HL Deb 07 March 1951 vol 170 cc887-978

2.35 p.m.

LORD HAWKE rose to call attention to the meat situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a very wide subject and I intend to speak from only one angle. Other noble Lords will fill in the picture from their own different angles. Shakespeare, in Henry V, Act III, Scene VII, says: These English are shrewdly out of beef.

To-day that sounds a platitude, as we face one of our many crises, this time a meat crisis. So many figures have been issued that I think people are rather bewildered with them. The trouble is, of course, that it is possible to ring the changes on meat. The same animal can appear on the ration, in a canteen, in a pie, or even in a tin; while the pig never knows his ultimate fate, whether it is mustard or apple sauce, until the Minister so directs. For that reason, I have preferred to collect what one might call global figures—that is, figures of all sorts of meat for human consumption, including both tinned meat and bacon.

In 1938 we had a supply of about 2,750,000 tons to nourish 47,500,000 people. This would have provided about 2½ lb. a head per week. In 1950 we had 500,000 tons less to nourish 2,500,000 more people, which would have provided something like 1⅞ lb. a head per week. The general ration in 1950 averaged 1s. 6½d., and to-day it is l0d. Assuming that the consumption of meat, other than bacon, has been reduced in the proportion of Is. 6½d. to 10d., we should be now consuming, excluding bacon, at an annual rate of approximately 950,000 tons, which does not amount to more than 13 oz. a head per week for the whole population from all sources. Add bacon, and you certainly do not get more than 18½oz. a head per week. This appears substantially more than the l0d. ration, plus the 4 oz. of bacon, but it must be remembered that about 30 per cent. of the meat goes in outlets other than the ration—to manufacturing, catering establishments and so on. This applies equally to a certain amount of the bacon; but, whichever way one looks at it, we are getting less than one-half of what we had before the war. The amount of the ration itself depends on what quality of meat you buy. If you buy the topprice English meat at 2s, 8d, a lb., you will get 4 oz. If you buy second-grade imported mutton, you will get 6½ oz. Adding the bacon ration, the corresponding figures are, respectively, 8 oz. and 10½ oz. We all know that later in the year, through seasonal causes and so on, the position is likely to improve a little, no matter what happens in the negotiations at present going on with the Argentine. But one has to remember that in 1950 the Ministry ran down stocks to a most alarming extent, and the replenishment of those stocks must obviously be one of their first preoccupations. I do not think it requires any words of mine to point out the seriousness of this situation— a consumption of less than one-half the quantity of meat we had in the "bad old days" of private enterprise.

Who is responsible? His Majesty's Government plan our economy, and when the plan fails they must take the blame. It may be that some noble Lord will claim that before the war the meat was all eaten by the rich. I do not pretend that the lowest income groups ate as much meat as the higher, but when anyone says his family never saw meat before the war I comfort myself with the thought that there were very few households which could not afford stewing meat at 3d. a lb., boiling bacon at 6d. or 7d. a lb., or corned beef at 2d. a quarter, if they wanted to. Of course, those who had more money and those who cared more for their food than for other things ate more meat than others who had not or did not, just as they are doing to-day and always will do. I am not going to dilate upon the quantity of meat which people need. Other noble Lords may or may not do that, but I will say that one meat meal a day has long been the ambition of every Englishman. I am happy to say that the vast majority of the homes before the war were able to achieve that. To-day, it is only those who feed in canteens and restaurants who have any chance of achieving that object. The brunt of the shortage, as always, is falling upon the womenfolk of the country.

Once upon a time the really heavy worker ate large quantities, particularly of bacon. To-day's bacon ration would have been swallowed at one meal by an Edwardian navvy, and such great eating was visible in his output of labour. That four ounces would have cost him only a penny or twopence. The countryman had his pig which he killed in his back yard. To-day to kill a pig is more difficult than burying a relation. I quote from The Times of February 26, a report from the Anglo-American Council of Productivity dealing with the cardboard box industry: The American worker had three to four pounds of meat a week, twelve to eighteen eggs, five to six pints of milk, and four times the fats of the British worker, and he was able to do more work.

Is it of no significance that in the international Rugby table the three rationed countries are at the bottom and the two unrationed countries are at the top? It is common sense that the more good food, within reason, you put into a person the more effort he or she can make. At this time when the nation is called upon to make a supreme effort we need more meat than we have over had before.

How did the present deplorable situation arise? During the war we were forced to make do with a minimum of meat. We commanded the seas and we put the buying into the hands of the State—"the State" then being Lord Woolton—and we were able to arrange prices with all our producers. The Dominions were only too pleased to help us and the other countries kept in step. When the war ended we persisted in this policy of State buying. Various excuses have been advanced for this course, the most insidious being that we cannot secure for our home farmers and our Dominion producers their proper share of our market unless the State buys all their produce. I have sufficient faith in the ingenuity of man to believe that that is not the only method of securing those ends with which we all agree. No, I think the real reasons are: first, that many of the Government Party who are not very experienced in trade matters really believe that the State can arrange better bargains than private individuals; and secondly, that there is the wing which keeps the Party's nose firmly pointing towards the goal of State ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and State buying of meat is but one of the steps along that path.

What is the truth about this State trading? In the first place, nobody can deny that it produces international quarrels. The steady deterioration of our relations with our former great friends, the Argentine, is the proof of that. We simply dare not risk the same thing happening in the Commonwealth. That in itself would be a good enough reason for dropping State buying at the earliest possible moment. Then there is the question of quality, mixed up as it is with price. If private traders conclude a bargain they keep it. If not, there is a provision for arbitration and the courts; there is a sanction. When Governments conclude a bargain there is no such sanction, and where national prestige is at stake or politics are brought to bear Governments are not overscrupulous about keeping their bargains. In fact, private citizens are generally more scrupulous than Governments. The profit motive is a higher motive than the vote motive. When Governments bargain, the terms on which they agree become involved in politics and prestige. If a Government has got on the wrong side of the market and has to beat a retreat, it is a matter involving politics and prestige. When a private individual makes the same mistake the question is one entirely between himself and his bankers; his bargains are not published to the world. Finally, you cannot pin down a Government on the question of quality where it is a matter of opinion; but you can pin down a Government on a question of price, which is a matter of fact. For all these reasons, interState bargains tend to put a greater importance on the question of price than they do upon quality or upon value for money, which is the thing that really matters.

As a result of these State bargains we have had delivered to us a great deal of meat which would have been dear at a much lower price, and we have not received those quantities of good meat which we used to get, either because the producers have not found it worth their while to produce it, or because they have found it more profitable to sell it elsewhere. In the result, at the butchers we have been paying on different days the same price for very different articles. That is one of the reasons why we are even worse off for meat than the figures suggest. Every mother knows—and I think even some fathers do—that it is very wasteful to feed fat and gristly meat to children. Everyone knows what a waste there is in feeding tough meat to the more toothless members of our population.

In meat, as in most other commodities, the price level determines the number of people able and willing to supply. The lower the price, the smaller the field in quantity and the lower in quality from which supplies can be drawn. Contrariwise, the higher the price the larger and wider the field. Up to the time of the disastrous devaluation of the pound, we were jogging along. We could have done with a good deal more meat, but His Majesty's Government had so "sold" their idea to the public that an increase in supplies would mean greatly increased prices that people were rather frightened to press for more. After devaluation, of course, the crisis has boiled up. As was inevitable, the price level of the sterling area has risen. The Argentine has found our fixed prices unsatisfactory in relation to the rising prices of exports. Sterling area countries, too, are beginning to jib, and are seeking new markets. To this has been added the rise in world prices caused by the war in Korea. Why did not His Majesty's Government bow to the inevitable, and offer higher prices before our cupboards were bare?

I think there are two explanations. First, they have never been willing to admit the disaster they brought on us by devaluing the pound; and secondly, they have never been willing to admit that interState trading does not always deliver the goods. The first is bound up with our old friend the cost-of-living index. If the index could be so controlled as to make people believe that the cost of living had not gone up, it would not be necessary to admit the results of devaluation. The meat items in the index, needless to say, are, with the exception of rabbits, those things which are rationed or controlled in price and are in very short supply. But so long as these stay down, the cost-of-living index stays down. It matters not to the planners that if people cannot get rationed meat, ox liver or sausages, which are on the index, they must eat something, and so have to take refuge in alternatives not on the index. These are to be had at high prices in the shops—for instance, ham at from 10s. to 12s. a pound. This morning the Bulletin gives the price of prime cuts of reindeer as from 6s. to 7s. 6d. a pound, that of English chickens as 6s. a pound, and of imported chickens as from 5s. to 5s. 6d. a pound. I am told that not long ago there was hanging in Leadenhall Market a large white billygoat. His exit was neither planned nor indexed; he died for his country's good.

The world of the planners is a queer world, and I believe that the British people are beginning to appreciate its queerness. Experience is a great teacher, but her wages are high. I think they now see through the farce of an inadequate supply on the ration and on the index of cheap and often nasty meat, to be supplemented by highpriced goods off the ration and off the index. I believe that they would sooner average their outlay, pay more for a larger quantity of better quality butchers' meat and not have to chase the tins. The housewife cannot be fooled for ever with eight pennyworth of what is often fat and gristle, eked out with expensive tins; she wants to go back to a system whereby she can have her choice in the shops between the cheap cuts and the dear cuts of butchers' meat. That was a system which gave her the best meat value, because butchers' meat is far better meat value than any of this tinned stuff. To-day, she has to take what the butcher gives her, and scrimmage for the tins.

So long as State buying goes on, I do not believe that we shall ever get back to such a system. We shall merely plod along in the same old way, with a ration inadequate in quantity, deficient in quality, and often poor value for money, punctuated by international quarrels whenever the market happens to turn in our favour. Such a state of affairs is inherent in State trading. Clearly we must return as far and as fast as we can to the old system of trade which served us so well in the past; a system which would make it worth while for overseas producers to send more of their best meat here. We should be paying more for better meat to attract it here, and less for inferior meat, because it would have to come here and no one else would eat it anyway. On balance, we might not pay a great deal more than we are doing at present. But one thing is certain: that if we continue to try to buy at our present prices through State trading the quality of imports will continue to decline, and the quantity will gradually dwindle.

I know the difficulties of restoring a trade which has been for eleven years in Government hands, and it may not be possible to do it all at once. But I should like to ask His Majestys Government this question, of which I have given notice: What steps are they taking to facilitate the return to private traders of meat importation as soon as possible? Quite apart from any steps we take to restore supplies by an improved buying system, we clearly have to do all we can in other ways to cause more meat to be produced —first, on our own farms and, secondly, in the Commonwealth My noble friend. Lord De La Warr, and other noble Lords are going to speak from the producers' angle, and we shall all hear with great interest what they have to say and the Government's reply. No news which the Government could give would be more welcome to the housewives of this country than a statement that next winter the supply of homeproduced pork in the shops will be reasonably extended. Pork chops— what an incentive to hard work, and what a foundation for increased effort! It is what one might call a benign circle.

We shall doubtless hear of the Dominion prospects. Lest the Colonial Empire be forgotten, I would remind the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, of a letter which he kindly wrote to me on July 28, 1949—this is a matter of which I have given him notice. The letter arose out of a Somaliland debate, and in the course of it the noble Earl wrote: Plans are being made for the construction of a camel abattoir in the Protectorate, and for the development of the export of mutton.

What is the position in regard to those schemes to-day, and who is getting the benefit of them? I hope, too, that we may hear something about Eire. Looking at the map and the population figures, it would seem obvious to a man from Mars that a large proportion of Britain's meat supply should be grown in Ireland. I know that indirectly, through store cattle, that is already happening, but what are the chances of an increased supply without jeopardising the stores? I hope that we shall not hear in the Government's reply the theory that there is a fixed supply of meat in the world available for export, and that the State buyers intend to secure the lion's share. The theory is just not true. The State buyers are thoroughly discredited, and the lion is by no means pleased with what has been called his share.

I think the country is in a mood to see the whole meat problem approached from another angle, an angle which might give better hopes within, measurable time of producing the much larger quantities of meat that we require. Let the approach be nutritional, and not statistical. Do not worry so much about the cost-of-living index: if there is any cocking to be done, let the housewives do it. We are involved in what the noble Lord, Lord Ismay. described as "the greatest international crisis we have ever faced," and we are facing it not only on the smallest quantity of meat we have ever had but with our cupboards quite bare, not knowing where next week's ration is coming from. His Majesty's Government have got us into this mess. How do they propose to get us out of it? I beg to move for Papers.

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all of us on these Benches are pleased to sec the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, take the lead in this debate, and I feel certain that the House has enjoyed his speech. I believe I am right in saying—and I hope I am not alluding to secret matters—that he is the leader of the independent Unionist Peers in this House. If that is so, I take it that he stands as the authentic backwoodsman, the successor to the late Lord Halsbury, and that he sits behind his noble Leader to make sure there shall be no deviation from the straight and narrow path of true Conservatism. I am sure he will satisfy all those who feel as strongly as he does and think along the same lines. As I listened to him, I could not help recalling some words used by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in a charming broadcast at the weekend. He was kind enough to remark that it is no criticism of the present Government to say that they are not up to their job; he said that no Government would be up to the job that they have tried to do. I venture to apply those words to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. It is no criticism of him to say that he is not up to his job. Nobody could perform the task which he appears to have set himself: the task of discrediting the Government because the Argentine negotiations were suspended and hitherto have not made much progress. We feel that the case he made is frankly a specially weak one, not through any fault of the noble Lord, who has done everything possible with a case in which he obviously believed, but through the nature of the facts.

We are discussing to-day the meat situation. Some aspects of it are bound to be controversial, but before we reach them, let us try to agree on some of the essential facts. The noble Lord was good enough to give me notice of certain points he meant to raise and asked me to confirm certain figures in the form in which he wished to mention them. Let me try first to follow his line of statistics and then offer one or two figures of my own. But let me say straight away on behalf of the Government that we are not foolish enough to deny that there is a meat shortage. Yes, I agree that that is true. It is absolutely right, and when noble Lords have had a good laugh at that, I hope they will follow the statistics, which do not altogether agree with those of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, but confirm them in some respects. Before the war we consumed annually about 2,600,000 tons of meat, including bacon —the noble Lord said 2,750,000 tons, but this is the figure I have been given. In 1950 we consumed about 2,300,000 tons, but some of that came from stocks, so that supplies were about 2,100,000 tons.


Including bacon?


These figures are in line with the figures brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. How much we shall receive in 1951 we cannot tell, but even without South American supplies, which are obviously under discussion at the moment and which have accounted for 300,000 to 400,000 tons in past years, we should receive about 1,800,000 tons. It is not for me to say whether we shall or shall not be able to obtain supplies from South America, but, of course, if we do so, the total would be expected to be over 2,000,000 tons. It has been suggested by the noble Lord that the figure for 1951 should be read as 1,300,000 tons—he will correct me if I have misunderstood him.


Dear me, no! I said that at this present moment we are consuming at that rate. We hope to do better in the autumn.


I thought I might have misunderstood him, and gladly accept that correction. Of course, we shall expect to receive a larger amount in the autumn and then, apart from South America, the figure would be about 1,800,000 tons. Let me give the figures worked out in a different way, the last of which will appear in the Economic Survey, when it comes out, under the heading of "Meat consumption" and given in edible weight in pounds per head in the United Kingdom. The figures are fairly easy to follow and I can offer them in percentages if required. Prewar the annual consumption per head was 109.6 lb.; in 1941, 85.6; in 1949, 74.6; and in 1950 we had the provisional figure of 94.1. That is roughly 86 per cent. of the consumption per head prewar. It was higher in 1950 than in 1949 and, of course, we cannot tell what it will be in 1951. I put these facts on record, not to underestimate the difficulty of the meat problem but because the noble Lord raised these questions, and it is right that the House and the country should have the latest information available.


These figures do not seem to tally with those the noble Lord gave before. A total consumption of 2.600,000 tons in 1938 and of 2,300,000 tons in 1950 does not seem to be quite in the same ratio as 109.6 to 94.1. But there is probably an explanation for that.


I have a long speech to make and if I am going to do it, it may be better if questions on figures were left to later, when the two other Government speakers address the House. I am trying to follow the noble Lord's statistics, and have given the latest figures, the last being admittedly provisional.

I admit, and all sensible people must admit, that there is a meat shortage in this country, but I am certainly not going to admit that there is a food shortage. I know how appallingly difficult it is to draw up an exact comparison, but, so far as I can calculate it, it is a fact that the average calory level which fell for some months in 1947–48 to 2,850 per day, is now about 3,000 per day—in other words, back to the pre-war level. So that in terms of calories per head we are consuming about the same as before the war. That is a broad calculation. I would go on to say that it is no good arguing, if anyone feels so disposed, that all this is due to increased bread and potatoes, though there has been a big increase there. Our total fats consumption is about what it was before the war—that is to say, 130.7 grammes per head per day, compared with 130.2 grammes before the war. If we take proteins, we find that even after the reduction to the 8d. meat ration the average per head is still 45 grammes, compared with 43 grammes before the war. If anyone is incredulous about that last figure, the explanation lies in the greatly increased amount of milk that is drunk at the present time.

I must place these facts before the House, though I will not spend longer on them than necessary, in order to remove the idea that, when we are confronted with a meal, shortage, we must at once jump to the conclusion that there is a food shortage as well. The Government do not accept that view, and neither, I think, would any serious student of the matter. But neither the average number of calories, the protein content, nor the average consumption of fats per head tells the whole story. The truth is, whether we like it or not—and I think there are other noble Lords besides those on these Benches who like it a good deal—that the national income is far more fairly distributed than it was before the war; and the same is true of the food supply. In that all-important sense, therefore, we are better fed to-day as a people than ever we were in the pre-war days.

I will not dwell long on this topic, because there are many noble Lords who wish to speak, but I must supplement the statistics on food by one or two other vital statistics. If, indeed, we are to be regarded as a poorly nourished nation, how is it that the deaths of children under one year per 1,000 total live and still births have fallen from 53 in 1938 to 32 in 1949, which is the last available, and provisional, figure? And why have the maternal mortality figures fallen from 3.24 per 1,000 in 1938, to 0.98 per 1,000 in 1949? Surely, this is not a matter for Party dispute, because I think noble Lords opposite can clam a good deal of credit, though perhaps we are in possession of the field at the moment. I am not for the moment saying that this is all due to one Party. In spite of everything, our children to-day are strong and healthy, and they are taller and heavier than before. Indeed, a member of the French Academy of Medicine, Professor Bonnet, who visited this country to study the standard of health of our children, wrote as follows: In ten years England will have a generation of young men and women superior, physically and mentally, to those of any other European country. I am convinced that the excellent physical condition of these children is due to their feeding. Their diet is perfectly balanced, and the system of milk in schools, school feeding centres and extra vitamin nourishment provided by clinics has had obvious results. In the light of this, while I do not claim the credit all for one Party, I say that our Government have no need to feel ashamed over their food policy of recent years.

To return, however, to meat. There is a meat shortage here—we all take that as a platitude—and there is also a world meat shortage. That is a fact to which I felt the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, might have paid a little more attention in his opening speech. No country is likely to suffer more directly than Britain in the event of a world meat shortage, because we are by far the largest meat importer in the world. My right honourable friend the Minister of Food, Mr. Webb, set out the facts and the causes at considerable length on February 8 in another place, and I will not go over that ground again. But let me briefly remind the House that the export of meat by all countries, according to that great international organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (I am talking about the export of meat and not the total production), was 11 per cent. lower in 1949 than it was in 1938. That is the cardinal fact which is at the root of all our troubles. It is all too obvious how such a reduction is bound to hit a country like Britain, which was importing 43 per cent. of its meat before the war, and last year was importing 45 per cent. I say, therefore, without any kind of hesitation, that whatever Government were in power, and whatever system of imports had been adopted, either the one favoured by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, or that favoured by us, there would have been the same stark reality of a serious shortage of supplies which has confronted us, and which, I am afraid, will continue to confront us for some time to come.

In face of this situation, what have we, and in particular what has my right honourable friend the Minister of Food, done about it? I will detain the House for a moment, if I may, in answering that question, but let me make one thing clear in advance. Although, owing to the decline in world supplies, we are getting less imported meat than before the war, we calculate that up to the suspension of the Argentine Agreement we had been obtaining the same proportion of all forms of meat exported from the main exporting countries as before the war— if one includes bacon, I believe the proportion to be about three-quarters of their total exports. We are doing everything we can in conjunction with the great Dominions to increase their exportable surplus. I agree with the noble Lord that we must not assume that there is a kind of thick ceiling to meat, and that we must make all our plans underneath it. I am with him there, and I only wish that I could be with him on more points than that. With New Zealand we have a contract running until 1955 for the purchase of their entire exportable surplus. We had a similar contract with Australia, which lapsed on September 30 last, but a new contract is at the moment being negotiated, and this will ensure that we shall get virtually the whole of Australia's exportable surplus for the next fifteen years.


Is the noble Lord quite correct? I thought that our ration was maintained at this moment only because New Zealand, to help us, had diverted to us a ship going from that country to the United States full of New Zealand lamb.


I am advised that what I have said is correct. If I am mistaken, one of my noble friends will put it right later. However, I should be greatly surprised if there were any mistake here. We shall, therefore, get practically all the meat produced in Australia and New Zealand which is not required for their own domestic consump- tion. We are making every effort, in co-operation with those countries, to increase the amount of this exportable surplus. I do not think I need go into details now, but if questions are asked no doubt my noble friends can explain at greater length later.

A great deal of attention to meat production has also been paid in recent years by Colonial territories, and the possibilities of obtaining meat for the United Kingdom from them were carefully examined in 1949. Investigations specially carried out for the purpose showed, however, that only in East and Central Africa, as a long-term proposition, was there any prospect in the foreseeable future of obtaining appreciable supplies of meat for the United Kingdom. With the exception of the Falklands, where there is a project which the Colonial Development Corporation are undertaking for exporting frozen meat, most territories have to import meat, and the best they can hope for, in the face of increasing demands for meat for local consumption, is to reduce their dependence on imports. Of course, it is difficult to induce countries outside the Commonwealth to expand their production in our particular interest, but we do everything we can. We are looking the whole time for new sources of supply, and combing old ones. For example, we have recently signed a trade agreement with Brazil which provides for the sale to us of £3,000,000 worth of meat and meat products during the current year.

I am bound to say—and, speaking for the Government, it is right that one should not attempt to paint the picture too rosily—that all this combing of the world for alternative sources of supply has not, in fact, revealed actual or potential supplies in large quantities. Outside the traditional producing areas supplies are very small and can be obtained only in competition with local consumers at extremely high prices. We have bought whatever has been reasonably available in France, Denmark, Holland and elsewhere, but the quantities have been negligible in relation to our needs. It all comes back to the problem of the main exporting areas. I do not know whether the noble Lord would like any detailed information about Ireland or the Irish Republic. It is a subject on which I have an acute personal interest. I have often felt that much more food could be produced from Ireland, and much greater trade than we have seen in the past. I still hold that belief, but I cannot hold out immediate prospects of its realisation. The expansion of trade between Ireland and this country is indicated by the following figures of imports of fat cattle: 1946, 8,900; 1947, 49,300; 1948, 18,600; 1949, 101,500 (that was after the agreement), and 1950, 143,300. Since the agreement with Ireland there has been a very big increase in the numbers of fat cattle. I would add that, as regards pigs, proposals have been made to the Irish Republic which they are at present considering, and they have said that they hope an agreement will be possible. I have not been able to discover any facts which enable me to come to the House and hold out a prospect in the immediate future of great increases. So much for what might be called the facts.

There are two main criticisms of the Government's efforts to provide us with adequate meat supplies. They relate, first of all, to the handling of the negotiations with Argentina, and secondly, to the whole system of State trading in meat. I should like to reply at rather greater length about Argentina. The noble Lord introduced what seemed to me a rather unworthy suggestion, although I am sure it was sincere. He implied that the Government were so anxious to keep the price index down that they deprived this country of meat which could be obtained—


Before the noble Lord embarks upon a disquisition about the Argentine, I would draw his attention to the fact that I was very careful to avoid mentioning the word "Argentine" during the whole of my speech. My criticism of the price policy applies in regard not only to Argentina but to all suppliers who have been demanding increased prices.


I stand to be corrected. I should think that most people hearing the noble Lord's remarks and reading them would assume that he was criticising the Government about what had occurred in regard to Argentina. I doubt whether his words could bear any other possible construction. I perhaps read something into them which was not there. If the noble Lord withdraws the suggestion—


I did not make it.


If he denounces the suggestion and treats it with the same contempt as I do, then I join with him wholeheartedly. I do treat it with contempt, and I am glad I have the noble Lord with me. I treat with contempt the suggestion that any Government in this country would be so interested in the statistical figure that they would actually starve the people of essential meat.

The House will not expect me to say very much about the Argentine at this moment. Your Lordships all know that a Government mission arrived in Argentina a week ago to resume negotiations with the Argentine Government on a number of outstanding questions, including that of meat supplies. The negotiations are now in progress, and the House will not be surprised if I say nothing whatever about those negotiations this afternoon. Even as regards the recent past, I feel under something of a handicap. It is extremely difficult to do full justice to our negotiators, or to the Government: policy which they were carrying out, without seeming to imply some criticism of the Argentine. I have no intention of doing that this afternoon. In the circumstances may I venture to refer those who wish to pursue the matter further to the full statements made a few weeks ago by the Minister of Food and the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

I have really nothing to add to their speeches, but I would remind the House very briefly of four points. First of all. last summer the Argentine asked for a price adjusted for devaluation, which would have meant a price in sterling of £140 per ton. That would have compared with £75 to £80 per ton paid to Australia and New Zealand, and, so far as I know, no one in this country, whatever his political Party, was in favour of accepting that offer. Without making official reference to any Party or particular individuals, may I say that I feel that the News Chronicle hit the nail on the head so well, as it often does, in a leading article which, if not written by Lord Layton, may well have been inspired by him. On the day following Mr. Webb's speech the News Chronicle, which is not altogether kind to the Government spoke as follows: Mr. Webb has been encouraged by the country and by many newspapers, of which this is one, to hold out against the Argentine. I think that gives a very fair account that the Minister of Food and the Government were encouraged by the country to hold out against this offer of meat from the Argentine at £140 per ton. Then I remind the House of this other fact: that it was not until the end of the year (the actual date was December 27) that the Argentine's figure was lowered to £120 per ton. Thirdly, this offer was accompanied by various conditions, and it was what may fairly be called a "take it or leave it" affair—that is to say, it was not for negotiation. Fourthly, we have never ourselves broken off negotiations, and the discussions now in progress can be regarded as a continuance of those that took place earlier. I feel that those facts should be before the House.

On the whole subject I cannot believe that anybody, however strong his feeling against the Government, will fail to recognise that we had one object only, and that was to secure these important supplies at a reasonable price. We were not failing in that because of the cost-of-living index or anything of that sort. I am not going to claim that every step in the negotiations was divinely inspired by some sort of supreme prescience, or that we knew exactly how prices would move, or that we could foretell other events; I would simply say that we have laboured hard in the interests of the country. We were supported, up to a point, by everybody, and I feel that we can now, irrespective of Party, wish success to those who are at present in the Argentine, negotiating on our country's behalf.

Finally, (though it may be rather a long finally) I wish to consider the whole question of the merits or demerits of the present system of Government control of meat, which is, broadly speaking a continuance of the system instituted in the first year of the war. A whole number of theoretically-distinguishable concepts are linked together here, at least two of which—the element of subsidy and the principle of rationing of meat—I should hope were accepted as beyond argument at the present time. But without going into too many analytical refinements, I may say that there are at least two others which appear to be matters of controversy. I refer to bulk purchase—that is to say, the purchase in one deal of a quantity covering our needs for a long period— and Government purchase, which includes Government bulk purchase but also covers the day-to-day purchase by the Government of parcels of any commodity, on lines similar to those followed by the private trade in pre-war days.

In what follows, and assuming that we must have a measure of disagreement, let us narrow the disagreement so far as possible. Let me make plain what I am defending this afternoon. I am not making out a doctrinaire case for the superiority of bulk purchase in all circumstances. I am not even arguing this afternoon that the system of bulk purchase would necessarily be the best system for meat in all circumstances, but my right honourable friend the Minister of Food has already announced that he, together with my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, is studying the future organisation of the marketing of meat, and is considering these problems with all sections of the trade. This study was begun before, and quite independently of, the present difficulties. Nor have I neglected the Report of a recent Committee of another place on this subject, and I am not claiming that the present system is therefore so perfect that no modification can be entertained. What I am saying, and saying with strong conviction—and may I say, if it is not improper, that I am not just saying it because I have been asked to do so but after personal study of the matter—is that while the present shortages in meat continue in the world the present broad system of Government purchase, partly in bulk, partly otherwise, is not only the best but in fact the only one possible.

There are two main arguments for the present scheme of Government control of meat. First, it is essential if a rationing scheme is to be worked out fairly in the interests of the consuming public. Secondly, it is the most effective instrument, at any rate in times of shortage, for securing an adequate supply of imports at reasonable prices. Those are separate arguments, of course, though linked up in various ways. I might also add that any other system might be difficult to square with a proper reward to the home producer, but that argument, I admit, is much more disputable than the other two and I am not resting my case on it this afternoon.

Take first the domestic argument for Government purchase. I know well that there are many permutations, combinations and varieties possible here, but speaking broadly it must always be extremely difficult for a Government to make sure that a ration is honoured unless at sonic point they step in and purchase the commodity themselves, directly or through their agents, so as to make sure that distribution is carried out fairly and efficiently. Am I claiming that wherever there is rationing there inevitably must be State purchase? Not quite, though it comes pretty close to that. Tea is a case of a rationed commodity where private trade is apparently being reintroduced as an experiment, and we have yet to see the result. But if ever there was a case where it would be almost impossible to work a rationing scheme without State purchase, that case is meat.

Meat, after all, is the only commodity rationed by reference to price. The single heading "meat" covers a whole number of different edibles—and, incidentally, it is a very perishable product. Somehow or other, the national authorities have to see to it, not only that a proper quantity of meat reaches each of the butchers, but that that quantity itself contains in its turn a fair proportion of all the different kinds and qualities. Noble Lords must form their own opinion, but to my mind it is inconceivable, while we have anything like the present rationing in meat, that we could allow the return of private enterprise in the meat trade, and hope that the job would be done.

I turn now to the external aspect. The House will, I hope, exempt me from involving us in the higher economics, and the theory of monopoly in particular. In all conditions the buyers of a commodity secure a considerable advantage if they agree not to cut one another's throats, and to present a united front to the seller. On the other hand, there is the imponderable argument to which some noble Lords will attach a good deal more weight than I do, that some flexibility is lost when all the buyers are rolled into one. What, however, I should hope was pretty well agreed is that unless you have a single buyer, and that single buyer directly or indirectly an agent of the Government, it is almost impossible to organise bulk purchase proper, which I defined earlier as the purchase in a single deal of enough to supply us for a long period ahead. Purely, therefore, from a business point of view, is bulk purchase itself the best and cheapest means of obtaining our supplies? I should have thought that the answer to that was perfectly clear: Yes, in some circumstances; no in others. And the circumstances to-day dictate the answer, Yes.

I need not remind the distinguished noble Lords who are to follow me— especially Lord Woolton and Lord Llewellin—of the history of bulk purchase, but others perhaps, are not quite so well versed in the matter. I trust that the two noble Lords I have mentioned will forgive me if I say what they know better than anyone. The technique of bulk purchase was adopted by the Ministry of Food in the First World War and came down to the Food Defence Plans Department before the last war an a technique to be put into operation as soon as there was a scarcity. It was put into operation with most commodities at a very early stage, and developed to a very considerable extent while Lord Woolton and Lord Llewellin were at the Ministry of Food.

The Ministry of Food, and of course my right honourable friend who now presides over it, are fully alive to the fact that they should not formally go in for bulk purchase when scarcity passes away and a condition of plenty begins to take its place. The Government have always realised that they should consider whether to stop bulk purchases when prices show signs of turning downwards. This, I think, is known to all of us. But, my Lords, in regard to none of the commodities which are still the subject of bulk purchase have conditions of scarcity passed away, and least of all (this, surely, the whole House will agree) in meat. In meat, therefore, the same arguments—if you like, the same grim situation, though we have not the submarines—which justified bulk purchase in World War I and World War II still apply. And I should be misleading the House if, on the strength of any information available to me (and I have a great deal), I suggested that round the corner we could catch a glimpse of conditions which would cease to justify the application of those arguments which convinced so many during the war, including Lord Woolton and Lord Llewellin.

I do not wish to detain the House with many factual illustrations. Let me place just three points before your Lordships. If any noble Lords have not been following recently the course of prices, and wonder whether I am exaggerating things when I talk about scarcity and the rising market, may I point to the nature of the price increases which have occurred recently in certain commodities? The price of U.S. cotton since the middle of June—since the trouble in Korea, putting it broadly—has risen by 31 per cent.; Egyptian cotton has risen since the same date by 171 per cent.; crossbred wool by 169 per cent.; merino wool by 100 per cent.; rubber by 176 per cent. and tin by 148 per cent—all that in just over eight months. If ever there was a time—and I hope noble Lords will weigh up this argument and, possibly, agree with it— when it would be folly, and indeed madness, to abandon bulk purchasing in an article like meat, the present would certainly be that precise moment.

Secondly, it is worth glancing for a moment at what is being paid for food by those who do not adopt our method of bulk purchase. If we take the proportion of the exportable surplus of these commodities which is not sold to us, we have the clearest possible evidence that carcase meat from Australia and New Zealand, pig meat from Denmark and Holland, butter from Denmark, Australia and New Zealand, and eggs from Denmark and Holland are sold at sub-stantially higher prices than the prices in the bulk purchase contracts. Danish butter, for which we pay £237 10s. a ton has been sold this winter to Switzerland and other European markets at up to £400 a ton. Australia and New Zealand have been selling meat in the American market, where prices are over £300 a ton. Eggs from Denmark and Holland have been sold to Germany at 25 per cent. above our contract prices.


Did the noble Lord say New Zealand meat?


I think that that is a legitimate score. The proportion must have been very small.


Something between 5 and 10 per cent., I believe, was allowed to be sent elsewhere.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. If we wish for an objec- tive estimate of the success or otherwise of our policy in bulk purchase of basic foodstuffs, we cannot do better than turn —as some noble Lords may have turned —to the Economic Survey of Europe in 1949, which was, of course, prepared by the Economic Commission for Europe. In this Report on page 158 it is stated that: For a period European countries were able to protect their economies from the unfavourble effects of the changed price structure in the world at large, partly through the methods of bulk buying, which enabled the United Kingdom in particular to obtain basic foodstuffs at relatively low prices. That was the view of the Economic Commission for Europe and I hope that at least one of the two noble Lords who have been Minister of Food will reply to that particular point. The Report goes on: … the advantages accruing from bulk purchasing methods are likely to remain in force for some time—perhaps until a period when, with the improved supply position in foodstuffs and raw materials generally, world price relations come nearer to the pre-war pattern. No words of mine are required to paint that particular lily. I hope, as I say, that one of the two noble Lords I have mentioned will explain that particular matter.


Why does the noble Lord wish us to do so?


I do not want the noble Lords to do so, but if they are unable to explain away the point I have made they will have to put forward some stronger argument than any they have hitherto done for rejecting bulk purchase. I am not urging the noble Lords, but I am hoping for a lightning conversion during the afternoon.

May I now say one word about the producers? I am not going to argue with the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, on the subject of our relations with the Argentine, because I believe that he did not in fact deal with the Argentine.


I did not mention it.


I will leave that matter to my noble friend Lord Alexander to deal with at the close of the debate, but I should like to say one word about the producers. We certainly do not look upon these bulk purchase agreements as a means of exploiting the producer. The bulk purchaser can offer the larger sellers a number of solid advantages. He can eliminate for them the risk of a fall of the market prices below the bulk purchase price, so far as the quantity covered by the bulk purchase is concerned, and he can save them the administrative expenses, brokerage, and so on, of many small sales. I think that any noble Lord who has carried on these arrangements will echo what I say, that there is no reason why producers should lose. On the other hand, we must face the fact that in the exporting countries the sale of meat is largely concentrated in the hands of a few organisations—for example, the Australian and New Zealand Meat Boards and the Argentine Institute for the Promotion of Trade, which are closely associated with the Governments concerned. As the United Kingdom is by far the largest market for imported meat in the world, there are very definite advantages in meeting the concentration of selling power which exists in the selling countries by a corresponding concentration of buying in the United Kingdom. To my mind it is clear that private traders, competing for limited supplies in a world which is short of meat, would be very much at the mercy of any centralised selling organisations. Inevitably, prices for the large quantities which we require in this country would rise towards the levels which other countries were prepared to pay for the small marginal quantities, which are all they require. I have therefore suggested—and, I hope, shown—that long-term agreements have many advantages, both to producers and to us, in that producers have the assurance of a market for a long time to come and can thus go ahead in confidence to produce the meat we shall certainly need at reasonable prices for a long period.

I end where I began: there is, of course, a meat shortage. None of us in a position of responsibility can fail to have regard to the condition of our fellow men and women in this matter, or fail to express the hope that things will be better as time goes on. Certainly none of us who has responsibility for government can rest until the situation has improved —and that may be a long while hence: I am not prepared to raise false hopes or to offer rosy prospects. We must go on working, each of us, still harder in our different ways, to the desired end. Whatever our Party, we are all equally anxious that there shall be an adequate supply of meat. I am most grateful, on behalf of the Government, to the noble Lord. Lord Hawke, for giving the House an opportunity of discussing this vital question at this grave hour.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to join with the noble Lord who has just sat down—and I am sure I do so on behalf of the whole House—in paying a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, both for raising this question and for the manner in which he raised it. I could not help thinking that Lord Pakenham was perhaps a little less than fair to Lord Hawke when he said that he had spent a great deal of rime in trying to discredit the Government. My impression was that Lord Hawke was scrupulously anxious throughout his speech to avoid saying anything which would be likely to embarrass the Government.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, may I say that I did not imply for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, was anxious to cause any embarrassment to the Government, or that he attempted to do so? I would certainly join with what the noble Earl. Lord De La Warr, says in that respect.


I am very glad to hear what the noble Lord says, and I am much obliged to him. Since so many noble Lords wish to speak, the more one sticks to the point the better. I hope Lord Hawke and Lord Pakenham will forgive me if I do not follow them very far on the question of bulk purchase. It is not because I do not agree completely with what the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, has said on that subject but because I know that many noble Lords wish to speak, and I do not want to prolong by repetition what is already likely to be a long debate. I wish to try to deal for a few moments with the contribution that the home producer could make towards meeting this problem with which the nation is so troubled at the moment. I was asked the other day whether I intended to speak about meat from the producers' or from the consumers' point of view. My reply was simple and definite. In my view, no such distinction exists in reality; and it is largely because our rulers and economic advisers over the last generation or so have persisted in conducting our affairs on the assumption that that conflict does exist that the consumers of this country are in such a sorry plight to-day.

If consumers want more food—and, for the purposes of this debate, we are discussing it in terms of meat—than they are getting now, they will have to think of the producer a great deal more than they have done in the past, whether that producer lives at home or overseas. That is where the Government have made their fundamental mistake. They have failed to recognise the change in circumstances, the change in what I might call the terms of trade between producer and consumer. They took a gamble a year or so ago on the assumption that there would shortly be plenty of food and that then they would be in a position to drive what they called "a good bargain" with producers overseas. They have lost the gamble, and we, as a nation, now have to pay the price and face the consequence of a Government gamble with the people's food. That seems to me the central point, and it is therefore worth making it clearly and stressing it at the very beginning of this discussion. May I say a personal word here? I feel entitled to do so, because your Lordships may remember that during 1946, 1947 and 1948 I frequently, I think, wearied you by continuing to sing this song. I claim that in saying what I am saying, I am not being wise after the event.

The Minister in another place and the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, to-day have given us much the same figures, although in a slightly different form. So far as I could add them up, they gave the same answer. After a careful analysis of the figures, the Minister of Food told us that with 3,000,000 more mouths to feed we are likely to have at least 300,000 tons less meat in 1951 than we had before the war. The Economist, I see, takes a slightly less optimistic view and puts the figure at 100,000 tons less than that—that is, a deficit of 400,000 tons on the pre-war figures. But both those calculations are on the basis of what the Minister of Food described as "reasonable expectations" from South America—an assumption that we must all hope is justified. More than that we cannot say at the moment. This means that, to get back to pre-war consumption per head, we need something between 400,000 and 500,000 tons more meat per year.

Although there is no quick or easy remedy to this problem I think we had much better be quite clear in our minds on that point—things certainly need not have been and need not be to-day so bad as they are, providing we are prepared to pay as much for our meat as others are prepared to pay. I sometimes wonder whether, perhaps unconsciously, there is not a little feeling that townspeople in this country are a herrenvolk who are entitled to have food, no matter at what cost to any other part of the world or to our own producers in this country. What I am saying is strengthened by what the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said when he showed how much more other countries are at the moment paying for some foodstuffs than are we. But what is the result? The result is that we are not getting enough. I understand that meat offered to this country by Denmark and Holland is now being consumed in Germany. Eire, for whom we are a natural market, is sending 30,000 fat cattle to Germany. She is also sending frozen beef to the United States of America. Canada—and what we are thinking was confirmed the other day by the parting remarks of Mr. Gardiner, the Canadian Minister of Agriculture— Australia and New Zealand are all finding their loyalties increasingly strained by the difficulty of trading with us in foodstuffs. The simple fact is that in the distribution of their spending incomes other people seem to place a higher value on food than we do. So, as the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, showed, this country is tending and will tend to become more and more, as shortages persist, the last in the queue to be served.


With great respect, I tried to argue expressly the opposite. I know I am often hard to follow, but surely not so hard as all that. I said we were getting the same proportion of exports from other countries as before the war. Nothing I said suggested that we had slipped to the bottom of the queue. Anything I said was aimed in precisely the opposite direction.


I know the noble Lord is most anxious to prove that we are at the top of the queue and that we should place that interpretation on his figures, but if he will read Hansard to-morrow he will see that I am perfectly justified in placing this interpretation on them. It is the interpretation that the British housewife will certainly place on them, even if the noble Lord himself does not. It is all very well to give figures about calories, fats and proteins—it is all very convincing. But let the noble Lord go down to any constituency in this country and try to fight a by-election on that.


I think we are both immune from that.


It is just as well. Until quite lately, it did not seem to matter very much to the consumers in this country if this attitude of ours stopped our own farmers from growing food, because the producers of overseas countries were prepared to take on the job of supplying us. But now these other countries are beginning to find themselves, for various reasons—we can go into them later—less dependent on our market. At any rate, the net result of all this is the simple fact that there are certainly up to 100,000 tons of meat from Denmark, Holland and Eire that we might have had if we had been prepared to pay as much for it as Germany did, and which is still presumably available at a price. That, of course, I do not know. That leaves us with a deficit of from 300,000 to 400,000 tons. Surely what we have to ask ourselves is: Are we likely to obtain this tonnage from overseas at existing prices, or indeed, at any price at all? In asking ourselves this question, let us remember that, using these figures, we already assume the success of the Ministry of Food in. their negotiations with the Argentine, and also that we have secured these 100,000 tons from Denmark, Eire and Holland.

Let us just look for a moment at the general world meat supply. South America may be able to increase production, but her internal consumption has already risen 80 per cent. since before the war, whilst the price that she is now demanding is only slightly less than that which we are paying to our own producers in this country. America and Canada are consuming increasingly more and, incidentally, are paying their producers over twice as much for their meat as we are paying ours. The noble Lord mentioned Central Africa. From what little I know of both East and Central Africa, the population position is such that their problem is to feed themselves. rather than to export. Certainly that is true even of countries which we normally associate with a great deal of ranching and meat production, such as the Rhodesias and South Africa. The great new Bechuanaland scheme is a most interesting scheme. It has its dangers but we will all wish it well. I believe that it is certainly capable of success, but at most, if the highest hopes of it are fulfilled, it will only help to modify the local shortage. Australia is producing slightly more meat than before the war, but is consuming a great deal more, and therefore her exports are considerably down. Incidentally, I was glad to see that the Minister of Food in another place made it quite clear that we should have no great expectation from the much publicised Queensland scheme. It is a most interesting scheme, but it has very far to go before we are likely to get any exports from there. New Zealand may be able to increase her exports slightly, but the rise in wool prices is not likely to help her meat exports—nor, for that matter, will it help those of Australia.

My Lords, surely we are driven to two conclusions. First—and I am taking a long view; I am not talking about variations of this year or that—we are likely to obtain less rather than more meat from abroad. Secondly, we are likely to have to pay more for what we do obtain. Better methods of purchase, such as those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, and which I think other noble Lords on this side of the House are to discuss with your Lordships, will almost certainly improve the conditions on which we are able to increase our imports. But in my humble view nothing can alter the fundamental world supply situation. Surely these two conclusions—the difficulty of obtaining meat from abroad and the likelihood of its being more expensive —lead inevitably to a third conclusion— namely, that if we want more meat in this country (I do not think I need spend much time on discussing whether or not that is so), we shall have to produce more for ourselves. It would be folly, indeed it would be most dishonest, to suggest that this can be done at once. Obviously, it cannot. That is why, three or four years ago, some of us felt it right to warn "the Government, and to warn them repeatedly, as we did, of the shortages that were coming. If the Government had done more then, as a result of some of the repeated debates in your Lordships' House, in which many noble Lords took part, the British housewife would have been very much better off than she is to-day. But it is no good crying over milk that has already been spilt. What matters now is to go ahead.

What worries some of us is that even to-day, as we look at the Government's agricultural policy unfolding, the lesson does not seem to have been learned. Surely the first thing they should have done was to revise their targets for increasing meat production. Let us look at those targets—I think your Lordships may be surprised. They aim at increasing our beef and veal production by 58,000 tons by 1952–53, but they assume a reduction on pre-war figures of 33,000 tons in our mutton, and 36,000 tons in our pig meat—an overall reduction of 18,000 tons as a result of a great production campaign. It is right that one should recapitulate and emphasise this situation, because it is so serious, and the Government's reaction to it is so inadequate, that it needs to be emphasised again and again in order to be believed. Our deficit will be between 400,000 and 500,000 tons if we succeed in our negotiations with the Argentine. If we fail, of course, the deficit will be very much bigger. At best, and if we pay higher prices, we may be able to reduce that deficit by 100,000 tons coming from other sources that I have mentioned.

In spite of all this, and if we achieve the Government's target in what they call increased home production, we shall still be producing in this country 18,000 tons less meat than before the war. These figures show how completely the Government are failing to appreciate the situation. The situation is simply that a fundamental change has taken place in the terms of trade between producer and consumer, whether the latter lives in this country or overseas. If the Government had faced this situation they would have turned automatically to the obvious and direct means of meeting the problem—that of greater home production. I have already said that it is impossible for us to secure this increased production at once. I think also that it would be quite wrong to say that it is a complete solution. I do not believe that we can become completely self-supporting in meat in this country. It would be dishonest to say that we can. I believe that we can increase our production immensely, but only if our efforts are very much more intense than they have been. We can still do it. It will take time, but that is the price that we have to pay for delay.

Let us take one or two examples. At the moment there is before your Lordships' House the Livestock Rearing Bill. If we were living in perfectly normal days, and everything was going fairly smoothly, I should say that this was a very good little Bill. But why does it provide funds for improving only 1,000,000 out of a total of 5,000,000 acres admitted by the Government to be capable of improvement? The scope of this Bill should be increased to its maximum. It has been estimated that for every 1,000,000 acres reclaimed, 250,000 store cattle can be raised annually, which should produce somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 tons of beef annually. If instead of the 1,000,000 acres of uplands for the improvement of which funds are to be provided under the Bill, the improvement were extended to the 5,000,000 acres which the Government admit could be improved, that would give us something like 300,000 to 350,000 tons of beef, which alone would make a large contribution to our deficit. We should be wrong to take the view that all that can be done is to improve the worst land in this country. A maximum effort is called for.

If we tackled the problem of improvement of the better farms—I will not detain your Lordships by going into the technical details of how we could do it —we could have almost correspondingly greater production. It may be—indeed I suppose it is almost certain—that if we went out for this increased production we should have to pay farmers more for their meat. But we are having to pay everyone more for pretty well everything at the present moment, and I should not have thought that paying more to farmers for meat would necessarily mean the end of the world. Home-produced beef is now about £147 per ton, whereas the Argentine were asking during the last negotiations—I do not know what they are asking now—£120 per ton.


An average of £120.


An average of £120 per on. Those two figures, when compared show a difference of about 2½d. a pound between the prices of Argentine and home-produced meat. Although I smoke pipes and not cigarettes, I am given to understand that the average price of a cigarette to-day is about 2½d. I am not advocating this increase, I merely ask this question: If we cannot get this meat from elsewhere, should we rather pay this extra price or go without?

But it is not a question of price alone. With our present system of marketing and slaughtering, as run by the Ministry of Food, it is impossible at certain times of the year to handle all the meat produced in this country. This applies especially in such months as October and November. It happened, therefore, that last year cattle ready for the market hung about, losing weight and condition—losing meat for the consumer, and losing money for the farmer. At the present moment we have neither the benefits of a free market system nor the benefits of a well-organised central slaughtering system. Either would be better than the system we have at the present moment: It is inadequate, expensive and inefficient. By-products, that help to pay for the whole process of marketing and slaughtering in other countries, are either in some cases wasted entirely or used to only a very slight extent. If we are to produce more meat at home, the Government will certainly be wise to look into the whole problem of the handling of our meat.

It should be possible to bring about an increase in our meat supplies from sheep a great deal more rapidly than from cattle. But there are various reasons, connected with the whole structure of the industry, which are likely to hinder this result. I would ask the noble Earl who speaks for the Ministry of Agriculture whether it would not be wise for the Ministry to survey the whole question of the present position of the sheep industry. The trouble is that the change in lowland farming has put the whole machine out of gear. The lowland farms which used to take store sheep bred on the hills now find, with the increase of dairying and arable farming, that there is not the room for the store sheep, and this, of course, will discourage the production of store sheep on the hills.

About pig meat I just do not know what to say. Can we or can we not have the necessary feeding stalls? There is no quicker way of increasing our supplies of meat than by increasing our pig population. But it is no good doing what we have repeatedly done before—increase the number of pigs when we have not the feeding stuffs. This means having to slaughter the pigs before they are ready for market. Is the lack of feeding stuffs a problem of dollars or of shortage of actual supplies? If it is a dollar problem could there not be some allocation of dollars—or could not we get some settlement with the United States on the same basis of payment as that which we have for paying for petrol in sterling? I ask the noble Lord who may be answering for the Government to give us a reply on that point, because so much hangs upon it, both as regards the livelihood of our farmers and from the point of view of the possibility of producing more meat for consumers generally.

If in fact—as from certain sources I am given to understand is the case—the grain is not there at the moment, that is in itself an important and highly significant fact. It is worth registering as another example of the extreme unreliability and the extreme danger of depending at the present time upon foreign suppliers. During the last few years, Lord Boyd-Orr, Lord Bruce and I have been talking a great deal about potential shortages of food. Last year we were told that we had been talking rubbish, because the granaries of America were bulging with grain. To-day, my information is that that bulge has disappeared. That is a reason why we cannot get the feeding stuffs, and now, wherever one goes throughout farming areas in this country, one hears pig and chicken farmers groaning because of the shortage and the expense of supplies of feeding stuffs. I do not know the Danish official figures, but a few days ago I received a letter from a farmer in Denmark telling me that he had reduced the number of his pigs and chickens to such a point that they would just meet his household needs. He had done this because of the same difficulty and expense of obtaining feeding stuffs.

We could undoubtedly grow a good deal more of our own feeding-stuffs, and whatever the difficulties—and I know there are many—that is what we must do. Agriculture is a conglomeration of a number of separate industries, but it nevertheless has a very definite and composite entity of its own, in the sense that discouragement to one section depresses the rest, while a strong lead to one section gives confidence to the rest. The Government can do as much to encourage production of any one product —at the moment, of course, we are discussing meat—by showing that they believe in the importance of the farming industry, and by making the farmer believe in his own importance (as he did during the war) as by anything else. Life, particularly to the countryman, is not only a matter of money.

I say to the noble Earl who is to reply for the Ministry of Agriculture, "Let the Government stop taking more and more good land from food production." I am not thinking now of the 50,000 or so acres of land that go from food production every year, but of the discouragement and depression spread over the whole industry, which makes the farmers feel that it does not really matter whether they farm for more production or not. It may be that there are good arguments for removing the fertiliser and feeding-stuffs subsidies and, just lately, for abolishing the relief from increased petrol tax for agriculture. I am inclined to think there is a good case for saying that agricultural workers should be called up. But forget the merits of these arguments and the interests of the farmers for the moment, and think only of the consumers, of the housewives crying out for more food. Ask yourselves: Is it wise at such a moment to take a series of steps that spread alarm and despondency throughout the industry and make the farmers wonder whether the Government are behind them? I do not believe it is wise, and I am convinced that the farmers, given the feeling that the Government need them and will support their efforts, could and will still produce a great deal more food than they are producing to-day, not only from hill and marginal land, but throughout the whole country.

Here then is the problem. We are short of meat because of the fundamental change in conditions. Producing countries are consuming more of their own production, and for this and other reasons are less willing to export to us. We are making the worst of this difficult situation by a system of State-run bulk purchases. We are not getting our fair share of even the limited supplies that exist on the export market. We are buying the worst qualities. We are creating political complications between ourselves, our Dominions, and hitherto friendly foreign countries. The immediate position can undoubtedly be improved by a return to purchasing by private enterprise; but, whatever we do about this side of the problem, we cannot alter the world supply situation. The long-term solution is to produce a great deal more for ourselves at home. It means capital development of land that is now neglected. It means making a great deal more of land that is already now under supposedly good cultivation. It means a greater general agricultural effort. It will almost certainly mean paying our farmers more; but as overseas supplies are going up in price every day that is not necessarily a first consideration. If we want the meat, we shall have to pay for it, from wherever it comes, or go without. Let the Government, having handed over the purchase of imports to those who know what they are about, apply themselves to strengthening our position, whether we be at peace or at war, by increasing our resources through the building up of home production.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I regret that my noble compatriot Lord Lovat is not here to-day, because he is well known as one of the greatest experts in our country in breeding livestock for meat, but I know him sufficiently well to assert that he will not quarrel with what I have to say. We all know that the greatest area in the United Kingdom for livestock production for meat is Scotland, especially the Highlands and Islands. That is the widest area still obtainable for an expansion in the breeding of cattle and sheep. If it has not been developed in the past as it might have been, there are two reasons. The first is the shocking transport system which has existed, and the other is the crushing rates charged for the shipping of livestock and animal feeding stuffs. Until those two matters are put right, until there are better shipping facilities and lower freight rates, we shall never make much progress in bringing that great area into full production of beef and meat For example, to bring five bullocks from Mull, Tiree, Barra or Stornoway to Oban, or any other meat market, costs more than it costs to bring live bullocks from the United States to Scotland.

What compels me to raise this question is the rumour in Scotland that the Government have assumed an additional burden as the result of settling the railway strike, the dock strike and the transport strike. I hear that the amount for which the Government are assuming responsibility is between £10,000,000 and £12,000,000, and the rumour is that the Government are going to pay for that burden they have assumed by raising not passenger rates but freight rates. If that is done, then they will kill that great area in Scotland for livestock production for meat. I should like a statement here and now that it is not the intention of the Government or any of their fellow-travellers, the Transport Board or any other Board, to increase the freight rates.

There is one other point that I should like to mention. I have not heard much today about deer. When I mention the word "deer," there is hardly a noble Lord who will speak politely to me. But, after all, for years deer have produced meat, and good meat. They still produce meat, and will go on producing it, so long as they are allowed to live. However much we may dislike the word "deer," we must sometimes in life give the devil his due. If we can sometimes give the devil his due, then sometimes we can give good due to the deer. This winter I have been approached many times by butchers, in London and at home, to send them a carcase of deer because they have run out of beef. It is generally said in Scotland that one good stag from a good forest is worth in meat four sheep, and that a good hind is worth two sheep. This year I have produced and placed on the market the equivalent in meat of 311 sheep. One humble land owner can do that, and there are many others in Scotland doing the same thing, What we should do is to recognise and appreciate that any animals with four legs that can produce meat, while feeding in hard conditions and reproducing themselves, should be treasured and looked after, and not run down and blamed as they are.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I have this afternoon had ample justification for the fact that I rarely occupy your time by addressing you. The debates in this House seem to me to be full of so much wisdom, and so many noble Lords speak with expert knowledge, that I constantly find myself taking idle refuge in silence. This afternoon we have had up to now (I will try not to lower the standard) a remarkable debate. We have had from my noble friend Lord Hawke a speech that was full of information. We have had from the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, as always, a delightful speech. Whenever I listen to the noble Lord— knowing, of course, that he is the Minister of Civil Aviation and not the Minister of Food—I constantly have coming into my mind (although perhaps it is not really an appropriate quotation) the lines of Goldsmith's which run: … and still the wonder grew That one small head could carry all he knew. Yet the noble Lord did seem to know. He became a little confused, it is true, by the expert knowledge of my fellow traveller who has just come back from New Zealand, but that was surely pardonable. Lord De La Warr has given us what seemed to me a masterly exposition of the agricultural situation; and from Scotland we have had our hopes raised. I am sure that the noble Duke finds that it is not only the butchers in this country, but those who are his personal friends—and many more of us would like to enjoy his friendship—who want a little more of his deer.

The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, had an extremely difficult task to perform this afternoon. He performed it by the adroit method of having the minimum amount of discussion on the subject of meat and the maximum amount of discussion on the broad field, on which his own academic eminence properly justifies him in speaking. Those of us who speak from these Benches to-day are conscious of the fact that in regard to the Argentine situation we have to exercise on the subject of cost a restraint which, quite frankly. I, for one, find somewhat difficult. But we have done our best. We are all most anxious (and this I feel sure I say not only for noble Lords who sit behind me, but for the whole country) that the Argentine discussions that are now proceeding shall be conducted in an amicable manner, and that they will result not only in an agreement, but in an agreement that will afford the basis of continued and satisfactory trading between the two countries.

I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that there is not a single issue that concerns the ordinary people of this country more than this problem of meat. We can discuss it here in a somewhat detached manner, having canteens to which we can go, but I am not being sentimental or exaggerating the situation when I say that the ordinary housewives of this country—and, particularly, I believe, the housewives of the country whose husbands have no canteens at their disposal—are finding this a perpetually harassing problem, and are wondering how on earth they can get along and keep their husbands healthy and satisfied. When they read Lord Pakenham's speech of to-day, and realise what the statistical situation is, then, of course, they will appreciate that it is not nearly as bad as they have been thinking. That is the great advantage of statistics. As the noble Lord was telling us how well we are, and talking of calories and so on (you know, there are more calories in gin than in most things; but it would not be a good thing to make that part of the staple diet) I wondered whether he was looking at his academic colleague, Lord Cherwell. People like Lord Cherwell, who are vegetarians, can get along very well on the present diet; they have trained themselves to it. But it will not satisfy the people of this country to be without meat. I am sure that the cattle growers in the Argentine would not like to think that, as a result of long practice in abstinence, we had been driven to becoming vegetarians, because in the long run that would not suit the Argentinian book. The British householders have been very good customers of the Argentine in the past. They have been brought up to believe that there is something closely related to their religious life in the Sunday joint, and they like to have it large enough to last well into the following week.

The House is favoured to-day with the presence of some eminent doctors. I was unable to find out during the war whether it was really necessary for the physiological health of the nation that the people should have meat. There were times when I was almost tempted to tell them that it was not quite so important as they had thought it was in the past. But I have no doubt about the psychological effect—they feel better if they have it. I thought Mr. Webb very wise when, in his, as it were, inaugural speech he quoted the great classic of Miss Marie Lloyd: A little of what you fancy does you good It showed that he had a proper approach to the public. But, of course, he need not have made it quite so little as he has done. I am sure that housewives have been disillusioned. There is one problem that worries the ordinary person who does not understand Lord Pakenham's approach to this subject—and I am bound to say that I am with them in this. How is it that we are now in such an austere condition regarding meat when during the war we were being much better fed, certainly from the point of view of meat, in spite of having a considerable number of the American forces to feed from Australian sources? How is it that while those vast quantities of meat were going to the Forces during the war, now. when our supplies are averaged out, we get less than we did then? That is a problem that is worrying the ordinary person. Perhaps the noble Lord, who knows so much about the present position of the Forces, could give us an answer to that question. It would give our people some relief. I am proposing later to say some things which will be regarded as being of a strictly Party political order, as did Lord Pakenham. But I want your Lordships to be clear about this: I am quite certain that noble Lords opposite are just as much concerned about the shortage of meat as are any of us on this side of the House. Of course, the point is that they have the responsibility, because they are the Government.

The question that is worrying many people is why this is all happening. Is this, in fact, something that is inevitable? After listening to the noble Lord this afternoon I am not quite sure whether he thinks it is inevitable or not. But that is a problem in which we are all interested. Is it due to personal failure? Whenever there is a situation like this in political life, there is a hunt for the Minister. I regret to say that there were occasions during the war when I believe there was a movement called "Woolton Must Go." I sympathise with the people. They did not know what a relief it would have been to go. Now I hear there is a hunt for Mr. Webb, because Mr. Webb has failed. I wonder whether that is the answer to the situation. Is this, in fact, a personal matter— the failure of one person? Has Mr. Webb failed much more than Mr. Strachey; indeed, over the general field, has he failed as much? Is this a question in which we condemn the Prime Minister for being a bad "picker of men"; or is it that, in the circumstances, the situation was unavoidable? If that is the answer, then I think the country wants to know how long it is going to be unavoidable? Can the Government give us any sort of assurance that we shall be better fed with meat in future than we are now? We are a little worried to know why, if the situation is unavoidable here, it is unavoidable only in Britain.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who gave us a very gloomy picture of this world shortage of meat, has been occupying most of his time with the affairs of his own. Ministry. Evidently he has not been going about and seeing what the situation regarding meat is like in other countries. I wonder whether he has been in America and whether he has noticed any great shortage there? I hope the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who has been travelling, will tell us whether he saw any shortage of meat in Australia and in New Zealand. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, put his finger on the centre of the whole issue and said the truth is that, with the organisation that we have now, we have not been paying enough to attract meat to this country. I am sure your Lordships know that a very active trade is being done at the present time by the provision merchants of this country in buying hams from a wide range of places on the Continent of Europe.

I agree that they are paying a high price for them; but I also agree that they are getting these hams from countries where the Governments are not controlling the meat trade. If I may quote Gilbert: "They are not interfering with matters that they do not understand." Those hams are coming to this country in considerable quantity, and they are being sold at what seems to me to be a very high price, going up to eleven shillings a pound; and the public —not the wealthy public, as represented by your Lordships' House, but the working-class public—are buying those hams now, because they are starved for meat. I do not mean that they are physically starved, but they are mentally starved for meat, and they think it is worth paying the price.

I am always sorry for anybody who is Minister of Food, and I do not think the failure is due to Mr. Webb; I think it is due to the system of the Government being the sole buyer. It is not part of my business to defend Mr. Webb. I was most impressed by his early approach to the problem. I blame him for two things only. First, I blame him for ever taking on the job and thinking that, with his previous experience, it was possible for him to know enough about trading conditions in such a wide variety of goods as. to be able to carry it out. But let us be fair to him: he has stood by his Socialist principles. This is part of the principles of Socialism, and that is why I am. opposed to it. Then I blame him for not resigning when he discovered, as other Ministers of Food have discovered, that he was not master in his own house; that the Treasury were the master and that here he was, responsible for getting the meat for this country, while the: Treasury were telling him how much he could spend. The Treasury are bound by their Banting index, which is long since due for an overhaul and which does not. in fact, represent the amount of money that the people of this country are spending on their food; it represents only the amount that is being spent on those things that are on the index.

May I now refer to the Argentine negotiations which took place some time ago? I had negotiations with the Argentine, and they are very hard negotiators —in fact, it was a good job that I had a little commercial experience before I took them on. When I was negotiating with them they offered me precisely the same conditions that they offered His Majesty's Government, and they said that the negotiation would take some time because I was being hard, too. They said: "We will agree to continue shipping, and we will then agree between us that the price shall be dated back." I took them on. I knew that what we wanted more than anything else was their meat, and so I agreed to continue shipping at the old price, on the understanding that when we arrived at an agreement we would supplement that price. By that means I filled our cold storages before we arrived at a conclusion as to what the price was going to be. When I had done that, I did something else which I think may interest your Lordships. I told them that I had altered my price. They said: "But we came to an agreement." I said: "I have altered my price—I have raised it." I had not raised it very much; I think it was only one-eighth of a penny. They said: "Why have you done that?"; and I said: "Because I want you to win. One of us has to win, and I would infinitely rather you went away satisfied with the contract you have made, so that you will ensure that we continue to have the goods in the future, instead of harbouring bad feeling about it."

When the Government were dealing with the Argentine, was it not very foolish, with all their knowledge of these people, to offer then £90 a ton when the current price was £97 10s. 0d.? Of course the Argentinians knew immediately that it was a bluff, and the art of trading is that if you are bluffing you should never let the other fellow know. What happened in the end? We broke. I am told that the amount upon which we broke was a matter of £5,000,000 a year. I take no sides as to who was right, but I am bound to say—and I think I may say it to both sides—that it was a terrible pity that negotiations between these two countries, with such a long history of agreeable commercial undertakings before the war. should have broken over a sum of £5,000,000, especially when we proceeded to find £23,000,000 to pay to the butchers of this country in order to satisfy them and keep them in existence for the trade which they were not doing. In the process of that negotiation hard words were spoken and national pride was involved and invoked. The way to conduct business is not to indulge in hard words in public, and certainly never to allow the situation to arise in which national pride is invoked, because the other fellow has his national pride just as much as you have.

I am raising this matter because the Argentine negotiation surely brings quite clearly to your Lordships' minds the whole issue of whether we are wise to continue this method of Government trading. If it had been private trading, the hardest words could have been spoken and no newspaper would have known about it; but when it becomes a matter of Government to Government, then the whole diplomatic field is disturbed. Since the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, is so satisfied that this is the best method of trading, I would just put this point to him. When we have Government buying, the question whether or not we are going to get our meat supplies depends on the skill of a few negotiators. Under the old method of private trading—which, after all, was not so bad; it did secure adequate supplies for this country—there were some people who did it badly and some people who did it well. In the aggregate, however, we avoided the situation of being dependent upon a small number of peopled We were, in fact, in the hands of a multitude of experts, all of whom were most anxious to secure agreement because their livelihood depended upon it.

The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, is going to reply to this debate. Now he and I have been brought up commercially in somewhat similar schools—competing schools. There is no Government buying in the Co-operative Movement— bulk buying, yes. The noble Lord. Lord Pakenham, entered into some sort of academic discussion of this question of bulk buying. No one is complaining about bulk buying. It depends upon the circumstances of the time. Sometimes it is advantageous to buy in small quantities, picking them up just where they are, and sometimes it is advantageous to buy a great deal at a time. But these are not the issues between us. The issue is whether we shall have the Government as the sole buyer. It is the monopolistic factor which is involved.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships unduly, but I must give you this personal experience, and I am sure you will not mind my doing so. At one stage during the war I bought wheat in the names of a number of aliases. I bought wheat in every market in the world. I had options expiring at three o'clock one afternoon, and I bought wheat at 72 cents. It was a very good buy, and Mr. Gardiner, with whom I had the happiest dealings, came across from Canada soon afterwards and said to me: "I see that you have been buying a very large quantity of wheat." I did not at once acknowledge it, but I found that he knew all about it. Then he said to me: "Look, Woolton; if the British Government is going to buy wheat from Canada in this manner, would it not be better if we had trading between Government and Government?" and I jumped at it. I said: "Why, certainly. I will buy another 100,000,000 bushels from you. The last price I paid was 72 cents. I will now buy from you at 65 cents, and then I shall know that it will be better." He said he did not want 65 cents, but 85 cents. In point of fact, it was inevitable that we should arrive at that situation under war conditions.

I was interested to see that Mr. Gardiner said some time ago: We do seem to be at, or near, a crossroads where the plan based on Government to Government sales cannot be continued. I think he is right. I think the situation that was right under the necessities of war is not light, and is not in the best interests of this country, in conditions of peace. That does not preclude my coming to the conclusion that if, unhappily, this country should go to war again, we should revert during the period of war to Government buying. But I do not think it is the best condition for peace. Neither. if I may say so, do I believe that it is the best means of promoting Empire trade on an amicable basis. I am one of those who regard Empire trade as being vastly important to this country. We want an easy flow of trade, trade that is built up as a result of merchants practising the craft which they understand, and trade which produces satisfaction to both sides.

Since I have had considerable negotiations with the Argentine during the war, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I hope the people and the Government of the Argentine, looking back over that long and profitable period of trade that went on between the two countries, will hasten to come to an agreement satisfactory to both of us. The trends of trade move up and down: sometimes we have a buyers' market and sometimes we have a sellers' market. At the present moment the Argentine are in a strong position, but to-morrow also will be a day; and I am sure that it will be in the interests of both our countries that tomorrow, and for very many tomorrows, there should be a flow of trade between these countries. I know that to ask His Majesty's Government to agree that this system of Government buying is wrong is to ask them to deny their faith. They will not alter it, and we cannot get a change in this country except at a sacrifice—and the sacrifice would be His Majesty's Government. I am one of the great majority of people in this country who are prepared to make that sacrifice, but to ask the noble Lord opposite to say that he and his colleagues agree to it is, I think, beyond reason.

The only thing I would say to them is, "Let us beware." We left in this country at the end of the war skeleton staffs, skeleton organisations which we paid, in order that they might get us back to private enterprise in buying when the war was over. That was one of the provisions that I made for the future, because I never had any faith in Government buying as a permanent method. I do not know whether His Majesty's Government have retained this organisation. May I ask them a question? Are they still paying those people and, if so, what are they paying them for? Are they paying them in order that they will be available when a Conservative Government come into power? If so, I am greatly obliged to them. Or are the Government not quite sure whether the system is going to be right or not, and backing the horse both ways? We are now suffering a very unpleasant experience regarding meat— which is what we came to discuss to-day. I believe that it is due to the failure, not of Mr. Webb but of the system under which he is working. The only solution to this problem is a change, either in His Majesty's Government or in their outlook, and in the resumption of the ordinary commercial practice which has prevailed in this country, which has served the people well and—as the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander, knows—has provided reasonably cheap food for the people, in reasonably adequate quantities.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I take part in this discussion with some reluctance, and only because I was formerly one of the meat marketing officers in the Ministry of Agriculture at a time when the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, was the Minister. At that time the Ministry were searching for ways and means of improving the marketing methods of home-produced animals, and this led to the grading and marking of beef and to the publication of two of the Ministry's Economic Series, Nos. 20 and 29: The Marketing of Cattle and Beef and The Marketing of Sheep, Mutton and Lamb. The improvement of the quality in meat and the special trade requirements for various localities and types of workers were all important factors contributing to the conclusions to which we came.

After the First World War, rationing came to an end, and by 1921 supplies of meat from exporting countries were arriving in sufficient quantities to bring down the prices of the home-killed article by something like 33 per cent., if not more. This cheap and abundant supply had the natural effect of raising the consumption of meat per head of the population to a figure greatly in excess of any recorded pre-war figure. This increase was largely, if not entirely, due to the great expansion of the Argentine trade, particularly in chilled carcases. That country was supplying us with about 8,000 tons of meat per week immediately prior to the last world war. I know that it is easy to be wise after the event, but I feel that it has been a mistake not to follow the same procedure after this last war, as in all probability the trade would have been able to restore the meat position to its normal proportions long before the present crisis came upon us. As we know, a year or so ago prices looked like softening up a bit, until the war in Korea came, since when they have hardened against us and will probably continue to do so. And if we are not very careful we may lose altogether the bulk of the exportable Argentine surplus. This would be a serious thing for a small, heavily-populated country like our own, so dependent on imported supplies.

Nor can we go on indefinitely trying to buy meat below what, for want of a better term, one might call average world prices. In this respect I am in entire agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has just said. We can, of course, rely on a certain quota from Australia and New Zealand, but that will not be enough to make up the Argentine deficiencies. European countries are unimportant contributors. Brazil, during the interwar years an exporter of meat, has become industrialised during the last ten years, and has become an importer of this commodity—in fact, she is taking some 2,500 tons of meat a week of the exportable Argentine surplus of 7,000 to 8,000 tons. I was rather surprised to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said about Brazil exporting meat to us now. The United States, apart from her requirements in Korea, which must be considerable, is neither exporting nor importing much of consequence. One would have thought that, with so much at stake, the Government would have sought the services of experts in the wholesale trade for the bulk purchases of their supplies, men with special knowledge of Argentine conditions. After all, only the trade can be expected to know or understand the everchanging vagaries of the world meat market, for it requires skill, knowledge, great experience and courage to tackle this job successfully.

May I now mention another point affecting prices, which has not been mentioned to-day? I do not know whether it is realised that when imported meat is bought from farmers by the Governments concerned, in Australia and in New Zealand, as well as in Argentina, a handsome profit accrues to those Governments which we, as consumers, pay. New Zealand has published her profits, which amount to about £20,000,000 since 1940. New Zealand exports about two-thirds of her meat production, Australia only about 15 per cent. But the amount exported to us may vary. One of the causes of this variation is the fluctuating price in wools and pelts. Last year, the sheep and lamb carcases from Australia were 1,000,000 down, due, in all probability, to the great rise in the price of wool which tempted farmers to hold their lambs several months longer than usual. I think that if an adjustment in prices for carcases had been made at this end, a more normal flow of supplies would have been secured. But I do not wish to stress this particular case; I mention it only as another instance where the man in the trade knows best, and should be trusted to deal with sensitive matters of supply and demand—a subject which I have no doubt is completely beyond the scope and experience of Whitehall.

I said earlier that we marketing officers made a special study of quality in meat, an aspect which is apparently ignored to-day, together with the various requirements of the trade. There is little or no choice. Meat is meat, bought in bulk, with no premium on quality. May I say that this is a wrong attitude, and can only set back the clock which we were striving to set forward during the inter-war years? In such conditions, all quality in meat, from whatever source it comes, is hound to deteriorate, to everybody's disadvantage. May I say that I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, said just now, that it is not enough to give statistics of calories, fats and proteins, and to omit this all-important and far-reaching question of quality, which affects not only the consumer but the producer? At present, there is no real encouragement to the producer to improve his supplies to the market.

I did not, however, presume to address your Lordships merely to criticise. With great humility, I have suggestions to make, although I am aware that negotiations are proceeding at the present moment. In spite of that, I should like to suggest that the Government seriously consider one or two suggestions I have to make. In order to maintain the 8d. ration, it may be necessary to buy about 60,000 tons of Argentine meat now. I believe that this is—or it was until recently—avai able. We are now in the middle of a low seasonal period for home-killed supplies, and this 60,000 tons should carry us over until the peak autumn period when, as your Lordships know, during the months of October and November, grassfed stock have to be slaughtered. In the meantime, let the Government make a bargain with Argentina for future supplies and be prepared to pay a fair and reasonable world price. If they can secure this present lot at, say, £120 a ton, they should consider themselves fortunate. It is better to do this than to give £170 a ton for French meat, which I am told on the best authority is fit only for manufacturing purposes, and which, I understand, has lain in cold store since 1949. Are the Government trying to convert us to vegetarianism?

Then, if we could make a bargain to get, say, 300.000 tons of meat a year from the Argentine (which is equivalent to about 6,000 tons a week), and allowing for the Dominion exports to be maintained at their present levels, by next September it should be a good risk to decontrol meat once and for all, and so end what has been rather a humiliating spectacle. The amount that I have indicated would put the weekly ration up to 1s. 9d. which is not far short of what we normally, in happier conditions, consumed. As for the guaranteed subsidy to the farmer, I presume that the Government are aware of a scheme that has been worked out by the Livstock and Home-Produced Meat Policy Committee. This scheme would tale care of the guarantees to the farmer provided by the Agriculture Act of 1947 by means of deficiency payments alter cattle have been auctioned or sold on the hooks.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to follow the previous speakers into the labyrinth of statistics with which we started, nor do I propose to go into the question of the best methods of organising our purchases of meat, because I am not qualified to speak on those subjects and they have been dealt with competently already. I want to make only two or three points and I hope to make those briefly. I would preface my remarks by saying that I think we all realise the serious position that the present meat situation has brought about. I sometimes wonder, however, whether members of the Government, or even noble Lords on this side of the House who spend most of their time in London and who can go out and get a meal somewhere, realise the desperate situation of some people who cannot go out and get a meal somewhere but have only what is provided for them on their ration. Especially is the case desperate in small households possessing only two or three ration books, where the weekly meat ration cannot be seen and therefore cannot be believed.

I wish to make one suggestion about rationing. We have to-day a weekly ration of 8d. worth of carcase meat. Is there any possibility of having, in addition to that and outside of it, a free market in fresh meat? It is done in a number of foreign countries, and done successfully—a free market over and above the guaranteed ration at a guaranteed price. If the noble Viscount who is to reply for the Government will ask his colleagues to look into that matter, I think they will find that, at any rate Portugal, and I believe Czechoslovakia and other countries on the Continent, operate such a system. It is therefore operable and it would rot be impossible to carry out in this country. I know that an argument against it will be that any such system would lead to inequality, but I very much doubt whether we have equality in rationing to-day. The workman who has not a canteen available is not so well off, so far as food is concerned, as the workman who works in a factory where he can get his mid-day meal in a canteen and off the ration. We have heard of cases of tinned ham at 10s. 6d. and 11s. a pound that can be bought by people if they wish to buy it. Chickens can be bought—even rabbits can be bought, although they are pretty expensive for what they are. So even to-day there is not equality in the amount of animal protein which people can and do get. Therefore, any such system as I have suggested would not unduly stretch the problem of equality in the feeding of the people. Possibly that is a comparatively small point, and I have little hope that I shall get any useful response to it.

I want to turn now to a rather wider aspect of the whole meat problem, and I am going to quote a few figures from the speech of the Minister of Food in another place on February 8. They are simple figures, such as I can understand, and I know, therefore, that your Lordships will be able to understand them. In that speech he informed the other place that according to reliable estimates the total world production of meat had gone up by 10 per cent, as compared with the pre-war figure, but that the disposable or exportable surplus of meat had gone down by a figure already quoted in this debate— namely, 11 per cent. He said that the reasons for that difference (also, I think, quoted in this debate) were increased populations and improved standards of living in the producing countries. As a result of that, European consumption is 25 per cent, per head lower. The figures do not quite add up, but there has been an increase in population in Europe as in other parts of the world, and I imagine that Mr. Webb's figures are fairly reliable.

Improved standards of living and increased populations are trends which we must anticipate will continue for quite a long time, and they are not going to improve the meat situation per head of the world population unless and until the increase in meat production throughout the world is stepped up very materially. I have as yet heard nothing from the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, to show that anything is being done by His Majesty's Government to encourage such a rapid increase. In fact the Minister of Food in another place made certain remarks which appear to indicate that their actions were discouraging increased world production. It was interesting to me to hear my noble friend Lord Woolton's story of his meat negotiations with the Argentine, where in the end he gave them a higher price than he had finally agreed with them, in order to encourage them to continue to send meat here. On the other hand, the present Minister of Food has prided himself on hard bargaining—he used those words in connection with the Dominions —and the whole trend of his speech was to the effect that he was doing his best to save the pocket of this country and of the individuals in it. That is a perfectly legitimate thing upon which to pride oneself if it produces results. But that hard bargaining is not going to encourage producers in the countries which may produce an exportable surplus, to increase their production. To get them to produce what we shall need in the future, we need to be a little more generous, rather than resort to hard bargaining.

We have admitted the Tightness of that point of view in our own Agriculture Act of 1947, which by Clause 1 makes it clear that prices for the future are to be such as to give a fair return to persons responsible for the production of food in this country. In the debates on that Bill it was made still more clear that it was intended to make use of prices in order to encourage this or that form of production in this country. Cannot we extend that principle a little further, to increase or to assist the increase in production in other countries from whom we hope to buy? Of course, I cast my eye on South America generally, more particularly than on anywhere else in the world. I am afraid I have no great hopes of other countries, because their climates and their soils are not really suitable for largescale production of meat. We know that the Argentine, at any rate, is so suited. It has a wonderful soil and a climate which is not given to great extremes, as are climates in some other parts of the world where meat production has sometimes been tried.


The noble Earl is advancing a very interesting argument for inducements in the future, and said that we all wish for a good increase in world production. But does not he think that in order to give confidence to the producer, the great thing is to give him a firm market for years ahead? Has the noble Earl applied his mind to that problem?


I appreciate the point that the noble Viscount is making. I think that, also, is a very important thing, but you need at the same time to be reasonably generous in the price you offer him for that firm market. I should like to see a firm market and a reasonable price arranged, say with the Argentine, over a period of the next ten years, with the Argentinians, on their part, guaranteeing a steady annual increase in the amount they sell us. That would be an admirable method of getting over the difficulty. But do not let us take too much pride in driving hard bargains, because by that method I do not think we shall get the confidence in the producers that we require.

I have not a great deal more to say, but I want to touch for a moment upon the question of home production which has been dealt with so effectively by my noble friend Lord De La Warr. During the war, when I was a liaison officer, I had some experience of trying to persuade farmers to increase their production generally. One of the things that I learned then was that if you really want to increase production you have to go to the better fanner on the better land. In fact, in one county with which I had a good deal to do, we used never to bother about anybody other than the "A" farmer. We went to the "A" farmer because we knew that he was a good enough farmer to select good land, and he had enough brains to make the best use of it. The better farmer on the better land is the man we should encourage to produce the increased quantity of meat that we require. Instead of doing that, however, we are spending a great deal of money on subsidies for hill, marginal and sub-marginal land.

I would point out one thing to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, which I think needs to be watched by any Ministry dealing with that particular problem. To bring marginal, sub-marginal and hill land into increased production generally means capital expenditure on such things as drains, roads and the like—all things which require maintenance. I have seen too much money spent, with Government assistance, on schemes, and particularly on drainage, which required the expenditure all over again within, perhaps, three years, because maintenance had not been kept going. It must be remembered that this land is only marginal and sub-marginal land because it is not really profitable to cultivate it and produce from it. Therefore, I hope that there will be some change from the present trend of concentrating our efforts and our money on producing more from poor land, and that we shall concentrate a little more on encouraging the better land to produce more, as a good many of us know that it can. May I end on one point? The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, in his last sentence before he sat down, said something to the effect that he hoped that things would improve in time. My Lords, we cannot live on hope, and the housewife cannot cook hope. She wants some meat to cook, and it needs active work and proper organisation by His Majesty's Government to produce that meat. It is not sufficient for them merely to say that they hope things are going to get better.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, there have been one or two differences of opinion tossed across the Chamber during the course of this debate. I hope that we all still agree that rationing is desirable while essential commodities remain in short supply. I was not quite certain about that while listening to the exceedingly interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, but I will leave that matter to be taken up by my noble friend Lord Alexander. At any rate. I am sure that everyone will agree that time is in exceedingly short supply to-day. I find myself eighth on a list of sixteen speakers, and I will therefore try not to exceed the time ration, so as to enable your Lordships to get home at a reasonable hour. I shall follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, in addressing myself to one angle only of this Motion, the angle to which I think your Lordships would wish and expect me to refer—namely, that of home-produced meat supplies and the home producer.

I should like to give just two obvious reasons why we regard the home livestock industry as a matter of the greatest national importance. The first is that this industry makes the country less dependent on imported meat. It is, therefore, a defence precaution to encourage to the utmost livestock production by farmers at home. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, would agree that agriculture is a war industry, and that food for the civilian population is just as essential as equipment or arms for the Services. Everyone remembers the heavy losses of shipping during the two world wars. We do not ever want to find ourselves in the same sort of predicament again. The second reason is that we also regard the livestock industry as an important means of supplementing our imports, and of providing a larger quantity of more appetising meat from home sources for the consumer in this country. On this aspect of the problem, I should like to take as my text what was said by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. He said that we had no prospect of any substantial increase in meat supplies from overseas in the near future, and he went on to draw the conclusion that we must therefore have more home-produced meat. He also said that he thought that a very substantial increase in home production was possible. I entirely agree with all those propositions. I should like to tell the House briefly of the contribution which our own livestock farming community has made since the war, and what our plans are for a further substantial increase in the livestock population and in the amount of home-killed meat. I am sure your Lordships will agree that all those directly concerned with the expansion of meat production at home since the war deserve to be proud of their achievement. It is a fine record; I know that Lord Woolton shares this view—


I do indeed.


And it merits public acknowledgment. But, of course, the farmers, farm workers and land owners concerned could not have done what they have succeeded in doing without some help from the Government, and I think that we and the 1945 Government are entitled to a modicum of the credit. I believe that the facts will show that these two Governments have done more for the livestock industry than any other peace-time Government in this century. The industry has already made a remarkable recovery from the effects of the war. During the war, we sacrificed our meat-producing livestock for more essential foodstuffs. We ploughed up our grass to grow corn, potatoes and sugar beet; we used what grass was left for milk, rather than meat, and we lost most of our imported feeding stuffs. That was the position in which we found ourselves at the end of the war. The remarkable thing about our recovery is the increase that has taken place in our livestock population in the short period of three years since our big expansion programme was launched in 1947.

I need hardly remind this House, which contains so many noble Lords who are farmers and who know a great deal about farming, that a farm is not like a factory, and that it cannot expand its output quickly in response to a larger demand. Its rate of output is limited by the natural process of growth, by climate and by animal health. In view of these limitations, it is astonishing that we have had such quick results, and I reiterate that the livestock farming community deserve special praise for this reason. We have already made good progress in catching up with wartime arrears, and in some cases we have more meat on the hoof than before the war. In this connection, I should like to give the House a few figures—I apologise for the fact that they are largely percentages. They relate to livestock population and tonnages, and I feel that to give them is the only way to show the position now and the position as it was in 1947 or, again, the position as it was in 1939. There has been a good deal of misunderstanding, and even controversy, about the differences between the positions at various moments in the past, and I think these figures will enable your Lordships to judge for yourselves.

In June, 1950, we had 1,707,000 beef cattle of two years and over, compared with 1,343,000 in 1939, an increase of 27 per cent. It has been said, I think, that we have not been able to improve on our pre-war livestock population. This is one respect in which we have. We also had 6 per cent, more cattle between one and two years of age, and 30 per cent. more calves under one year. This useful increase in the number of young animals is largely due to the calf-rearing subsidy which we introduced in the autumn of 1947. Since that time—since this subsidy has been paid after its authorisation in 1947—we have provided a very considerable sum of public money, about £17,500,000, in grants for this purpose. The result has been an increase of 15 per cent. in the number of cattle between one and two years of age, and of 28 per cent. in calves under one year. In addition, we have 35,000 more beef cattle than in 1947. We confidently expect these animals to give us more beef and veal this year and next year. Of course, we mainly want beef this year and next. Our estimate for the immediate future is that the output of beef and veal for the current year will be 4 per cent. higher than it was in 1939. We are fairly certain that we shall be able to increase this figure by another 6 per cent. in the following year. We look forward to a further considerable expansion when the Hill Fanning Act and the Livestock Rearing Bill have had time to take effect.

Now a few words about sheep. Our sheep population has at last recovered from the set back caused by the winter of 1947, and has increased by 22 per cent. in the last three years, We are now just above the 1946 total, that being the year before this calamity. We hope to be able to supply 83,000 tons of mutton and lamb for the home consumer next year —that is, 1952–53. The increase of the hill sheep population since 1947 has been due largely to the subsidy paid to hill farmers for their store sheep, which was authorised by legislation in 1947. This subsidy, of course, has enabled them to build up their flocks which were seriously reduced by the bad weather. This growing livestock population can be supported in the numbers we want—and, of course, we want very large numbers—only by improving the quality of our grassland.

We do not want to sacrifice arable land, to grass, as was done between the wars. We are therefore trying to get 10 per cent. more output from 10 per cent. less grass. To encourage farmers to improve the quality of their grass we have paid subsidies towards the cost of such valuable fertilisers as basic slag and lime, and have given grants for grass drying. We are making good progress in the conservation of grass for winter use. The amount of silage made in 1950, approximately 1,500,000 tons, was double the quantity made in 1949 and about treble the amount produced in 1948. We estimate the production of dried grass in 1950 at 200,000 tons, as compared with 140,000 tons in 1949 and 100,000 tons in 1948. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this is a remarkable improvement in the production of these important feeding-stuffs which will be available for winter use. We are also making far better use of our present grass land by lengthening the grazing season.

I should now like to say a word or two about pigs, which were referred to by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. Our main difficulty in increasing the pig population is due to the slaughter of pigs, through shortage of feeding-stuffs during the war, which reduced the number in 1947 to less than half the pre-war figure. In the last three years we have nearly doubled the number of breeding sows, and the importance of these animals is well-known to your Lordships, since they are the key to the future. There has been an increase of 89 per cent. in the total pig population. The target for pig meat for next year is 92 per cent. of the pre-war level. The limiting factor is, of course, our dependence on supplies of imported feeding stuffs, which are scarce and expensive. I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, emphasised that point, which everyone regards as being of the greatest importance. We all recognise that there is a world shortage of feeding-stuffs and a great shortage of shipping, and that what feeding-stuffs are available can be obtained only at very high prices. All these are difficulties which we are considering with extreme seriousness at the moment.


The answer to the question, then, is that this is a question of supply, and rot of dollars. It is difficult to understand.


Of course this is a question of dollars in so far as supplies come from dollar sources; and some of them do cone from these sources.


Not all suppliers are in dollar countries.


They are not exclusively in dollar countries. We are trying to get more home-grown feeding stuffs, and we are asking farmers, whenever possible, to grow enough corn to keep their own pigs. It would be a good thing if some of them would try fodder beet as part of the ration. Danish farmers, who are extremely up-to-date in these matters, use it extensively for this purpose.

The country, however, will not reap the full benefit of our livestock policy for another five to ten years. What we have done since the war is to lay the foundations for a larger sheep and cattle population, and a larger tonnage of home-killed meat than at any earlier period in the present century. The Hill Farming Act of 1946, and the Livestock Rearing Bill now before the House, are both long-term measures. The effect of these measures will be to make available until 1956, for the improvement of their farms and farm stock, £10,000,000 for hill farmers, and another £10,000,000 for farmers keeping livestock on the lower slopes. This sum of £10,000,000 for stock rearing land will not, of course, be sufficient to develop more than 1,000,000 of the 3.500,000 to 4,000,000 acres of marginal land in England, Scotland and Wales at a 50 per cent. rate of grant.

That point was raised by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who asked why we do not provide enough money to improve the whole of our marginal land and to make it produce store sheep and cattle. The answer is simple. We have not the labour and materials. If we had tried to do this, it would have required labour and materials needed for other branches of agriculture, and we regard arable and fat stock farming in the lower lying country as just as important as marginal farming. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, emphasised the importance of farming on good land and fat stock farming. It would have been no good asking Parliament to sanction a larger amount of money for marginal land, because had we done so we should have been damaging farming in other parts of the country by attracting labour away from it and diverting materials. It has been estimated roughly that the development of the whole marginal area would increase our livestock population by 400,000 head of sheep or cattle, and our output of home meat by 120,000 tons a year. That is only a rough estimate, but it gives some idea. If, as seems probable, the best of this marginal land is developed first, there should certainly be a substantial increase in the production of meat from our hill and upland farms during the next few years. As the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, said, this would be a useful addition to the increase that we are expecting from the fat stock farms in the lowlying parts of the country.

The most important factor in the expansion of our livestock industry has been the policy of guaranteed prices and assured markets for fat stock, which was laid down in the 1947 Agriculture Act. This policy, of course, was a continuation of a policy found so essential for agricultural health during the war, and it is still accepted by all political Parties. Indeed, it is agreeable to think that, whatever may happen in the future, this policy will be pursued. I think we deserve at least the credit for not having dropped it as a similar policy was dropped after the 1914–18 war. If this had happened, the meat situation to-day would have been far graver than it is. This Government and our predecessor have been the first Governments to offer the livestock industry a guaranteed price in peace time, and this has given the industry the long-term stability which has been, and will continue to be, the basis for its expansion. We want to see a prosperous livestock industry at a much higher level of out-put as a permanent feature of British farming, and we are doing all we can to help the farming community to stretch it to the limit.


Before the noble Earl sits down, it would be of great interest to the consumer if he could give some idea when we shall have got back to the pre-war output of meat from our own farms.


If the noble Lord does me the honour of reading my speech in Hansard tomorrow, I think he will see that I have addressed myself to that problem as carefully as I could, and that I have given figures for the different kinds of meat—beef, mutton, veal and bacon—which will enable him to judge for himself how much we should be able to catch up with war-time arrears.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to discuss one aspect of the meat situation which, after the important speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, may appear to be a minor one, though in my view it is an important one—I refer to home production of beef. I strongly agree with the noble Earls, Lord De La Warr and Lord Listowel, that in future we shall have to rely far more on the production of meat from our own land than we have done in the past. I think the Government deserve every credit for introducing the Hill Farming Act, the Live-stock Rearing Bill, and all the Acts which have helped livestock rearing on hill and marginal land. I have no quarrel with them there, but I would quarrel with them because they nave neglected the possible increase in beef production from our rather better land.

If the Government seriously want to increase beef production, then the obvious and certain way to do it is to ensure that the producer finds producing it worth-while. Last year the price paid by the Ministry of Food at the slaughterhouse was £145 a ton. This compares with £226 a ton for mutton and lamb. Compared also with comparative prices given to Canadian and American farmers, the amount paid for beef is not good. Canadian farmers get 213s. 4d. per live cwt. for their fat cattle; American farmers get 241s. 10d., and our own farmers get only 99s. 3d. The effect of this price is to drive the potential stock rearer to fields which he finds more profitable, and in the past ten years many of them have turned to milk. Although we must maintain our milk and dairy produce. I cannot help thinking that we have rather over-weighted the balance in the past few years in favour of milk. It is time that, by price incentives and price differentiation, we redressed that balance.

Some of your Lordships may say that as we are already paying £145 a ton for our home-killed beef, and we have been offered beef from the Argentine at £120 a ton, there can be no excuse for raising the price of our beef to our own farmers. But it must be remembered that it is a much more expensive business to produce beef in this country than in the Argentine. To give an obvious illustration, it is much cheaper to grow 100 acres of potatoes in one field than in one acre plots all over the place. One must remember, also, that it takes about three years to produce a fat animal and during that time the farmer has not a nice fat monthly milk cheque coming in as have his dairying friends. I think it only right that, having waited three years before getting any return on his money, he should at least be ensured of an adequate return. It is sometimes said that only rich men and fools go in for beef production in this country. I feel that it is up to the Government to prove that that statement is wrong.

As I have already said, I believe that we have weighted the balance too much in favour of milk in the past few years, and nowhere is that more true than in the field of research. With one or two honourable and notable exceptions, such as Dr. Hammond and Professor Mansfield, little has been done in this sphere, and I feel that we are only on the fringe of what could be achieved. To give one example, as your Lordships well know, and as my noble friend Lord De La Warr said earlier this afternoon, most of the beef produced in this country is fattened on grass; it becomes fat in the autumn and causes enormous congestion at the slaughterhouses at that time of the year. In Northern Ireland Professor Morrison experimented with winter fattening of cattle on silage, and he found that he averaged 2½lb. gain on a food ration costing 1s. 9d. daily. That is a most significant fact, and is of the greatest importance to the producers of beef in this country. We have found it utterly uneconomical since the war, at the present price of feeding stuffs, to fatten our cattle in yards and feed them on concentrates. If we could have more research on these lines of winter fattening of cattle, and on silage, and that sort of thing, I believe that we could increase enormously the winter production of beef, and indeed our total output. To give another example, Dr. Hammond, in his experiment, proved that the better the finished animal the greater proportion there was of meat to bone. Is the Minister of Agriculture satisfied that the farmers of this country realise that; and that he has sufficiently differentiated between the price of the higher grades, the specials and the As, as against the lower grades, the Bs and Cs?

The Ministry of Agriculture, in order to pass on this information, employ and rely on their livestock officers in the county agricultural committees; and they not only pass on the results of these experiments but give advice generally on livestock matters to stock rearing farmers. I think it is no exaggeration to say that 90 per cent. of the livestock officer's time is spent in punching holes in the ears of bulls, and, as a result, the quality of the livestock officer, and indeed his qualifications, are rapidly going down. The administrative jobs which he is called upon to do, and the tedious task of punching holes in bulls' ears, could well be carried out by people far less qualified than he ought to be. I hope that the noble Earl will look into this matter, because it is important. As the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, said, regrettably any increase in production from the farms of this country nearly always comes from the good farmer. He is the one who will always take advice, and indeed seeks it. It is up to the Ministry to see that the advice he gets is good, and that the man who gives it is competent.

There is one further point that I should like to raise, and I hope that it is a constructive one. On a substantial proportion of our hill land it is at present forbidden to keep any livestock whatever. Those areas in which it is forbidden to keep livestock are called gathering areas, and comprise a considerable proportion of our land. To give an example, I believe that one-third of the proposed Peak District National Park is termed a gathering area. Not all the watering companies who have gathering areas completely forbid the keeping of cattle. There are several notable exceptions—for instance, I believe that the Brighton Council allow the keeping of livestock on the South Downs—but many watering companies absolutely forbid it. It has been conclusively proved that livestock cannot, and do not, pollute or infect water in the ordinary way. The Ministry of Health set up a Committee in 1946 to inquire into the public access to gathering grounds, and the extent to which afforestation and agriculture should be permitted on gathering grounds. They reported in 1948 to this effect. They recommended that: Subject as before to the protection of the reservoir itself and its immediate feeders, we consider that the greatest freedom should be allowed to all farming activities, and indeed that it should be regarded as the responsibility of those undertakers who are large landowners not merely to permit but to insist upon the most productive use of their land. A little further on they say: The only serious danger to be apprehended from farming comes from the people engaging in it. Are the Government going to implement that Report? I apologise for not having given prior notice of this question, but I think it is of importance. We surely cannot afford now, when we are so short of food and so short of meat, to see land which could be used for stock rearing utterly unproductive. I am sure that, with regard to home-produced beef, the days of exhortation and encouragement, of messages from the Minister and broad-cast appeals to produce more beef, are over. We have all been exhorted and appealed to so many times that such exhortations now rather fall on deaf ears. I believe that if the Government will provide the technical advice which will enable us to produce beef cheaper, and will give us an adequate return for the finished article, then the farmers of this country will be able to produce a great deal more beef.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, in this matter of meat production it is interesting to observe the extraordinary difference between the two pictures which we see: that of production of meat at home and that of the possibilities of getting meat from abroad. At home, while a certain amount is being done, there is yet a great deal to do. The general picture, I think, might be called one of hope, and it seems to me that the Government's main duty in this matter of producing more at home lies in putting more and more pressure on the Treasury to give every possible help for home-produced meat. We know that we are in the middle of the consideration of a series of Bills designed to improve our land. That series, as we were saying two or three days ago, must be expanded and carried down into better land, and every other method which can be thought of for improving our land at home must be used. Abroad, I personally see the picture as being much darker. We are in a situation for which, to my belief, there can be no cure in the short term, and possibly there is no cure at all. Admittedly, meat production in the world is going up, but, as we know, it is only just keeping pace with the increase of the world's population.

Apart from that factor, there is the enormously increased consumption of meat by the exporting countries, and by various other countries where the amounts of meat which they produced and consumed before more or less balanced, but which are now becoming meat importers. I do not see how that situation is likely to change except, possibly, for the worse. It is the duty of every Government in every country, let alone this Government, to encourage the consumption of meat amongst the people of their country. They want to raise the standards of living of their people just as much as we do, and we must remember that, even with the low ration that we have now, we are still one of the better-off countries as regards meat consumption. If other countries ever seriously start stepping up their consumption—as they are bound to do in the long run—there will be mighty little meat to export anywhere. With the numbers of exporters diminishing and the numbers of importers of meat increasing every year, the situation surely must get darker and darker.

In those circumstances, there seem to be only two ways out. One is to try to secure complete agreement between the exporting and importing countries. That we hope can be organised. The other way is the way which certain noble Lords on the Conservative side of the House have suggested: that we should abandon bulk buying and bulk selling and simply pay the price to which meat may then rise. It certainly would be one method of getting countries to increase the export of meat. If they are paid enough for their meat, they will assuredly find it worth their while to export it rather than feed it to their peoples. That could be done. I feel sure we could get much more meat in that way. What the price would be, I do not know, but I have no doubt it would be a high one.

Whatever Government may sit in this country in the near future or in years to come, I, personally, shall never blame it for failing to obtain a large volume of meat from abroad. I would very easily blame it for paying such high prices for its meat that it was unable to distribute it to the bulk of the people in this country. That could easily happen. It might be possible to import a small amount of meat as a luxury, but if that were done and the meat were brought in by private traders and sold unsubsidised, it would create a very difficult administrative situation, and whether it is practicable or not I do not know. Furthermore, it would probably disturb our present negotiations. If a certain amount of meat were to come into this country at a high price, I fear it might tend to raise the price of the rest. There is a large consensus of opinion, not all of one political colour, which would like a certain amount more meat, even at a high price; and if anything can be done in the matter I hope His Majesty's Government will do it. Apart from that, I believe the only thing His Majesty's; Government can possibly do, outside the boundaries of this country and of the Colonies which are under our immediate control, is to encourage peoples of other countries by the long-term contract and bulk buying systems for which the Government has so often been blamed. Other people will thereby be encouraged to refinance their farms on the basis of profitable, long-term contracts with this country under a system which will ensure them a safe income from their investments for many years to come.

We know that provision for capital expenditure in this country is very difficult to make at the moment. We have an enormous armament programme which we must carry out. Materials are scarce, and if the Government are doing their job materials are bound to remain scarce as the Government seize them, almost feverishly, for one essential purpose or another. But if any surplus can be found anywhere, whether in finance or in materials, it will be really worth while to be enterprising and try to push forward big development schemes, either in this country or in our Colonial areas, even if it takes years under those schemes to produce more meat. Whatever this meat crisis is, it certainly is not a short-term one.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I want to mention only two aspects of the problem of increasing our meat supplies. The first has already been mentioned by Lord Carrington, and that is, the question of yard-fattened cattle. At present prices it is almost impossible to fatten them except at a loss. I agree that with the present shortage of feeding stuffs the main bulk of our cattle should be fattened on our grasslands and that we should make the maximum use of our grass; but yard-fattened cattle in the winter have a useful contribution to make. They consume chiefly the by-products of the arable farm: straw, sugar beet pulp, and sugar beet tops; but they do require a certain amount of concentrates, and the labour costs are high. I believe that a Report published recently by the Cambridge School of Agriculture shows the average loss for the season 1949–50 for forty supervised herds as £7 10s. per head.

These cattle, apart from turning by-products into much needed meat, help to maintain the fertility of the soil in the arable areas in which they are largely kept, and thus help to keep up a high level of production. I believe that at the moment the yards have never been emptier, and that is a bad thing for the consumer of meat and the fertility of the soil. I realise that this is largely a matter to be negotiated at the forthcoming price review, but, before leaving the subject, with the permission of the House I should like to read an editorial. It is quite short, so I think it is fairer to read it in full. It says: The international situation appears to become progressively worse and almost daily we read in the Press of fresh steps which are being taken to meet the threat of war. It seems incredible in these circumstances that there is so little drive or sense of urgency in the Government's agricultural policy. If we are to have another war, which Heaven forbid, maximum home food production will clearly be even more important than it was during the last war. The agricultural community have proved on countless occasions that they will always be ready to meet emergencies such as this, but it is up to those in authority to see that the industry has the confidence which is so essential if it is to plan ahead. At the moment there is little evidence that the Government appreciate this point. During the past few weeks we have seen them reject sensible and workmanlike proposals put forward by the poultry industry for stamping out fowl pest in this country and they are prepared apparently to continue endangering this valuable national asset for the sake of the slender benefits obtained to-day from comparatively small imports of table poultry. The announcement of an increase of £2 per ton in the growers' price for pulp from the 1951 sugar beet crop is on the same lines for it means that no one will be able to contemplate fattening cattle in the yards next winter and that even adequate supplies of winter milk will be endangered. It is to be hoped that wiser counsels will prevail, but time is vital and further delay may be disastrous. I do not want to comment upon that, except to say that it was written by the Branch Secretary of the National Farmers' Union of one of our major agricultural producing counties. It seems unfortunate that the Government have aroused such suspicions among certain farmers at a time when it is essential that everybody should try to do his best to produce as much as he possibly can.

The second point I wish to raise is the question of increasing our pig meat. During 1950 we imported 275,000 tons of bacon meat, and in 1938 we imported 436,000 tons. Therefore we imported 161,000 tons less pig meat in 1950 than in 1938. But in 1938 we killed a weekly average of 96,000 pigs, as against 41,800 in 1950—less than half. In the meantime, the population of this country has increased by 3,000,000. The pig, with its delight in large and frequent families and its ability to make use of almost any building or, better still, just huts in the open, is the only animal to which we can look in the short term for any great increase in our meat production. It is encouraging to see that the pig population at the moment is increasing rapidly. It is now some 75 per cent. of pre-war and well on its way to reach its target of 92 per cent. But if one looks back to the years before the war, it is interesting to notice the large fluctuations in the number of pigs. In two years they have sometimes gone up or down as much as 40 per cent. Therefore, although expansion can do a great deal to help in the short run, if it is to be maintained it must be based on long-term considerations, otherwise the number of pigs can fall as rapidly as it can rise. It is as easy to send a sow for slaughter as it is to keep the extra gilts for breeding.

If we are to achieve this steady expansion, we can do so only if we have and keep the enthusiastic support of the farmers. We must do certain things. We must at least see that we maintain the present ration of feeding stuffs. Whether we shall be able to obtain the additional feeding stuffs or not is a question into which I do not propose to go. But I was not quite certain, from the reply given by Lord Listowel, to a question from my noble friend Lord De La Warr, whether the supplies did not exist or whether they existed in dollar areas and we were not prepared to produce the dollars to get them. What we must avoid are statements like that made by the Minister of Agriculture in a Written Answer in another place on December 14, in which he said: Further, the bonus ration for pig meat and eggs due for the four months ending April next will be divided into two equal instalments. The first will be issued as soon as the necessary documents are presented by the farmer, but the second will similarly depend on the timely arrival of sufficient feeding stuffs from abroad. That was in December, for the ration period January to April. It is very difficult to sec how, on such a hand-to-mouth existence, a farmer can plan an expansion of his pig stocks.

A second consideration is the guaranteed price. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned what a tremendous effect the guaranteed price had in encouraging production. The present price of bacon is 49s. 6d. per score, but the guaranteed price for 1951 and 1952 is 30s. per scon. Therefore, at the moment, that cannot be acting as an incentive. I believe that the intention of the Agriculture Act, in laying down prices ahead, was to give a feeling of security. If that is to be achieved, the prices must be realistic. We must decide that a large part of our home consumption of both bacon and pork must, in the foreseeable future, be supplied from our own farms. I should like to emphasise the words "bacon and pork." In 1938 more pigs went for pork than for bacon. In 1950, from the very much smaller number available, only one in seven went for pork, and that was chiefly during the spring, when I understand that the bacon factories were swamped.

As your Lordships know, several of our early maturing breeds are far more suitable for the production of pork than for the production of bacon. When fattened to bacon weights they tend to become too fat, and a large number of people are not fond of fat bacon. So I think that some adjustment of prices should be made which will allow suitable pigs to be killed for pork at, say, six score, instead of being kept: at bacon weights of from seven to nine score. If we are to supply a great proportion of our pork and bacon, the farmers must supply the sort of pork and bacon which the public want to eat. With the reduction in imported feeding stuffs, and the necessity to use more bulky home-grown crops and by-products, the pattern of the industry is bound to alter from the specialist producer to a few pigs on every farm. Three years ago I bought four inpig gilts and a boar; since then they and their progeny have reared about 800 pigs, of which I have about 400 at the moment. Feeding them is an extremely difficult problem, and I am not sure that it is a very profitable one in such numbers. But I feel that is a possible answer to one thing which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned—that one of the reasons for the falling off in the number of pigs was that in the war they were not allowed to grow up and numbers did not have time to increase. Pigs, after all, increase at an almost incredible rate if allowed to do so.

With the limited part of the pig ration which can be supplied by bought meals, a large herd will make too great demands on the arable acreage of the farm. I believe that on an average six acres of corn is required for a ton of pig meat, which works out at about two and one-third pigs to the acre -though I believe that with fodder beet there are great possibilities, which I have not yet tried. But if we accept the proposition that we should have a few pigs on every farm, and we want to ensure that the public get the pork and bacon they like, we must take all possible steps to ensure a good supply of sound breeding stock, of the right types and bred from prolific stock. Every encouragement should be given to the breeders, and to any scheme for litter testing, to ensure that so far as possible the sows will produce the largest possible numbers of healthy, quick-growing pigs. Few animals are bigger wasters of food than a sow which produces a small litter, or half of whose pigs die soon after they are born. The infant mortality rate among pigs is still generally far too high.

For the farmer who wishes to fatten pigs, but who for some reason does not wish to breed them, there should be an adequate supply of sound store pigs. I have seen it suggested that certain breeders of store pigs should be given a certificate as a guarantee that the pigs are of good quality. They might, like our pedigree breeders, be helped with additional rations. To sum up, I hope that His Majesty's Government will consider the case of yard-fattened cattle, and that they will do all they can to improve the quality, as well as the quantity, of our national pig herd, so that the public can have the greatest possible amount of the best quality meat. One sow can produce in a year about one ton of pig meat which, if my calculation is correct, represents 1 lb. of meat for 2,240 people.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, there is one form of butcher's meat that has not so far been mentioned in this debate, and that is veal. On the Continent, before the war there was always a plentiful supply of veal, as there is at present. It is not very expensive, because it comes largely not from the big meat-breeding areas but from the scrub calves and heifer calves, from dairy herds and smallholders who cannot afford to keep larger herds. These are killed at about the age of six to twelve months. If you kill a calf, even of a small dairy breed like Guernsey or Jersey, you will get a lot of meat. I should like to ask the Government whether they will look into this matter of whether or not it is possible, after suitable discussions concerning prices, and so on, for an embargo to be placed on the slaughter of calves under that age. Every day markets are held, and I think it is fair to say that in any small or mediumsized country market you will see up to fifty or sixty calves which have been slaughtered—some born that very morning. The prices for any of these calves up to a week old is about 30s. By the time you get everything possible from hide, horn and hoof, there is little left— enough to make one or two small pots of meat paste. One means, temporarily at any rate, of producing some meat, and of increasing our meat supply comparatively quickly, would be to halt the slaughter of all the surplus calves during the next six months. This matter should be looked into carefully. I know that there will be a certain amount of argument from farmers who will say that this would alter their economy, but the difficulty could be overcome. Nobody in your Lordships' House could say that the farming community as a whole have not always done their best to help the country when the matter has been put to them sensibly.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, I realise that a great many important things have already been said in this debate, but there are one or two points I wish to mention. Of one thing I am certain, and that is that the insecurity of our present position is something quite new to us. Before the War, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has suggested, there was an idea that we were a sort of herrenvolk as regards our country's supplies of food from overseas. That is a very insecure position in which to be in war-time, but the insecurity of our present position is tied up with the economies of the younger countries that have been our traditional suppliers. It is difficult for us to realise that the old order has changed, and for us to get used to the new order. Meat is more than just meat. It is an issue which leads to most other issues— even the philosophical issue. It is a question of what sort of community we intend to be in the future. Do we or do we not think it right that there should be more than 50,000,000 people in these Islands? It is a query that we shall have to face in the long run.

It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, that all was not well here, but that all was well in other countries: that this food problem was one peculiar to ourselves. I know that until the Danes knew that we would not pay any more than last autumn's price of butter they had a very strict butter rationing at home; and it was only when they realised that we were not going to give way that they relaxed their rationing. Again, our own butchers are in trouble. In this last week or two, the New Zealand butchers have been in great trouble owing to strikes of their waterside workers and freezing works operatives and slaughtermen. We can realise, therefore, that the whole situation is most insecure in terms of supply. The labour position on farms in the Dominions is bad. In New Zealand there is a tremendous drift towards the towns. I have heard recently of 19,000 sheep being looked after by two shepherds. When I was in New Zealand before the war the situation was also bad. In fact, everywhere in the Commonwealth we have a trend towards the towns. That is something we have to reckon with. They want larger populations in the Dominions, and those populations will be consuming more food at home.

The Peron régime in the Argentine is definitely an urban regime. It. is interesting to note that the Argentine agricultural producer has not been getting nearly all that he should for his produce: the result has been less; production. Peron has taken a fair percentage of the money from the farmers to spend, for example, on improving buildings in the towns and cities. Those are all interesting facts, indicating a movement towards the towns. There is obviously the genesis of a new British Commonwealth in the making, and also of a new relationship with the suppliers of foodstuffs outside the Commonwealth. When we are so worried about how the Argentine negotiations are going, it is well to think back to the 1930's when, without running down Argentina, we know that the Argentine producer was often a menace to the Commonwealth producer, and certainly to the home producer. I am glad that so many of your Lordships have considered that the only real way out of our difficulties is to embark upon a far greater home production of food. The Livestock Rearing Bill needs to be operated and implemented on a very much larger scale than is at present proposed. This certainly is not a purely Party political situation.

I believe that we should try to consider this matter in terms of where we wish to go in the Commonwealth, and where we expect the Commonwealth as partners to go. Against the spirit of the Ottawa Agreements, in 1933 we negotiated certain trade pacts, known in the Dominions as the "black pacts"; one was with the Argentine, another with Denmark, and another with Sweden. Everywhere there is this feeling that we cannot bring chilled beef on a haul longer than about three weeks. The fact of the shorter haul has undoubtedly helped Argentina in the past. It is open to question how much it will help her in the future and how much refrigeration can be improved for the longer distances. We should consider the Commonwealth producer first and therefore be rathe wary how we go. We should not want the Argentine negotiations to go so well that we might run into a new situation disadvantageous to the Commonwealth. We need to go back to the Ottawa principle, which was not fully carried out, of the home producer first, the Commonwealth producer second and the Argentine and other suppliers third. Without running against anybody, let us try to see the whole question in that proportion. Let us see it in a different way than as a question of bulk buying, which is a "red herring," and in a larger way than personalities.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am certain that we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Hawks, for starting this most interesting debate, a debate which has been well worth while. I myself was interested to hear the noble Lord who has just sat down praise the Ottawa Agreements. Coming from the quarter in which he sits, such praise was a refreshing breeze, and I thought it just as well, when the noble Lord was speaking that the noble Viscount his Leader was not at the moment in his place.

The problem which we are discussing to-day touches every home and, to put it more vulgarly, every stomach in the land, except possibly that of a new-born babe. Therefore, it is important that we should discuss it. Every housewife knows there is not enough meat, whatever statistics may be produced, either on one side of the House or on the other. A relative of mine the other day had ration books for six, and all she could get from her butcher was four small cutlets, because they are an expensive joint. Four cutlets are not easy to divide between six people. Naturally, as she was the housekeeper, she had to forgo one of the cutlets, and one of the family as well had to go without any meat that week. That is what is happening. We all know about it. For instance, last Sunday we had our joint on a ration for five, a tiny piece of meat quite unrecognisable as coming off any species of animal that one was used to eating. I was carving it and I got left with a bit that was practically entirely gristle.

That is the position to which, unforfortunately, we have now come in this country. It is a position that is grave from the production point of view. During the war we were all the time doing our best to keep up the protein supplies —they were the most difficult—and especially the meat supplies, because although people like the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, and Sir Stafford Cripps (who we are all sorry to know is so ill) and, if I may put these people with them, Hitler and Grandi, are or were vege- tarians, we are a meat-eating race and do not obtain real satisfaction as grown people if we are offered a glass of milk instead of a piece of meat. Why is this taking place? It is not more difficult now. except in one respect, than it was during the war to keep this nation supplied with meat. The one respect is, of course, the financial one. I admit immediately that we then had Lend-Lease. But both the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, and myself had other difficulties to face. Not only were ships going down full of meat, but warehouses, when the meat arrived there, were suffering from the bombing, the "doodle-bugs" and the rockets. Certainly, we suffered one or two direct hits of that sort on our meat supplies when I was at the Ministry.

There is, then, the difficulty of finance, and I will come to that in a moment or two. At the present moment, apart entirely from the meat ration and the smallness of it, our stocks are worse, I believe, than they have ever been, and we are certainly not carrying that amount of canned corned beef that we ought to carry in the present situation. Apart from paying the butchers at the rate of £23,000,000 a year (if that is the right figure; it has been mentioned) for not selling meat—because that is what they are being compensated for—we are at the same time paying such people as the manager and perhaps seven or eight people in a cold storage depot to wait for some fresh meat to arrive for them to store. Why is all this happening? It is happening because—and this came out clearly in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham—we are trying to get our meat too cheaply. That is really why it is happening. He explained to us that under Government buying and bulk con-tracts we are obtaining meat cheaper than other people. He talked about the difference between what we are paying the Danes for butter and what they were selling it for elsewhere in Europe; he spoke about what we were paying for Australian and New Zealand meat, and what they were able to sell it for in the United States of America. May I say that when I interrupted him I thought the figure was 5 per cent., but I have found out since that it is 2 per cent.; he was within 2 per cent. of all the export-able surplus. That is the position.

All the trend of that part of the noble Lord's speech was to show that Government buying was an asset to this country because we had to pay less for our goods. Well, normally, if you do not pay the price that a person asks you for goods in his shop you do not get the goods, it does not matter whether the intended transaction is Government to Government or individual trader to private individual. Whether it is justified or not I do not know, but there is obviously a feeling in the Argentine that this country is trying to get its meat too cheaply. I hope I am not going to say anything this afternoon that will in any way hamper our negotiators in the Argentine, because we all wish them a successful outcome to their efforts. It may not much matter if there is that feeling in the Argentine; but I found that kind of thought growing amongst the farmers in New Zealand and in Australia—I do not know whether the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander found it too; I think perhaps I covered more agricultural ground than he did. That is becoming dangerous. I could not say, "Oh. but that price is being offered you by Vestey's, or by some other importing people." Being overseas, I did not say, "It is our wretched Government at home, and one I always oppose," because that is not the kind of thing I do when I am overseas. In fact, on one occasion I tried to convince them that our prices were extremely reasonable —I think the noble Viscount was there. I mention the matter now only because that feeling is growing. It is bound to grow from the very comparison that the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, gave of the prices they can get elsewhere and the prices which we are insisting are the only ones we can offer them.

My Lords, I am becoming convinced —indeed, I have become convinced—that it is time we got rid of Government buying. Noble Lords may know that I was one of the last on this side of the House to come to that conclusion. In fact, I was responsible for the first long-term Government contracts with New Zealand and Australia. But when one finds that Government contracts are beginning to have that effect, and that the relationships between the peoples may be endangered because of them, it is time to put the business into private hands. Then, if any-body likes to kick the man who makes a particular contract, it is not a matter that involves the people.

It has been said to-day that by private trading a long-term guarantee cannot be given. Of course you can give a long-Term guarantee. We gave guarantees under the Ottawa Agreement, and we made arrangements under that Agreement for carrying them out, even though the Government of those days was not buying the commodities. Even apart from that, however, a well-established firm can give its own long-term guarantee. It has often been done, and it can be done again. One advantage of a long-term guarantee by a private individual or firm is that they can be sued upon it in the courts. Under the Andes Agreement the Argentine Government guaranteed that they would send us so much meat. They did not do so; they stopped sending it. We have no remedy at all in regard to that. Nor would the producer have any remedy if a Government gave a guarantee and then declined to take his produce, because there is no court that can enforce that kind of guarantee against a Government. I would much sooner have a guarantee upon which I could sue in the courts than one given by a Government against which I had no remedy at all.

The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said that in difficult conditions Government buying was very much better externally because there was a united buyer—I think that was his exact phrase. But the fact that you are a united buyer does not help if the other side sets itself up as a united seller, which is what happened in the Argentine. Then, of course, we were in no better position. We have had an offer from a responsible gentle-man named Señor Derisi on behalf of the Argentine Government, indicating that they are prepared to go into private trade provided we re-open Smithfield market, and, I gather, private trade here. It seems to me that one of the ways we might ease present negotiations would be to take advantage of that offer. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, seemed to think that you could not get proper distribution of food unless the Government were the sole buyer.


I did not put it so widely as that. I said it was very difficult to work a rationing system, and particularly a rationing system of meat, because of the nature of the commodity, unless there was Government intervention at some point.


Of course, in any rationing system there must be Government intervention. What I thought the noble Lord meant was Government buying.


I said Govern-ment buying at some point.


I think we are at one about this matter, though I am glad that the noble Lord has put it in the right way. Let me say at once— because the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, inquired about this—that so long as there is a shortage of any essential foodstuffs we on these Benches will remain just as determined as noble Lords opposite that there shall be fair shares all round. Lord Woolton was responsible for seeing to that for most of the war; I was responsible during the last twenty-one months, and we are not going back on that principle.

To come now to the point which Lord Pakenham has made, I ask him this: Did the Government buy all the clothes while we had clothes rationing? Did they buy all the shoes, all the ties, all the shirts, all the socks and all the handkerchiefs? Certainly not. And the rationing of clothes went on just as well, whether the Government owned them or not. To come to a later period, when the Socialist Government of 1945 rationed bread— and, incidentally, they were the only Government in the history of this country ever to ration bread—was all the bread owned by the Government? No, it was not. They did not buy all the bread; they only controlled the rationing, as rationing can quite well be controlled whether the article rationed is Government-owned or not.


The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, as Minister of Food had control of the mills and of all the stocks therein. He could govern all the bakers by reason of his complete ownership and control of the raw material.


I was. coming to the article rationed which was bread. Of course we owned flour, but, as I say, the Government can enforce rationing without owning the commodity rationed. I have never heard such nonsense as the suggestion that before any rationing system can exist the Government have to own the article rationed. That is a new theory, one which, I must say, seems to me so fantastic that I should never have expected to hear it.

Now I come to another reason why I believe that the Government food policy has gone wrong. During the war we had the most able men from the meat trade in the Ministry of Food. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, nor I ever thought of doing anything about meat without consulting those experts. But they have not been in on any of these recent negotiations, and a number of them— including some of the best experts—have now left the Ministry of Food because they were ignored. It was wise in the days of the war to have those people in, and so long as this system is to be continued it would be wise to keep them and to have the benefit of their advice. A further matter in respect of which I think things have gone wrong is this. Whether it is our fault or not I do not know, but it seems to me that too many other subjects are being brought into these negotiations with the Argentine. It would have been much better to deal with meat, and meat alone. I am referring to matters which were mentioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place, things such as railways, pensions and dividends. We all believe that payments due under those heads ought to be made, but our meat should not depend on whether or not the people in the Argentine agree to make them. Then there is the question of the grant of import licences which, apparently, the Argentine Government has refused. Let us take that up, but let us take it up separately from meat. Again, there is the matter of £13,000,000, which seems to be in blocked remittances, which they will not pay us. Finally, there is some £3,500,000, apparently owing in trade debts. I think it would have been much better to deal with meat as a separate issue, and not to bring in those other and different matters.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Woolton that it was madness for us to start negotiations by offering £90 when we were already paying £97 10s., and when we knew that prices were rising. That is a foolish way of starting negotiations. I gather that at one time there was a difference between us as to how much of the meat supplied should be chilled meat and how much should be frozen. Let me here say that of course it will pay the Argentine people much better to send us chilled meat, because it is far the better variety. Once the meat shortage is over, people will want to go on eating Argentine meat, if it is meat of the chilled variety that they have been eating. If they have been getting frozen meat they will not be nearly so favourably disposed towards it. Therefore, from the long-term point of view, it is much better that the Argentine should include as much chilled meat as possible in whatever meat consignments she sends us in the future. At any rate, there has been some difference as to what the proportions were going to be.

I understand that the difference in money at that time was only £20 per ton. That works out at something like 2d. per lb. Ask any housewife in the country to-day whether she would sooner have the 8d. meat ration which she has now, or go back to the bigger ration, get about a pound of meat and pay 2d. per lb. more for it. Undoubtedly she would say: "I will willingly pay the extra 2d., so as to get the extra ration of meat." Just make a comparison by considering what the housewife has to pay if she wants to buy extras. We have heard about the frightful price of about 10s. per lb. charged for canned ham, and rabbits are now fetching about 5s. 6d., as against a former price of about 9d.; and the price of a boiling fowl has gone up to 24s., 25s., or 26s. One used to be able to buy such poultry before the war for about 3s. 6d. If the housewife had the alternative of making up her family meat ration by paying the extra 2d. a pound, clearly she would sooner do that than have to make it up by buying these other highly expensive lines.

I believe that the Government could have done much better in the past about these negotiations, but I am saying nothing about the present, because I do not want to be thought to be in any way desirous of embarrassing them. I do not believe that it will pay the Argentine suppliers, in the long run, to neglect the British market. There may be a demand for meat for stockpiling in the United States of America at the present moment, but that demand will not last. If the Argentine suppliers do not lose our goodwill, they will still, in years to come, find their best market in Great Britain; therefore, they ought not to do anything to lose it now. But the Government here will have to alter their outlook in some ways.

We get, and rightly get, a lot of rejoicing because we have closed the dollar gap—and all credit to those who have been working in our factories to send our exports overseas. I would add a word of warning, however. Soon, perhaps, we shall have to do something about closing the Australian gap, and the New Zealand gap. because they are getting pretty big sterling balances in this country. The dollar gap has not been closed wholly by producing for export, but also by restricting what we can have. When that extends only to Chrysler cars, who minds? But when it begins to extend to raw materials and the food of the people, that is a serious thing. I do not believe that the Government are yet fully aware of the effect of the devaluation of the pound on all goods that we buy outside the sterling area. If I had had anything to do with it, as soon as we had decided to devalue the pound I should have gone out to buy goods all over the world, before anybody had risen to the situation. What is happening is that every month the goods we have to buy are costing us more.

What I have against the present Minister of Food is that he does not seem to fight. He seems to me to be qualified to be a good and charming Treasury official. But the job of the Minister of Food is to fight and to fight hard for the housewives of this country, both at home and abroad. Those of us who have been in Cabinets know there are times when a Minister has to fight to get his way, usually against the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Some Ministers have the knack of getting the ear of their colleagues or have the determination to put through their plans. I believe that the present Minister of Food did not fight hard enough in the Cabinet for the food supplies of this country. There is every excuse for him. because it is his first office and perhaps he has not the experience of an "old hand." I had to do it on one or two occasions when I was Minis- ter of Food. In 1945, a number of people wanted to send too much food to the countries we had liberated. I was not going to let it go from my stocks if I could help it. Then I had difficulties with the Combined Food Board. It was not the Parliamentary Secretary who went over to Washington; I went myself, and fought for our meat, sugar and fats, spending an exhausting fortnight in Washington fighting for these things. I should have liked to see the Minister of Food himself go to Buenos Aires and fight the battle for the people's food. I believe that it is the primary duty of a man who has the office of Minister of Food to use every endeavour to fight anybody who stands in his way, and if the matter is important, as this is important, to resign if he does not get his way. I hope that this debate will stir the Minister of Food to lighting a little harder. If not. somebody else had better take his place.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, as my noble friend said earlier, we have had an interesting debate and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, for the way in which he introduced it, even though we do not agree with everything that he said. Much in the speeches has been answered by my noble friend Lord Pakenham, but there is one thing Lord Hawke said which struck me because, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, knows, I have come a good deal into this question of food organisation during the last thirty-five years. The noble Lord talked about stewing meat being available before the last war at 3d. a lb. I checked up on this, and I found a remarkable article by the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House, whose services to the stimulation of food production have never yet been fully recognised.


On this side of the House we do recognise it.


My noble friend was the first Minister in my lifetime to begin to legislate in a way which would put a firm bottom to agricultural prices, and therefore to the standards of agriculture at large. In an article in a Socialist paper—


What is it called?


The Glasgow Forward. In this article my noble friend the Leader of the House quotes from reports of the Linlithgow Committee and of the Royal Commission on Food Prices, which he was analysing.


What date was this?


The article appeared in 1925. My noble friend quotes, from an interesting Report, that before 1914 stewing beef was 4½d. a lb., and after the First World War, as late as 1923, was 7¼d. a lb. I was certain that the noble Lord's reference could not be correct, because I used to handle many retail prices in my time.


The noble Viscount thinks I was referring to a different period. I was referring to the period immediately before the last war, in the 'thirties. I admit that I left out a halfpenny, by mistake. The price should have been 3½d. a lb.


I should like to know what the state of the meat was. If it was scrag end or waste, there might be something in the noble Lord's figure, but the prices for stewing beef I have given show that even before the First World War the price was higher than the noble Lord's figure.

Before I deal with the main burdens of the speeches of the two former Ministers of Food who have addressed your Lordships' House to-day, I should like to say to other noble Lords who have spoken how grateful we are for their contributions, especially those made on the agricultural side of this problem. I refer to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Methuen, Lord Radnor and Lord Onslow. I had sympathy with the point put by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, because in my young and embryonic stage of farming I find it annoying to send a calf to market and get as low as 18s. 6d. for it, less than could be obtained for the skin and hooves. We will have all the points examined to see what can be done. I was out of the House when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke, but I was told that his speech was important and thoughtful, another example of his knowledge of the agricultural industry, and what he said will also be examined by the appropriate Department.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Amherst, was interesting, but it shocked me when he compared the difference in the prices of pigs this year and next year —49s. 6d. per score this year and 30s. next year. I could not believe that he was really comparing like with like. I went to reinforce my suspicions on the matter, and I found that my feeling was right. In the first place, the 49s. 6d. per score is the actual, finally-settled price for the pigs for the current year. But what we have done is to say that in sub-sequent years there shall be a minimum price of 30s. odd per score; and thereafter, under the machinery laid down, that is subject to the revision which is undertaken annually with the representatives of the primary producers. I am sure the noble Lord would not wish the fixed price of one year always to be the minimum in subsequent years, irrespective of costs of production. That would not be in complete tune with the basis of the present form of agricultural legislation.


I quite realise that the 49s. 6d. is the price that is now paid, and that the 30s. is the minimum price in 1951–52. But if people are at the moment getting 49s. 6d., and they are guaranteed 30s. in 1951–52, I cannot see how that can act as an incentive.


I was anxious only that the noble Lord should not think he was comparing like with like. He can be assured that whatever price is paid will be an agreed price between the Government buyers and the representatives of the primary producers—and I have not found the representatives of the primary producers short of ability in carrying out those negotiations, as can be seen from the annual revision of agricultural prices.

A further point to which I should like to refer was made by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. He was concerned that we had not apparently been able to buy pork from the Continent on the same scale as had been done by Germany and other countries, as he thought. I think he named Denmark and Holland. With the general basis of the production of pigs on the Continent as it is, and as we have important bacon contracts with each of the nations the noble Earl mentioned, it seems to me to be impossible to expect that we should get delivery of the bacon under those contracts and at the same time be able to buy large quantities of pork. We cannot have it both ways, in the present state of the supply of pigs throughout the countries named. On the other hand, reference was made to the position of Ireland. I feel it is just as well to reiterate that at the present time —and this is borne out by the actual numbers of fat stock that my noble friend referred to as being imported from Ireland—we are taking 90 per cent. of all the exportable surplus produced by Eire. It may be that we should be willing to take an even higher amount than that, small as that margin would be, but in the present circumstances I do not think we can say to Eire that she is not doing reasonably well in assisting us in this matter.

I now come to the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Woolton and Lord Llewellin. They have every right to be heard with great attention and to have their remarks carefully considered because of their experience in difficult circumstances when acting as Ministers of Food, and acting in such a way that no one would wish to say that they did not help generally in the success of the operations in which they were engaged: everybody would acknowledge that. But I feel that they must be careful not to use the exact experience which they had as entitling them to make an arbitrary judgment upon the present food situation. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has been pressing strongly (Lord Llewellin now presses strongly, but he is rather a latecomer in the endeavour) for the abolition of bulk purchase and the return to private trade.


Do let us call it "Government purchase," because that is what it is. That is what I referred to.


I have no objection to that at all. I will say a word about the other forms of bulk purchase presently, but I am quite prepared now to say "Government purchase." First of all. it must be remembered that the only reason why we went into Government bulk purchase in 1939 was shortage of supplies. It is true that there was an additional danger that after getting your shipments free on board you would run the risk in submarine infested waters. But the real reason for preparing long-term Government contracts for the war as early as 1939 was because the additional demands that would be made upon the bulk foods for the fighting Forces, and the difficulty of maintaining production during the war in areas upon which we relied most for our imported food, made it absolutely vital that the Government should have complete control of what was purchased. So many people talk as if the question of the submarine menace was the only factor. That is not so. I know of the special circumstances, because before the noble Lords went to the Ministry of Food other private trade representatives and I were negotiating, first on the old food defence plan for the building up of the Ministry of Food; and we finally carried the plans into more or less their proper structure with a present Member of the other place, the right honourable gentleman, Mr. W. S. Morrison. The whole basis of rationing was planned and fixed before August, 1939. We went so far as to help to approve the rationing forms and tickets for different commodities before either of the noble Lords opposite had anything to do with the Ministry of Food; and, indeed, we assisted—because I am sure neither will think that the patriots are all on one side of the House—


We have never suggested that.


I said that the noble Lords would not suggest it. We assisted in building the stocks ahead—because it was possible to do it then—of wheat, meat, whale oil and all the other commodities which made it possible thereafter to fulfil the rations during the peried from 1939 to 1945. The reason for the bulk purchases then made was that it was estimated at that time, before the war started, that there would be a general shortage, as indeed there was.

What we now have to consider is whether the situation in which we find ourselves to-day is due to too long a continuation of that system. I say quite firmly that it is not possible to give it up at the present moment, because the con- ditions of shortage still obtain; and if there are conditions of shortage obtaining in a commodity like meat, then you must ration in order to have fair shares. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has said that he and his noble friend played their part in making these fair shares possible when there was a short supply. Of course, they did. The Government of the day were responsible for it. But if we are in short supply now, we have to go on giving fair shares, and it is impossible to supply fair shares of what is available in the world to-day without Government purchase.

Reference has been made during the debate to the general conditions in which negotiations for supplies of meat from the Argentine went on before these Government purchases. Lord Woolton felt that the Argentine were hard bargainers; but no Government before had to negotiate with a regime of the type of the present one. It is not for me, while negotiations are going on, to say anything which would endanger or embarrass those who are conducting the negotiations. I could say that there has been a very different approach to the problem. Yet we listen to talk now about trying to solve the meat problem by returning, in these conditions, to the pre-war system. Do not let us forget what sort of system we should be returning to.

What noble Lords have been generally agreed about to-night is that there is great need for increasing the amount of meat production throughout the world, not merely in this country. I have a long memory about these things. I remember appearing as a witness on meat before the Royal Commission on Food Prices in 1925. I had to study the subject a great deal then. How was private buying conducted in the Argentine meat trade? Was it through a great number of small individuals, of exporters, referred to by the noble Lord? Not likely. There were two great contending parties. There was the contending party of Vestey's and the other main contender was the American meat syndicate. What nonsense people talk in relation to bulk purchase! But what after-effects are left behind, on the regime of other countries, by the operation of such private buying methods! The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, trod on dangerous ground to-day in quoting his own experience. I do not want to go too deeply into the matter, but I should have thought that he was trying to liken his action in securing long time-lags in his negotiations with the Argentine Government in the war to what he has in mind now. We should be prepared to have a lag; but there was a six weeks' limit. It does not help us at all to-day for the noble Lord to say that he was clever enough to keep them waiting for months while he filled his cold stores.


That is a gross exaggeration. It is entirely intolerable. The noble Viscount is having a great time with his eloquence. I made no such suggestion. He is not doing the Argentine negotiations any good by suggesting it.


All I say is that it is within the recollection of the House that he volunteered to give your Lordships his method of handling the question. That is what actually happened. I do not need to comment upon it any further. No doubt what has been said will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT and can be examined by everybody in cold print. I am quite content to leave the matter there.

If I may say so, what we need in the world, if we are to deal with questions like the future production of meat upon such a scale as the world needs, is to bring confidence to the primary producers in the world. I can find no record of any way in which this was being fostered, cither before the 1914 war or the last one; but we were reducing confidence among the Argentine producers. I have seen remarks from time to time which lead my thoughts in quite the other direction. But on the basis that so long as there is a shortage of supply, you need to create confidence in the primary producers of the world, there is no method so fundamental and so likely to succeed as that of giving the primary producers a long-term market confidence. That is the whole basis in moving from a position of scarcity towards inducing confidence in the primary producer to get where you want to get in regard to supply. That is the basis we are adopting in regard to our own farmers. I have heard the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, use that argument many times before to-night when he was in closer relationship with our views on this side.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, made what seemed to me a rather extraordinary suggestion. He thought it was a great mistake to tie the Argentine negotiations to anything else; that we ought to have kept them entirely to meat, taking all the other things separately. I know that every noble Lord is entitled to his own personal opinion. But I should like to read an extract of a speech made by the right honourable gentleman, Mr. R. A. Butler, on this very Argentine meat issue, only a few weeks ago in another place; his words took an entirely contrary point of view.


I do not want to object to these remarks being read; I do not mind differences appearing. I am in the hands of the Leader of the House. Although it is in order in this House to quote any Government speaker in another place, I believe that we draw the line at quoting private Members.


I do not want to quote it in detail. I would only say in passing that it refers to the—


My Lords, it is not out of order, so far as I know, for noble Lords on either side to draw attention to inconsistencies, if they think they are inconsistencies, between the statements of noble Lords in this House and those of members of their own Party in another place. That we do frequently. I think it is done on all sides. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. will not suggest that I have ever said that that was contrary to any rule or general understanding. I nave heard it done scores of times, and by many of his old friends. I do not complain, but I should like the noble Lord to be quite sure that he is not imputing to me a rule which I feel would be completely impracticable and not always advantageous.


I only thought that it was a rule; I said that the Leader of the House would correct me if I was wrong. After all, he is the Leader of the House, and we will take it from him. Let me say that I have no objection whatever to the noble Viscount's pointing out that Mr. Butler and I take a different line on whether meat negotiations should be mixed up with the question of whether the Argentine have paid the Railway Commission. There is not much of a Party principle about that. I do not in the least object to the noble Viscount's doing that; it was reading the speech which I thought was not in order. I take the view that it would be better to deal with meat alone.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. I must apologise profoundly for interposing, but I believe that this is rather an important point. We do deprecate the reading of words, although I am afraid that I have heard it done on many occasions when, in my view, it should not have been done. But, so far as I know, it has never been deprecated that attention should be drawn to an apparent inconsistency between the remarks of a noble Lord in this House and what one of his Party says in another place. Whether it is my Party or the noble Lord's, I think it is legitimate Parliamentary criticism.


My impression, from reading the observations of the right honourable gentleman in another place, was that he was very anxious to see the outstanding debts and meat negotiations tied together. If the Government obtained a settlement of over £20,000,000 for debts owing, it would be a considerable factor in what they would feel able to pay for the meat. I think it was probably a good argument, and put up by one who has had considerable experience in the world of diplomacy, as Mr. Butler undoubtedly has.

I was also interested in the specific reference of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, to a purchase of wheat which he made. He made that purchase at 72 cents. Now that brought home to my mind the real situation of the primary producer in the world, and what the letting down of the primary producer ultimately means to the trade of this country. As I recently told a conference in New Zealand, I remember travelling through Canada in 1926, when we were having a General Strike and great poverty, upset and unrest in this country because of the lack of trade and employment. I met the farmers in Canada, and they had seen that, because of the policy of deflation practised in this and other countries in 1920 and 1921, wheat had gone down to 28 cents. Thousands of farmers were put out of their holdings, and there were failures everywhere. We saw in this country wages of farm labourers reduced from 46s. a week in the First World War, to 24s. in 1924. We had to wait for a Socialist—who later became Lord NoelBuxton—to bring in the Minimum Wages Act to start the labourer at 27s. 6d. What was the result upon the general economy of the country? It was that we had over 1,000,000 unemployed during the whole period between the wars.

Noble Lords are entitled to their opinions, but I think that we also are entitled to point to the kind of situation created by a lack of will and purpose in a Government to go in for Government purchase and the bringing of confidence, through long-term purchase, to the primary producers of the world, not only for conservation of our own interest but for the ultimate building up of international trade. Let us take the position in the Dominions mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. On the facts, nobody can possibly deny that we have benefited from the long-term contracts with New Zealand and Australia. I had conversations similar to those which he had. Some of the farmers were difficult to convince, but when you once got them into a corner—as I did on many occasions —and began to compare their conditions now, under long-term contracts, with the conditions from 1922 to 1927, when the bottom fell out of the price of their products, they knew which suited them best. Nor has it failed to bring forth an effort on the part of New Zealand and Australia to meet, so far as they can from their point of view, our expanding meat requirements.

I have not been convinced by a single word which has been uttered by noble Lords opposite, who seem to me to want to follow a political shibboleth—to return in a particular instance to private trade, because that is something that they always put in the forefront of their political programmes, quite removed from the actual economic facts of the situation and without any reasonable thought as to what might be the outcome of their policy. Let me say that we are all conconcerned about the present state of the meat supply. I believe, however, that if you had a private combine engaging in the other kind of bulk purchase, you would have a very different situation in this country. You would have had that fluctuation in the market price of meat, and you would have sold from short supply to those who could afford to buy it. We have had it before. We have had regular cycles of it.


What about the ham?


I can remember paying a big price for ham before the war, although not perhaps from those particuar sources from which we are bound to import it to-day. Therefore, I feel that whilst there is a very grave feeling—and we sympathise with it—about the general shortage of meat, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the methods which have been adopted by His Majesty's Government to meet the situation.

We are grateful to the Dominions for their help. We have growing confidence in their support, because of the way in which, for example, the Australians are undertaking long-term programmes, not only in actual meat contracts with us, but in meat production development schemes. They believe in the business, and we are certain that if we stick to reasonableness —and we do not want to be unreasonable —we shall succeed. I entirely agree with what Lord Woolton or Lord Llewellin said about paying a reasonable price. But it is not that we are paying an unreasonable price. Noble Lords opposite have said to-night that out of the price that we are paying, the New Zealand and Australian Governments are making too large a profit—




Somebody said something very near to that.


I mentioned that the New Zealand Government published the profit which they were making out of us, and it was £40,000,000. Why cannot that be cut out altogether? It is an unnecessary expense.


This is a very interesting point. Obviously, we are paying New Zealand and Australia so well that their Governments make a profit, which the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, thinks is too high and unreasonable. Yet we are urged to pay even more to the Argentine and, therefore, to make it difficult even to keep the present level of prices with New Zealand and Australia. Really, it is like Alice in Wonderland! You do not know quite what you are advocating or where you hope to get.

We very much hope that the negotiations now going on will be successful. I hope that the Argentines concerned in the negotiations will not be turned by the last few words of the noble Lord, Lord Woolton. I hope that I do not misinterpret him. He asked that there should be the hopedfor good will and good result, but he warned the Argentines that although they might be in a good and strong posit on to-day, that might not be true to-morrow. I hope that that will not be taken by them as a threat. What we want to see is good will—both sides sitting round the table, coming to a long-term arrangement if possible, until we can overcome the immediate difficulties, restore confidence on both sides and resume trading with success and prosperity for both our nations. As supplies are at present in the world, we shall not achieve that end without having a strong, firm Government policy to ensure that there is this long-term confidence.

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships long at this late hour. We have had a most interesting debate, and I thank all those noble Lords who have taken part, both those who has supported me and those who have opposed me. I asked His Majesty's Government how they proposed to get us out of the present mess, and after listening to the debate I am still not clear what path they are advocating. The only hope the Government offer is that embodied in the long-term increase of production, which is an extremely slow process. They seem to me to offer to the housewives of Britain no hope that they intend to find any method of buying a larger share of that meat which is undoubtedly being eaten to-day by foreigners all over the world. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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