no doubt that from time to time, by means of speeches in your Lordships' House, he will be able to get rid of that rumble.
Unfortunately, I was unable to be present yesterday, owing to local authority work in Scotland, but I have read with the greatest of interest, and listened to-day with equal interest—though not without considerable concern—to what has fallen from the lips of noble Lords. I am especially concerned about what was said yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and by what I heard to-day from the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. I would like to say that whatever the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, says, must carry a great deal of weight not only in your Lordships' House but outside—and I say this quite frankly—by reason of his being Minister of Food during the war: and not only because of that, but because of the great success which he achieved during his tenure of that office. As I understand it, most of that success was due to the fact, as has already been mentioned, that he kept a very open mind, and above all was one of those who knew that the secret of good administration lies in delegation and decentralization—a fact that is not always realized, I am sorry to say, by His Majesty's Government. There were the further facts, which have already been mentioned, that he used all the best brains in the food industry in helping to advise him, and, above all, so long as he was able, before we were forced into Government trading, he allowed the skilled buyers to do the job for the Government.
The noble Viscount, Lord Lambert, frankly admitted that whenever a Government trader or buyer went abroad he was easily recognized. I hesitate to say this in your Lordships' House, but in my country any gentleman from the Government, whether he be Minister or official, is known by the term "the mon with the strippet trewsers". He is a man who wears striped trousers, and I can assure you that we "smell" them in Scotland, 492 wherever they go. I am afraid it is not a term of endearment. I will not say it is a term of contempt. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, said that trading and politics do not make good companions. if you can get rid of this Government trading, then you allow realism once more to take charge, not politics nor international relations. That is very important in these days. This applies equally to the question of the housewives. Most of your Lordships will know by now that womenfolk are realists, and they do not care whether it is Lord Woolton or Mr. Strachey who is Minister of Food, so long as he produces the goods and gives them something to put in the stomachs of their children and their husbands. So long as he does that they are perfectly satisfied. When the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, said that he felt the womenfolk of this country were beginning to understand the difficulties of the situation—and I almost thought he rather suggested that they understood why things were so difficult—I am afraid I cannot agree with him. I do not know if he has attended any of these housewives' meetings lately, but in Scotland we do not dare go into a queue.
If your Lordships will bear with me—with the exception of one or two points which I intend to raise at the end—I will confine myself to a point which deals with my country, Scotland. I hesitate to inflict this upon your Lordships, but I am always trying to make you understand, if I can, that you cannot do without us. We are very important to you, whether through the breeding of men or seed potatoes I do not care. We can do the trick, and you cannot do without us. I am raising a special point with regard to the food administration of this country as it affects Scotland, which during the last few years have proved an utter failure, and has caused untold misery, quite unnecessarily—especially last winter. I refer, of course, to the question of winter storage of food for emergency needs such as arose last winter, and such as do frequently arise. The point has been raised several times in your Lordships' House, and I was informed that probably the most convenient way of raising it as shortly as possible would be during this debate, rather than to initiate a separate discussion in these busy times of what I choose to call this miss production of legislation. 493 I raise it in view of what I call an entirely unsatisfactory reply given by the noble Lord to a question asked a few weeks ago by Lord Tweedsmuir, and I think noble Lords from Scotland will agree with me. I am afraid I regard this reply as misleading. Of course, I absolve the noble Lord who replied on behalf of the noble Lord who usually answers for Scotland of any sinister motive. The fact is, that it was another dreary example of noble Lords having to rely on a Departmental brief without any real first-hand knowledge of the situation or of the rural conditions. I say this because I have the greatest respect and admiration for the noble Lord who answers for Scotland. He has done a great deal of work, and done a great deal for us, and he is a very good Scotsman. But we felt that in these days it is essential that we should be allowed to have someone to answer problems, not only as they affect the urban view, but from the rural point of view, because after all that is really the backbone of Scotland, and it is in these rural districts that there lies the great difference between England and Scotland.
I want to be quite frank, without hurting anybody's feelings. I would suggest that one of the noble Lords who answers in your Lordships' House should occasionally spend six months in one of these glens; he would learn a great deal! Whether the climate or the people would kill him first I am not sure, because I am afraid the name of the Government is not very good just now. I do not think the people know who are the leaders but regard them as just a Government who do not seem to care whether the Scots have houses, or even if they starve. And they very nearly did starve last winter. I know of places where they were down to half a slice of bread, and had it not been for air transport they certainly would have starved. This point has been pressed again and again. The noble Lord who replied to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, stated that the machinery was there, but the fault was that the people failed to apply. It is true there was a certain amount of failure to apply, but for two very good reasons. The first was that we asked for a workable scheme, and it was not workable; it did not suit the conditions. The second reason was that the scheme was not made universally known.
494 The Minister of Food was good enough to receive a deputation of the Members of another place and myself, when I put forward two special points to him, which were these. I hoped that it might be possible once again to delegate to Divisional food officers, first to work out a scheme and to decide who was to be included in that scheme; and secondly, to make it known through the medium of the Press. This, however, was held to be absolute rank heresy. It was said, "What? Place responsibility on the shoulders of local officers, food officers and so on, to say who were to be included in the scheme? That would never do!" But it is the only way in which the country, with such diverse conditions, can be run. You mast delegate power, because these officers understand local conditions. The people in London and Edinburgh cannot be expected to understand. There are perfectly sound and sensible men who are quite capable, not only of producing a scheme that is suitable to the district but also of administering it. The fact that the Government do not delegate is, in my opinion, the chief reason for the ghastly muddle in which we find ourselves to-day.
It was through our insistence in Angus in Scotland in 1943 that we got the power to lay in rations in advance. This winter was a very hard one, but I am not speaking idly when I say that if you ask the people in Scotland they will tell you that it was no harder than a good many other winters. As fast as the roads were opened up, down came the snow, and they were closed again. Last winter was little worse actually than the winters in 1941 and 1942. Ask the road surveyors. They will tell you and will also bear out that we have an average of three bad winters out of five. People are cut off and prevented from getting outside their doors from anything from a fortnight to ten weeks. Those are really special conditions and they need a workable scheme.
I am not going to weary your Lordships with details of how such a scheme should be worked out, or with the difficulties inherent in it. But the Minister of Food, after having been prayed for many months to take oatmeal off points, took it off only at the end of one of the severest winters in the memory of man, when nobody wanted it so badly, and he took the subsidy away at the same time. What was the result. It went up to nearly 495 double in price. There may be some good reason, and we do want to get rid even of subsidies as soon as we can. Is this the forerunner of the taking off of further subsidies? Oatmeal is one of the necessities of life in Scotland. If you are going to take the subsidy off oatmeal, are you going to take it off bread? I think I can tell your Lordships the answer: it is physically impossible. Bread is 4d. per loaf now; if you took the subsidy off it would cost something like 1s. 4d. and you would have revolution in a very short time, But oatmeal is another matter. The Scots are too few and too far off to cause you much worry.
It is obvious that when you have people snowed up to such an extent as they have been this winter they cannot keep bread in hand. You must, therefore, have some systematic arrangement for an alternative, such as flour to store. But, unfortunately, under the present system, flour is of 87 per cent. extraction and does not keep. Therefore you find that these people are allotted a certain amount of flour, but there is perhaps a four months' storm and they have flour that is no good. I do not know whether it is possible to give them white flour. They give it to the Navy. The proper answer, I think, is that these people should be allowed to store an emergency ration over and above the ordinary points and B.U.'s. This is a strong thing to say, but the Lord knows the conditions in which these people live are bad enough—shortage of coal, shortage of rations, shortage of clothes. All these conditions are much harder to bear at 1,400 to 1,500 feet above sea level than they are at 100 or 200 feet above sea level. This applies equally to clothes and food. These people really do need something a little extra. If their conditions can be lightened, I hope that the Government will do what they can in that direction.
I repeat that you must delegate powers to efficient subordinates—the divisional food officers and so on—and they should be responsible for the administration. In my county we have a number of men with the Scottish characteristics of initiative and capability, and the Government should make it possible for them to produce and administer a scheme which would meet local needs. Is the Government too frightened of losing control at the centre and of meeting the needs of 496 these people in the most sensible way? The only other alternative is for His Majesty's Government to instruct the Ministry of Food to work out a scheme whereby dumps of necessities, such as flour that will keep, fats, canned margarine, treacle, syrup, canned soup and meat should be kept at strategic points in outlying districts. They could be in the charge of perhaps the local policeman, or the schoolmaster, or minister, or some other person of repute, from whom supplies could be drawn by sledge or sleigh. That is a way whereby a repetition of last winter's unnecessary discomfort could be avoided—and also effect a saving in rates by not having to feed them by air or by track vehicle. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give an assurance that the matter will be looked into further.
I understood the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, to say that the Government were trying to give more feeding stuffs for livestock. I see in Hansard that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, suggested that we might get more shell eggs from the Continent, and the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, asked him how they got the feeding stuffs to produce more eggs. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, I believe, said he did not know. I do not understand that. Do we not work under a system whereby we get fair shares of the world supplies? I turn to the question of labour. In the debate on agriculture some weeks ago I asked a specific question as to what had been happening to the volunteers among German prisoners of war. I also asked whether some scheme could not be arranged whereby Germans who might wish to volunteer could be employed. I wonder whether anything further has come from that suggestion.
Now I wish to turn to a more general point. I wonder whether at the present moment it is quite realized—I doubt whether it is for I do not think the Scottish papers are very much read in England—what a deplorable state agriculture in Scotland is in at the moment, owing to the dreadful winter through which we have passed and to the continued bad weather. The weather seems just as bad now as ever it was. I left Scotland only last night and it was still raining then. We have had practically continuous rain or snow since last October. Our stock have suffered terribly, and they are still dying. I was very glad to hear what the noble Earl, 497 Lord Huntingdon, said with regard to the help that is being and is to be given. But, as I say, our stock are dying, and, so far as I can see, there will be no lambs this year for sale and no gimmers next year. Crop cultivation is so far behind that practical farmers have voiced the opinion that we may easily miss a whole year's crop. That is perfectly possible, and I do not need to tell your Lordships what a serious thing that would be, not only from the Scottish point of view but also from the English point of view.
Yesterday, or the day before, the Scottish Section of the National Farmers' Union sent a telegram to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Prime Minister telling them the situation, and urging that Double British Summer Time should be done away with. They emphasized the seriousness of the situation, and maintained that if it was to be saved this Double Summer Time must be stopped at once. The Government must listen to these experts—and they are experts. After al, we, in Scotland, do provide for you seed potatoes, quantities of oats, a considerable amount of wheat, sheep stock and so forth. Somehow or other, His Majesty's Government have got to be awakened out of their dream-sleep and brought to realize the seriousness of the situation. They keep on talking and saying that they want to see the agricultural situation improved, but they do nothing about it. They do nothing substantial with regard to housing or with regard to the labour position. They make a lot of speeches but nothing happens.
When the weather is good, our labourers in Scotland, like those in England, are not frightened to put their backs into their work. They do not hesitate to work for the best part of nineteen hours out of the twenty-four. To-day we are living in an atmosphere of strikes. We wake up to strikes, and we go to bed with strikes still going on. Most of us have the greatest admiration for the miners, and for others who have been concerned in recent disputes. Some of us have served with them and we know what magnificent men they are. The country, as a whole, has always had a very warm feeling for the miners. I hate to say it, but that warm feeling is gradually being dissipated. You cannot expect the housewife to feel quite the same now about the miners as she used to do. 498 You cannot expect the agricultural worker to feel the same. And what about the agricultural worker? Does he not have to go short of coal? Suppose he struck; visualize the position which would arise. Suppose the agricultural labourer followed the miner's example, and said: "Unless you give me some coal I am not going; to produce any more food." It would be a very nasty situation for the miners and for the country as a whole. Indeed, I can almost imagine the girths of some noble Lords who now sit in this House being considerably reduced in a very short time.
You could not blame the agricultural worker if he did strike. It makes him and his fellows a little unhappy when they see red carpets being put down, free lunches being given, and free tickets for football matches being handed out to the miners who, after all, are only trying, or should be trying, to pull the country out of a very serious situation. The agricultural labourer is trying to do the same. But does he get red carpets, free lunches, and free tickets to football matches? No, sir. All he gets is the thick end of the stick.
I do feel—and this has been the theme of my very inadequate speech—that somehow or other His Majesty's Government have got to approach the present situation with much more sympathy for the rural population and the rural parts of the country; they must give up regarding it entirely from the urban point of view. If they continue to neglect it—they are still neglecting it, and it is no good saying they are not—there will be a most unholy economic crash, because the rural community are the backbone of this country. I am hoping that shall hear a free and frank declaration of the situation from the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. His Majesty's Government owe it to the people, and they owe it to themselves, because, so sure as eggs are eggs, the people of this country will one day wake up to the truth and will want an account of this Government's stewardship. If I am not mistaken, while they might stand stupidity, and might even understand it if noble Lords in the Government have been mistaken, what they will not understand, and what they will not tolerate is— what I am afraid is a fact—that they have been deliberately misled. And I, for one, can only pray God for mercy on the Government's souls when they are found out.
§ 4.47 P.m.
§ LORD MORRISON
My Lords, for nearly two days this debate has ranged almost all over the world—or at any rate to nearly every part of the world—and thanks to the noble Earl who has just spoken it has at last reached remoter parts of Scotland. I am sure that neither the noble Earl nor myself desire to keep the debate pegged down to the more remote parts of Scotland, therefore, if he will allow me, I would like to reply briefly to the particular Scottish points which he raised. Then, if he is satisfied—as I hope he may be—the debate may move forward on its journey again.
The noble Earl once did me the compliment of quoting a remark which I made in my early days in your Lordships' House, to the effect that I had been brought up in a school, to which evidently he also belongs—a school in which, when you see a head, you beat it. The noble Earl has been carrying out that policy in a way that delights my heart. But I am not sure that he is not taking a rather exaggerated view in thinking that the people are seething with discontent at the conduct of the present Government. I think that comment applies not only to the noble Earl but to a good many other noble Lords on the Opposition side of the House who have spoken in this debate. If we were to believe all they say, it would seem that the name of the Government is not very good, not only in parts of Scotland but anywhere else. Perhaps when the noble Earl goes out of this Chamber he will look at the tape and note the result of a by-election which took place yesterday. That by-election was not in Scotland, it is true, but I doubt whether the result would have been very different if it had been.
The noble Earl has raised several questions of detail which I am sure he will not expect me, at such short notice, to cover in my reply. But these points will be looked into, and I will give the noble Earl an assurance that they will be carefully considered by the Departments concerned, and a reply will be sent to him. There are, of course, as he will appreciate, practical difficulties in seeing that arrangements made in advance will be completely effective in all circumstances, particularly in the abnormal circumstances to which he referred. But, in so far as normal difficulties can be met they are already provided for in arrangements made during 500 the war, which are still in operation. Here I admit at once—and I regret it—that my knowledge of the remote parts of Scotland with which the noble Earl is so familiar is very scanty. I hope to improve it in the near future, and I trust that I shall have the noble Earl's assistance in doing so, when I get the time to go up to Scotland. I hope that he will show me some of these places of which he has spoken, and will be an instructor to me. In the reply which I shall give it is possible that the arrangements which I shall detail may not be operated adequately in all parts of Scotland. If there is any exception in any of those parts with which the noble Earl is so well acquainted, if he will let me know about it afterwards I will see that some special investigation is made.
I want to deal with the arrangements under two headings—foodstuffs and feeding stuffs. The existing arrangements with regard to foodstuffs take the form of discretionary powers given to divisional food officers of the Ministry of Food to enable people living in outlying areas to use coupons in advance. These powers have been widely used since their introduction and during the past winter. It is said these discretionary powers are not enough, and that the Ministry of Food should arrange for the storage of food in bulk in outlying areas. If given effect to, this suggestion might be wasteful of both food and manpower. Surely it is a wiser policy to leave the distribution to wholesale and retail food traders who are well aware of the special circumstances prevailing in their areas, and who can make reasonable provision to maintain their stocks to meet these conditions.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
But they cannot get up there. I am talking about strategical points in the glens, where dumps can be made because the vans cannot get up.
I happened to be Food Commissioner for the West of Scotland during the 1914–1918 war, and we always left stores of food up in the Highlands and the glens and in such places as have been described by the noble Earl this afternoon. This was in order that in the bad stretches of weather, such as they always had in the winter, the people would not go wanting. That arrangement was quite satisfactory. You 501 have to rely upon the honesty and the good sense of the people, but it is the only satisfactory way of meeting these conditions. I strongly urge the Government or the Secretary of State for Scotland (whoever is responsible) to renew those arrangements as the only possible way of meeting the difficulty.
§ LORD MORRISON
Perhaps both noble Lords will allow me to complete the reply I was about to make. The existing arrangements with regard to foodstuffs take the form of discretionary powers given to divisional food officers of the Ministry of Food to enable people living in outlying areas to use coupons in advance. I would like to emphasize the point about the discretionary powers vested in the divisional food officers. These include the power to distribute food held in the Ministry's own depôts in that area. That, I gather, is what the noble Earl indicated he did when he was Divisional Food Officer for West Scotland.
We actually placed stores with the grocers and so on, right up in the glens. What the noble Lord says is that these officers have the power of distribution.
§ LORD MORRISON
What I said, and what I wished to emphasize, was that the discretionary powers vested in the divisional food officers included the power to distribute food held in the Ministry's own depots in their areas, and that coupons (except the weekly coupons for meat and bacon) can be used for the whole of the four-weekly ration period during the first week of that period without any special dispensation. That was made more flexible during the recent hard winter by arrangements under which food coupons were made usable for a further month beyond the normal availability date. As I said at the outset, if the noble Lord will let me have particulars of any cases of hardship I will be glad to have those cases investigated.
With regard to feeding stuffs, arrangements are made each winter by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland to release a quantity of feeding stocks to meet the needs of hill ewes at lambing time if severe weather should prevail and feeding stuffs be not available on the farm. A special compound nut is available for this purpose and, in the case of farm-access roads which are frequently 502 blocked in winter, an issue may be made in advance to ensure that a supply will be available should need arise. With regard to the other stock, sympathetic consideration is given by the Department to applications for advance issues of rationed feeding stuffs where the holding is normally isolated for a part of each winter, and where the stock concerned is entitled to allowances month by month under the rationing scheme. For example, shepherds and others in isolated areas can obtain coupons valid for immediate honouring as a means of purchasing the feeding stuffs required for feeding cows, calves, pigs and so on.
I make the same point with regard to feeding stuffs that I made about foodstuffs. It is obvious that while supplies continue to be scarce it would not be in the national interest to store rationed feeding stuffs for use only in abnormal emergencies. There is the risk of deterioration due to climatic conditions and there is also the danger, unless the position is safeguarded, of premature and unnecessary use by livestock. I understand that during the past winter adequate supplies of feeding stuffs were in some cases available comparatively close at hand, but they could not be conveyed to the stocks because of the deep drifts. Even on individual farms where stocks of fodder were available on the steading, it was sometimes found physically impossible to move the material to isolated places where it was urgently required. In this connexion I would repeat the assurance I have already given in regard to foodstuffs. If the noble Earl will send particulars of any hardship cases, I will see that the circumstances are fully reviewed. In conclusion, I am sure the noble Earl will agree with my taking this opportunity of conveying a very deserved tribute to the Army and the Royal Air Force for the work they did in Scotland during the abnormal period. Both services gave great help in transporting foodstuffs to remote districts which were cut off by snowdrifts, and conveying feeding stuffs for animals marooned in the hillsides and glens. Both Service were most co-operative and responded to all the calls made upon them.
§ LORD MORRISON
Perhaps the noble Earl will go further and say the snowstorms could have been avoided.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I cannot but think that possibly some of your Lordships may have been a little perplexed in the course of yesterday's debate, because it seemed to me that we heard two opinions, or, rather, statements of fact, that were diametrically opposed. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, said that there was a grave shortage of food; that it was not likely to get better, and, indeed, was likely to get worse. He received a considerable measure of support. He was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who said that, save for a little temporary shortage of fats and a slight shortage of meat, everything in the larder was lovely and that we could eat, drink, and be merry, without the usual corollary. He also received a considerable measure of support. That must have caused some perplexity, but I think I am in a position to solve that difficulty.
Your Lordships' will doubtless recall that over a period of a hundred years the French nation had a slogan Liberté, egalité, fraternité. We, in this country, thought fairly highly of that slogan as a whole. We realized it was difficult of attainment but, nevertheless, it was a high ideal. Well, of course, we have now changed all that. Liberty is as dead as the dodo, and, of course, much more lamented than that engaging bird. Fraternity is out of date. Its place has been taken by class hatred. Class hatred is far more popular now than fraternity or brotherly love. With regard to equality, in these days when everyone is not only just as good as everyone else but a great deal better, and when we pay lip service to equality, let me say this: I do not think that ever in the history of this country was there such gross inequality over the distribution of food as there is to-day.
The people of this country are divided into two flocks which I think are just about equal. There is one flock which is adequately—nay, more than adequately—fed. They have ample food—not of a very appetizing sort, but nevertheless much of it, and, as we cattle farmers would say, tolerably well-balanced. Those people might quite reasonably be called the fat kyne. There are also the lean kyne and the lean kyne are very near the starvation border and below the malnutritional border. Who are the fat kyne? In the first instance, all the members of your Lordships' House are of the fat kyne; 504 also all those people who are able to go into a club or an hotel and get as much food (if they can pay for it) as they like. The fat kyne also include practically all civil servants; all those who work in the bigger shops and stores and most of those who work in the bigger factories throughout the country; in fact, all those people who are able to go into a canteen of some sort or other and twice or thrice a clay fill themselves up to the brim with meals off the ration.
And who are the lean kyne; who, as I have suggested to your Lordships, are almost equally numerous? They include practically every housewife in the country, who has to queue in fine weather and in bad, in heat and cold, in snow and rain, very often to obtain only a few ounces of horseflesh; they include practically all the old people; the very young people; the sick and infirm; those who have been disabled by the war or otherwise, and also those who are occupied in a good many non-static industries, of which agriculture is the biggest and most important. Those are the lean kyne. I venture to think that if some of those pseudo-scientists who persuade us, with the aid of figures about calories and things of that sort, and with various statistics, that black is white, and white is black and that it is all only an optical illusion on our part, had been in a position to compare the food packet taken out by a farm worker to-day when he is going to do a full day's work in the fields, with the packet which he took out, say, ten years ago, perhaps they would have altered their opinion.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, was speaking in your Lordships' House yesterday for the lean kyne. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson—although his appearance belies it—was speaking for the fat kyne. If it be admitted—and indeed I think it can hardly be denied—that there is a very large section of our population on a borderline of malnutrition, shall we say, owing to shortage of food, why is that so? It has been suggested, even by members of the Government—I have read it, and I think the argument was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge —that to-day it is far more difficult physically to import food by ship than it was during the war. I really think that people who bring forward that argument must be taxing the credulity of their hearers a good deal. To suggest that it 505 is more difficult to bring food in now than it was when our ships were at the mercy of enemy attack by land, on the water and under the water, is taxing people's credulity.
I venture to think that there are more people than myself—indeed a great many (and not a few of them supporters of the present Government)—who have a sneaking feeling that some of our difficulties arise owing to the fact that the people who safeguarded our food during the war were more capable administrators than those who have looked after it since. It would be safe to suggest that the reason why we arc short of food is an age-old one, and it is merely that we have not now the money to buy imported food to the extent that we should like, and we are not likely—at all events for many years—to have sufficient money to do so. Therefore, as has been said by several noble Lords in this debate, we are vastly more dependent than we have been in the past on what we can produce in our own country.
I wish now to draw your Lordships' attention to an unfortunate and possibly somewhat ominous fact. It was stated during the war, and by the Government, that we were in fact producing about 70 per cent. of the food consumed in these Islands. That was a rather remarkable fact. I always like to believe statements of Governments and more especially, of course, when they are Governments of my own side. I therefore assumed that that statement was approximately true. But, fine effort though it was, it was not 100 per cent. I have been a member of a war agricultural committee for a number of years. I have been over hundreds of farms and I do not think I have ever been over one farm which was producing to 100 per cent. capacity. Certainly my own farm is not doing so by a long way. A great many farms have been producing, were producing and are producing, not more than 70 per cent.; not a few are producing under 50 per cent., and quite a lot of land, even during the war, was not producing anything at all. Therefore, if that statement be true, this country, in the matter of food, was in fact much more nearly self-supporting than is generally supposed.
The disheartening fact is that since the war, although we are told that the emergency is quite as great now as it was then, the production of food has gone down and 506 is going down. The Ministry budgeted last autumn for a very considerably reduced output of food, and, even without the climatic disasters of the autumn and winter, I do not think that we should have reached the target at which we aimed. I think this is a rather remarkable fact. When I thought I was going to address your Lordships the other day, I put down what I thought might be some of the reasons for this unfortunate fact. I soon put down fourteen reasons; then I was stopped by shortage of paper. I will not go into those fourteen reasons, and any others there might be—and there are plenty of them—because your Lordships might, like Hitler, find your patience exhausted. There are, however, one or two to which I would like to refer.
Labour, we have dealt with; and also our shortage of rations. Waste of land by public authorities has also been dealt with; and the intolerable delay in getting anything done. Then there is drainage. I think many of your Lordships know that drainage, which is a serious problem, and which, with such infinite pains, we improved during the war, is to-day going back. Then there is a shortage of agricutural machinery, as has already been mentioned. I found out only the other day that there is in fact no priority for agriculture for steel, for wood, or for hard fuel, amazing though that may sound. As proof of that, I was told that a Nuffield factory which was in process of producing a medium caterpillar tractor, which was in great demand by farmers and for which many approved applications had already come in, had to close down because they could not get the steel allocation. That, to my mind, is an astonishing state of affairs.
There are one or two other points which I do not think have been mentioned. One is the disinclination to-day to work overtime. During the war overtime was worked extensively and patriotically, and a very great number of agricultural workers worked twenty hours a day all through the spring, summer, and autumn. They are not doing it to that extent now, however much they are told of the necessity. When they are told of the necessity, some of them say it is just another political stunt. They say they heard all about the coal crisis, and the fact that everything was going to shut down, and so on. That crisis was met quite satisfactorily, apparently, by cutting down the working week from five 507 and a half days a week to five, so why on earth should they be asked to do overtime now. I know nothing about coal, and there may have been admirable reasons for the crisis, but I do know the psychological effect on the agricultural workers. Another reason that has been alluded to is Income Tax. The farm worker is not inured, like many of your Lordships have been for many years, to Income Tax, and he does not like it. I remember some two years ago I tentatively suggested to your Lordships' House that it might be worthy of consideration that money earned by overtime, so far as the agricultural workers were concerned, should be relieved of taxation. I do so now with rather more confidence, because a good many people have since said the same thing. I would mention to your Lordships three rather good reasons for this.
The first is that there is no question but that it would be a great incentive. I do not think there could be a bigger incentive. Secondly, I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer would lose very much money. Tax on overtime is the easiest thing to evade. You have only got to caddy for a couple of rounds of golf, or work in somebody else's garden, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not get a smell at those earnings. Thirdly—and this may have been considered—have the Government thought of the great saving in work, and the great saving of paper that would take place? I doubt if those of your Lordships who do not farm on a big scale have any idea of the amount of paper used, and the amount of work entailed—much of it unnecessary. The quantity of paper used must amount in a month to as much as a strong man can carry. I see forms rolling in and piling up, and yet we are told that there is a paper shortage. Quite a lot of necessary work is being held up, and quite a lot of books and periodicals, which form a source of amusement to the public, cannot be printed. Anything which could stop the use of this immense amount of paper in this way would be of some advantage.
Another point that has not been mentioned is the shortage of ready cash after one hard season, with the certainty of another bad season. This Government are a very powerful Government, with a large majority and an immense capacity 508 for nationalization. But in this direction they have failed in one respect—which I think they would be inclined to acknowledge. They have entirely failed to nationalize the weather. There has always been a series of harvests—one good harvest, and then a second; then a bad one; then three good, and then two bad. In the past, farmers have recognized that, and have realized that if they want continuity for themselves, or for their sons, they must lay something by in the good years to keep for the bad years which will come; and this they have done. If they had not done so, their sons would not be there now. But now, owing to the action of successive Chancellors, it is practically impossible to do that. Income Tax, Super Tax, and E.P.T., have rendered it impossible for the honest farmer to do it—and there are still a majority of honest farmers, although I admit the temptation to be otherwise is very great. It is oblivion of that indisputable fact that may well cause all the good intentions of the agricultural Bills, to which the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, alluded, to come to naught. I hope I may be wrong.
There is one further cause, and one only, to which I wish to allude; and that is the failure to realize the importance of agriculture, not by the Ministry, nor by His Majesty's Government, but by the people of this country at large. They still do not realize it. The vast majority of the town dwellers of this country still look on the land owner as a grasping. cruel fellow who wallows in his 1 per cent. on his money. They look on the farmer as a slow-witted fellow with a straw in his hair, instead of as one of the finest technicians there are in the country. And how do they look upon the farm worker? They look upon him as very low indeed; they think he is a very poor specimen. I would point out to your Lordships that agricultural wages have gone up quite a lot, and at the present rate I would say it is at least as much as the farmer can pay. Indeed, in many cases I think the farmer hardly can pay it and keep his land in proper condition. But these wages still compare very un-favourably with those paid in other occupations which are not so skilled. Why is that? It is because the moment you put up the agricultural wages every other industry says that their wages must go up too, on the grounds, if you please, 509 that "you would not have us paid like an agricultural worker." In many cases I would not; but it would not be upwards, it would be downwards.
Your Lordships will remember, a year or two back, a spate of Memoranda on agricultural policy. I think I read them nearly all. I took part in framing quite a few, and they bore an acute family resemblance which has been a great help to His Majesty's Government at the present time. The first to come out was that of the Royal Society. It was quite a good one, but it differed in one particular from every other. They said: "We regard the agricultural worker as the first charge on the industry." They said that taking every relevant circumstance into account, the farm workers' wages should be settled, and directly they were settled, and at the same time, then prices would be so adjusted that farmers could pay them. They were the only ones who said that. Later On, to get unanimity, they drew back on it I venture to think that theirs was the only Memorandum which was right in that particular.
I have spoken much too long, and I must beg your Lordships' pardon for that. I feel only that if I have done the slightest thing to bring home to anybody the fact that the nation is not getting the full output it is entitled to expect, which it must have, and if His Majesty's Government will examine the causes and find out by their own methods what they are—and there are many more than the fourteen which I have inflicted upon Your Lordships—and, when they have done that, do their best to put them right, then perhaps the time will not have been entirely wasted.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ LORD QUIBELL
My Lords, the picture of the agricultural labourer which has been painted by the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat is in my view a complete misrepresentation of him as I know him to-day, and as he is known in the country. Go into any village in Lincolnshire; I am proud to say that there is not a man in this House who would know whether it was the farmer, the labourer, or the schoolmaster whom he met in the street. The working men and the women are as smartly dressed and presentable as anyone else in the village.
Those of us who for many years fought for a higher standard have 510 seen the corduroys disappear with the pearl buttons; the man is dressed the equal of anyone in your Lordships' House. That is all to the good. There are certain things which are still short, such as amenities and all the rest, and about which I shall have something to say in a minute. But so far as his general appearance is concerned, when he goes into a town to do his shopping, you cannot distinguish the country worker from any other citizen. That is what we have fought for, and we have realized it so far as the agricultural labourer is concerned. During my lifetime, since I worked on a farm as a boy, we have seen him rise from being merely a serf at £5 a year, and living in—that was the wage of a second hand; the third hand sometimes received 50s. a year—to what he is to-day. We have lifted the agricultural labourer from the picture that has been painted of always being the underdog. I agree that he should not be the underdog; he should he recognized as one of the most highly skilled and respected workmen in this country, and as highly paid as any.
I listened to the speech of the noble Earl who opened this debate to-day, and I thought he was very critical of the Government. I admit that perhaps they deserve some of the things he said, but I have never known a Government about which I have not thought the same. Even the one in which my friend held office as Parliamentary Secretary was not noted for a great amount of work.
§ LORD QUIBELL
You may share the glory. My noble friend did not deliver speeches of that kind in those days, when potatoes were £1 a quarter, when wheat was 22s. a quarter, and when the conditions of the agricultural labourers were such that could not press upon the then Government the necessity of including the agricultural labourers in the Unemployment Act, because there were too many of them unemployed, and the funds could not stand it. We did not hear speeches like that in those days. Indeed, so far as agriculture is concerned, he is sitting on the side of the House which, during my lifetime, had the power, if they had had the will, to develop agriculture twenty and thirty years ago. If we wanted to build a 511 house the rural district council were chiefly composed of Tories, and there was nearly a revolution when that was suggested. They said it should be left to private enterprise. Some of the buildings in rural England were disgraceful. I am quite aware that this Government cannot destroy some of them, because we have neither the labour nor the material to put a better house in their place, though that is the object of the Government.
So far as general conditions of agriculture are concerned there was the Land Tenure Act, which was introduced by the Liberal Party. I remember the Tory Member for my Division voting against it —he was a land owner and he voted against it. What my Division did was the right thing: they cleared him out the first time they had an opportunity to do so. The noble Earl said we are not getting the houses. That is perfectly true, but every member of this House knows why we are not getting the houses. First of all, there is the shortage of labour. In this case it is chiefly of what we describe in the building trade as the unskilled labourer; that is a bricklayer's labourer, whom I regard as highly skilled. Why is that? It is because his wages do not nearly approach that of the skilled man. It is my considered view that during the next few years we are going to see that the electrician, the carpenter, the builder and the builder's labourer—who can lay drains, concrete foundations, and level them, and can make a scaffold and things like that—should get the same kind of wage. The labourer has the hardest work.
I remember the days when I carried what was known as a "monkey" on my shoulder, and I remember the fellow who, when working on a house, said: "We are working nine hours a day, but the man at the top does the whole of the work." I knew he did not. I knew who was doing the hardest work. The reasons we are not getting houses, as I say, are a shortage of labour, and, particularly, a shortage of timber. You cannot blame any Government, whatever Government hold office, because you cannot manufacture a tree. It takes over sixty years to grow a tree to felling size, and you would be very lucky at that; it takes eighty years for the soft timbers we are using in this country. There is a shortage of timber; and in no speech on the housing question have I heard one single practical contri- 512 bution which would help the Government to accelerate housing, dependent as they are on these materials which are in such short supply.
What is the answer? One is that I put a roof on two houses for a local council without an ounce of timber. That is a practical suggestion which I offer. There will be two pairs of roofs on when I get back this week-end. They are constructed of hollow concrete boards. We have the cement, the machinery and the tackle. There is not a joiner engaged in it, not a nail to put in it, and no timber on the roof. We have in abundance all the materials required. Greater encouragement ought to be given by the Government to this kind of work. These roofs are hollow, principally because they thus prevent condensation which you get from reinforced concrete.
I do not think the Opposition quite realize the situation—or if they do they have very skilfully concealed their doubts as to the possibility of any great step being taken immediately in rural housing. After all, plant and machinery have to be taken out. During the recent bad weather half the time would have been taken up by the men travelling backwards and forwards, and the housing programme would not have been forwarded in the slightest degree. I suggest, so far as immediate policy is concerned, that we should go in for the Airey house or some similar prefabricated house that can be taken to the site and quickly erected. I do not believe there is any other solution. I was talking to a colleague of mine on the Commission today and he was complaining that we had not got a single house yet. It is now nearly two years since I went round the country trying to get village sites. I found that the great difficulty was that the builder and contractor who knows and employs the men will not undertake a contract which means transporting materials and men backwards and forwards to a rural area if he can get a contract to build 120 or 150 houses concentrated in an urban district.
I notice in the Hobhouse Report that the compilers have considered the question of rural housing. They have, in the main, considered it very favourably. They say in the Report that there is a certain amount of labour available in the rural areas in small villages, but that the men are not skilled enough to undertake 513 a contract in a town. But surely they could be employed for reconditioning some of the houses in the towns. Why not do that? I believe that so far as reconditioning is concerned a certain amount of it could be taken in hand. A certain farmer who lives in my district has reconditioned at his own expense some 134 houses in a village in Lincolnshire. He tells me that he is quite willing to go on with more if he can be given a subsidy of some kind—he has lost £300. I think this kind of thing should be encouraged.
The Report says that there is a certain amount of labour in the countryside able to do the work of reconditioning but unable to do the work of building new houses. We all know that. I think it would be of great value in this direction if the Government would be wise enough and strong enough to put a Bill through the other place very quickly, during this year, to enable reconditioning to be done in this way. I was talking some time ago to a farmer whose house was falling down. He wanted to get permission to build another. He said: "What can I do?" I said: "Submit a plan for a house, or rooms in the form of a hostel, for your three men, and call it a 'house' or 'hostel'." I do not know how one gets over a Government Department unless you call a place something of that kind. The fact is that there are so many people looking for accommodation that the difficulty of getting workmen housed anywhere is really the greatest problem with which we are faced to-day. That example which I have given can be supplemented by dozens of other examples from the Trent Valley.
In the recent floods in Lincolnshire from Morton the tide came up to Scunthorpe. Indeed it went to a point where the land was last under water one hundred years ago. In this connexion, I would like to tell your Lordships a little story. I have already told the Parliamentary Secretary how this job was being handled. The water came up to a clamp of potatoes and just washed it away like a wisp of straw. The talk on this occasion was concerned with compensation for loss of potatoes and other crops I said to this farmer friend of mine: "How did you get on with your potatoes?" He said: "Oh, I got in 350 tons of mine. I heard that the water had come through at Gains-borough and I knew it would ultimately 514 reach my place because there were spring tides. So I got men from other farms to help me and I saved 350 tons of potatoes." I said to him, "What about the other fellow whose farm we passed a little time ago?" He replied, "Oh, he just came and stood and looked at us getting our potatoes. He stood with his arms folded looking on, and he lost all his potatoes." Now I suppose that in most cases the principle of compensation would work in such a way that the man who stood and looked on with folded arms would be compensated for the loss of his crop. The man I would compensate would be the man who got busy and saved 350 tons of potatoes for the country—not the fellow who looker, on while the water came and washed his crop away.
Now, what has happened with regard to land drainage?—and I hope that my noble friend will take notice of this. We have installed a lot of wonderful pumps and pumping stations for land drainage purposes. Some of these pumps are really marvellous—they shift 150 tons of water a minute, I was told I have no means of checking that figure, but it was an engineer's statement. I may say that I do not always accept such statements, except with a grain of salt. Now in the areas of which I am speaking, pumps were put at a low level because the shorter the lift the more efficient are the pumps in operation. So these particular pumps were put very well down to drain that farmland. We have never had anything like this before in my time, and I have known the Trent Valley for over sixty years. The pumps were put low down in order to shorten the suction. Then the flood came through at Gainsborough and it covered the pumps.
But this is the strangest thing of all. None of these wonderful pumps could be worked, and the engineers, responsible had walled up with concrete and brick the natural outfalls, so that the water could not drain away at low tide. For that reason the land has been under water for a lot longer than it need have been. Had the drain heads been left in the condition in which our forefathers left them, the water would have got away weeks before. But, you see, the people who did this were engineers with high qualifications. The consequence was that the water remained on the land at a time when every day had become vital if sugar beet and other crops were to be saved. 515 In fact a friend of mine had half his farm kept under water because of this. In the end, it was thought fitting to fetch a Dutchman to see how clever our men had been. The water would have run off with the variation of the tide but for the desire of these men to show off their cleverness in operating these wonderful oil driven pumps.
I hope that the Trent Catchment Board and every one of the little internal boards will insist that a thorough inquiry is made into why this flood occurred and why it was so badly mishandled that we had to call in someone from another country to advise us. I think it is time some of these people who are drawing fairly substantial salaries should be told just where they get off. They should be told that we want service in return for paying high salaries. We certainly did not get it in this instance.
I am pleased to say that so far as the farmer is concerned he is doing a wonderful job. He has had some pats on the back, and I think he deserves every word of praise that has been given him in this House. I would also like to say that I, personally, would give unstinted praise to the Minister of Agriculture for having, in my opinion, by giving subsidies, applied compensation in the right form. This has encouraged the growers to do their utmost to get their potatoes in, for it has been pointed out to them that if they do so they will get £15 an acre as compensation. Furthermore, arrangements have been made for satisfactory prices for sugar beet. In short, everything possible has been done to encourage them to make the maximum possible use of their farms after the flood water has run off them. In my view the Ministry have done a very good job of work.
Now a good deal has been said about the production of food. The noble Earl who spoke earlier but who has now left the Chamber made some comment about our rations. I do not think that we have any very serious grounds for complaint about rations. If any people ought to complain I ought to be one of them, but I do not think we are doing very badly. I know that, of course, everybody would like to be able to buy what they please, and that many things are in short supply. Well, we cannot help it that they are. The only thing I personally would com- 516 plain of is that I do not get enough meat. I should like to see all us heavy workers getting a little more meat. I have said that the Ministry have done good work. They may not have done everything that they should have done, but neither, I think, did the noble Lord who opened the debate do everything that was right.
§ LORD QUIBELL
No, you never claimed perfection, I agree. At the same time, whatever Government was in power, in my view it would be faced with difficulties of a similar character. What we should do, I believe—and I have always believed this—is to pay the fullest possible attention to labour, to housing, and, if you like, to fertilizers. I am inclined to believe that humus is more effective in most of our British soil than artificial fertilizer. Artificial fertilizers may be good for certain heavy land. I think that we should do everything to encourage more intensive agricultural production, to arrange for proper price levels for agricultural commodities and to do all that is possible to provide the houses that are needed, whether of a temporary or permanent character. Furthermore, we should do our best to ensure that the people of the countryside are paid wages commensurate with the wages that are received by workers in the great industrial centres. If we do that, I feel confident that we shall get the labour we need on the land, and we shall also make a great contribution towards increasing our food supplies and to rendering this country less dependent upon dollars and upon other countries.
§ 5.50 p.m.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, in his dissertation on how we could get more houses. I hope that the Front Bench on his side will pay some attention to what he has said, because he speaks from great technical knowledge, and, as they now have an almost exclusive right to build houses, perhaps if they paid a little attention to him we might get some of the houses in rural districts which are so necessary, either built or reconditioned. This is a food debate and not a housing debate, so I am going to make a few remarks on the subject of the Motion. When the Government have complete control of any commodity which 517 is essential to the life of the nation, the supply of that commodity becomes, for the Government, a gigantic question of good housekeeping—nothing more nor less. If people in this country express doubts with regard to the ability of the Government to achieve success in housekeeping so far as food is concerned, I think they have reason. If they look at the deplorable results of the Government's housekeeping over the fuel supply of this country, I think there is every reason for the people to demand from His Majesty's Government the fullest possible information which will reassure them; otherwise they have every reason to doubt the Government's ability.
We have had a number of speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, made a speech the gist of which was that the Government hope (or expect) to maintain the existing level of rations in practically every commodity except meat. So far as meat was concerned, he gave us a very clear warning that: we may anticipate a fall in the ration. That was cold comfort to the hard pressed mother of a family who is hoping for an increase in the ration. But this was a ray of sunshine compared to a remark of the Minister of Food in a speech at Dundee last Saturday. This was reported in the Sunday Press, and if your Lordships will permit me I will quote from what he is reported to have said. He did not think there was any danger of a food crisis such as has happened with fuel. (It is rather menacing that he found it necessary to say that at all.) That did not mean they could guarantee that every ration would be kept at its present level; some were in danger, like tea and meat. (The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, did not mention tea as being in danger.) But (the Minister went on) he would always reduce a ration rather than allow breakdown.
I would draw your Lordships' attention to that last sentence; that he would rather reduce a ration than risk a breakdown. Would not a reduction of our present rather meagre ration be virtually a breakdown in the Government arrangements? If the Minister of Food did not mean that kind of breakdown, did he mean a breakdown in his own organization? Is he prepared to starve the country rather than that his own organization should break down? I think we deserve some answer from the other side of the House to these 518 rather frightening remarks of the Minister of Food, which were made so recently as last Saturday.
I come now to the question of home production, and the part that home production can play in our total food supply. We are all agreed (and the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has dealt extensively with this point) that home production should and might well be considerably increased. All through the war, and the difficulties of the war, home production steadily increased from year to Year. It is only since the war has ended that we have seen a decline from that steady upward progress. I agree very much with my noble friend, Earl De La Warr, that we need definite production targets and some clear lead from His Majesty's Government on what they expect from home production. I feel there is also another major cause for the indifference of the farmers—and it is indifference—towards increasing their production. We have an admirable arrangement of price fixation which will shortly be embodied in a Statute; at least I hope it will. This arrangement, incidentally, was inherited by the present Minister of Agriculture from his predecessor. It is designed to give the farmer that security in the future which will encourage him to produce more. It has also been stated that alterations in price will not only be in accordance with economic necessity, but will also be designed to guide policy and production in the direction that His Majesty's Government may think right in the interests of the nation.
That is all admirable, but what is happening? We are having our regular price fixation, and this consists, so far as one knows (because it goes on behind closed doors), of a good deal of hard bargaining, with the farmers trying to get as much as they can, and the Ministry of Agriculture, backed by the Treasury and the Ministry of Food, doing their level best to keep prices down. The net result is that prices are fixed which are just enough, but not an encouragement, and a price which does not allow for any margin of bad weather or bad luck. If His Majesty's Government really desire to see an increase in the home production of food which will assist our food supplies very materially, and assist our dollar situation very materially, they must introduce a spirit of much sweeter reasonable- 519 ness. They must be more generous in these price fixations than they have been in the past.
It is a commentary on that system that three times there has had to be interim rises between price fixations. It is quite true that we are grateful for this last rise in price. It came on April 26, which was rather late. It might have come a bit sooner in order to encourage people to sow more than they would otherwise have done. Except possibly for land just emerging from the flood, April 26 is rather late for any normal sowing, and too late for a man to think about sowing a field which he would not otherwise have sown.
There are other subsidiary factors which deter a farmer from increasing his production. One is the labour uncertainty, not only with regard to housing, but the loss of German prisoners. Another, and possiby only a psychological one, is the fact that we are buying in certain countries food which is being produced at home, and paying a price considerably higher than we are paying our own farmer. It is a most disheartening thing for a farmer to know that a man in South America or North America, or anywhere else in the world, is getting more than he is getting for an exactly similar produce.
I want to conclude by saying a few words about the part which home production will play in the course of the next twelve months or so. We had a very forthright speech from the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, who told us exactly what the situation was as a result of the weather disaster and other disasters of the last six months. He concentrated largely on the difficulties of the flood areas, and I would like to congratulate him and, through him, the Ministry of which he is a member, on their very prompt and effective action in the flooded areas in the Fens. He told us, amongst other things, that the total wheat acreage this year, instead of reaching the target of 2,500,000 acres was only 1,940,000 acres. I can envisage somebody in the Ministry of Agriculture saying: "Oh well, we are budgeting for 2,500,000 acres, anyway. That would be 2,500,000 tons. We are now down to 1,940,000 acres; that will be 1,940,000 tons of wheat." It is simple arithmetic and it is easy to pass on to the Ministry of 520 Food. But I very much doubt if that simple arithmetic will come right.
We have had a very severe winter, and although we had very encouraging reports of wheat emerging and looking green under the snow (and which was better than anybody expected, because nobody ever expects anything from under the snow) in fact, if you really look at that wheat—and I have looked at it quite a lot—the plant is thin. It is hardly moving yet, and possibly we are not going to get even an average yield over the larger part of the area. As the noble Lord said, much of the wheat sown is spring wheat, and we all know that, generally speaking, the yield from spring-sown wheat is lower than that of winter-sown wheat. In addition we had a very wet autumn; we had a very severe winter, and we had a thaw with rain which saturated the ground again. That has washed out of the ground a great deal of the mineral fertilizers which are needed by the plant—whatever anybody may say about humus. At the same time, we have not been able to get the fertilizers which we require to replace the loss which has occurred owing to the weather, and that again will reduce the yields that one may anticipate. The same applies to barley—spring sown and sown very late indeed.
I was lucky on my land, and I started my spring ploughing in the second week in April. But one of my tractor men came to me and said: "Do you realize that two years ago last Thursday we had finished spring sowing and were planting potatoes in this very field?" I had not at that time sown a single seed of corn. We were a month behind. We have had a late spring which must have an effect on the growth. We cannot expect the yields we ordinarily could expect. This applies to every form of production on the farm which grows out of the ground. I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture can assure us that they have put the Ministry of Food wise to these difficulties, because they will have a very serious effect on our food production. It must be remembered in these days, when we are severely restricted with regard to food, that our production bears a far higher proportion of the whole than it ever did before the war, and a lowering of that production will therefore have a correspondingly bigger effect upon the rations which we receive.
There is one other point which I must mention; that is, the subject of potatoes, 521 which are again suffering from lateness and also from unsuitable manure. I was glad to hear that potash is to come forward in greater quantities. It has not come forward yet. There are other factors. In my part of the world—the south country—we are desperately short of seed. I have 25 per cent. less seed than I require for my contract to grow potatoes. That includes eleven tons of seed said to be on rail somewhere. There is delay on the railway. It takes at least a fortnight for seed to reach my part of the world from the north of England. I take it that coal has probably got priority and food takes a back seat. That is a matter for the Government to sort out amongst themselves. But it must be realized, if they do allow that kind of thing, that we shall see a very definite reduction in our total production in the immediate future, with which I am dealing.
I do not want to say any more beyond this: that farmers are by nature pessimists, with reason. They know—and have learnt by generations of bitter experience—that it is very necessary when growing food to be pessimistic, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will take a leaf out of the farmers' book and be pessimists. There is a certain psychological pleasure when your pessimistic forecasts are in actual fact realized. There is a correspondingly much greater pleasure when they are falsified. If we go on having mildly optimistic speeches, proposals and suggestions, such as we have had from the other side all through this debate, it gives people in this country the idea that everything is right in the best of all possible worlds, whereas we know that it is not really right. Your Lordships on the other side of the House know it is not really right. I wish you would be rather more pessimistic, and we shall be correspondingly more joyful when you are proved to be wrong.
§ 6.7 p.m.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I think that two things have so far emerged from this debate: one, that everybody in your Lordships' House is agreed that we must grow more food at home; the other that His Majesty's Government in the last few months—or indeed since they have been in office—have done very little practical work to help that effort forward. I take up the question of potatoes, which the noble 522 Lord who has just sat down mentioned. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, mentioned that production of potatoes would be down this year and that there would be a scarcity owing to floods, but he did not mention what the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, mentioned—namely, that there is no seed coming from the north and, therefore, the shortage will be much larger because nothing has been grown, quite apart front what has already been lost by damage. The only answer that we get from the Ministry when the N.F.U. or the committee press them with regard to this matter is: "Do not worry; it will come down in time." You cannot plant potatoes after May. It is now May 8. A large number of farmers who ordered their potatoes last autumn have not even got the invoice yet to let them know whether they are on the road, let alone the fact that they are on the railroad somewhere. I think that His Majesty's Government have at least been found wanting in getting potato seed down south. No doubt they will be able to give us some answer with regard to that.
With regard to the housing and labour situation, with which many noble Lords have already dealt, I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, put forward such sound and reasonable suggestions with regard to rural housing and labour. As he is a Government supporter I think they would do well to listen to some of his very able and technical advice—even though it is agreed with by this side of the House. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, told us of the machinery released by the Government. Like everything else, it is late. Half this material which was wanted many months ago will not be here until some time next year. The Government were pressed to release Government transport from the dumps, and after a long argument they held auction sales and sold these vehicles which were vital to the various industries. In the war agricultural committee dumps there are thousands of pieces of material and implements surplus to establishment, which are offered only to the dealers, and the dealers come and take them as and when they get a customer. If they had been put up for public auction in the markets, numerous small pieces of machinery, very useful to the small farmer, which he cannot get to-day, would have been made available to him 523 months ago. At any rate a week ago nothing had been settled with regard to that matter.
As regards the foreign labour situation, we have heard much of the replacement of the German prisoners by displaced personnel—Poles, and such like. But at the moment little is being seen of them. I would suggest to your Lordships that to get this force working, even for next year's harvest, large numbers of them ought now to be in the rural areas, getting acclimatized to the country and the people with whom they have got to work. If this is not done, we shall have lost the German prisoners, the shortage of our own people will still be felt—possibly it will be greater, with the housing shortage—and we shall have a certain number of complete strangers who are unhappy themselves, and do not know exactly where they stand. The whole thing will not be organized.
This debate has gone on for some time. I know there are other noble Lords who want to speak, and I will not detain your Lordships much longer. I would, however, like to add my humble weight to the suggestion that has been put forward by other noble Lords, that the Government must take some greater practical interest in the production of home food. Otherwise I think they will shortly find themselves in the position of the prodigal son before the fatted calf was killed, when he "fain would have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat."
§ 6.12 p.m.
My Lords, the Motion before your Lordships' House is:That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the growing danger of a serious shortage of food in this country.Although this debate has wandered over a very much wider field, especially the field of agriculture, which I agree is virtually inseparable in some respects from the food situation, I do not wish to follow other noble Lords who have spoken on the subject of agriculture in all the more detailed matters which they have raised. Indeed, most of the points that I want to make are points relating to the Ministry of Food and the administration of food. But before doing that, there are one or two points of perhaps lesser importance arising on certain things that have been said in relation to agriculture, which I would like to raise, having regard to the 524 presence of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, in the House.
First of all, may I say that I think the general theme which has run through all your Lordships' speeches, that a much larger proportion of the food consumed in this country could be raised here, is a matter of common ground. We have not for the last two days been concerned with whether or not we should try and produce more food in this country. I think we are agreed on all sides of your Lordships' House that more food should be produced, although we may perhaps be at variance with one another over the exact methods to be adopted for producing more food. In dealing first with this question of producing more food in this country, I would like to refer to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, upon one or two specific matters. The noble Earl, for instance, has taken the question of the losses of livestock, and the difficulties in which agriculture in this country has found itself, as being the result of the winter through which we have been through. I do not wish to traverse, to criticize, or to comment on the information which he has offered, except on one or two points. I find in the noble Earl's remarks, and in the statements of the Ministry which he graces with his presence, very much the same sort of ground for criticism that I find in the pronouncements of the Ministry of Food, in that they have an apparent fear of stating the worst to the public in this country.
I will take a particular case in point. When, at the end of the winter from which we have all suffered, the Ministry were pressed and made an assessment of the losses which this country had suffered, the first estimate (I am quoting one instance), as the noble Earl will agree, was that about 1,300,000 sheep had been lost. At the time that estimate was given I think it was known to a great many people, including some of the best experts in touch with or under the Ministry of Agriculture, that in point of fact the losses were very much greater. It was common ground among those who followed the situation that the losses at that time were already estimated to be 3,000,000. That figure was given by the Ministry only some weeks later, and it was subsequently stepped up to 4,000,000. I can see no reason why the fact that the losses were as high as 525 3,000,000 should not have been stated at the time that the estimates were first compiled.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
May I just for a moment comment on that? It takes some time to assess losses of that kind. We heard rumours of losses, but we have to be very precise, and there was an inevitable delay between accumulating the losses at the committees and giving them to our Ministry, which explains why at first we issued one figure and later increased it.
I accept that there must be delay. It is obvious that if you are collecting figures of losses of sheep from remote districts some time must elapse before the final results come in. But the deficiency between the estimate of 1,300,000 and the figure to which it was increased eventually was very considerable—in fact, it was more than double. Another point arising out of that is that the losses were attributed very largely to the winter weather from which we suffered. That is perfectly true. It is obvious to everybody that we did have a winter, not of unprecedented severity but certainly of very great severity. I am sure it will be agreed by the noble Earl that the losses in sheep, in particular, were not only attributable to the weather. They were attributable in a large part to the lack of foodstuffs which were available at that time, and the winter from which we suffered aggravated the losses; indeed, the losses which make up the latter part of the figure of 4,000,000 which was announced, and certainly the losses in cattle to which the noble Earl referred, took place after the climax of the winter was reached, as a result of the weak condition in which stock found itself. Moreover, the losses of actual sheep and cattle are not the full tale, because included in those losses, though not in the figures, are the very large losses of unborn lambs. It follows therefore that the decrease of our livestock population is very much greater.
I mention those figures not in criticism of the Ministry at all, although I am coming to one point of criticism in a moment. I mention them because they disclose to me in this case, as in certain other cases which I propose to put, the fear of giving the public the whole truth and the whole statement which was available and is available to His Majesty's 526 Government at the present time. With all respect to the noble Viscount who is going to reply I will show in a minute why I think those figures are a deliberate concealment of facts He will wish me, no doubt, to produce some evidence of what I said is a deliberate concealment of facts. I do that by referring to the monthly statistical statement which we have been recommended to read. I do not wish the noble Viscount to say: "Oh, here is that man again, with his statistical statement. He used it about a month ago, and now he is going to use it again and bore us with a lot of statistics."
I will not do that this late hour, but in going through this statement there is one thing which strikes everyone perfectly clearly and without any shadow of doubt—namely, that whereas stocks of raw materials in this country, including imported raw materials, are in certain places stated very clearly (I refer to stocks of coal, iron, steel, pig iron, base metals, timber, pulp, and commodities of that sort), no stock figures have ever been stated in regard to food. They are not stated, they have not been stated, and I would like to know why they are not stated, unless it be for the purpose of concealing from the public of this country that stocks of food and materials are extremely low. Why, with all the bureaucratic machinery which is available for assessing stocks, are the estimates of available food stocks not published and printed?
In the bad old days, to which the Benches opposite have frequently referred, when foodstuffs were bought and sold in the open market with whatever advantages or disadvantages there may have been in that system, statistical material was available of all the stocks in this country, what were en route to this country by ship, what had been bought, and what had been ear-marked, as was the case in very few countries, except possibly the U.S.A. Since the intervention of Government buying in food and in other markets, these statistics have been concealed; they have not been published. That is true, for instance, of cotton, because the statistics published of cotton available here—this is not germane to this argument—are entirely misleading and mean nothing at all. But if imported materials are referred to in those statistical tables for such commodities as base metals, pulp, paper, hides and so 527 forth, showing that they are bought by the Ministry of Supply or other Departments, why cannot food stocks be shown? They are not shown because I claim that the Government are frightened of showing them, just as they are frightened of showing to the public what the food position is, and as they are also afraid of showing how bad the position in regard to our food stocks really is.
I have no doubt that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, when he comes to reply, will deny that the reason why the losses of agriculture during this winter were under-estimated was motivated by the same set of reasons as have led to the concealment of these facts. There is one small point to which perhaps the noble Earl might reply and contradict me if I am wrong. If I heard him rightly, he said that there was now more labour in agriculture than before the war, and that remark was received with interjections from this side of the House to the effect, "We hope so." I turn to these statistical tables which we have been enjoined to read, and in particular to those which are in Table 22. The numbers employed in agriculture are shown in the left hand column as being 711,000 in June, 1939, and as being 889,000 in June, 1946. Of that figure the male labour population employed in agriculture was 618,000 in 1939 and 732,000 in June, 1946. But footnote (1) says that those figures of males include prisoners of war. The figure of prisoners of war employed on agriculture at the present moment is, I understand, something of the order of 135,000 to 140,000. I think I am right in that figure, but the noble Earl will no doubt correct me if that is not so.
If the noble Earl would subtract 140,000 from 732,000, the figure of male labour, he will find a substantial decrease over 1939, and perhaps that statement may well be amplified when the noble Viscount replies.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
In order to get quite clear what it is the noble Lord is asking me, do I understand him to say there is a footnote to say that the figures include prisoners of war? Because I cannot see it.
Footnote (1) says, if I read it correctly:The figures for Great Britain, and for Northern Ireland from 1945 onwards exclude the occupier, his wife and domestic servants, but include relatives of the occupier (or of his wife) who work on the holding, members of the Women's Land Army, members of H.M. Forces, prisoners of War,and so on, but not schoolchildren. One other point which was raised by my noble friend Lord Beveridge was the employment of non-British labour, for instance, Polish labour, and the labour of displaced persons who are being brought to this country to work on the land. My noble friend asked what numbers of Poles had hitherto been engaged to work on the land, and what arrangements were in process of being made to employ Polish labour. I hope the noble Viscount will be able to supply some information on that point, because it is a matter of very considerable importance to a great many people. My own experience, in the part of the world in which I live, is that Poles are not employed and that offers to employ them on the land have been singularly unsuccessful. I do not want to generalize, but my experience, not only from my own part of the world, the western part, but from the southern part, the Home Counties, is that efforts to get Poles out of camps to work on farms, even though they were farm labourers when they came here, have by and large been singularly unsuccessful. It is no remedy to the lack of labour on the land to talk airily about Poles being employed if the Poles do not wish to be employed, or do not wish to work there.
However, as the main issue in this afternoon's debate, as yesterday's, is that of food rather than agriculture, I would like to go back to the terms of the Motion. And here, if I may express a personal opinion, I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Beveridge has said. We must accept that what was done—with all respect to his great work—by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, in the Ministry of Food during the war, and what has to be done now by the Minister of Food, are not comparable. They are quite different problems. And one aspect of that problem which has not, I think, been brought out quite sufficiently in this debate—though it was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—is that we are living, so far as food is concerned, 529 in an international régime in which no one community like ours can obtain all its wants. Moreover there are a number of communities in the world at present who are demanders of all sorts of food of which we also are demanders, and who are likely to get a larger share of what is going than they did in the past—and quite rightly. Therefore there is less to go round. We must accept that, and we must further accept that these various communities are much greater competitors with us in the world markets for food—in North America, Australia and the Argentine—than they were before the war.
Obviously the task of any Minister of Food must be considerable and difficult. But having accepted that—and I do not wish to draw any analogy between the problems which confronted the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and those which confront Mr. Strachey at the present moment—I confess that I for one, and probably other noble Lords are of the same opinion, am left with a certain sense of disquiet, not only about the food situation, but about the way the food supplies have been administered. The statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, tended to be reassuring in certain major respects such as meat. A recent statement by the Minister of Food was broadly to the effect that if we get a good harvest in North America this year we might be able to bring bread rationing to an end. I do not think that was a very weighty statement; it is rather on the lines of the old crack (if I may use that word in your Lordships' House) with which we are familiar: that if we had some bacon we might have some bacon and eggs—if we had some eggs.
Of course, if there is a very good harvest in North America there will be more wheat, and if there is more wheat we may be able to bring bread rationing to an end. But what does disquiet one is the lack of figures in Government publications on stocks and such things. There appear to me to be administrative incoherencies. Last year bread rationing was brought in. Bread stuffs, the cereal situation as a whole, was regarded as so critical in this country that we had to bring in bread rationing. It was so serious that the undertakings given by the Ministry of Agriculture in regard to foodstuffs for livestock could not be met. As a result of 530 that, the livestock population of this country decreased very considerably. The figures of the decrease prior to the winter are evident in statistical tables. I have no doubt that the situation then appeared so critical that bread rationing was necessary, and also that it was difficult, if not impossible, to continue the rationing of livestock on the basis which had been announced.
But a few weeks ago we were informed that the bread situation in this country was again so critical that it might not be possible to maintain the present bread ration. That was, think, in March. Within a very short time—a few days I believe—of that announcement, a statement was made about the increase, a small increase, of rations for livestock which was to take effect on May 1, and did in fact take effect on May 1. That small increase last year would have enabled a great deal of livestock to be wintered through, which in fact died as a result of the cold weather and shortage of food. At a time when we were contemplating having to cut down our bread ration here, the possibility of increased rations for livestock was announced almost simultaneously. It seems to me a curious inconsistency.
May I go on to what happened to wheat? We do not know how many weeks' supply of breadstuffs were in this country. We do know that representatives of the Ministry of Food and the Minister of Food himself had to go on urgent business to various parts of the world to obtain sufficient food to see us through. Some reference has been made from the Benches on the other side of your Lordships' House about the freezing up of the Atlantic ports; some reference has also been made on this side of your Lordships' House. The necessity of having to import wheat by the Pacific route, is, I have no doubt, unavoidable. What I am questioning is whether administratively it was right or wise to leave dealing with the reserve food situation in this country so late as to make these devices necessary.
I will go further and ask your Lordships to consider—not here to-night—what is the result of that administrative delinquency on. the price of wheat. I have had prepared a graph which I should be happy to show the noble Lord or the noble Viscount, of the price of wheat in the last months of last year and the early 531 months of this year, when, as may be known to your Lordships, the price of what is known as spot wheat—that is to say, wheat actually on the spot, or available immediately in Chicago—rose to the unprecedented height of $3.20 a bushel, which is the highest or second highest price in history. That rise started at the end of January and reached its climax in, I think, the second week of March. Your Lordships will recollect that last year we were told that the North American continent had had a bumper crop of wheat, of a size almost unknown in history; farmers' granaries and every receptacle in the United States were bulging with wheat, yet the price rose. The price of forward wheat, wheat at three months, not only did not rise but lagged behind. It seems curious that farmers who had no place to store wheat, and who were reported to be storing it under tarpaulins in the open, who were most anxious to get rid of it, should yet have succeeded in holding up the market and involving a rise of from $2.40 a bushel at the end of January to $3.20 by mid-March. That was this year. And the price of forward wheat always lagged behind that. The price of forward wheat never rose as high, and the percentage rise never went so high.
What is the explanation? I think the explanation is simple; so simple that it must surely have been apparent to the public in England, though I have never seen reference to it. Put vulgarly, in terms of capitalist markets, we were caught short, and we had to get wheat at any price, anywhere we could buy it, in order to get something to live on for the next few months. That wheat was obtained by buying spot wheat at Chicago and shipping it at prices well known to your Lordships. If your Lordships on the other side of this House will accept the gift of this chart, and take the trouble to plot on to it the voyages made across the Atlantic by representatives of the Ministry of Food and by the Minister of Food, you will find a curious coincidence between the shape of that curve and those particular dates. That, I think, justifies my noble friend Lord Beveridge in suggesting that the administration of the Ministry of Food gives us on this side of the House very considerable anxiety.
I am afraid that I must amplify that statement by quoting three other cases, 532 because I have made what are obviously serious charges. I would hasten to say that, in common with many noble Lords on these Benches, I am by no means opposed to bulk-buying by the Government, provided that that bulk buying is wise and well-conducted. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, said, that there came a time at the end of the war when it was no longer possible to deal in foodstuffs through private channels. I accept also—what the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House will, I am sure, say—that these channels are no longer suitable for our present conditions. I do not object in any way to bulk buying of food by the Government, either then or now, if well done. But the instance I have given about wheat, and the rationing of cereals for livestock, suggests to me that even on these two points the administration has not been very good. Now I wish to quote three other cases in which I claim that the administration has been bad. This is one of the reasons why we on this side of the House feel little confidence in the administration of the Ministry of Food as at present conducted. These are not, however, cases which involve losses we have suffered, as in the purchase of wheat, by leaving it too late. These, on the contrary, are cases in which I think that most outrageous profits appear to have been made at the expense of other members of the British Empire.
In the first place I wish to take the case of the purchase of palm oil in West Africa. I have given the noble Viscount notice of these matters, and I hope that he will be able to produce a reply. I can produce a reply myself up to a point. There is only one buyer of produce in West Africa to-day, the West African Produce Board, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, well knows. The Control Board are at the present moment buying West African palm oil at £25 a ton. The figure at which the Ministry of Food are offering palm oil for sale in England—that is a product comparable in quality and in bulk —is £97 15s. a ton, which, evidently is producing a substantial profit, possibly at the expense of our West African colonies. There are justifications. I know one of them that will be made; that is that you have to buy other oils at higher prices and this represents an attempt to equate all fats bought to prices which will not involve the Ministry in loss. But I would like the noble Viscount to say, if he can, whether 533 or not substantial profit is being made on these purchases. I think that outrageous profit is being made at the expense of our own Colonies.
My second case is very similar. The West African Control Board are buying cocoa in the Gold Coast at £55 a ton in bags. Added to that should be an amount of £7 a ton for shipping, making a total of £62 a ton. Yet cocoa is being sold by the Ministry of Food at £119 a ton. Your Lordships will recollect that a Royal Commission was set up in West Africa to investigate the prices that were paid to native producers for cocoa, on the grounds that commercial buyers were not giving them fair prices. I wonder if the noble Viscount is in a position to say whether the relation which the price paid for cocoa in West Africa bears to the price at which the Ministry are selling it is fair to the native producer.
My third example relates in part to cotton, which is not germane to this debate, but also to cotton seed from Uganda. I understand, if my information is correct, that the Ministry of Food are, or were about a fortnight ago, offering only £9 a ton for Uganda cotton seed oil, whereas commercial buyers from India, I think, were offering £25 a ton for cotton seed oil. If the Ministry of Food are out to get everything they can in the way of food it seems slightly odd that the price paid by the Ministry of Food to our own Colony is only £9 a ton, compared to what is being paid by India for the same oil from the same Colony.
If production in this country is to be encouraged by the Ministry of Food—because the Ministry of Agriculture can produce or assist the farmer to produce farm produce, but the object of producing farm produce is to eat it—it ultimately depends on what the Ministry of Food are going to pay. I am always extremely troubled, when we are told that wheat is in extremely short supply, to find that our farmers are being paid a lower price for wheat than is being paid to farmers elsewhere for the same wheat, and also that they are being encouraged to grow barley, instead of wheat, by the very much higher price offered for barley. I have no objection to the farmer getting the highest price possible for barley, but I wonder if it makes sense, from the point of view of the Ministry of Food, that such a much 534 higher price should be paid for barley—which as we know goes into the deplorable beverage which is now sold as beer—than for wheat, which is what we have to live on.
I could go a great deal further and could put a great deal more material before your Lordships. But I was reproved for speaking too long to your Lordships on the occasion of the economic debate. In conjunction with other matters which I have marshalled in these papers, that is the evidence upon which I suggest that a case can be made out that the administration of the Ministry of Food, as my noble friend Lord Beveridge has stated, is one that causes us anxiety, an anxiety which might be dispelled—could be dispelled—if we were given more facts. In conclusion, I would like only to say that I can see no reason why the facts should not be produced. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, about the necessity for being frank and telling the truth. I wonder why the Ministry of Food do not do so.
In this debate, which inevitably has brought in agriculture, a great deal has been said in criticism of the Ministry of Agriculture. I have only this to say, and I believe the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, will support me: that if there has been criticism of the Ministry of Agriculture, it is not against the Minister of Agriculture, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, nor, indeed, the staff. Those of us who have contact with them and their officers have been well satisfied—more than that, we have been delighted—in the contact we have had. Our complaint is that the Ministry of Agriculture has never been allowed to have the say it should have in the councils of His Majesty's Government. We regret, and I trust the noble Lords who sit on the Conservative Benches near me also regret, that the Minister Of Agriculture and his Parliamentary Secretary have never had the hearing they deserve, and have never been able to get through what they want.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, perhaps in a debate on food, one of the two ex-Ministers of Food in this House, although coming in rather late in the debate, may be allowed to contribute a few words. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said in his very conscientious 535 speech that he thought the Motion of my noble Friend, Lord Woolton, was very pessimistic and alarmist. Frankly, I thought the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, was far too content with things as they are. Another noble Lord has said the speech was complacent. I do not mind Complacency in the noble Lord himself, but I do mind complacency in the Ministry of Food, and that is what that speech rather indicated to me. When I first went to the Ministry of Food I found as good a system of distribution in action as could be found anywhere in the world. We were able, and very proud to be able, to explain it to the Governments of the countries about to be liberated, so that they could base their own systems on ours if they wished to do so, and many of them did so wish.
Finding that system as I did, I devoted by far the greater part of my time in two things: first, to getting more supplies, and, secondly, to seeing that other people did not get away with the supplies that this country ought to have. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, referred to there being quite different problems for the present Minister of Food from those of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. He did not include the problems that I had. In fact, I had both problems, because at the time I was there not only were ships being sunk on the High Seas and warehouses bombed, but all the Governments of the liberated areas were clamouring for supplies. It is all very well, as the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has said, to realize that we are only one part of an integral whole—that, of course, is true —but what the Minister of Food has always to realize is that his job is to feed the people of this country. It may be for others to talk about an integral whole and to see that something goes to Germany or elsewhere. If any noble Lord had seen me when I was Minister of Food he would have been quite clear which people came first—the people who earned it more than any other because they took the brunt and the burden of the whole war.
It was easy, with a good distributive system, to alter the value of the coupon, and there was sometimes the temptation not to make what effort one could when stocks were low. My only complaint is that the value of these coupons is going downward all the time and not upward. It is quite true, as the noble 536 Lord, Lord Rusholme, said, that at the Food Conference held in London in June, 1945, it was stated very clearly that for two years at least there would be a food shortage; that there was a shortage of sugar, oil, fats, and livestock produce, and that for three or four years livestock supplies would be inadequate. I am not sure whether the noble Lord was quoting me exactly or not, but those were my own views. That does not mean that I did not hope and think that within the coming two years we could improve supplies. We estimated that there would be a shortage for two years, but not a bigger shortage than we then had. We had a shortage that was gradually coming back to normal during that period.
It was a sad story that Lord Henderson had to tell us exactly two years after V.E. Day: a stock level in wheat and flour causing a great deal of anxiety; that the Government hoped to keep bacon, eggs, butter, margarine and cooking fats, as they were, without any cutting down; that the sugar position should be about the same as last year, tea maintained with some difficulty, and that meat might have to be reduced. Fish was the only optimistic wobble in the water that I saw. It is quite clear that, as Sir John Boyd Orr said, the food position in. Britain to-day is worse than at any time during the war. I read the correspondence that went on in The Times during the Easter recess. What apparently everybody has overlooked is this very valuable document of the Food Consumption Level Inquiry, which was started in the régime of my noble friend, and which was issued when I was Minister of Food. That shows quite clearly that, compared with pre-war levels, our consumption levels of practically all the main products except milk and potatoes—all the main protein foods—are much shorter than they were during the war.
The milk figures are not always as they are portrayed, because when we look at the figures for milk consumption in 1939, given in this book, we find that although the monthly average of liquid sales was 72,000,000 gallons, we were then getting 36,000,000 gallons—or the equivalent of it—in butter or cheese. When you add those up you get a total quantity of 108,000,000 gallons. That was in 1939. While these figures do not show the average for recent months, at 537 any rate, for January it was 114,000,000 gallons; for February 104,000,000 gallons; and for March 121,000,000 gallons. Last year it was averaging round about 115,000,000 gallons. Therefore, although much more milk is going into human bodies in the form of liquid milk, actually people are not getting it in the form of butter or cheese, which are of equal nutritional value. I know that a great improvement has been made and that a lot has been done with regard to the milk yield of cows, but one finds that in June, 1939, there were 2,841,000 cows and heifers in milk and in June of last year 2,919,000. There has not been a very great increase.
Therefore when people say that we are getting much more nutritional value in the form of milk, one must look at the fact that there are not many more cows and we are not getting the butter and cheese. And, of course, we all know that since the consumption level inquiry was held on our consumption in 1943, things, unfortunately, have got worse. I want to say a few words about bread rationing. I never believed that it was necessary and I doubt whether it is saving very much. I heard from quite a reliable source a few weeks ago that flour was running out at 105,000 tons a month. I remember that during the later part of the time when I was Minister of Food, when we did not ration it at all, it was averaging about 100,000 tons a month. If we look at the pre-war consumption of bread, we find the monthly average was 82,600 tons. In 1641 it was 99,000 tons; in 1942, 95,500; in 1943, 96,700; and in 1944, 100,700. If our flour is really running out at 105,000 tons, we are not saving anything by bread rationing and we are putting many people to a lot of trouble in issuing all those books, in cutting off all those little coupons, and in the housewife having to take them to the shops.
I really do not believe that, with the present level of bread rationing, we are saving anything at all by it. I would earnestly ask those in touch with the Ministry of Food to make a few inquiries to see whether I am riot right; and if I am, for Heaven's sake let us stop it—although you may preserve the system—as soon as possible, even if you may have to restore it for the very difficult months of the year. Frankly, I do not believe that anybody is counting those little bits 538 of paper, and, if you do not count them, and do not have to get your new supply on what has been counted, of course, it is not in the least an effective system. I believe that that is what is happening with regard to bread rationing. We had better give it up. The trade, in fact, offered to run along, without rationing, at 100,000 tons a week. If we are running at 105,000 tons, let us go back and accept their offer, and get rid of all this nuisance.
With regard to meat, I should like to say that, of course, it is much less plentiful than it was. The margin has been cut. We know what that means. The meat that was given as manufactured meat is now given as part of the Sunday joint—and if you get that particular meat as your joint you are pretty unlucky. Many people are getting manufactured meat served up to them as their Sunday joint, and are far worse off. In the circumstances, it would be better to take that really bad meat off the ration. Perhaps the ration would have to be brought down 2d. a little earlier, but do let the people know that when they get their ration of meat they will get meat that they can roast and which will be a decent Sunday joint. I am delighted to see that the position with regard to fish is better. As my noble friend will remember—and certainly the Minister of Defence will remember—I took considerable steps to get some of these trawlers reconditioned and the crews back at the earliest possible moment. I am delighted to see those fruits of the sea now coming in. But, of course, that is of no avail if you have not got the fat in which to fry the fish. Boiled fish is all right on Good Friday, but it is not so palatable as fried fish—if you have the fat to fry it—and the people of this country deserve to have something better than a Lenten diet.
Bacon, unfortunately, is also down. There is no doubt—and let us have no dispute about this—that unfortunately the people of this country are worse fed now than I believe they have been at any time in the lifetime of any noble Lord here. We do not need statistics; or Sir John Boyd Orr to tell us. You have only to go into any cottage home in the country or cottage or villa house in the town and the housewife will tell you that, even if your statistics do not. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord 539 Rusholme, is not here, because he commented on how well-fed a couple of us on this Bench looked.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I was going to challenge him. I would not take a very large bet either way which one of us—he or I—would tip the scales at the higher weight. That brings me to the point that it is not so much a question of the bulk of food which you get; it is a question of the kind of food. You can look quite well and get quite fat on starchy foods such as potatoes. But, of course, what we want is much more of animal proteins, especially meat and fats and indeed sugar as well. What can we do to get more? We have discussed to-day what could be done at home, and the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon—for whose speech we were all grateful, because he dealt very frankly with the agricultural situation—told my noble friend that he had forgotten Clause 8 of the paper which I have in my hand. As one of the authors, I have not forgotten, and I do not think he had. At any rate, I was going to comment on it. I was going to say that Clause 8—if I may suggest it—showed the way, and my criticism of the present Government is that, having been shown the way back in January, 1945, they have not pushed along it; and it is because of Clause 8, and because they have not taken the steps to fulfil the proviso in Clause 8, that I am critical of the Government on their home policy in regard to producing more food.
I do not want to talk at any great length, or even on this occasion to cross swords on housing with the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. The last time, I remember, the noble Viscount said that the targets of houses that the Coalition Government had worked out were fairy tales, although such people as the Prime Minister and others were on the committee that worked them out. Be that as it may. Of course, it was not quite what was said at the time of the General Election.In the light of the figures of urgent needs mentioned above, this number is woefully inadequate, and not even the Government claim that it will meet the country's requirements; "—540 that is the Conservative Government—they simply claim that it is the most that can be expected with the resources of labour and materials which will be available. Yet if the preparations now on foot are examined it becomes quite clear that a larger target than this could be achieved if the job was tackled in the right way.I expect the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has seen that document, from which I have quoted before. As the noble Lord, Lord Quibell—whom we are always delighted to hear on these matters—told us to-day, there is a lot more that can be done in the country by allowing greater scope to the small builders. The Housing (Rural Workers) Act was not at all a bad Act, and I hope that the Minister of Agriculture, and the representatives here in your Lordships' House who understand something about the countryside, will press for that Act to be reintroduced. It gave the rural worker a house at a controlled rent—I have forgotten for how many years, but for ten years after the subsidy was given. The subsidy was not very large, but it was big enough to enable a house to be let at a rent which the ordinary farm worker could afford. That was the point of it. There are quite a number of houses that could be reconditioned now, and for which on a certain number of estates the extra timber with which to do the job could probably be found lying about, without having to get a licence for materials. There are also, as the noble Lord, Lord Quibell—whom I am glad to see has come back in his place—told us, and as I know for myself, many about the villages—men employing a couple of other men—who could do this work without affecting the main housing programme one little bit. We know—I think the noble Earl himself said so—that unless we get more houses we are not going to get these people back to the land. It is a test of the Government's sincerity. It is a test also of the Minister of Agriculture and his Parliamentary Secretary, as to whether they can get the Government to agree with the views that they hold in their own hearts, and which they would see enforced if they had the opportunity of so doing.
We have discussed this agricultural problem at some length to-day, and I do not want to go into it further at this stage. But before I finish I would just like to say a few words about the position abroad. Of course, as the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, said, we are bound by any 541 international agreements that we make. The noble Earl will not find the Government very much hampered by any agreements I made, and it is only a question of the agreements which they have made since as to whether they are hampered in the least in their efforts. Mine were all agreements to get more food for this country, and there was not one that in any way fettered the ability of my successors to make what further agreements they liked. It all depends on what sort of agreement you make. Of course, if you make an agreement, you are bound by it. It has surprised me very much—I think my information is correct on this—to find out quite recently that the job of the Head of the Food Mission in Washington is now only a part-time one. The man who occupies that position—a very capable man, who served there when I was Minister of Food—is not now merely Head of the Food Mission but is looking after a lot of financial and Treasury matters as well. When food is of such importance to our country, I should have thought the least we could do would be to have someone looking after it as a whole-time job.
A further criticism which I would make is this. In war, of course, shipping was the difficulty. We had to slaughter quite a lot of cattle and sheep—not so much the sheep, but certainly the cattle—and turn over to the growing of more cereals for direct consumption here. It was obviously right that we should bring in more of the bacon from Canada, where they built up their pig population to serve us, and the dried eggs, and things of that sort, instead of bringing over the feeding stuffs. In that way we were buying the more expensive articles. Now there is no shipping difficulty—or it is not the main difficulty. The difficulty now—and it is increasingly going to be so—is the matter of exchange. My criticism of the Ministry of Food's policy is that it has not gone over quickly enough to the right policy of now bringing in the cheap feeding stuffs. I am strongly in favour, as the noble Lord, Lord Ouibell, has said he is, of the greatest amount of farmyard "muck," as he called it, rather than this artificial fertilizer.
Quite frankly, the only criticism I haw of the Parliamentary Secretary to-day is this: I should have thought that he and his Minister would be watching these feeding stuffs, and what the Ministry of Food do to buy them, like a couple of hawks. I should have thought they would see 542 it going—some of it to Denmark, as we know, some to Czechoslovakia, some to South Africa and some to Yugoslavia; and I would have thought they would see, very much earlier than has been the case, whether we could not get some here. The Ministry of Agriculture ought to be watching the Ministry of Food; I know the Ministry of Food buy it, but they ought to be watched—as in fact Mr. Hudson was watching me—
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
— and we ought to get anything we possibly can. I always think—and I have never disguised the fact—that the putting up of the extraction rate to 90 was the silliest thing a Minister of Food ever did, even though I believe we are now running at 87½. For every 5 points that you lower the extraction rate you get 325,000 tons more feeding stuffs. If I may, I will now let the House into a secret. It is much easier, in an international food allocation organization, to get food for human beings than it is to get food for animals. You can get it for animals quite easily without anybody being able to say, "You have dropped your extraction rate too low." That is because the extraction, rate in the U.S.A. and Canada is somewhere between 72 and 75, so you are absolutely safe at 80. You can get more allocations the lower your extraction rate, and then you can start to build up your flocks and herds in this country. I think, therefore, that the increase of the extraction rate was a very silly move. I made a move the other way for exactly the reason I have said. We started then what I think has been done too slowly since; that is, to rebuild our livestock population. We thought we were able to make promises to the farmers, and the promises were renewed under the present Minister of Agriculture. Then, through no personal fault of his, he had to go back on those promises, and all that advance in our livestock population has gone by the board.
I want to deal with only two further points, and I am sorry if I have been rather long, although others have been longer. I want to de for one moment with Government bulk purchase. It is an absolute wonder to me, and was when I was Minister of Food, how well personal enterprise (perhaps a better term than the 543 hackneyed term "private enterprise") has fed this country in the years gone by. If you have those same men doing the job of buying for you, by all means let them buy for the Government. When just before the war, and before there was a Ministry of Food, we were short of wheat, in the summer of 1939 we got three big manufacturers to go quietly and buy wheat on behalf of the Government. The one thing they were not to do was to disclose to anybody that the British Government were the buyers. If you insist on Government buying you will find that in every case the other country will insist on Government selling. When you get this difficulty between the two, others may be repeating what it has been quite wrong for the Argentine Government to do over these recent contracts.
Now I want to come to the question of stocks. I cannot for the life of me think why we should not be told what stocks we have got. I am not going so far as the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, and say there is something really sinister about it. I think it is just stupid. We get the stocks of every other "blooming" thing—if I may use that word in your Lordships' House—except the thing which the Ordinary person is most interested in; that is, food. The Minister of Food says that the reason is that people must not know that he is short. Good gracious me! Any person in any foreign country has only to read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, yesterday, to know that we are short. Anybody has only to know that we are still rationing food in this country to realize that we are short, because I do not suppose rationing would be kept on if we were not. That, if I may say so, is the silliest reason for not publishing, statistics, to which I should have thought we were as much entitled as any others.
After all, when it comes to that, all the members of the I.E.F.C. must know, and they are people who come from every country. Therefore, why should not the people of this country know? We give this information to the foreigners, and we do not tell our own country. I do not say it is sinister; I say it is just stupid. The people here are much better if they are told the truth. I always tried to tell them as much truth as I could, and I think it always paid. I could not tell them about my stocks. 544 There is one occasion I remember well, when we were only ten days short of going completely off the butter ration. It was no good announcing that, because that would have alarmed people; and it was no good my saying: "The reason I do not think we shall go off the ration is that there are four butter ships coming up the Atlantic to these shores, and they are full of butter." We could not tell them that in war-time, but luckily the ships all came in. We could not reveal our stocks then, but I believe we could now.
To sum up, my criticism of the Minister of Food is this: that his attitude seems to be too restrictive and negative, and not positive enough. I wish that both he and the Ministry, and indeed the whole country, could get into what I consider the proper priority of the way of life. We have that in the Book of Common Prayer. If your Lordships remember, this sentence comes first in the General Confession:We have left undone those things which we ought to have doneand it is only later on you get the sentence:And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.That is the right priority, and the right emphasis. In fact, it is the only emphasis that will get this country out of its present difficulties. We spend too much of our time finding out what we cannot do under the numerous regulations.
Let us have this in the forefront of our minds: "Go out and see what you can do; whether you can do something more; whether you cannot make a bigger effort than you have in the past." I say the same thing to the Minister of Food. Let him and his subordinates go out to these places and see whether they cannot get us more food, and not rely so much on the very simple act of putting in another little Order, or cutting down this coupon by another half ounce or so. If they do that, they will deserve better of their country than, in my view, they do at the present time.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I am sure I shall be expressing the views of all members of the House, of all Parties, if I say that I think the criticisms and comments of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, were entirely helpful and fair. 545 I have no word of complaint about any of them. Some of them were matters which I myself have discussed a great many times, and it is entirely helpful that we should have comments and criticisms from an exceedingly experienced man, such as the noble Lord, on the matters to which he referred.
I think it is right that I should address myself to some of the more fundamental and important matters which formed the body of the complaints against us. I should like to say a word on the detailed points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rennell. I obtained such information as I could in the short time that I had available to ascertain the answers, and I can give him no more than I have on these sheets of paper. The noble Lord went out of his way to animadvert on the Ministry of Agriculture because in the early publications of estimates of losses the figures were smaller than the final figure revealed the losses to he. The noble Lord really must be, if I may say so with the greatest possible respect, a very suspiciously-minded person. He seemed to think there was something sinister about the figures. The facts were that these figures were given out at different times, as the desolation wrought by the elements became more and more revealed. It was right and proper that, so far as the Ministry could gather information in the early days from their war executive committees and other people, they gave such estimates as they knew up to that time were reliable; and it would have been wrong of them to have exceeded that figure.
We all know that at one time we were hoping there was going to be a thaw; in fact the Air Ministry promised us there was to be one. Then there came, to our horror, about the worst snowstorm of the whole winter. It is quite unfair to accuse the Minister of Agriculture because he was not able to forecast these disasters which piled tip on us. It was not his fault, and there was nothing he could do about it. He did the best he could as the horrible story revealed itself. There is nothing to complain of; it was just unfortunate.
With regard to the noble Lord's question on cocoa and palm oil distribution, the price paid to producers in Nigeria for palm oil was £25 a ton, as he says. The Minister of Food actually paid not £25 but £45. The £25 was the direct payment 546 to the producer. As has often happened, and as I have complained hundreds of times in my political life, there is a very significant gap between what the producer is paid and what the middle man seems to be paid. £8 goes to a stabilization fund for the benefit of the native producer. The remainder, making up the £45, goes on transport to the coasts, agents fees, etcetera. There is nothing unusual in that. So far as I know, the prices charged by the Ministry of Food on resale in this country for oils and fats are such that we come out about level for those goods. Any surplus profits are put into the pool and help to level out losses on other commodities.
Another question concerned Gold Coast cocoa. The producer is paid £55 a ton—as the noble Lord said—carriage, insurance and freight coming out at about £7. The selling price in this country as the noble Lord stated, is £119. The price to the producer is fixed at the beginning of the season by the West African Produce Control Board. Since the beginning of the season there has been a great increase in the world price of cocoa and the difference is being held in a fund by the Board for the benefit of the producer. I am afraid I cannot give any more information. No one has been a greater champion of a good, fair price to the producer than I have, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, has followed me in that matter.
I now come to the more major issues which have been raised, and I will deal first with the case put by the noble Earl Lord De La Warr. The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has given the statistics of these shocking losses and I need not repeat them; but I think that Earl De La Warr did a little less than justice to the Minister of Agriculture for the unprecedented mobilization of assistance for which he was responsible, and for the steps that were taken to maintain production by various devices such as special acreage payments and special prices for some of the crops that he wished particularly to encourage—barley, oats, potatoes, and others. It is fair to say that the work of the Minister in this respect was exceedingly prompt and exceedingly generous[...] that, I think, will not be denied. The noble Earl referred to what he suggests is the failure of the Government to adopt a particular policy to increase food production. I am glad to hear that the Party with which 547 he is associated are such enthusiastic advocates of these things at long last. It is twenty-five years ago that I myself was appointed Chairman of the Agricultural Policy Committee of the Party to which I belong. One of the first items of our policy was that this country can produce very much more food than it is now producing. It is an absolutely fundamental proposition; it has been printed and circulated all over the country for twenty-five years, and now the noble Lord has discovered it. It is not an original idea.
Let me turn to the next point. I was rash enough to publish a book in 1937 on a British policy for agriculture, and I am happy to say that it had an unprecedented sale—which was very fortunate. I was very happy.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
63,000 copies were sold. It must have been bought by a large number of farmers. In that book the noble Earl will see some detailed calculations. He and I once served on a Committee, and we made some detailed calculations. If the noble Earl will refer to the calculations in my book—and it was accepted absolutely by the Labour Party—he will see that the figures there given—of course if you turn them into present day prices—amount to much more than the £150,000,000 which he was talking about. And I am certain that, in the course of time, they are realizable possibilities. Therefore, I admit his impeachment of me, that I have not paid very much attention to this Paper of his. I admit that I have not done so. It was, what I should call a very elementary and post-dated version of my own policy. Since the noble Earl has exhorted me to do so, then—as the Speaker would say in another place—for greater certainty I have re-read it. I take it that the burden of the noble Earl's complaint is that we have not addressed ourselves to a forward policy in food production. If he looks at the items that the Minister of Agriculture is now pressing forward, he will see that they are practically identical with the suggestions here.
There is a point that I want to make on Paragraph 8 of it. It is stated that it must be emphasized that an expansion of home agriculture of the order indicated can 548 be achieved "only if." It is entirely conditional, and there are four "ifs" about it. The first condition is that sufficient provision should be made for additional capital for equipment for both landlord and tenant. In Paragraph 6 that figure is given as £250,000,000. They are quoting me again, for that was my figure in 1930. I think myself that it should be doubled.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The point I am making is concerned with the amount of money required for agricultural buildings —that is for capital equipment. The point that this Paper of the noble Earl's makes is that this increased production is dependent upon this capital sum being made available for the improvement of agricultural equipment. And the sum is stated to be £250,000,000. I accept that—indeed I think it is a great under-statement. The amount of dilapidation in agricultural buildings up and down the country is appalling.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Everybody who knows anything about this matter knows it is true. What I am pointing out is that in this Paper, which is the noble Earl's primer, it is stressed that you cannot do these other things until you have attended to that. I think, mind you, that it is possible that they could to some extent be carried on at the same time.
A condition then for this improvement in home agriculture is that you should spend this vast amount of money on the improvement of agricultural capital equipment. But it cannot be done in five minutes. What is it that we are looking at now? We are looking at the accumulated results of the neglect of fifty years. I could take noble Lords, quite easily, to many estates upon which it would be difficult to find a single cowshed that has a sound roof. I know several places where you would have difficulty in finding a gate that would either open or shut properly. It is true that in the course of the war we did carry out a good deal of improvement in small matters of this kind, but what we are discussing now is capital equipment of agricultural land and buildings; and that is an essential concomitant 549 of increased production. The noble Earl urged that the highest priority should be given to farm building work, including cottages. I agree. But a condition that is laid down in this Paper is that there should be no undue shortage of labour.
It is also laid down here that there should be a substantial degree of control, and that that substantial degree of control must continue to be exercised over volume and types of farming operations. That is yet another condition. But that does not go very well with the noble Earl's exhortation that we should have less planning and more freedom. It says in the Paper that it is necessary that a substantial measure of control should continue to be exercised over volume and types of farming operations. I agree. I think it is very necessary. I agree too, that you want targets. But there must be a certain amount of control. It is further stated that farmers should be assured of a market for their main products at reasonable prices. Let me at this point draw attention to an unfortunate omission on the part of the noble Earl. He put the amount realizable on the increased production at £150,000,000 in present-day figures. In presuming to blame the present Labour Government because we were not realizing this figure, he omitted to mention that the increased output cannot be achieved, even if these other conditions were carried out —some of them contemporaneously of course—until 1950–1951. And this is only 1947.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Oh, yes we have —except on the landlords' side. I think that in fairness the noble Earl ought to have given us credit in this respect. He was censuring us for not having attained that figure at the present time. In his own printer it is pointed out that it is not attainable until 1951.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I am sorry to interrupt, but really there is a limit to the amount of misrepresentation that one can tolerate. I was not censuring the Government for not having attained this figure. I was saying that this was the possible target. I made it clear that I knew it would take time to achieve that target. My criticism now is that we have not even started on the road to achieving it. We 550 are still on the decline, going in the opposite direction.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am afraid that the noble Earl's understanding of the meaning of the word "censure" differs from my understanding of it. I regarded his speech as being from start to finish one of censure. I am sorry if he thinks that I have misrepresented him. If he reads the report of his speech he will see that he did not have a good word to say for us from start to finish.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
That proves my case; I need not say any more. Let me now come to another matter. I was about to give some figures, and may I say that I entirely agree that we shall never get the maximum increased production for which we hope unless we can get more labour on the land? I am not complaining—indeed I am very glad—that the noble Earl is embarking upon this mission to exhort the country to produce more food. I am delighted. The more he does that the better we shall be pleased. But it ought to have been done many years ago. The difficulties of the countryside with regard to housing, the dilapidation of buildings, the lack of a proper agricultural plan and a programme of increased production, a stabilized price and all the rest, are due entirely to neglect by the noble Earl's political friends over two generations.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
No; neglect by the people who were in control of the policy of this country. They suffered from intellectual anæmia. For two generations the Conservative Party in the matter of agriculture has suffered from intellectual anæmia. That is why they have never produced a policy; they could not think of one. As a matter of fact, the noble Earl knows perfectly well (he was my colleague and a good colleague too) that when I introduced the Marketing Act to begin to give some stability of prices, I had to battle with the unrelenting opposition of the Conservataive Party upstairs for six months. It took me six months to get that Bill through Committee.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
It was not quite so bad with the Drainage Act. It was unrelenting opposition and I was told on endless occasions that it was a fantasy to imagine one could stabilize prices. I was derided up and down the country. As the noble Earl will know, because more than once he attended my meetings, I received all kinds of criticism. Now we all expect price stabilization, but it ought to have been thought of before. That is my point, and I am glad of the noble Earl's new zeal. I hope he will succeed in affecting the Party to which he now belongs, but the Labour Party was the first Party in this country to produce a worth-while agricultural policy. I am not going to be chastened by the noble Earl or anybody else into forgetting that important fact.
Just let me say a word or two about rural cottages. I agree with everything that has been said, that we cannot do without them. The Government is making very special provision to encourage the provision of cottages. In the first place, a subsidy of £25 10s. od. a year for sixty years is paid, and the local authority is required to make a contribution of only £1 10s. od. That is a tremendous subsidy, and it is only for the houses of agricultural workers. If the same authority builds the same house for somebody else, the subsidy is only £16 10s. od., and they have to contribute £5 10s. od. out of the rates instead of £1 10s. od. That is a very large subsidy in favour of the provision of houses for the agricultural worker. Then there is the prefabricated Airey house, which at present does not seem to be as popular as perhaps it will come to be, but it is a house designed to be erected by the country workmen who exist in every village. Of these houses, 20,000 will be available by September, and at the moment I think 2,500 of them have been erected.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Entirely for rural workers. We are getting 5,000 prefabricated timber houses from Sweden for rural areas; 1,000 have been erected, and 1,200 are under construction. That is a small contribution.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I must qualify that, because I am not quite sure, but they are for rural areas. Then as to the permanent houses, tenders for 42,000 have been approved, 24,500 are under construction, and 5,400 are completed. I think that is a very large contribution. The noble Lord asked me how many were actually occupied by agricultural workers. That is a very important question. The full returns are not available, but of the 5,400 completed houses, so far as the returns have been received, the total number occupied by agricultural workers was 1,255. This is a small proportion, but the war agricultural committees are being asked to represent their needs to the rural district councils. Whilst it is not possible—I do not think your Lordships would ask for it—to put a complete veto on any other tenants, they are instructed to secure that, in the selection of the tenants, reasonable preference is given to tenants who are occupying insanitary or overcrowded houses, and who have large families. I think we are bound to do that; whether it is a case of an agricultural labourer or the village postman, we must take account of these things.
Then I come to the real charge of the debate—namely, that of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. I am afraid I shall have to take up two or three of his points, and I am sorry it is so late, but it is not my fault. The noble Lord said he was not seeking any Party advantage. I am very glad to hear it, but I confess I am a little perplexed if that is so. He said—and I agree with him absolutely—that the housewife is weary and tired. I would agree with all that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said—nobody would rejoice more than we should if we could make the diet a little more interesting and give it a little more variety; and if we could attain that position of plenty where rationing was unnecessary, everybody would be glad. But the solid fact is that the world is short of food. That is the governing factor, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, pointed out, there is a great difference between the conditions under which the noble Lord could get his imports and the conditions under which we can get our imports. For one thing, the noble Lord did not have to pay. That is a very important difference. His imports were under Lease-Lend, and he had not to look so carefully—
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
They were not paying for all these imports in full as we have to do now; therefore he was in an advantageous position compared with us, so far as that is concerned. But, most of all, there was not then a great horde in Europe and India and the Far East clamouring for the short supplies. They could not possibly be diverted to many of those places. When the noble Lord went on to say that the housewife was alarmed, I think, if I may say so, he did his level best to alarm her. I do not wish to underestimate the difficulties of the situation. He knows they are difficult and we are only too painfully aware of them, and Lord Henderson gave the figures truthfully. But the noble Lord really overdid it. He overdid it so much that I looked up Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy when I went out of the House last night. I thought I might find a definition, and, as you know, that book is full of classical quotations. It is a strange and mysterious compilation which I used to enjoy on many occasions, so I knew where to look. I see that in one place it says that melancholy is a "bad and peevish disease" and in another place on the same page it says it is "a perpetual anguish of the soul fastened on one thing." I think the "one thing" in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, is the Labour Government. That is quite evident, and I am sorry for the anguish of soul with which the noble Lord seems to be possessed. I think that was a very good definition.
Let me call attention to one or two of the phrases used by the noble Lord. He quoted from some paper an article by Dr. Bicknell who said: "England is dying of starvation." That appears in Column 399 of Hansard. Of course, the noble Lord does not say he thinks so: he quoted Dr. Bicknell. Therefore it will go out all over the world that the noble Lord, with his immense authority, quoted this in the House of Lords. Well, I say that is a monstrous falsehood. It is not true, and it ought not to have been quoted. This Dr. Bicknell goes on to say that the unemployed before the war were better fed than most of the nation to-day —I am quoting from the noble Lord.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
In the first place, how did Dr. Bicknell know how the unemployed were fed before the war? We are all too well aware of the few shillings a week they had on which to feed themselves. We also know, on incontrovertible evidence—I have it here, but I will not at this hour bore your Lordships with all the details of Sir John Boyd Orr's figures, Mr. Rowntree's figures and those which I think the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, used in drawing up his own scheme—that there was 17 per cent. of the population so poor that they could not buy enough food. Sir John Boyd Orr puts the number at 10,000,000. At any rate, it is a large proportion. That is not the case to-day. However poor they may be, they get their ration of milk and they get as much as other people. Heaven knows, we should like a better diet, but it is wrong—and I say the noble Lord has no right—to disseminate statements of that character, which are manifestly untrue. It does great harm to the country and as a matter of fact such a statement is by no means correct.
I also happen to have come across in my researches after the noble Lord's speech a somewhat encouraging statement in The Times on April 26. This was a statement made by Mr. Arthur Hunt at the 106th Annual General Meeting of the Wesleyan and General Assurance Society. He said:The society's mortality experience has been favourable over a succession of years. Since as many as one in fifty of the population hold life policies with this society, I think the experience is significant. In my view, the light mortality is due to the fact that, even with to-day's shortages of food, a great number of the people are better fed than they were in the years before the war.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Yes—not everybody. I am not suggesting that. It does not apply to the noble Lord; it does not apply to me, but it does apply to about 10,000,000, and, although the rest of us—and those other people, too—experience the many difficulties with regard to diet which the noble Lord mentioned (and I am not going to minimize or underestimate any one of them) there is that great section of the population which is undoubtedly better fed than it was before the war. Therefore I say that the noble Lord is not doing justice either to himself 555 or to his case to suggest those gruesome things. It is true that they are on the authority of this Dr. Bicknell; nevertheless, they are quoted in this House, and the people who hear them on the wireless at the other end of the earth, as they will do, will not attribute them to Dr. Bicknell. They will say that they were quoted by Lord Woolton who enjoys a high reputation throughout the world. I complain bitterly of those things being said.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Can it? I will come back to that in a moment. I say that nothing could be more harmful to this country than for people all over the world to think that we are down and out —because we are not.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Nothing could be worse. I think that, as a business man, the noble Lord would agree that if you want the rest of the world to do what you would like, you do not let them think that you are feeble and helpless. That is the last impression you want to give. And, by the way, I want to correct this Doctor Bicknell's figures. He said that the average person in Britain gets 2,100 calories a day. I was surprised at that figure. The noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, on my behalf, went to the Ministry of Food and had the figure carefully examined, and the figure (Doctor Bicknell is only wrong by about 30 per cent.) is 2,900 calories. There is a great deal of difference between that figure and 2,100.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
Could the noble Viscount give us an analysis of the rations and point goods in that figure?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
No, I cannot without notice, but I shall be happy to do so if required. I have not prepared that analysis.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I will, with great pleasure, give the noble Lord the details of how this figure is arrived at. I am perfectly certain that it is right. It was arrived at with great care. Doctor Bicknell says that the undrationed foods —and he includes potatoes—give only 400 calories. I understand that they probably give a great deal more. I will, however, obtain an analysis of the figures. But I am complaining that the noble Lord, with his immense authority, should allow himself to repeat those statements. I will cut the rest of my remarks short. The noble Lord complained, I think, of large-scale Government buying. On that question, neither he nor the noble Lord beside him is in a very strong position. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, would be any less competent as a buyer as Lord Woolton than as Minister of Food. I think that his abilities, sagacity and discretion would be the same in both capacities, and I am not impressed by that statement. Let us look at one or two facts. Questions have been raised about the Canadian wheat contract. I myself was very intimately concerned in the negotiations for that contract. There is a contract for millions of tons over four years. No private concern could ever contemplate a transaction of that magnitude, and one of the reasons why the Canadian farmer has supported his Government—as these farmers have, and we are immensely indebted to them for it—in accepting a lower price on the contract than could have been obtained in the free market, is because he wants stability.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
The same as our farmers want stability. There is a floor in the contract, as they say, and a ceiling in the contract, with an adjustable arrangement in between. The Canadian farmer wants stability. So does every primary producer. That is why I am glad to say that the Canadian farmer has supported his Government in this contract. But the fact is that at the present moment the price we pay is $1.55 and the price in the open market in the United States is $2.75. If that were all, one could imagine that the Canadian producer would feel aggrieved. But he knows very well that that $2.75 may be something quite different in a 557 year's time. He wants security, and it is security that prompts him to support this long-term contract at this price.
§ LORD WOOLTON
Of course, the question I addressed to the noble Viscount was not the question of price at all. What I asked was: Did you fix the terms of the contract for delivery, as to whether you are going to get so much month by month, because what you wanted was wheat—not price.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Certainly the noble Lord is entitled to an answer, and I will give him an answer as best I can. I am afraid I cannot give the precise answer as to when $1.55 was paid, and I cannot give the exact location of the wheat at that moment.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I did not ask for that. I must be precise, as the noble Viscount has chastized me considerably tonight. I gave full notice of this yesterday. What I asked was: Did the Government, when they made this contract, arrange for the precise terms of delivery? I said that without that they are likely to run short, which is what has happened.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am sure the precise terms of delivery were arranged, but as to what the terms were, so far as price is concerned, I cannot, of course, carry them in my mind. But they were certainly arranged in complete detail. So far as the monthly deliveries were concerned, which seems to be of particular interest to the noble Lord, I can say this. The agreed deliveries did fall down earlier this year; the deliveries were in arrears, so far as the terms were concerned. First it was through a great rail car shortage, and then there was an unprecedented fall of snow, with drifts up to thirty feet in many vital places, and there was a long and continued hold-up. We could not blame our Canadian friends for that. They have done their best to make up for the arrears, and I am glad to say that the wheat is now coming forward in very large quantities. The terms were arranged in the contract as to deliveries of quantities, and so on, and I shall be only too happy—the noble Lord is accustomed to 558 these things—to provide the noble Lord with the precise details of the contract. There is no reason why I should not. It was an exceedingly businesslike contract, and it gave us such security as we had by the purchase of, I think it was, 160,000,000 bushels per annum.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
It was not anything like the whole of our requirements, but it was a large section of our requirements, and it gave us a great assurance. I think myself that this is a case which abundantly justifies large-scale Government buying. I de not for a moment suggest that we would not modify that system if different circumstances arose where it would be advantageous to do so. We have no prejudices in the matter; we want to do what is best for our people and in the circumstances of the case. So far as that is concerned, as the noble Lord well knows—in fact, he knows the detail of it better than I do—the methods of purchase vary a great deal in the different commodities; the organizations which make the purchases vary, and the machinery for purchase varies according to the commodity. So there is no stereotyped system. I am sure that, with regard to wheat and many other commodities, large scale Government buying has abundantly justified itself, and it has brought great benefit and great security to the country.
Finally, I would like to say a word on one point which is, if I may say so, a sentimental point. It is a part of my protest at the general style adopted by the noble Lord in allowing these deprecatory statements to be given this wide publicity. We know that our position is difficult, and we do not for a moment pretend to minimize it. But that is no reason why we should go out of our way to deprecate ourselves before all the world by the dissemination of statements which are much. worse than the realities. The people of this country are not dying of starvation, or anything like it. I protest, with all my heart, at statements of that kind being made. Every month I get a publication which is called The Royal Society of St. George. That sends a monthly message, and I would like to read to your Lordships one or two extracts from the message for the month of May, 1947, It is a Scot who writes about 559 England—a most refreshing thing, because it is not often that we find Scotsmen going out of their way to be complimentary to the English, although, of course, we often do the opposite. This man says that he comes back after two years, and—Now I find the familiar game of belittlement is on again. To be patriotic is to be out of fashion.Then he protests against this belittlement, and he goes on to say that to him England is as strong as ever, and she can face the world unafraid. Finally, besides that passage there is a tribute from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford. I would like to read that in conclusion, because, in spite of all these miseries that we are enduring, I have the greatest possible confidence that we shall pull through; we shall overcome these difficulties, despite the fact that they are great difficulties. The right reverend Prelate writes:My belief is that before England is sunk every other country in the world will hit the bottom a dozen times. There is no other country in the world which has had to suffer what we have had to suffer. The splendid spirit which is still in this country after all we have gone through is something upon which the world can gaze and marvel.I am in entire agreement with what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has said, and anything which would lead the world astray or give the world a false impression is, in my opinion, wrongful to the best interests of the State.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has found it necessary to use what for him is rather violent language about a statement that I made when quoting a distinguished member of a profession to which the noble Viscount used to belong. If that statement is wrong, then the Government have ample means of controverting it.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I did not make the statement. I most carefully stated the facts, and the facts are these—and nothing the noble Viscount can say, with all the skill of debate that he has shown in this House to-night, will give any comfort to the housewives of this country. The noble 560 Viscount knows from his own experience that people are finding it extremely difficult in these days to keep their health going, and to keep their houses going.
§ LORD WOOLTON
That was the story that I told yesterday. I told the House that the health of the people of this country was deteriorating because of the shortage of fats.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I have produced the evidence of a person of some distinction in his profession. If what I say is wrong, then the Government can convince the housewives of this country by producing the evidence. I said that I was seriously concerned about what was going to happen in the future. Have I not a right to be concerned? The noble Viscount talks about speeches of alarm. What about the speech the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, made this afternoon? I think the speech of the noble Earl—and I both thank him and congratulate him for it, because it was the speech of an honest man stating the facts—was a most alarming speech. I began to wonder whether I had not myself minimized the danger of food shortages during the next three months. That was what I was talking about, and nothing which has fallen from the lips of any of the Government speakers has given me any sense of security. Remember this, that you as a Government have an immediate past. On the subject of fuel shortages you did at any rate misjudge the situation. Now I wonder whether you are misjudging the situation regarding the food shortages. If you will produce the figures, then we will be able to form our opinion; but you will not produce the figures. Why will you not tell us how many weeks' supply of wheat there are in the country? If it is adequate, then there will be no reason for me to make alarmist speeches, but if it is not adequate, then I do beg you to take all the steps within your power, so that the unfortunate people of this country do not have to suffer during these coming months in hunger what they had to suffer in cold during the winter months. It is for that purpose that I raised this 561 question. Now, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.