HL Deb 16 June 1948 vol 156 cc875-926

2.47 p.m.

VISCOUNT BRUCE OF MELBOURNE rose to call attention to the present world food situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in moving the Motion which stands in my name, I would remark that the obvious first step that we should take is to try and ascertain what are the facts. I have some doubt whether noble Lords are aware of what exactly is the present position. Many may have gained an impression of its seriousness from statements that have been published in the Press by Sir John Boyd Orr, the late Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. I have no doubt that some people have thought that those statements may have been exaggerated. I do not propose to rely upon anything that Sir John Boyd Orr has said, but will bring to the attention of your Lordships the Report of the Second Session of the World Food Council, of which I have the honour to be independent Chairman.

The Council meeting was held in Washington a few weeks ago. I am sorry to say the Report is not here yet. We cabled to America last week, and 500 copies were sent by air mail. They should have been here on Monday, but unfortunately they were taken on to Paris. I hope we shall have them back here to-day, and that in a few hours they will be available in the Printed Paper Office to any noble Lord who wishes to see a copy. That Report is the considered judgment of the World Food Council, which consists of representatives of eighteen nations. In the introductory chapter the question of the present world food situation is dealt with exhaustively. When we met in Washington and examined the general world food situation, we came to the conclusion that the crop prospects for this present year, 1948, were very much better than they were when we met in November last. Then we went on to examine the significance of that fact. I will read to you what was said in the Report with regard to this matter. Dealing with the improved crop prospects at the moment when we met, the Report says: Adverse weather in the next few months could completely wipe out the potential gains during 1948. Moreover, even if improvement does occur, world production will remain far below needs for the coming year. In most of the war-devastated countries pre-war levels of food production and consumption have not been regained; in fact, large areas of the world have been unable to maintain the inadequate consumption levels of a year ago. In many countries even the hoped-for increases in production would leave levels for nutrition at a point where the morale, health, and working capacity of the people inevitably are impaired; the repercussions are especially grave for children and young people generally. The slight gains in prospect for the current year are even more negligible in the face of the longer-term prospects. In the light of these findings the Council then reviewed all known plans for increased food production in the world, including the Marshall Plan.

The Report states that if all those known plans are successful—as to which there are obviously grave doubts, depending on weather conditions, the necessary supplies of fertilisers and machinery, and so on —the world's food production in the year 1951 will be only approximately that of the immediate pre-war years. The Council examined that factor in relation to the population situation in the world, and the conclusion to which they came was that, if we have only the same production in 1951 as we had just before the war, it will mean a serious per capita reduction in the food supplies available. That is based upon the fact that the population of the world today is increasing at the rate of something between 20,000,000 and 25,000,000 a year; and the probable increase between the years 1939 and 1951 will be something in the nature of 200,000,000 people. These are the comments of the Council upon that fact: A large expansion of food production is required if per capita supplies of food are to be maintained even at present, levels while improvement in present diets demands an even more rapid expansion. Unless action is taken to bring about such expansion, the level of nutrition and health of the peoples of the world is likely to decline even below the standards achieved before the war. It was the inadequacy of those standards that prompted the nations to establish, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. The Council is convinced that the world food situation demands from all Governments early and vigorous action and feels a responsibility for bringing the stark facts to the notice of Governments. I would impress upon your Lordships the fact that I am reading from a Report which has been subscribed to by those eighteen nations of which I have spoken.

We proceeded to examine what could be done about the situation facing the world. In the past, when there has been a gap between the amount of food produced and the amount of food required, the difficulty has been met by an increase in acreage. During and after the 1914–18 war, in the four new great agricultural countries—the United States, Canada, Australia and the Argentine—a total increase of 110,000,000 acres was achieved in improved or cultivated land. To-day, unless great developmental plans are carried out to make new areas of the world available—and those plans will obviously take years to complete—there is no significant acreage of land in the world that can be put under cultivation. That again is a statement made in the Report; it is not a personal opinion of my own.

The Council then considered what could be done, and there were three lines of action which they were urged must be taken. The first was that there must be a prevention of the great infestation by rats and other vermin, which are to-day destroying a percentage of the world's foodstuffs which, if it were realised, would stagger most people. The second was that, with the aid of science and the employment of modern technique, the yield per acre of the land that is available mast be increased. The third was that new areas must be brought into production by great development plans. As regards the first, the prevention of infestation, there is no great difficulty if Governments will co-operate and work together. No great new plant is required; no great capital investment is necessary; and the methods of preventing infestation are known. The Food and Agriculture Organisation have appealed to every Government to co-operate in this work, and they have undertaken to make available experts to assist any Government requiring such aid.

With regard to the second—increasing yield—with science and modern techniques there is no great difficulty in doing that. But if it is to be done it will require greatly increased supplies of tractors, farm machinery and all the implements required on a farm—supplies which go far beyond anything any of us has thought of up to date. With regard to development, the action to be taken in that direction is set out at great length in the Report of the Preparatory Commission of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, over which I had the honour to preside some twelve months ago. On May 11, 1947, I made a long speech in your Lordships House dealing with that question, and I do not propose to weary your Lordships by repeating what I then said. Those are the three necessities. The Food and Agriculture Organisation have set the stage for dealing with them. Every Government member of the Food and Agriculture Organisation—which now embraces some fifty-six or fifty-seven nations—have undertaken to send in to the Organisation by July of this year their plans for increasing food production. They have also been requested to include precisely what supplies, in the way of tractors, fertilisers, farm machinery and so on, they require to achieve their objective.

His Majesty's Government are under an obligation to send in such a programme. They have had ample warning of it, because the Report of the Preparatory Commission recommended that these programmes should be produced. His Majesty's Government were represented on that Preparatory Commission by Mr. Harold Wilson, who is now President of the Board of Trade. The recommendations of that Commission were considered by all the fifty-six or fifty-seven nations at Geneva in August, 1947, and every Government unanimously subscribed to the proposal to send in programmes. I trust that His Majesty's Government have got on with the job of preparing their programme, and will be in a position to send it in, so that it can be included with all the other programmes. The programme will obviously have to include what is proposed in regard to domestic agriculture and the increase in production in these islands. It will also have to include all the plans for increased production in the Colonies of the Empire. Further, it will have to include those plans which have recently been under consideration with the southern Dominions. The reason why it is essential that all the programmes should be considered together is that their objective is to ensure maximum production in the world. It is vital that, by international agreement, where there are shortages—as, for example, in oils and fats—production shall be speeded up so that eventually we may come to the point where we have sufficient production to meet the world's needs.

When these programmes are received, they will be analysed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and a balance sheet will be prepared showing, on one side, the total production and what those plans would mean if they were realised, and on the other side what supplies would be required—fertilisers, tractors, and so on—in order to carry them out. When those balance sheets have been analysed, they will be submitted to the next conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and it will then be for the Governments concerned to make up their, minds as to what action they are prepared to take. I am quite certain that those balance sheets will show that there is a world food shortage which, if wide-visioned and statesmanlike action is not taken, will be not only a long-term shortage, but, it may be, an indefinite shortage. I suggest that that is a prospect that the nations of the world cannot accept, and they must take action. A continuing food shortage will involve un- told human suffering and misery for millions of people. It will unquestionably place in the hands of Communism the most potent weapon it could desire. It will also, I believe, lead to incalculable unrest and social upheavals that might well destroy our modern civilisation.

On the other hand, if we can find the answer to this food problem, it will mean increased happiness for millions of people. It will surely destroy one of the greatest incentives to Communism. I read in The Times this morning a phrase which expresses this very well. It said: Want breeds Communism; plenty cures it. I think that is a fairly accurate description of the situation. Finally, I believe that if we have enough food in the world for man's requirements, it will go far to allay the unrest which exists to-day. Well-fed men are not apt to become revolutionaries, and equally a well-fed body rarely harbours a warped mind. Those reasons are all very potent, but to my mind the most important one of all is that, through food, I believe we can achieve better co-operation between the nations, and we would then have a starting point for overcoming the economic and social problems which face us. I also believe that we would be paving the way for political unity, which is so absent in the world.

If we are to achieve those things, then obviously the first thing we have to achieve is peace. It was well expressed in a document issued by the Federation of British Industries, which said: The removal of the threat of war is the only basis upon which economic world prosperity can be re-established. We had hoped that the overwhelming victory of the United Nations, and the co-operation that took place between those nations during the war, had set the stage for the assurance of world peace. The instrument was the Security Council of the United Nations. To-day, we have to admit that, for the moment, the Security Council has failed. It has been frustrated by the intransigence of certain nations. That intransigence must not be allowed to frustrate the will of the peace-loving nations. We have to seek its cause. The reason for the present deplorable position is the growing difference—or the growing antagonism, if you will—between Com- munism and democracy. Many people are beginning to think in terms that you can deal with that situation by force. I suggest that that is a policy of despair. The only way to defeat Communism is to remove the causes that breed it. We have to show that democracy can provide a fuller and better life. We have to change the whole atmosphere, and that I take as my starting point.

We have to do two things. We have to be strong enough to hold the position in the world while we are proving that we can supply that fuller and better life, and we have to formulate and carry out the positive policy which will achieve our objective. How are we to accomplish it? I will not delay your Lordships long, but I must deal with it, because it is fundamental to everything that I want to say later. I suggest that we cannot accomplish it, as some people would suggest, by revising the Charter of the United Nations and thereby destroying its universality. I suggest that the better way to do it is by regional agreements, inside the framework of the United Nations, for mutual protection against aggression. A promising start has been made in this direction by the proposals for what is known as the Western Union. The underlying principles of this concept should be applied to every region of the world. But I want to utter a word of warning on this. I do it because I have had considerable experience of Governments, both from within and without. This experience has taught me that Governments are apt to embark upon policies without thinking ahead to the end of the road. At that end, however, there is nearly always one vital and difficult decision that has to be taken if the policy is to be implemented. The machinery which they will require if they are to operate successfully, will have to be similar to that of the Security Council, but without the veto. How many Governments who advocate regional pacts have realised that if such pacts are to be effective, they would be bound to accept a majority vote of the Council (two-thirds or three-quarters, whatever it might be) and carry out the policy, even though they might be opposed to it? I say that because I have grave doubts whether many people have thought through to the end. Although many will say that it is not necessary to go so far as this, I, because of my considerable experience of the League of Nations and its failures say with emphasis that it is.

We have also to remember that this is the moment when we have to take the plunge. We have either to implement pacts of this sort, or we have to recognise that nations have not yet moved to the point where they are prepared to give up the measure of sovereignty necessary to enable such a pact to work. If we have, indeed, reached this latter position, let us recognise that the only thing that can result is a system of power politics. It is no use our bluffing ourselves by talking about co-operation among the peace-loving nations. I apologise for having said all that, but it is absolutely fundamental to what I want to say with regard to food, and how it might help on the economic side. We have to recognise that regional pacts are not enough. Their conclusion amounts only to what tie noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, graphically described as preventing the "hostile State" from becoming the "enemy State" That is all the regional pact would ever do. We must have a positive policy that will, by progressively improving the economic situation, pave the way for political unity. Both that policy and the means for achieving it lie to our hand. The policy, I believe, is embodied in a phrase I coined nearly thirteen years ago: "The marriage of health and agriculture" After all, agriculture is the greatest industry in the world, employing two-thirds of the world's working population. Prosperity in agriculture has repercussions on industry. These repercussions are fortunately reciprocal, mounting in an ever-ascending spiral, I suggest, therefore, that we should start by setting out to meet the world's food requirements.

This will involve two things: first, intensification of our production, by better methods and the maximum utilisation of science and modern technique; and, secondly, great developmental plans for the opening up of new areas of production. Both the intensification of production and the carrying out of great developmental plans will make tremendous demands on industry for fertilisers, tractors, farm implements, and so on. Development will demand great supplies of capital. It may be suggested that these demands on industry and finance cannot be met. I say they can and must be met. Others will say that these schemes will cut across the Marshall Plan. Such people, however, cannot have a very clear vision of present conditions or up-to-date knowledge of what is going on. I should like to pay a tribute to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations for the work they have done towards restoring the economic situation of Europe and for their close co-operation with those who are responsible for the Marshall Plan. There is no overlapping on this matter; but the Marshall Plan embraces only certain nations in the West of Europe; it is confined to a certain area. Success for the Marshall Plan means, approximately, only the restoration of Europe to her economic position before the war.

Others, again, will say that after all the Marshall Plan is the greatest attempt at international economic co-operation in history. "Why," they ask, "cannot you be content to let it work itself out and see how it goes?" I am afraid my answer to that is that the Marshall Plan is not nearly enough. Only by a great expansion of world trade, based on new real wealth, can Britain sell to the world the increased volume of goods and services by which alone she can solve her balance of payment problems. Only by a great expansion of world trade, based on new real wealth, can the United States of America export that small but significant percentage of her vast and ever-increasing production which is necessary to her if she is to avoid catastrophic unemployment. Incidentally, I hope that on that point I shall not be picked up—by anyone on the Government side, anyhow—because that is not an original thought of mine; it appears in the Preparatory Commission's Report, which was published in January, 1947.

The final point is the question of finance. With regard to this, I am prepared to take the responsibility for saying that the great capital required for implementing the policy I have suggested can be found. I am equally confident that industry can respond to the vastly increased demands for production that will be made upon it. I say this after having many talks with those in control of the International Bank and with bankers in America. In order to meet the industrial demands, I suggest the co-operation of those engaged in the production and distribution of the things we require must be invoked. Experience has shown that Governments alone cannot grapple with these problems. This necessity for obtaining the co-operation of the industries concerned was recognised by the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, with the endorsement of the eighteen nations. The Council laid down in their instructions to the Director-General that he was with the concurrence of the appropriate member Governments to consult with representatives of industry with a view to exploring the situation. While it was the Director-General who was instructed to get in touch with industry, with the approbation of the Governments concerned, I, in my happier position of independent Chairman of the Food Council, having no responsibility to anyone, have already been in touch with the representatives of some of the industries concerned, and particularly with the fertiliser industry.

In America I had long talks, and the impression I gained from them was that industry, if invoked, would be prepared to furnish the aid we require, subject to the necessary safeguards being applied to ensure that their co-operation was for the public benefit. I therefore suggest that, in order to bring about the increase of production, both agricultural and industrial, and the expansion of world trade which we require, we should start with food and pursue an imaginative policy to meet the world's needs. We say: "Go on and produce; it is your duty to your country, it is your duty to the world, to produce," but if that appeal is to succeed we must think in terms of "Where is the market?", and "Will the farmer get a fair and reasonable price?" The term that is generally used is "a price fair to producer and consumer alike." That task of trying to see whether anything could be done in the way of stabilising the prices of major agricultural products was another of the tasks entrusted to the Preparatory Commission, and that Commission reported upon how it could be done. They laid down that it was essential to have inter-governmental agreements or arrangements, and declared that that was the only way in which the stability and surety of market which are naturally demanded by the producer can be achieved.

This policy has been followed in the Wheat Agreement which was recently negotiated at Washington between pro- ducer and consumer Governments. That Agreement has put a ceiling of two dollars a bushel to the price of wheat, whereas the price prior to the Agreement had reached a figure of over three dollars. It also provides for a floor price of one dollar fifty cents which, over the period of the Agreement, would descend to one dollar ten cents should there happily and unexpectedly be a great increase in wheat production. There has been in the past, and there will probably be in the future, much objection, to any sort of commodity arrangements or commodity agreements. That opposition usually comes from what we are told is the "hard-headed business man." I have had a good deal of experience of that animal and, while I have a great admiration for him, I think that very often he overlooks a great number of essential facts. It is said: No, we will not have any of these agreements; we like the good old law of supply and demand" The one essential fact to be considered, however, is that in every country, without exception, and, above all, in the home of free enterprise, the United States, where the agricultural industry is organised to an extent that I do not think anybody here has even dreamed of in any of his wildest dreams—it is organised to the nth point—because of the importance of agriculture in their national economy, nations have provided subsidies, fixed prices and adopted other devices which completely defeat the law of supply and demand. Whether people like it or not, they are up against a period in the world's history when, if we are to get stability into any of these things, the advice of the Preparatory Commission, which has been adopted by the representatives of fifty-seven nations at Geneva, including those of His Majesty's Government, will have to be followed.

As to the machinery for ensuring international co-operation in the expansionist policy I have been indicating, I would point out that it lies to our hands in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and its specialised agencies, particularly the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Trade Organisation and the International Bank. If this machinery is to be utilised, it must be made more effective. In the past, I have been guilty of criticising some of those agencies. I will not repeat that criticism to-day. But the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation have taken what I suggest are impressive steps towards achieving the desired end. At our recent meeting, the Council instructed the Director-General 'to prepare for the next conference a report showing the priorities, having regard to the financial resources at the disposition of the organisation, which the Food and Agriculture Organisation should pursue. This will involve the scrapping of many admirable projects which have been approved by the annual conferences of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, but which at the moment it is impracticable to implement. The actual wording of the Report, which it is useful to quote, is as follows: Nearly four hundred resolutions have teen passed at various sessions of the Food and Agriculture Organisation Conference, the majority of which have recommended immediate action. The Organisation cannot within its present resources undertake all the activities proposed. The Council feels that the selection of a limited number of projects in respect to which effective action could be taken is a practical and wise policy which will prevent the wasting of food and Agriculture Organisation's resources by spreading them too thinly over the Organisation's huge field. With the development of regional activities and co-operation of the Food and Agriculture Organisation with the regional economic Commissions of the United Nations and with the other specialised agencies, the Council feels that the Food and Agriculture Organisation will be able to carry out effectively the task allotted to it. This, I suggest, is wise action and constitutes a precedent which might well be followed by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations itself and by the other specialised agencies.

I have tried to outline the position as I see it. I admit that the difficulties in the way are tremendous but, unless action is taken now, I do not believe that I have drawn the picture in by any means too gloomy colours. I am certain that we shall be faced with a situation that may lead to all the consequences that I have suggested. I have raised this Motion in this House because I believe that, if the general ideas which I have put forward can receive the approval and support of your Lordships, it will be a tremendous stimulus to those who to-day are becoming somewhat weary of great hopes and pious expectations which do not appear to come to realisation. I believe it will stimulate those who desire action. I am also hopeful that a discussion in your Lordships' House, with the prestige which it carries, may arouse the people of this country to a better appreciation and understanding of the importance of this issue to them, to their daily lives and to their future happiness.

How important this would be is shown in a letter which I have received from the Reverend James Fraser, the ex-Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of England. He writes: It seems to me that when the successful working and expansion of the Food and Agriculture Organisation becomes a daily interest and concern of the ordinary person everywhere, we shall have got near to the stage of out-dating one of the chief causes of war, and a good deal nearer to the healthier and happier family of nations that we have a right to long for. Finally, I would remind the Government that in the greater part of what I have said I have not merely been expressing my own views but I have been drawing attention to definite lines of action which have been approved in reports to which His Majesty's Government have subscribed. I have had every opportunity to see these views developed. I have presided over the Preparatory Commission of the Food and Agriculture Organisation and, as Chairman of the Council of that Organisation, I wish to emphasise that nearly every one of these matters has been subscribed to by His Majesty's Government, and the reports from which I have quoted are all reports to which His Majesty's Government were a party. I suggest that it is not enough to give assent to reports. I suggest that there is an obligation upon His Majesty's Government to see that those reports are implemented, that their ideas are carried out and that the Government give leadership in that regard.

I venture to say that up to date His Majesty's Government have not quite lived up to that obligation. Let us take, for example, the last meeting of the Food and Agricultural Organisation. As I have told your Lordships, there were some fifty-six nations fully represented there. There were Ministers and large delegations from nearly every one of the major countries. His Majesty's Government were represented on a ministerial level only by Dr. Edith Summerskill for a few days, and by a fleeting visit by Mr. Harold Wilson which I think lasted just one day. I would urge the Government that at the next conference of the Food and Agricultural Organisation there should be full ministerial representation, and that the Government should take very seriously the responsibilities which rest upon them.

My Lords, in presenting this Motion to you, I have tried to show a somewhat studied restraint. I admit that has imposed a certain strain upon me. Had I given way to my natural instinct I would have been much more critical and, conceivably, might have become aggressive. I have attempted to avoid doing that, and I hope any good effects I may have achieved will not be destroyed by the last thing I wish to say. I wish to draw attention to the extreme gravity of these issues, and to remind your Lordships' House that they concern the happiness, the future well-being and prosperity, and even the lives, of the people of this country. In those circumstances, I suggest that this nation has a right to know exactly where not only His Majesty's Government but the other great Parties in the State stand in regard to them, and I trust that during this debate that information may be forthcoming. I beg to move for Papers.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene through the great courteousness of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, because the only point that I have to make has a bearing on a remark he made on the occasion of the last debate in this House on the agricultural situation, when he took me in particular to task for having spoken with undue violence, as he thought. I think he used the words, "getting hot under the collar"—a vernacular expression which is unusual in your Lordships' House. I think I was justified in using the language which I did by the figures which have since come out as a result of Sir John Boyd Orr's statement, and the figures referred to by the noble Viscount who has just sat down. I intervene at this stage because I did not think at that time—and I am not at all sure that I am aware of it now—that there was any sense of urgency or real awareness (which I think were the words that Lord Bruce used), of the gravity of the food situation on the part of His Majesty's Government. A few years ago a prominent member of His Majesty's present Government stated that he did not think that we in this country could afford to work a forward agricultural policy.


Who was that?


The noble Viscount who usually sits on the Woolsack is not here at the moment; that is why I did not refer to him. Since then it is true that Government pronouncements on agriculture have shown a certain change of heart in this respect; but, even since the debate to which I have referred, I have still not seen anywhere in the pronouncements by His Majesty's Government any of the acute sense of awareness which I think they should have. As Sir John Boyd Orr and others have shown, the truth is that the problem of food supply is one of such gravity as to put any other problem into the background. At present there does not seem to be any prospect of procuring enough food adequately to feed the people in the world to-day. The figures so far as India is concerned are probably known to your Lordships. The increase in the male population in India alone is something of the order of between seven and ten infantry divisions a month. There are a few thousand square miles of land which could still be cultivated, and there is an increase of yield which is possible only over a long period of years; but there is no major scheme which could provide the food that India needs.

The same is true of practically all the countries to which one can turn. The United States of America are to-day, and are likely to be in all the future that we can see, net importers of food and not exporters of food. The only large area where new production of food on a large scale is possible is in Africa, and we are all, of course, convinced of the necessity and desirability of the schemes which are now in progress there. Whether they have been immediately well managed or not is quite immaterial; the ultimate scheme of things is obviously right. But those are only schemes of long-term production and cannot immediately be productive. The immediate prospect after this year's harvest is that there will be more and more people to eat less and less—that is to say, there will be a lesser production per capita of people who want to eat than there has ever been before. If that is so—and I do not think any of your Lordships would care to deny it—the first problem before His Majesty's Government and any other Government is to seek to increase the production of those countries over which we have direct influence and control, starting, of course, at home, The first place where we should start doing something is here and not with other people. To blame the problem on other people does not produce food. I have not blamed it on His Majesty's Government; I have merely suggested that they were not sufficiently or acutely aware of how nearly this problem was going to affect us within a year or two.

Curiously enough, the only large area from which we can hope to get a substantial increase of food production by new acreage and new methods is that area which lies behind the Iron Curtain. The one point I have to make here is that the prospect which is facing us, and which I think is inevitable, is that the Western world is likely to be at a disadvantage in regard to food production compared with the Eastern world behind the Iron Curtain, because the realisation on that side of the necessity for producing food has perhaps been greater than it has on this tide. The Marshall Plan is only a palliative, but it can be a direct contribution if it is agreed that the main object is to produce more food. I do not believe that that has been in the minds of most people up to date with regard to the Marshall Plan. I would like to hear, and I hope to hear, from the noble Viscount, that that awareness about which he castigated me some few months, ago has now been borne in upon His Majesty's Government, and that he will agree that, in the light of after events, that castigation was, perhaps, not as merited as it then appeared to him to be.

3.40 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, with characteristic benignity, has essayed to reprove me for something or other. Frankly, I have not the faintest idea of what sort of offence it is that I am supposed to have committed. However, if I have on some occasion misinterpreted the noble Lord, that is very regrettable, and I am sorry for it. But I confess that I have no recollection of doing anything of the kind. One thing I am completely unrepentant about is our attitude with regard to matters to which he has just drawn attention. The facts which he has recited are facts of which we have been painfully aware for many years past. They do not constitute a new discovery—and, as I have said, I am completely unrepentant, as the noble Lord will notice—


I am very sorry.


I think it is fair to say speaking for myself—I would like to get away from the personal note as soon as possible, and I would not have introduced it but for what the noble Lord has said—that for the last twenty-five years now I have devoted a large part of my political activity to urging the improvement of British agriculture. I think that is quite undeniable. One would not, of course, have taken that line if one had not been possessed by the conviction that it was both necessary and possible. And with that, I must be allowed to pass from the subject of the reproof which the noble Lord essayed to invent.

I agree entirely with him and with the noble Viscount who introduced this Motion as to the tremendous urgency of this problem of food production. I support what the noble Lord just now said as to blaming people not being the same thing as producing food. If it were, the production of food would be a much easier matter than it is. But before I sit down I will come to what we are trying to do. At the outset, I would like to say how fortunate we are that the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, is a member of this House. We all know what great service he has rendered as Chairman of the World Food Council. I am quite sure that this House and the Government will expect him to be entirely independent in his comments. I am certain that we may be assured that he will be, and also that he will not hesitate to reprove us or to stir us up if he feels it to be necessary. For all that, I know that the whole House recognises that not only the people of this country but also the people of other nations are indebted to him, and to the organisation over which he presides, for the force with which they have presented the world with the grim facts which lie behind this subject.

Probably the most urgent problem which now faces the world is the possible shortage of food—or, I may say, the immediate shortage of food. I think there is no doubt about that. There is, as the noble Viscount has said, some small im- provement in these present days or to be expected this year. But we have to bear in mind what Lord Rennell has just reminded us of—namely, the immense increase of populations which is steadily going on all over the world. That increase is such that the populations of the countries of the world are outstripping the world's production. There can be no doubt about that. At the same time, there is this factor to be considered: with the increase of national feeling, and with the assertion of national development, there is a much greater demand per capita than in times past; and that demand per capita will continue to increase. That also, I think, is unquestionable. I well remember that a Report published some years ago—I forget who produced the Report; I am not quite sure that it was not one of the earlier Reports of Sir John Boyd Orr—recounted the number of primary producers in the world. The Report also pointed out that the vast majority of them lived in the Orient. Anyone who travels in Oriental countries and sees the miserable standard of living of millions of people, knows that that is true. So, with the continued increase of population, the continued demand for food arises; and in the future this will greatly aggravate the urgency of the problem.

While it is easy to recognise these grim facts, it is much more difficult to determine what we, as a nation, can do about it. Obviously, we can, as a nation, do only what is within our power, and I will mention in a few minutes one or two of the efforts which we are making and planning for. But first let me say this. We are bound to recognise the immense shortages which confront us just now in machinery and fertilisers, in skill and the application of science, and in many more factors. In the first place, we have to recognise—as I am sure everyone will agree—that there are immense possibilities of increased production from the land which is already under cultivation in one form or another. I could well begin, in this connection, by speaking of our own home land. We agree that there are possibilities of increased production from our own land, but I do not accept from the noble Viscount that the standard of British agriculture is below that of the United States. I think that is what he suggested.


Will the noble Viscount forgive my interrupting him? I did not say anything of that sort. I merely spoke of the amount of control which there is in America over agriculture, in regard to all its phases, as compared with the state of affairs in this country.


I am sorry if I did not understand the noble Viscount. It is a fact, I think, that the production per acre in this country, allowing for all the possibilities of expansion that certainly exist, is higher than anywhere else in the whole world.


Except, possibly, New Zealand.


No; with great respect to the noble Viscount, I do not accept that it is higher in New Zealand. The standard of production which has been achieved by the British farmer is very high now, but we can yet produce a great deal more by making full use of the aids which science can provide and of all the latest improvements in methods of agriculture. Apart entirely from the plan for increased production which has already been announced, and which is to cover the next three or four years, we are busily engaged now in seeing what we can do to augment it, because we do not think that that plan, ambitious as it certainly is, by any means represents the limit of what we can possibly achieve.

Here I should like to refer to certain limiting factors which no amount of scolding of this Government—or any other—will enable us to escape. First of all, no section of any population in the world—except perhaps the Britishers—is slower to move than the rural population; and we have to induce agriculturists to adopt improved, methods. Take the case of India. From conversations we are having, I know that one of the urgent demands of India is for machinery in connection with the large irrigation schemes which will make possible improved production over enormous areas. Even with the machinery, however, they will be confronted with the unwillingness of the producer to alter or improve his methods. I should have said that if the plans for India which I know are now being considered could alone be realised, there would be an immense increase in world food production. We all know it is possible, but it will be a long time before it can be realised.

We are busy about something else. The noble Lord, Lord Rennell, chided us that we seemed to have forgotten the existence of the African Continent. I assure him that it is not so. During the last two years we have made the most complete and informed survey ever undertaken of the possibilities of development of our Colonial territories, including Africa. I have been able to read some of the preliminary reports of this gigantic undertaking. Nobody can expect that we can realise these possibilities very quickly. I wish we could. I was comforted by what the noble Lord said about the mistakes that may be made. I am sure he is a good prophet there. It is impossible to contemplate the vast schemes which are now being considered for Africa and our other Colonial possessions—I will not put it higher than that, though some have started—without realising that they will take time, and that we shall probably make a good many mistakes before we attain the desired end. It is possible that I, or some successor, may have to stand up and make the best case possible in respect of mistakes which I can imagine will provide the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, with excellent ammunition to discharge against the Government of the day. There will be mistakes; but, at all events, we have new embarked upon schemes of increased production in our Colonial territories far greater than any attempted before. And that is an understatement. Therefore, I do not feel in the least guilty when it is suggested that we are doing nothing about it. But it is a slow and difficult job. We wish it were not, but that is an inescapable fact.

Another limiting factor is the supply of machinery. In the case of India, one of the great needs is machinery. That applies everywhere; it applies at home. We have sometimes been chided by the noble Earl opposite because agricultural machinery did not have sufficient priority.


And will be again.


The trouble is that we have not enough to supply everybody with all they want. It is a fact from which no amount of scolding will get away. We have to do the best we can with the shortages that oppress us. It is not possible to supply home agriculture with all it wants and at the same time meet the demands of other countries. But we are doing our best. When, from time to time, I see animadversions from noble Lords opposite about imaginary schemes for steel, I would remind them that the limiting factor in the provision of machinery is the supply of steel. And at present it looks as though that will be the limiting factor for a considerable time. I am saying this not to make any excuse, but simply to state the facts. One of the limiting influences on increased food production is the supply of proper machinery, and the adequate supply of machinery is, to a great extent, limited by the inadequacy of the supply of steel.


Is that not because of the increased export of machinery abroad?


That is partly the cause, but we are not able to meet the demand from abroad either. The demands, both at home and from abroad, are greater than our capacity to produce, though we are making great efforts to do what we can to meet the situation.


Surely, if there were more machinery to increase the output of food in this country, there would be less necessity to import food from dollar countries.


That is perfectly true. We are doing our best to increase the output of machinery, and we have made great advances, as the noble Viscount himself must know. I have not the figures by me now, but I think it is fair to say that the proportion of tractor equipment of our English farms is far higher than that of any other country. And it is increasing month by month. I am not saying that to minimise the fact that they have not enough; of course, they have not. I wish they had, but there is no short cut to supplying this equipment. There is a shortage of essential materials. Your Lordships must excuse a little warmth in my reply, but I know so well what efforts we are making in this direction—quite unprecedented efforts. I feel completely unrepentant when we are chided with being listless, if that is the right word.


That is right.


Other factors we have to take into account are the supply of fertilisers and the application of approved science and better methods, which I am sure we all wish to encourage. One of the problems facing those in charge of some parts of Africa is that caused by the tsetse fly and other pests, which limit the possibilities of human activity in all sorts of regions where otherwise there could be an increase of food production. This effort must be married up with medical science and other sciences to enable us to make use of many parts of the world which are at present denied us by tropical diseases and pests of one kind or another. All these things are part of the immense expansion of food production which must be undertaken in the world. I accept what the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, says without qualification; I believe it is right. I only hope that the world in future will not be confronted with the marketing disorders of the past, so that a local surplus may have a desolating effect on world prices. That has happened a good many times. I trust that noble Lords, whatever political appellation they may apply to themselves, will not be afraid of such Socialism as is necessary to achieve some rational system of price stabilisation and control. Whatever you call it, that is absolutely essential if we are to carry through a scheme of increased food production, not only in this country but in other countries as well.

I intervene in the debate now only to say how much I appreciate the value of the noble Viscount's Motion, and to make some small contribution to the debate at an early stage. I fully expected that I should be subject to the reproofs with which the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, entertained us a few moments ago. I can truthfully say that His Majesty's Government are fully seized of the vital importance of this matter, and are doing all they can, both at home and abroad, to deal with it.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, we are all deeply grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce for having raised this very vital question. The experience which the noble Viscount brings to bear on this problem is probably unequalled by that of anybody in the country. I do not imagine that any of us will be greatly encouraged by the remarks of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. One cannot help feeling relief that those who led us during the war were, perhaps, a little better at actually doing things and loss good at producing excuses. The facts with which we are faced take us far beyond the bounds of political controversy. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, has said, they are, quite literally, facts affecting the life and death, not only of this country but of our civilisation. The real danger seems to me to be that the problems are so frightening (at first sight one might say they were insoluble) that the human mind tends rather to veer away from them, and to pass on to others which may be more obvious for the moment but which are infinitely less important. There is the further danger (again the noble Viscount referred to it) that undoubtedly the slightly better harvest prospects in certain parts of the world this year have tended to give a number of people a feeling of false optimism. We know that, just as good harvests succeed bad harvests, so do bad harvests, in their turn, succeed good harvests.

There is one factor in the situation to which no one has yet referred, but it is important. It is that the United States, from which so much of our grain has been coming of late, has had a run of seven good harvests. Unless all the facts of the world weather cycle have completely altered, he who would deny that we have to face the strong possibility of a bad year in the United States, and possibly a succession of bad years, would be most unwise. The position then would indeed be terrible. I wonder how many of us realise that of the 25,000,000 tons total exportable surplus of wheat available to the world for this next year no less than 12,000,000 tons—almost 50 per cent.—is expected from the United States; and that another 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 tons is expected from Canada? That is something between 15,000,000 and 16,000,000 tons, out of a total of 25,000,000 tons. I repeat that, unless the whole cycle of the world weather has altered that Continent within the next few years is bound to be faced with its customary drought.

It is not only the grain situation that gives rise to great concern. This is indeed probably the most encouraging part of the picture. I hope your Lordships will for- give me if I mention a number of figures. We often talk of this problem in generalities, but in order to appreciate what it means we must get down to figures. Let us take fats and oils. Before the war the total exports of all fats and oils were just under 6,000,000 metric tons. Estimates for the coming year are just under 4,000,000 metric tons. If we take oil cakes and meal for feeding stuffs, we find that the Report of the International Emergency Food Committee says that World export supplies…are at present only 23 percent, of pre-war. With regard to meat, the Report say: Present indications are that total exports will not exceed 4,000 million pounds…as compared with 4,600 million pounds exported in 1947. Turning to the outlook for dairy produce in the world, we find that the F.A.O. Commodity Series of Dairy Products starts off with the sentence: It is probable that world milk production in 1947–48 will fall below the 1946–47 volume. They suggest a reduction for Europe from 49,000,000 cows to 41,000,000 cows.

I think that this picture more than bears out what the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, has told us. Behind it lie other facts of which the noble Viscount has made us aware. He referred to the tremendous increase in population in addition to the greatly increased consumption per head of that population. A fact which the noble Viscount did not mention is that it would be hard to point to a single country in the world to-day which has not continued to enlarge other industries to the detriment of agriculture. In South America, eighteen months ago, I found only one country left in that vast territory which was in a position to export food, and that was the Argentine. If we look at a most interesting graph—which I commend to your Lordships—from the Records and Statistics Supplement to the Economist, we see that even in the Argentine there is a decrease in employment in agriculture of 15 percent, and an increase in employment in industry of 10 percent. Whereas the overall food production figure for the Argentine is virtually the same as it was last year, there is between 25 and 30 percent, increase in their population. That sort of thing is going on in every country in the world.

This, then, is the background of the picture with which we have to deal. The noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, has asked the Government for a statement on the plans they are due to produce in July for the Food and Agriculture Organisation. I hope that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, has not been able to give us those plans, we shall hear of them from the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon. I hope we shall hear something more concrete than the statement that the Government have already put before this House and the country plans for increasing production of food by £100,000,000 by 1951 or 1952. It is always dangerous to attempt to be a prophet. I may be wrong, and I hope to heavens I am, but if, by the end of next year, it is discovered that the agricultural effort in this country has increased by any appreciable amount at all, I shall be extremely surprised. In this year of better harvests it is possible that our production will be higher than it was last year, but that is merely by the good luck of a better harvest.

As I travel about the country—and it is my duty to do so in a certain number of capacities—I get an impression of such discouragement in the agricultural world that, like the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, I find it extremely hard to speak calmly on the matter. In this debate, where we are trying to deal with the facts of a terrible world situation, it is very necessary to avoid controversy if possible. The noble Viscount, Lord Addison, tells us that of course the present state of affairs is not a new discovery; that he has been aware of it for some time. I look back over the last two years and think of the number of debates that have been held in your Lordships' House, urging the Government to stop the present agricultural decline, pointing out to them that our agricultural effort to-day has been reduced since the end of the war, that our tillage acreage is down, and that the number of our livestock is also down; and when we are now told that "We are doing everything that can be done," I repeat that I find it is hard to speak calmly.

Of course we want machinery. And why cannot we get the machinery? It is said that it is because of the lack of steel. But the steel is there. We read every week of the climbing production of the steel industry. It is the allocation of steel that is wrong. The Government have made themselves responsible for the disposal of all these products. In the bad old days of private enterprise, when steel was not reaching the agricultural industry, it could be said that it was just the haphazard chaos of capitalism. But this is the deliberate planning and allocation of this Government. It is they who say where every ton of steel is to go. Why then, if food is such a vital necessity, is not the agricultural industry obtaining the necessary supply of steel? This is not merely a national problem. I have been to different parts of Africa, and wherever I go I find the same thing—the productive enterprise of all those great countries is held up by lack of machinery. I read of great numbers of tractors being exported—and where? To the United States of America, the home of a great agricultural machinery industry. Why send agricultural tractors to America in order to acquire dollars, when it would be so much better to keep the tractors here and grow the food and save the dollars ourselves? Surely the whole system is crazy. But, whatever it is, let us be quite clear that it is the Government who are responsible.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, asked for the plans, and he visualised the plans going to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, that great international body. I certainly support him in the desire to make all possible use of this great international machine. Without an international, a world, view of the whole situation, we cannot begin to solve the world's problems. But let us also keep our eyes just a little nearer home. We have heard a good deal of international agreements about food during the last two or three years. Under those agreements we have seen foodstuffs that we thought could come to this country being allocated elsewhere. Even at the present moment, having come to a definite agreement over meat supplies with the Argentine, there is now a dispute in which we are being threatened with a hold-up of those supplies.

I thought the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, made a very wise statement when he said that there is only one source of food supply to this country of which we can be absolutely sure, and that is the production of food in this country. I would go further, and say the food production also of our own kith and kin overseas. Therefore, let us subscribe all the effort that we can to make a success of this great international organisation, but let us also see to it that, first and foremost, we develop our industry here at home and throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth. I am not referring only to the great new schemes for carving up new desert parts of Africa, carried out by the Overseas Food Corporation. There are throughout the Empire a great many farms already in existence on land that is all ready for cultivation; and, in travelling about, I have been struck by how little, comparatively, is being done to persuade the farmers on those farms to increase production. I ask the noble Earl whether he will consider suggesting to his colleagues, as the beginning of a great drive for increased Empire production, the calling of an Empire food conference to which representatives from all the Empire would be summoned, in order to put before them a picture of the needs, not only of ourselves but of themselves and the world; and to bring about a focusing of the whole problem, so that there shall be an entirely new drive and a new sense of urgency.

I should like to close on the theme on which the noble Viscount started. He said, most wisely, that without a true knowledge of the facts we can never begin to solve the problem. He quoted, and I have quoted, from documents published by the International Emergency Food Committee and other bodies. It seems to me that those papers (which the Ministry of Food were good enough to let me have as soon as I asked for them) ought to be available to this House and to Parliament—I do not mind whether in the form of a White Paper, or whether they are put in the Library, or better still, in the Printed Paper Office as already printed. But I would ask the noble Lord to give the House some assurance that these facts will be made more easily available to Parliament.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am going to speak as a mere layman, but, I hope, as a layman taking an intelligent interest in the things that are around him. I hope that in the course of the few remarks that I am going to make your Lordships will find something that will interest you as it interested me. First, I should like to say how pleased I am with the opportunity that has been giver to us by the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce. He and I may not belong to the same political Party—


I have not got one.


but if the noble Viscount continues on the lines on which he is now progressing as regards the International Food Organisation, and the Labour Government of this country continues along the lines on which it is making progress, we shall not be very far apart when we get to grips with this question.

The noble Viscount, at the commencement of his remarks, said that if great developments were not undertaken quickly the whole of the producing nations of the world, and the consumer nations with them, will, in 1951, not have gone beyond the point of 1938. If that is an accurate statement—and I believe it to be so—then the position is very serious, indeed. Yesterday I chanced upon some statistics. They were not the statistics of Sir John Boyd Orr, neither were they the figures quoted in the reports of the Council over which the noble Viscount has been presiding. They have been published by Professor Abramson of Oslo. He is the principal public health officer of Norway and he was writing in the Scandinavian Bank Review. His first series of figures are what I want to quote. He says that there are in the world just over 2,000,000,000 people, and in 1938 only 695,000,000 of those people had a diet of calories which would be of the standard that we want to attain. The rest of the population of the world had much below those figures. There were in fact ever 1,000,000,000 people who had a diet in which the calories were under 2,250 kilogrammes. So if the noble Viscount is right, in 1951, years after the conclusion of the war, there will be large numbers of people in the world on a starvation diet and not getting enough sustenance to keep them going as active citizens.

Some mention has been made of the fact that the population of the world is not static but that there may indeed be an increase of 200,000,000 in the world in the next few years. Professor Abramson commented that if the rate of increase of the population of the world continues, then when some of the children now being born reach the years which we ourselves have attained, the population of the world will have doubled. The problems of the future, in so far as the production of food is concerned, will be infinitely greater than they now are and greater than they have ever been. It therefore becomes necessary that individual statesmen, not acting separately, should take an interest in this matter, and that the Governments of the world, in co-operation with one another, should make themselves masters of the situation. The noble Viscount can rest assured that if the International Food Council go along that road of full co-operation, of great productivity and of fair distribution, then, whatever he may think about the present Government, the rank-and-file of our Party will be at his back.

There is, of course, a real problem facing us in this House to-day. I think I know where my Party stands, but I am not quite sure where the Parties opposite stand on this matter. Sometimes there sits upon the Benches opposite the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. He is particularly anxious that we should go back to commodity exchanges and that the sale and distribution of food should come under the control of those organisations once more. Surely it is apparent, however, after what we have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, this afternoon, that unless we go on the lines of co-operation and not competition we shall not achieve the purpose which we have in view.

The population of the world is increasing enormously. What is not increasing is the world's surface. The world's surface remains the same size. Here are more figures that I am going to quote from Professor Abramson, and they are intensely interesting. According to him, the world's surface is equal to 149,000,000 square kilometres, and only 18,000,000 square kilometres of that can be called arable land. In other words, only 7 percent, of the world's surface is devoted to the production of food for the millions of people who live thereon. I agree with the noble Viscount and others who have spoken that we have not merely to think about prices. We have also to think about greater production and, when we have thought of greater production, we have then to think of its marketing and its distribution.

The time has advanced rapidly and there is so much that one can say, but I will not try your Lordships unduly. Therefore, I will deal with only one other point. If we have the organisation on paper, if we have the finance to set it going and if the raw materials are available in the shape of capital goods, then we require human labour to be better organised and better distributed than it now is. For my part, I would welcome from the Government a more energetic scheme of emigration than we have at the moment. I know what the difficulties are. It will be said that it is no use moving men, women and children unless there is accommodation for them. But, unless we can improvise accommodation rapidly, our condition in 1951 will be what the noble Viscount has said it will be. I will not quote the figures of emigration during the past year, great though they be, but I want to quote the population figures relating to one part of the world—namely, East Africa. Some little time ago when I was speaking to your Lordships I said that I thought the Continent of Africa would become one of the future granaries of the world. I believe that to be true for certain kinds of produce. But if that is to happen, we must think of our Colonies and Dominions in a very different way from the way we have thought of them in the past. We must see that they have within their boundaries the population which will develop them and make possible the production of materials.

Here are the figures given in another place in reply to a question. They relate to the populations in some of our East African Colonies and show us what the problem really is. In Bechuanaland, there is a population of 250,000 people; in Northern Rhodesia, there is a population of 1,600,000; in Nyasaland, it is just over 2,000,000; in Tanganyika, just over 5,000,000; in Kenya, just over 3,000,000; and in Uganda, 3,500,000. We cannot develop those Colonies to the required extent with the small populations that now live there. If conditions are suitable for white people, I would urge that we send men and women from our own country to those Colonies as quickly as possible. If conditions are not suitable for white inhabitants, then I would suggest some other form of recruitment that would increase our strength in those countries. I have come to think of this matter very seriously indeed. Unless we can build up the populations of our Colonies, and unless we can increase their productivity, we as an Imperial nation nave no right to continue our sway over them. Our future rule there will depend upon the ability that we ourselves show in developing them to the utmost extent.

In conclusion, may I say that I regret the tone of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. I thought he was far too pessimistic. He seemed to give the impression that there is in British agriculture, and in the countryside, an intense depression. I believe that that is an exaggeration. I know, of course, that the people of the countryside would like much more than they are now getting. I am certain that they need far more assistance in the form of machinery and the like than is at present theirs; but in my view—and I do not think it can be contradicted—not in the lifetime of any present member of your Lordships' House has the condition of the countryside been so good as it is now. Not only farmers but farm labourers are enjoying a much better life than they had in the bad old days. However that may be, we must develop the agriculture of our own country. Sometimes I think the noble Earl is a little too impatient in asking that everything should be done in Great Britain and nothing abroad; he must remember that the greater part of the food of our country has to be imported. If we are to have that importation of food from countries where the dollar does not hold sway, then we have to do something in the way of exporting machinery to those countries in order that they may produce on our behalf. I have great pleasure in supporting the Motion.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I am bound to start by attempting to refute in a few words the last sentence of the speech of the noble Lord who has just addressed us. Incidentally, I am glad to find burning in his soul such a strong Imperialist flame. But, when he says that we are bound to obtain from other countries the bulk of our food supply, I entirely join issue with him. So far from that being the case, I am going to submit to your Lordships that at least three-quarters of the whole of our essential foods can in the future be raised from the soil of our own country. I cannot help regretting that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is not present, because he made several very challenging statements to which I hesitate to refer in his absence. But I can at least support his claim, that for many years past, both in another place and here, he has been a true and consistent friend of agriculture in this country. The noble Viscount no doubt realises, as he claims to do, the potentialities of food production in different parts of the British Commonwealth, and he seems, as it were, to be satisfied with that knowledge. I would suggest to him, however, that it there ever was a time in the history of this country when we should put that knowledge into effect and do our best to develop the food output to a greater extent than ever before, not only in this country but also in other parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, now is that time.

I feel that we are greatly indebted to Lord Bruce, the Chairman of the World Food Council, for his presence in your Lordships' House, and for opening this debate this afternoon. I cannot help thinking that when the economic history of this country in the post-war period comes to be written, a very high tribute will be recorded both to Lord Bruce and to Sir John Boyd Orr for the invaluable work they have done in assessing the food needs of the world, and the sources from and extent to which, in the future, those needs can be satisfied. I understand that Lord Bruce himself does not differ appreciably, if at all, from the views so forcibly expressed recently by Sir John Boyd Orr, the greatest food expert in the world to-day. I think I am right in saying that. I think the noble Lord opposite has suggested that the picture has been painted too black. Personally, if the right colour is black, I hope that it will be so painted in every quarter and perfectly clearly, so as to make all the inhabitants of this country (particularly the people in the cities and towns who, after all, dominate our fortunes) aware that the outlook so grave that, unless we tackle the position with courage and confidence, and with all the determination that lies in our power, the food output of this country and of the whole British Commonwealth will not be materially increased. To my mind the picture is not painted too black. What makes a dreary outlook is the non-realisation of the blackness of that picture, and the lack of a determination to make it at least grey, if not even paler.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brace, referred, incidentally, to crops; he used the word "crops" more than once. He also used the word "grain," and he indicated the prospects as regards cereal food and potatoes, which, after all, are similar in food value. In that regard, harvests being reasonably favourable, he indicated, as did the last speaker, that the growing population of the world is such, and the demand for a higher standard of living generally throughout the world is so much greater, that during the next few years even the provision of grain may prove to be quite inadequate for human beings. What I would emphasise is that it is not cereal crops, and not potatoes, which form the gravest feature of our future food outlook. They can be rapidly reproduced, always assuming that the weather conditions are reasonably good. Much more serious is the world scarcity of meat, of fat and of dairy produce. The noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, asked a very pointed question to which no clear answer has been given. He reminded us—and no one has greater authority or right to ask the question, or to give this reminder—that every nation has been asked to send to the Food and Agriculture Organisation by July of this year (that is next month), their respective food production programmes for use at a Conference next November.

I would like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply to this debate: Have the British Government prepared their programme to submit in due course to the Food and Agriculture Organisation? After all, Britain has been represented throughout on this organisation. I assume that they have their programme ready, but we who belong to the agricultural community have no clear indication of what that programme is. In the aggregated programme of the international production effort, what proportion of the world's food supply is allocated to Britain's food producers? That is a question we are perfectly entitled to ask, and I think we ought to have an answer. What is precisely the amount of each essential food product which each area of Britain—and, indeed, each producer within that area, should provide under this programme? In the light of modern knowledge, in the light of increased mechanisation and of the increasing application of science to the production of food, to what extent could, and should, Britain be a self-supplier of her essential food? We cannot look overseas in days to come as we have in pre-war days for the large proportion of our essential foods.

In the first place, the countries that used to send us those foods require more and more of them for their own support. I refer to Australia particularly, that being the country where the noble Viscount achieved such eminence as a great statesman. I went to Australia last year on what I might regard as a food campaign for Britain. What did I find? I found every desire on the part of the farmers to obtain a bigger output in order to meet the needs of the "Old Country"; but I found an ever increasing demand from the huge populations of two great cities in Australia for a higher standard of living, involving a much larger absorption of their own national food output. Africa has been mentioned. As some of your Lordships may know, I have only lately returned from a similar mission to South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. What did I find there? It is perfectly true, as was mentioned by the noble Lord who last spoke, that a very small percentage of the land surface of South Africa, including the two Rhodesias, is devoted to food production—not more than 15 percent, of the whole—and not more than 5 percent, is devoted to what we in this country would call farming.

I may say, incidentally, that the value of the work that is being carried out at research stations, both in Australasia and in Africa, is very great. If only it can be "put over" (to use a modern term) to the man on the land, then, certainly, with the help of irrigation and means of correcting the process of erosion, largely increased amounts of food can be obtained from those countries, as some of the outstanding farmers in the East Transvaal and elsewhere are to-day demonstrating.

As the noble Earl opposite knows, I happened to be the spokesman at a great meeting of farmers, which was attended by the Minister of Agriculture, last autumn. I was asked to be their spokesman and on their behalf to accept the challenge which the Government threw out, in asking us to provide, during the next three years, no less than £100,000,000 worth more of food. We accepted the challenge with one qualification only. We said: "Give us the tools and we will produce the goods in the form of food." I am not satisfied that we have all the tools that we want. But I am perfectly satisfied that we can produce a good deal more than that promised £100,000,000 worth if only we can have reasonable encouragement from the Government and the necessary labour-saving plant—some of which I am afraid has still to be obtained from America, which means spending American dollars. Granted that, we can improve upon our undertaking during the next three years by at least 20 per cent., if not by 25 percent.

But if we are to be expected to do this, surely we ought to receive far more definite guidance from the Government than we are receiving at the present time. It has been suggested—and I must say that I have always favoured the idea—that the time has arrived when we should have in this country a Director of Food Production. But there must be a plan of production before production can be directed—still less controlled or enforced. If it is true that we are faced with a prospect, during the next few years, of semi-starvation, or even of acute hunger, in this country, then surely the time has come when the Government should make it perfectly clear to every man on the land of this country what he is expected to produce for the public benefit and as his contribution to the world's supply of essential foods.

At present, the vaguest possible programme, or objective, has been indicated to our farming community. Surely, we ought to have far clearer details as to what the world and the nation wants, and what we are best qualified and able to produce from the land of this country. In the absence of a clear and precise plan, if acute want of food becomes prevalent during the next five years, our farming community will repudiate responsibility. Give them a clear programme and an objective. Always assuming that they are efficient—and I, for one, strongly urge the Governmen to insist upon efficiency as a condition of Government help—tell the farmers, collectively and individually, exactly what the target is to be. And if they do their best to achieve that target, it will not be the fault of the farming community if, at no very distant date in the future, there begins an outcry about scarcity of food or about the cost of food. The cost of food, I would point out, rests largely in the hands of the Government, because the greater part of the cost represents the remuneration of labour. We do not grudge the remuneration of labour, but we ask that it should always be borne in mind that that is the chief governing factor in the cost of food. If there is an outcry in days to come, let us recognise that it will be in consequence of the Government's directions and the Government's conditions of production, and not the fault of the agricultural community.

All I further wish to mention is this. In seeking additional food supplies, the Government are searching in different parts of the world, especially, I am glad to notice, within the British Commonwealth, for certain product—ground-nuts, for instance. I for my part think the ground-nut scheme excellent, so long as we do not waste too much money over it while obtaining relatively poor results, and so long as we are able to put the ground-nuts when harvested to the best possible use. After all, we must remember that to-day, so far from there being food to spare in Africa for this country, practically the whole of Africa—and particularly the Southern part—needs more food, for the support of its own population, both white and black; particularly black. Unless the Bantu native is fed a great deal better than he has been fed in the past, it will not be possible to get from him a full measure of efficient work. That is by the way. We are looking to Africa for ground-nuts, from which, no doubt, will be extracted oil for margarine and other purposes, and from which there will be made a valuable product in the form of cattle cake. That is all to the good.

We are—rather to my surprise—looking towards Australia, and especially towards Queensland, for pig meat. If there is one animal which is invaluable for rapidly reproducing protein food it is the pig. I may say that pig-keepers have received extraordinarily little encouragement in this country during the war period and since. If we are to increase the production of pig meat—and I am all for the idea—why not encourage South Africa to produce it? The pig is about the only animal that under sub-tropical conditions suffers from no climatic diseases except a certain ascarid worm which can easily be dealt with. I have consulted the experts at research stations in different parts of Africa on this matter. I said to them "Why don't you produce pig meat here? We could do very well with all your bacon if you did." They all answered that there was some question as to the capacity of the country to feed pigs. I said to them "Why not feed them on potatoes?" In some parts of Africa, particularly in the Transvaal, potatoes can be grown more cheaply, probably, than in any other part in the world. It would be a thoroughly sound idea if more sorghum and various other sub-tropical grains and potatoes were grown in Africa to feed pigs. But I do not want to develop that theme at any greater length just now.

I would ask the noble Earl opposite not to confuse us over-much by asking us in this old country to produce a great variety of essential foods, but to tell us plainly what are the most essential foods and let us concentrate, so far as possible, on them. It is no good pretending that dairy farming and the production of beef are not mutually competitive. They are. I live in an area where we can raise a bullock to the acre, just as they can in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire; but for the moment I am certain that our proper function is to produce all the milk that we can produce, if only for the sake of the infant population of this country. But we cannot do everything. If the noble Earl can see his way to indicate, on behalf of the Government, the main and essential methods which British farmers should be asked to utilise, he will help us very materially in the important and vital task which we in the agricultural community are asked to undertake.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene for only one moment, and shall not endeavour to make a speech. I should like to take up one remark made by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, in regard to getting the facts of the present situation before the people of this country. There have been many debates on this topic in your Lordships' House, but it becomes perfectly clear, when one goes round the country, that the facts brought forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, and other noble Lords are not known. I would therefore like to reinforce the noble Earl's appeal, and ask whether it would not be possible for the Government to put into a White Paper, so that it would be available to a far wider public than at present, the facts of the case, without a knowledge of which we shall not get the support for the drastic measures which have to be brought into effect to meet the situation.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, though I have no expert knowledge of the subject of international food production, I have listened with great interest and some alarm to the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, and other noble Lords. If I am right in what I gather from the speech of the noble Viscount, it seems that if the schemes we have in mind are all successful (an outcome which is far from being likely) we shall still be badly short of food in the world by the year 1951—a very long period in which to expect hungry people to wait. Some of your Lordships may think that is not a serious statement, but I think it is very serious. There must be a large degree of international co-operation if anything at all is to be done about it. If the problem of world food supply depended entirely on factors internal to the industry, then a World Food Board would be the only thing necessary to put the matter right. But it is clear that what is needed to produce more food in the world is a much larger supply of steel for agricultural purposes, of fuel for the resulting tractors and machines, of fertilisers, and, above all, of man-power to do the job. If the job is to be done properly, what is needed is not merely a World Food Board, but a World Government. Nothing will solve this problem short of the most complete co-operation between the populations of the world, either in the United Nations or in a World Parliament. This may sound visionary to your Lordships, but I believe it will be forced down our throats.

There are many headaches in the way of international co-operation or of a World Parliament; but suppose we fail to produce such a state of affairs, what sort of headaches shall we be faced with then? We know that the chief cause of wars is shortage and want. If there is one thing more than another calculated to set people at war with one another, it is lack of food. When I say "war" I do not mean only national war, but civil war and civil disturbance. And the terrible result of war and civil disturbance is that it creates still deeper shortages of food. Furthermore—and this is a factor which looms above all the others—in the anarchy which must inevitably result from such disturbances, democracy itself may sink. We have seen that happen wherever such a situation has arisen. Knowing what the atomic physicists are producing and what can happen in the next war if we are not prepared to go ahead with international co-operation, then we must abide by whatever consequences may arise. This is an intensely serious question. I believe it is the paramount duty of everyone in your Lordships' House and of men of good will of all Parties, in all organisations, in this and other countries, whatever or wherever they may be, to preach international co-operation and the setting up of a World Government. I believe that if we do not set up such an organisation, then in the end we shall inevitably find ourselves in circumstances of shortage of food and of the consequences which will ensue, which are too terrible to contemplate.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, for the manner in which he spoke, which was a splendid example of statesmanship. He put the problem to us clearly and frankly. Looking out of the train window as I came down recently from the North of England, I noticed the grain pushing up from the ground, and it appeared that there were good prospects for the coming harvest. It was a very heartening sign. Coming back to London and preparing for this debate I learned that the prospects throughout the world, especially in North America and on the Continent, are also favourable. But your Lordships who are connected with agriculture know only too well how such prospects can be falsified by the weather, and we would be foolish if we regarded the prospects as more than hopes at the present time. When we look at the long-term aspect, however, then I am afraid that, as the noble Viscount pointed out, the prospect is very black indeed. May I refer to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, on one point? I understood that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, accepted the picture as being not grey, but black. I myself would have difficulty in finding a strong enough black on my palette to paint a picture of the world situation as it is to-day. The noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, called attention to various figures which have been quoted by Sir John Boyd Orr. We would be wise to pay considerable attention to what he has said, and to those figures. Too often we are apt to notice small waves breaking, and not to take sufficient notice of the surging tide which is the ultimate decider of our destiny.


I think we ought to be clear about that point. I did not quote any figures from Sir John Boyd Orr. Everything I quoted was from the Report of the Council of eighteen nations.


I am grateful to the noble Viscount, and I apologise if I misrepresented him in any way. However, if the noble Viscount did not quote the figures, I will. In one of his recent speeches Sir John Boyd Orr said—if I quote him aright—that there are about 150,000,000 more people in the world to-day than there were in 1938. He said—as the noble Viscount quoted from the Report—that the world population is increasing roughly at the rate of 20,000,000 to 25,000,000 a year; and, to look further ahead, during the lifetime of our children it may well have increased by 500,000,000. That is, of course, if some different trend does not intervene to alter things. On top of all this, the very fact that we are trying to raise the standard of life means that much more additional food will be needed than would have been necessary even in the year 1938. Therefore, I think the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, was right when he said that this picture should be painted in dark colours; I think we should be foolish if we did not consider as serious the situation which confronts us.

In the face of these prospects of a gigantic increase in population, the steps which are being taken to increase food supplies are completely inadequate. Sir John Boyd Orr suggested that, whereas man can destroy eight inches of soil in two or three generations, in order to build up one inch nature will take 500 years. He also suggested that something like 3,000,000 tons of fertile top soil are lost every year in the United States alone. On the one and, therefore, there is this gigantic increase in population, and, on the other, not only are we failing to get productivity up, but we actually find erosion going on, and some of the soil going out of use. A visitor from Mars might well be excused if he thought that this was a crazy world.

The important question is: What can be done about this problem? I would suggest that either we must find more land to reclaim and bring into cultivation—such as the Amazon Basin, to bring which area under cultivation, however, would need gigantic undertakings in the building of roads and the clearing of forests—or we must increase enormously the productivity of the land already under cultivation. Alternatively, we must find some way of limiting our population. If, however, we think of the present state of education of the masses of people in Asia, that, obviously, is out of the question at the moment. If we fail to find a solution to the problem, we shall be faced with starvation on a gigantic scale and, as the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, clearly put it in his speech, such starvation almost inevitably leads to war. The world to-day is indeed faced with a very serious situation.

I must repudiate any suggestion that His Majesty's Government are not, and have not been, aware of these problems. We can, I think, take credit that for a long time the Government of this country have been warning other countries of the impending situation. In fact, towards the end of the last war, and during the period following, your Lordships may remember that the talk was more of surpluses. It was said that there would be a danger of surpluses, as after the 1914–18 war, and people were asking what could be done about it. We have been fighting that point of view for some time. If the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, will forgive my saying so, even he, speaking on May 13, 1947, in your Lordships' House, said that the same things were happening after this war as happened after the last; and he went on to suggest that the real problem was one mainly of avoiding a depression which would be accompanied by agricultural surpluses. The Report of the Preparatory Commission on World Food Production—to which the noble Viscount referred—says: Unless measures are taken we shall be faced in future with the danger of a major slump in primary production. In another place the Report says: The fear of agricultural surpluses is widespread and has its roots in the experience of the past. The severe depression of the 1930's instilled a fear of over-production and a lack of confidence in the possibility of expanding world demand. To-day the same fears are beginning to return, and there is a widely expressed feeling that, in view of the limitation of economic demand, surpluses will inevitably recur in a few years' time. Consequently, even under present conditions of world scarcity, there is a reluctance on the part of producers and Governments to go all out for full expansion for fear of overshooting the demand. This seems to have been the general opinion. I am glad to say, however, that the representatives of the United Kingdom took the opposite view and at that time stressed this problem of shortages. Actually they did this before the Food and Agriculture Organisation came into being. I would remind the noble Viscount that at the Hot Springs Conference in 1943 our delegates alone expressed the belief that there would be a shortage and not a surplus of food in the world after this war. Unfortunately, that view was received with some scepticism by the other members of the Conference. It is a fact that no provision was made on the agenda for discussing this matter, and only on our insistence did a discussion take place. I feel, therefore, that I must repudiate the idea that His Majesty's Government have not been alive to the danger and have not done all they could to convince other nations of the danger.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? That was done not only by this Government, but by their predecessor.


I accept that. I did, in fact, quote the year 1943. I am glad that both Governments have that on record. However, that is the past. I have merely tried to make the position clear. We are extremely gratified that the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Council—which is presided over by the noble Viscount—are now directing the attention of Governments to this question of shortages, which is the serious problem facing us to-day. The important thing to realise is that this is not a problem which can be solved by our Government alone. Neither, if I may say so, can it be solved by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. F.A.O. have the extremely important function of collecting the data, analysing the situation, presenting a picture of the position, educating the people and undertaking general research. I think this is an extremely invaluable task; indeed, I do not know what the Governments of the world would do without this Organisation. At the same time, we must not confuse the issue in any way, and we must not get the idea that F.A.O. have executive powers, or that they can cope with more than the fact finding function which is their main task. If they try to do more than that, I think it will lead merely to overlapping, other difficulties and misunderstanding. Surely the existing function of F.A.O. is big enough for any organisation. In saying this, I do not for a moment wish to belittle that organisation in any way, or to suggest that His Majesty's Government are not fully supporting F.A.O.

There was a suggestion by the noble Viscount who initiated this debate that at the annual conferences—I hope he will correct me if I misrepresent him—the British Government have not given full support.


I referred only to the last conference in August at Geneva.


I accept the noble Viscount's correction. In case, however, ideas to that effect have got abroad, I would like to point out that at Geneva we were represented by Mr. Noel-Baker who was then Minister of State, in Copenhagen by the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food, and at Geneva by Doctor Edith Summerskill. It is true that Dr. Summerskill was called away in the middle of the conference on important business, but it did not in any way mean that we did not fully appreciate the importance of this Organisation. I say at once that we give them our fullest support in every possible way. I think it is a great sign of encouragement for the future that such an organisation is functioning, and is commanding the respect of so many countries in the world to-day.

The other point I would like to mention to your Lordships is that our real problem is perhaps more complicated than has been suggested in this debate. It is not just a problem of growing more food, although we certainly need to grow more food. I suggest that the real problem is that of general world economic recovery. It is a much bigger and more complex problem than appears at first sight. Food and agricultural problems are obviously closely related to problems of international trade, industrial production and exchange. To give your Lordships just one example, I would refer to sugar. When more sugar became available, distribution unfortunately became increasingly difficult, merely through the lack of exchange of those who wanted it. You cannot isolate the growing of food. You have also to tackle the problem of getting the necessary exchange to the people who need the food, and of encouraging industrial production so that farmers have the machinery with which to work. In certain cases, one must say, the primary producers themselves have not produced as much as they could, because there were less consumer goods to give them in exchange and to encourage them to the greatest possible efforts. It is not a simple problem; it is instead so complex that at limes it has defied the ablest brains and the best of intentions.

Vast populations of the East desperately want food, but they have very little at the moment to exchange for it. The one thing we can do—at least those nations who are in a better position—is to give help and advice in order to put those nations on their feet again. That is the only thing we can do, because when we get to the base of the situation, any nation can live only at the standard of its production. We may produce a certain amount of goods for domestic consumption, and a certain amount of goods for exchange; but ultimately the total volume of produce must equate with what we consume. We cannot go on indefinitely living above our income. I think that the helping of these other nations is a fruitful matter for discussion, but as it is already being considered, I think it would be wiser not to embark on that subject at the moment.

There are one or two other points which have been raised. It has been asked—I think by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and also by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr—whether the figures which have been quoted could be made public. I am glad to say that we hope, even within a few days, that these will be available to the public. Another thing we are trying to do is to tackle this general problem of not only growing more food, but of promoting world stability. In order to produce that stability, one of the best methods is the long-term agreements which we have been concluding. As was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Bruce, in January of this year an International Wheat Agreement, designed to promote stability of wheat prices, was signed in Washington. If the countries ratify the Agreement this will come into operation on August 1. Undoubtedly such agreements give tremendous confidence and stability to the farmer, and encourage him to produce more of the food which we so badly need.

The second thing we are trying to do—and this has also been mentioned in this debate—is to develop our Colonial possessions, to encourage production in our Colonies, and to ask the Dominions whether they cannot help us by going ahead with their production. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made that very clear in his good-will missions, during which, I think, he discussed this problem very fully. We certainly would like the Dominions to produce all the food they can, for it is extremely valuable in every way. We have started great developments such as the African ground-nuts scheme, but these are only a beginning. Some people think the ground-nuts scheme is going to solve all our problems, but that is not the case. At the maximum, this scheme could produce only something like 200,000 to 250,000 tons of oil each year, whereas before the war our consumption was 1,400,000 tons. At present, it is about 1,000,000 tons, and we are dependent upon imports for something like 95 per cent, of our oils and fats. From 1936 to 1938 world trade in oils and fats was 5,800,000 tons. This year it is only 3,700,000 tons. Supplies from the Dutch East Indies, China and Manchuria are of course much smaller, and we have to raise that figure. I think it is an encouraging sign that we are starting out on these big campaigns, although there are difficulties of labour, steel and all the other things which have been mentioned in this debate.

Another point with which I entirely agree, which is brought out in the White Paper, is the question of pest control. This has always seemed to me a sadly neglected part of production policies. I think that, in our emphasis on production, we have perhaps forgotten to emphasise the need for avoiding wastage by fighting pests. No one can calculate how much grain rats eat out of a stack of wheat. We know that four rabbits eat about as much as a sheep, but how can we estimate the number of rabbits there are in a particular wood or field, or calculate the amount of destruction caused by noxious pests of various kinds? These are causing appalling losses, running into millions of pounds. Yet because the loss is not obvious, we sometimes neglect the problem. However, we are tackling the matter on a big scale. We want to defeat pests in this country, and, at the same time, we are co-operating closely with many other countries. His Majesty's Government have succeeded in persuading the Governments of Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France to co-operate in steps to fight the Colorado beetle. We shall go forward with other plans as far as we possibly can.

Finally, I come to the question of what we ourselves are doing to help. Obviously, although we have to co-operate as far as we can with other nations, it is extremely important that we should produce the maximum amount of food in our own country. As your Lordships know, we have announced a very large programme of expansion, and it was gratifying to hear the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, on this subject. I think he said that it is his hope that the Government's target will be exceeded by 25 per cent. in the next three years—


From 20 to 25 per cent.


I know that when the Minister of Agriculture hears of that he will be extremely glad; no one will be more pleased than he to hear that the programme we have announced can be bettered.


The noble Earl will remember the one condition—that we are given the tools by the Government.


I will remember; and I am sure the Government will do their best to provide the tools. It is largely a matter of supplies of steel.

I confess that I was a little surprised when the noble Viscount said that what the farmers want is to be told exactly what to produce. We have heard some rather different opinions on that particular subject; we have been told that the farming community would much rather be left to themselves to decide what they want to grow, and that we should give them an over-all target rather than particular quotas. The noble Viscount's suggestion that we should have a Director of Food Production seemed to me almost an authoritarian step, though I admit that the situation is desperate enough—


Under normal conditions, of course, the farmers, at any rate of this country—and I think of most other countries—resist too much intervention in their own particular job. They are always prepared to say that they know best what they can raise on their own land. But, faced as we may be in this country with possible starvation during the next four or five years, we must not take too much notice of what each individual farmer thinks. It is the nation's needs that must come first, and if it is in the interest of the nation and its better nutrition that a Director of Food Production should be appointed, more clearly to indicate what is the optimum job for each farmer in this country, surely that is a consideration which must be taken into account.


I am very grateful to the noble Viscount for what he says, and I will certainly inform the Minister of Agriculture. I think it is an extremely interesting idea. I cannot say more than that now. Particularly am I glad for the reinforcement from the noble Viscount on the possible necessity of indicating what we want grown, and where. But certainly we must have the maximum production.

The noble Viscount made a point concerning agricultural wages. He seemed rather to blame the Government for the high wages of the agricultural worker—


I did not blame the Government; in fact, I took the opportunity of making it perfectly plain that we welcome the high wages. But the higher the wages, the higher the cost of the product; and there may come a time when the public will begin to resent the price they have to pay for their food. All I say is that if the wages and the plan are ordained by the Government, they should not throw the responsibility on the farmers if the farmers are not producing the goods.


We, too, welcome the high wages—in fact we have been fighting for higher wages for the agricultural worker for a long time. But the point I wish to make is that it is of course the National Wages Board who fix wages—not the Government. I want to make that completely clear.

I want to emphasise this question of production. It is rather late in the afternoon to go into the full plans of agricultural production, but the question has been asked how these plans, which should be submitted in July, are progressing. I am glad to say that they are in an advanced stage of completion and will be submitted in good time.


Will they be communicated to the farmers of this country?


I presume so, eventually; but I should like notice of that question. We are certainly submitting the plans to agricultural organisations. In this debate this afternoon we have looked fairly at the situation, which is serious enough. I hope that at any rate I have made one thing quite clear, and that is that we as a Government are completely behind the Food and Agriculture Organisation and wish to support them as much as we possibly can. If the noble Viscount who introduced this debate desires any help and support on the subject I can assure him that the Government will not be backward.

5.39 p.m


My Lords, there are one or two observations which I should like to make. In the first place, I should like to clear the Government of any charge that they have been negligent with regard to the publication of Conference documents and so on produced by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. In his reply the Minister did not point out what I feel it is incumbent upon me, as Chairman of the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, to point out—namely, that it is really the Organisation's job to see that their publicity is made available in this country. I understand that arrangements have now been made with the Government printing office here by Sir Herbert Broadley, who has just become Deputy Director-General, and that that omission will be remedied.

I am grateful for the Government's reply, but there are one or two points which I feel I must make. The first point I want to clear up is this. I have made no sort of suggestion that, in the formation of the Food and Agriculture Organisation at Hot Springs, the Government of the day did not take all steps and were not very active. Again at Quebec, and again at Copenhagen, there was a satisfactory representation. Nor do I wish in any way to suggest that, in regard to questions of what the future holds—whether it will be surpluses or whether it will be scarcity—the United Kingdom representative on the Council, who is also an active member of the Preparatory Commission, has not played a most useful and helpful part. Indeed, he has contributed much with regard to this problem of how the world's demand for food is to be satisfied. If I remember correctly, it was he who brought out very strongly the point that has been raised to-day—that in regard to cereals we have become progressively dependent upon the United States, in particular, and the North American Continent in general. Prior to the Second World War, the United States was really an unimportant exporter of wheat. It was not one of the great major exporters. To-day, the position is that the world is dependent upon the United State for its supplies of export wheat to something like 46 per cent, of its requirements.

I should like to remove any impression that I may have created that I was challenging the attitude of successive British Governments towards the creation of this Organisation, or that I was criticising either the part that they played in the first three Conferences or the part that is being played in detail in respect of the Council itself. What I do complain of is that, now that this organisation has moved out of the formative stage and is beginning to be faced with great policy problems, we have had neither ministerial representation nor the leadership from the United Kingdom that I think all the other members of the Food and Agriculture Organisation had hoped they would receive. I should like to thank the Government for the information that they have been good enough to give us, indicating that they are well forward with their plans for presenting their future programme, which they have promised to make available to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. I rather quarrel, however, with the suggestion that this Organisation must recognise that they are only an international Organisation; that they were created to collect facts, to ascertain the position and to prepare statistics, but that they must not start arrogating to themselves the position of trying to take over executive powers. I admit that the Minister did not say that in so many words, but it was perfectly clear that that was rather suggested. I challenge that completely. We spend our time pointing out that the Food and Agriculture Organisation have no sort of executive power. Action rests in the hands of the Government concerned. But action can be taken only if the Governments concerned agree amongst themselves to do something. It is obvious that the time when those Governments come to such agreement is when they meet together at the annual conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. There need be no apprehension that there is any misunderstanding as to what are the powers and functions of this organisation.

The point which I was trying to put before your Lordships' House was that there is this great issue of whether or not in the future there will be adequate food for the peoples of the world. That has a great humanitarian significance for every one of us. I tried to point that out. I believe that, if we can meet that need, it will be of immense benefit to humanity. I also believe that it will have tremendous practical advantages. I tried to stress the point that, in the social problems with which the world is faced, if we can get the food, I believe that it will help to allay the almost certain unrest which will pervade the whole world. I tried to draw the picture that the other practical advantage to be gained is that, if we meet the world's food requirements, we shall stimulate agriculture. By doing that, we shall set in train a series of events which may help to provide a solution to our economic and financial problems. I am most anxious to know whether the Government are prepared to drive forward on any such lines. If they are, then we shall begin to see the answer to the question that was posed by the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe: "Will you give us the tools that are necessary for us in Britain, in order that we may do the things that you ask of us?"

Alongside the whole problem that we are now trying to solve through the Food and Agriculture Organisation and its member Governments, is the fact that if only we can prepare plans for the world and observe their probable effect, and if we can get a balance sheet, we shall be able to see on one side how much food we can produce and on the other side the supplies that are required. When we turn to the question of the supplies that are required, we are faced with exactly the same question that British agriculture has posed to the British Government. Internationally and on a world scale we are trying to work this problem out. If we can only get to know what is required, then there are possibilities that with the assistance of industry we may obtain our requirements and in doing so set going a whole spiral of expansion, so that the present atmosphere of depression will probably, after one, two or three years, be removed.

Without delaying the House much longer, I should like to put a point on that very issue, and to suggest that there is some hope that the tools that are being asked for by Britain and by the world can be supplied. I had the opportunity in America of discussing this question with some big industrialists. We started by asking whether, if the world's programme of what it wanted could be obtained, those requirements could be met. We took tractors as an example. The immediate answer was: "No. America's contribution of all the heavier types of tractors, excavators and things of that kind, is hypothecated for the next few years to the Marshall Plan, and we cannot expand it." I said: "Why could not you expand it?" The answer was: "Because we could not get the steel." Then I asked them whether it would not be possible, if they had definite proposals and were prepared to give definite orders to the steel makers, for that steel to be produced. The answer was: "Unquestionably it could be. If we could get that, it would change the whole atmosphere in America, where to-day the saying is that the going is good for two or three years till America's demands are satisfied. Then there will be an inevitable recession, and the steel makers are preparing their plans for that recession." I am only citing that as one instance of the possible repercussions that may result if this project goes forward.

There are possibilities that it may meet the world's demands. Few people at present seem to think that that could possibly be achieved, and the information I want from the Government is whether they are prepared really to go into this whole question, to put their support behind it, and to arrange representation at ministerial level, not merely at the next conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation but at the next Council meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organisation; and to see whether they cannot give some leadership to the world in regard to this very important problem. Whilst what I have said does not imply that I am enthusiastically satisfied with the reply I have received, I am obliged to the Government for what they have been good enough to tell us with regard to this Motion, and I would beg leave to withdraw it.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.