§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [13th March], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Which Amendment was, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:
this House, whilst recognising the Government's conversion to the principle that it is essential for the community to exercise control over the production, importation, and sale of agricultural products, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which is primarily designed to raise the prices of agricultural products by the creation of scarcity in a time of plenty, fails to give the Government any effective means of controlling or planning the agricultural industry, provides no protection for the consumer or any improvement in the lot of the agricultural labourer, and will, so long as the land is left in private ownership, result in the consumers subsidising the middlemen and the landlords."—[Mr. T. Williams.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The Minister of Agriculture introduced this Bill in a most interesting speech, Which was remarkable for one particular point. He dealt at very great length with the conditions of the world and the whole position of agricultural products, but he showed an extraordinary reticence on the subject of the Bill which he introduced. Here we have a Bill of 20 Clauses and four Schedules, and you can search the speech of the Minister and find nothing, or next to nothing, with regard to the machinery which is being set up under the Bill. Yet it is an important Bill, one which sets up elaborate machinery which interferes with the independence of the citizen, and sets up the Minister of Agriculture as a dictator on imports of agricultural products. He is not an entire dictator, because he says that there is the other Walter who has been squared. Of course, this Bill would never have been introduced in its present form if Liberals supporting the other Walter had not been squared, and, therefore, hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway must take their re- 50 sponsibility and their credit for these restrictions upon imports.
The surprising thing was that in the Debate which followed none of the points raised when Dr. Addison introduced his Agricultural Marketing Bill were touched upon at all by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from the Conservative side of the House. I remember very well the Marketing Bill of Dr. Addison, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee, and I remember the protests. There was the monstrous power given to the Minister and the elaborate machinery which was to be set up. There were the hordes of paid officials. Paid officials always go in hordes. There was a terrible interference with the farmer who, we were assured by everyone, the hon. Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) and all those representing agricultural constituencies, wanted to manage his business in his own way. The plea was always put up that the British farmer was incapable of keeping or of rendering accounts, and the whole thing was a terrible tyranny. We have heard nothing of that in this Debate. Not only has the other Walter been squared, but it is clear that the agricultural community have been squared. When one comes to look at it, one sees what a wonderful virtue there is in a spoonful of jam. This drastic purge is willingly accepted from a Scottish doctor whereas quite a small pill was quite unacceptable from Dr. Addison. The reason, of course, is that a very large spoonful of jam has been provided; namely, a monopoly position and the opportunity of getting higher prices.
We are at one with the Minister in desiring to see regulated, orderly, marketing and agriculture, and we recognise very willingly the conversion of hon. Members opposite to the principles of the Agricultural Marketing Bill. I am aware that there are some wiser Members opposite whose main objection to the Marketing Bill was that it was not accompanied by control of imports. Yes, but that was not the only objection put forward when the Conservative party moved their official Amendment to the Second Reading of the Marketing Bill. They objected to that Bill on account of its dislocation of trading facilities. What was then a dislocation of trading facilities has now become the foundations of a new agricultural economy. Any interference with the prevailing system 51 at that time was dislocation. At any rate, the dislocation has now got rapidly forward, and the second doctor is as much in favour of dislocation as the first doctor. In this Bill we have what is said to be the logical deduction from the Agricultural Marketing Bill. That is not so. I agree that there was an urgent need for a proper organisation of secondary products and processing, but that is only quite a small part of this Bill. It is contained mainly in Part II, and I have not a violent objection to the principles of Part II. I want to examine Part I, where we had very little help from the Minister of Agriculture. He did not explain what is meant byAn order regulating the importation into the United Kingdom of any such agricultural product.What is meant by "regulating the importation." We are in an age of quotas and quantitive regulations, but we have had no explanation as to what exactly they mean. We note that importations may be regulated not only when the Agricultural Marketing Scheme is in force but even when it is in course of preparation—the jam is given well in advance of the pill. I must admit that there is in the Bill a recognition of one point which has been notably absent from the legislation of this Government hitherto; and it shows, in my view, that the Minister of Agriculture has a more constructive mind than any of his colleagues, because in deciding whether to make an order he has actually to have considerationto the effect which the regulation of the importation of that product into the United Kingdom is likely to have on the commercial relations between the United Kingdom and other countries.That is a big advance on a tariff board of three. I understand that under this provision the Minister and the Department when making an order are entitled to consider whether in giving an advantage to some particular British agricultural product it is going to have its repercussions on some other British industry; that if they stop, say, the importation of Danish butter or bacon they may have regard to what Denmark may propose to do, and the possible loss of that market. That is a big advance on the tariff business we have had before from this Government, which consists of a number of people sending in applications which are, as we are told, considered on their merits 52 merely as affecting that particular industry and with no regard whatever to the economic life of the country as a whole. I take it that it does not merely mean that we are to have careful regard to commercial treaties.
I am not at all clear as to how this importation control will affect our relations with the Dominions under the Ottawa Agreements. It looks rather as if we had arranged with the Dominions to supply us with certain products in return for certain advantages, which the Government say are substantial advantages. Now we are going to proceed, as far as we can, to fill that market which we have given to the Dominions with products which we can produce at home. The Minister has a Marketing Supply Committee which is to advise him as to the supply of agricultural products generally. The Minister of Agriculture regulates the supply of agricultural products at home and his colleague regulates the importation of agricultural products from outside, so between the two you have an effective quantitative regulation of the supply of agricultural products in this country. The only trouble about it is that it is done so extremely ineffectively.
When we put forward our proposal for control we proposed to do it through Import Boards. The aspect of import boards which was so strongly objected to by Conservatives and Liberals is precisely the same as is embodied in this Bill, whereas the part which we strongly insisted upon, the protection of the consumer, and the organisation in the interests of the country as a whole, is left out, the whole question of prices is left out. The Minister is to regulate quantitively the importation of these products with the avowed purpose of getting remunerative prices for the home producer. The assumption is that present prices are unremunerative to the home producer, therefore, I understand the object is to raise the prices of home products and in order to do that we are going to restrict the flow from abroad. It will be for the Minister of Agriculture, by turning on or off the tap which controls the flow of products from abroad, to raise or lower the prices of products in this country. That is an important power to put into the hands of the Minister.
53 The question arises as to where that additional price to the producer is to come from. Every now and again we are told that, although wholesale prices are to be raised, retail prices are not to be raised. Let us examine that question. There are three sources from which this additional remuneration can come. One is the advantages of organised production, and that, I take it, we are to get under this Bill; secondly, closing the gap between wholesale and retail prices; thirdly, the consumer. As a matter of fact, no one seriously relies upon getting much additional price from better organisation; at least the Conservative party does not, because the whole point against the Addison Bill was that reorganisation was no good unless you controlled the imports from abroad. Therefore, clearly there is not very much to be got in the way of remunerative price by merely straightening out things at home. The Minister was not very hopeful about the second. When challenged on the question of the middleman, he was inclined to think that the middleman does his job very well, and it was a question whether the producer could do it better. No one ever suggested that the organised producer should do the importation of food supplies from abroad. That is to be left entirely in the hands of the middleman, who will buy as cheaply as he can, and as there is to be restriction of the amount to be placed on the market, and as we are to have various countries, some more favoured than others, competing for this, the middleman will get his goods at a fairly low rate. But when it comes to the home market he will naturally endeavour to get the biggest price that he can, and so I do not see that it is an advantage flowing to the producer overseas.
The great argument that is put forward is that if only we would raise our prices of primary products here, we shall make the primary producer more prosperous overseas, and then he will buy more of our manufactured goods, he will be a better customer of ours, and also, which is not mentioned so often, he will be able to pay his interest to the British rentier. But what becomes of that if there is no machinery whatever for ensuring that the advantage of this increased price is to enure at all to the producer overseas? If that were all that you wanted to do, 54 you could do it much more easily. All you have to do is to buy your food at the same price from those people, and send over a number of manufactured goods from this country. I cannot understand the wonderful triumph that is to be secured when you raise prices against yourselves. It is a coupon business. We are going by various manipulations, somehow or other, to give a gift coupon to the Dominions' producer.
I should have liked to have heard from the Minister a little more as to how be expects this regulation of importation will work. There are going to be a number of agreements with different producing countries, all allotted a certain definite quota. That is a perfectly feasible proposition if you are dealing with countries, but in this capitalist world, country does not deal with country, and it is not the intention of this Bill that countries should deal with countries. It is to be left in the hands of importers. I do not quite know how that is going to work. The various importers get their supplies from various countries. As far as I can see, they may find that they have bought produce they cannot sell in this country because they have exceeded the quota. The only way you could do that satisfactorily would be by concentrating purchase in the hands of one agency, and the logical conclusion is that if the Minister really wanted to do that job, he should have provided for import boards. But the Minister did not like to go as far as that, and so they are going to leave it to the middleman. They are going to have gentlemen's agreements with middlemen. In fact, eventually you will get a concentration of importation in the hands of very wealthy capitalist trusts. An import board could have secured that the advantage of price should either have gone to the people of this country or to the producers abroad. It is clear that under this Bill it is going to the middleman. We maintain that a great deal of this enhanced price will not go to the agricultural producer at home at all.
We understand that the. Government intend to make agriculture prosperous. They intend to raise the price of agricultural products. That car not be done without raising the value of agricultural land, and you cannot raise the value of agricultural land when you have a system of private ownership of the land without 55 a great deal of the increased value going to the landlord, either by the raising of rents, or in the selling of holdings at enhanced values. You may say that it will not happen all at once, but, sooner or later, you will find that the whole of that will go to the landlord. Then I am extremely sceptical as to any large amount of it going to the agricultural labourer. The Minister told us that we must trust to the Agricultural Wages Act. We know that that is not a strong Act. It was ruined upstairs in Committee by Liberal Members—those friends of the agricultural worker. It is a very weak Measure, and it is extremely doubtful whether the agricultural worker will get much out of it.
It is clear that the burden is going to fall on the consumer at home. It may or may not be right to say that agriculture should be subsidised by the rest of the nation, because all this kind of business—quotas and Protection—is really a form of taking money from one part of the community and giving it to another. That is, of course, a most objectionable thing when done by a Socialist Government. For a Socialist Government to take money from the very wealthy and distribute it among the very poor is considered to be a very monstrous thing to do. But a Conservative Government, by means of legislation of this kind, can put a burden on the town-dweller or on the consumer of agricultural products in favour of the farmer, the landlord or the middleman, and it is called national policy, reconstruction, organisation, or something of that kind.
When the former Agricultural Marketing Bill was discussed, many Members on the other side took the view that marketing was all right, provided that you had a control of imports. That was very largely the view of the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), who, I considered, always took an extremely statesmanlike view. He endeavoured to make the very best of it, although he said it would not really do what he wanted, because the one thing he wanted was the control of imports. I also am going to put forward one of the needs, and it is that it is no good having a Marketing Bill providing for the marketing of agricultural products unless you have got a market that can take that production, that is to say, unless you have 56 people who have a sufficient purchasing power to buy. As a matter of fact, the distribution of purchasing power in this country is so bad that millions of people will not be able to consume the increased home production. They are not even able to consume it at present prices.
Let us take the present prices. In the "Lancet"—I am sure the Minister of Agriculture reads the "Lancet"—there was a careful examination of the amount of money needed to-day to buy food for men, women and children. This is at a time when agricultural prices are extremely low. The cost of living is extremely low. The figures were worked out by a number of independent inquiries, and I have merely taken the mean of their separate inquiries. Working it out in a scientific way, as none of us can in practice, they found that it cost 5s. 8d. a week to feed an adult, and 4s. 3d. to feed a child, even in an institution where there is bulk purchase, and there are all kinds of economies in dealing with a large number. I have another interesting series of figures as to the actual money which the working miner takes home. I have a sample of a group of miners—I am told a very typical sample of the South Wales coal area. In that group there are 24 adults and 43 children. When these figures are worked out after allowing for the bare minimum of food and for rent they have 46s. a week between 67 of them with which to buy British goods—clothes, boots and everything else.
What is the use of thinking that you can get British products consumed when your distribution of purchasing power is like that? There are many cases even worse than that. There is the mass of the unemployed who are worse off. Half the population is somewhere about that standard, and it is impossible, therefore, for them to consume their quota of British agricultural products. But the whole object of this Bill is to get our production organised at home, and to get it consumed by people at home. It is not as if you were going to produce luxuries. You are going to produce things that are necessities of life, and which can only be consumed by the mass of the people.
We have to relate this to the general policy of the Government. The Minister of Labour has reduced that wretchedly small purchasing power of the unem- 57 ployed by £15,000,000. We have had a heavy fall of wages during the last year. We have had a steady fall of the purchasing power of the masses of the people of this country. The Minister made the statement, with regard to agriculture, that when prices were low the consumer was watching the clock running down. The Government are watching the clock running down of the mass of working-class families in this country. What the right hon. Gentleman meant was that when there are very low prices in agriculture the farm is let down, the capital is used up. It is exactly so with the human capital in this country. The standard of life comes down, and, as the figures I have quoted show, the physical strength of the people is like a clock running down. Therefore, even if prices do not rise, you cannot get the consumption that you ought to get. But the idea is that prices shall rise, that the workers and everybody else shall pay more for their butter, eggs, bacon and so forth. Even suppose that with these enhanced prices they still manage to buy the same amount of food, it only means that they will stop buying something else, and you will not have increased output or increased trade in this country. In fact what the Government are doing is merely shifting the purchasing power of the workers from one object to another without increasing it.
I was rather struck by a passage in the speech of the Minister of Agriculture, in which he spoke of the conditions of today. He said:At a time of plenty, when the man who feeds the pig is unable to afford to eat the bacon."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1933; col. 1636, Vol. 275.]Probably the Minister was recalling his early days in the Socialist movement and the words of Ernest Jones in "The Song of the Lower Classes":We plough and sow,We're so very, very low,That we delve in the dirty clay,Till we bless the plain,With the golden grain,And the vale with the fragrant hay;We are not too low the grain to grow,But too low the grain to eat.That is exactly the condition at which we have arrived in this year of grace. It is quite true that we live in times of plenty, but we live in a time of maldistribution of purchasing power. A point was made only the other day by the Noble Lord the 58 Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) of the fact that the capitalist system, whatever it may have done for production, had failed to distribute adequate purchasing power. Therefore this plan of the Government, as far as it is a plan, is bound to fail. You can have a lovely market, but if all the buyers who go there have practically no money, you are not going to have a great trade done.
We are in agreement with the Minister as to the need for a planned and organised agriculture, but we are not Syndicalists like the Minister; we are Socialists. The Minister believes that the agricultural industry should control and plan itself. We do not think so. We think that that is exactly where the Government are failing; they believe that each industry should plan and control itself. Look around the country to-day and see the effects of that. Go to Wigan and see the example of an industry that has planned itself. Go to the Welsh valleys. This country is scarred and marred with the endeavours of industries to plan and manage themselves. You have derelict areas up and down the country. You have the beautiful country of Bucks and Berks and Middlesex being torn up by industries without any regard to a, general national plan for organising and controlling. At this very moment the iron and steel trades, I understand, are going to tear up a large area of agricultural land in Northamptonshire in order to develop that particular industry without the slightest regard to the needs of the community. We entirely deny this Syndicalism. I can understand it from the Minister of Agriculture. He is a member of two professions, the political' and medical professions, which are both strongly Syndicalist. But I do not think that they have successfully organised themselves in the interests of the public. As a matter of fact they are both more prosperous according to the misfortunes of the individuals of the community.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I was speaking of Syndicalism. I think it would be much better if we organised the medical profession on the ground that it paid only when we are healthy and not when we are ill. Organised agricultural production 59 can only be paid by the people who get a full feed and are not starving. This Bill does not go nearly far enough in definite organisation. I have referred to the question of imports and how the question affects powerful interests. The Bill neglects the consumers altogether. It neglects to a very large extent the lower paid workers in the industry. Above all its does not envisage any plan for this country. Now it is desired to create a big pig industry. Is it desirable that you should have a general increase of the pig population throughout the country? Should you not endeavour, when fostering particular sides of agriculture, to put it in the parts of the country where it is most wanted? I believe, for instance, that such an industry as this can be stimulated specially in the area where at present we are paying enormous sums for the growing of wheat. If the Government had a real plan for agriculture they could foster all these other industries. The right hon. Gentleman has some ideas of planning; he has a good deal more community sense than most Members of the Government. That is probably due to his sound early training though he has since strayed from the narrow path.
Let me refer to some of the drastic provisions in the Bill. I notice that we have had no protests about heavy fines for those who play the part of what we call blacklegs when these organisations are set up. Then there is more power to examine the farmers' accounts, an admirable precedent. We shall watch this organisation when it is set up. We shall see what precedent we can find which will be of use to us when we come really to organise this country. We object to this system, which is going to set up a great middleman's interest, which will concentrate it all in a few hands. When the present Government have trustified the production of bacon and milk and so forth we shall be able to take over and excise undesirable features, such as the tenderness to vested interests in the land, and the tenderness to middlemen, which mar this Measure.
But my main objection to this Bill, taking it by itself, is that it is not in consonance with the policy of the Government. That, however, is an argument in favour of it. But as an expression of policy it presupposes that there is a mar- 60 ket for these agricultural products, while every other Minister, the President of the Board of Trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health, are seeking to reduce the purchasing power of the mass of the people. I see here no indication whatever of a grasp of the fact that you cannot get the products of this machine age consumed unless you have a wider distribution of purchasing power among the masses. No doubt the Minister of Agriculture would like to go further, but this Bill is merely a sop to his reforming qualities, while at the same time it marches with the rest of the retrograde and obsolete policy of the present Government.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
I do not know quite which indication of the hon. Gentleman I ought to follow, whether I should follow him in a general discussion of Socialism and Capitalism, or whether I should say something about the Bill. I had intended to say something about the Bill, its provisions and origin and the rest of it. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman very far. Capitalism in an imperfect world has done great things in production, and less successful things in distribution. You cannot assume, simply because you call the alternative Socialism, that it will solve the problem either of production or distribution. But I must say that all the evidence in the world shows that Socialism makes a hash both of production and distribution, and that the distribution is worse than the production. It is perfectly true that there has been a quite definite effort to exclude as much Socialism from the provisions of this Bill as is consistent with its purpose. There is just the amount of Socialism left in this Bill that must be in any Bill involving any Government action whatever—that and no more. Our object has been not to go in for eliminating all persons who have knowledge and experience of the industry and its needs and to supersede them by Government bodies. Our object has been to avoid that kind of procedure and to utilise the services of these despised producers and middlemen with whom the hon. Gentleman made such play.
We believe, rightly or wrongly, that if the Government goes in for business, 61 either as a landowner or as a middleman, or as doing business itself, it will make a hash of it. I call attention to one instance. One of the best conducted State enterprises is the Crown Lands Department, a great Government organisation, which owns agricultural land—nationalised land. I find in the report which they have given us only last week under the heading of "Farms in hand," figures showing an income of £32,697 and payments of £66,886, and those compare with figures of £22,000 and £35,000, respectively, in the previous year. I find that 11 farms were in hand during the year 1931, mostly in East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and several others came into hand during the current financial year. The chief thing to observe is that whereas the loss last year on these farms, these nationalised farms, or farms in hand, was £12,000, this year the loss is £34,000.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
May I take it that these farms had been private farms and that they had already failed?
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
Certainly, but all over this country you have land steadily deteriorating in value owing to the fact that the fall in prices is having its inevitable consequence upon all agriculture, whether it is run by the State or by private enterprise. That is the obvious answer to the hon. Gentleman and one cannot get away from it. I was asked what was the immediate genesis of this Bill; why it was in its present form, and what was its relation to the Addison Act. I proceed to answer the hon. Gentleman. The immediate genesis of this Bill was the Lane Fox Committee's Report on Pigs and Pig Products. That committee was set up under Section 15 of the Addison Act in April of last year. It was set up by two Ministers, jointly, by my right hon. Friend who is the present Home Secretary, and by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). They appointed the Lane Fox Committee to implement the decision announced in this House of the National Government at that time, that a scheme was to be produced for securing a bacon industry in this country. I propose to read the main recommendations of the Lane Fox Committee because this Bill follows them closely. In fact, the preliminary instructions were to draft a Bill to carry out 62 the proposals of the Lane Fox Committee's Report, and while there have been some developments upon that in the Bill, these have not altered the character of the Bill in that respect. The Lane Fox Committee reported unanimously:
Those recommendations are embodied in the Clauses of the Bill. But, in addition to the Pig Industry Report, we now have a somewhat analogous report on milk, and, above all, we have had the experience of last autumn's crash in meat prices and the emergency action which had to be taken in that respect. We are also faced with the necessity of dealing with the subject of dairying, not on our own initiative but on the initiative of His Majesty's Government in New Zealand. After the Ottawa Conference and apart from any Ottawa decision, it was perfectly clear that there might be a disastrous collapse in the United Kingdom market unless the supplies of dairy products from the Dominions and other sources to this market were regulated. Accordingly the Government, having first decided to implement the pledges given last February to deal with bacon, also decided to make this Bill one of general application and not to limit it specifically to pigs and bacon. On examining the 63 whole situation it became clear that good and essential as were the provisions of the Addison Act, it was necessary to add to that Act. In fact, we are building on Dr. Addison's foundation, and I wish to say, frankly, that we are definitely thankful for the fact that a good deal of the preliminary work which was necessary on this question has been done under that Act. But it is quite clear, now that we have come to take action under that Act, that some amendment of it is necessary, and I think that experience will prove the necessity for those changes which we are proposing to make. Part III of the Bill is indeed largely devoted to such proposals, some of them important but all of them in line with the principle of the original Act.
- "(i) We are satisfied that recent prices of pigs and pig products have been dangerously low from the producer's point of view, that these low prices are not to the ultimate benefit of the consumer, and that the orderly expansion of the home bacon industry cannot be achieved unless the relatively high imports of bacon from established Continental industries are regulated.
- (ii) Study of the effects of the pig price and feeding stuffs price cycles lead us to the conclusion:—
- (a) that the total United Kingdom bacon supplies should be stabilised in order to limit the effect of the pig supply cycle; and
- (b) that as far as possible United Kingdom bacon pig prices should vary with feeding stuff prices.
- (iii) Expansion of the home pig industry must take the form of increased bacon production as the capacity of the pork market is limited …..
- (iv) In order to overcome the difficulties discussed ….and to achieve the objectives outlined in (i), (ii) and (iii) above, we recommend—
- (a) that the volume of total bacon supplies should be regulated by quotas both on home production and on imports; and
- (b) that bacon pigs should be sold only on annual contracts at a national price closely related to feeding costs."
I have said that the immediate reasons for the Bill were the presentation of the Lane Fox Report under the Addison Act, the crisis of last autumn in regard to meat, and the prospect of the crisis which is upon us in regard to dairy products. But there is, of course, a deeper and wider cause why a Bill of this kind is necessary particularly in this country. The fundamental fact is that the agricultural crisis is not a national phenomenon confined to this country but is universal. In my opinion the catastrophic fall in agricultural prices is the major cause to-day of industrial unemployment not only here but throughout the world. There is the broad fact that 70 per cent. of the world's population win their purchasing power from agriculture. In this country agriculture is relatively insignificant compared with the whole industry of the country, only 7 per cent. of our population being engaged in it, but taking the world as a whole, 70 per cent. are engaged in that industry, and it is the exceptional decline in their purchasing power that has decreased the effective demand for factory products and caused stagnation of export trade throughout the world.
Ever since 1926 there has been a pretty steady decline in agricultural prices, becoming in 1929, a catastrophic fall. As has been proved by international statisticians the fall in agricultural prices has been far greater than the fall in industrial prices. It is this fundamental difference in the two scales of falling prices that has upset the whole balance. We 64 see the effects most patently in the United States. There, the continued expansion of industry was pari passu with the ever-increasing purchasing power of the farming population and the primary producer and the secondary producer had a sort of complementary balance, with the result that over 95 per cent. of both the primary and secondary products of the United States were consumed inside that one great community. Then agricultural prices crashed, and they crashed more than the industrial prices, and the result has been to throw out of gear the whole industrial machinery of the United States. I do not know if hon. Members have seen a survey by the Royal Institute of International Affairs on this subject but it is a most illuminating review of the extraordinary percentage fall in prices of agricultural commodities, not only in this country but in every country in the world and particularly in the great industrial countries that has taken place since the autumn of 1929. It affects every British Dominion and Colony and countries like the Argentine and Denmark and the rest, and we cannot hope for an expansion of the exports of the products of British industry until confidence and prosperity have been restored to the primary producers of the world.
Here is another point. As far as we are concerned, up to last year the major fall in the prices of agricultural products was in the annual crops, particularly in a crop like wheat, and as we have all seen, now that we are insulated by the Wheat Act—I am afraid a lot of people have not been following the course of world wheat prices—in comparatively recent times we have had new low world records for the price of wheat, which is a most formidable factor facing the possibility of the industrial and commercial recovery of the world. But wheat represents only 10 per cent. of British agriculture. It is important, of course, because it is the means of securing so much employment, and ploughing for wheat is recognised as essential in certain counties to maintain the land in any form of reasonable utility. Therefore, the State was justified in giving assistance even to wheat, but when it comes to a threatened fall and a similar collapse in the prices of livestock, that would affect British agriculture universally and destroy it completely at its most vulnerable and central point.
65 It is clear that we cannot go back to the policy of Free Trade and laisser faire. That is quite impossible. If British agriculture is to survive, if the primary producer is to get on his feet again, if we are to make any contribution by that means to the solution of the world unemployment problem, we have to face the necessity of securing the markets, first of our own country, and then of the world, from being glutted with bankrupt stocks in a time of economic crisis. Let us remember, too, that the United Kingdom market in matters of foodstuffs is almost unique in the whole world, in the sense that this country provides itself with a far smaller proportion of its food requirements than any other country in the world, I think, except British Malaya, which produces hardly any food at all, but is almost wholly concerned with tin mines, rubber plantations, and so on; it is almost entirely dependent on imported foodstuffs. We produce, roughly, three-eighths of our food supply ourselves, and we are dependent on the importation of five-eighths from the Dominions and from foreign countries, and even with almost heroic measures it would take us quite a time to get up from the three-eighths to a half.
Therefore, being a nation of 42,000,000 relatively high consumers—because, although we have great poverty, we have nothing like the acute poverty of Eastern Europe, Russia, and the like, and our standard of living is still comparatively high—five-eighths of our food supply is the target for all the surpluses of the world, and it is in the interests of the world quite as much as of our own producers that the supplies into this market should be controlled and should not be turned on and off with violence. It is essential—modern conditions demand, whatever may have been our views in the past in this matter—that the shades of Bright and Cobden should no longer influence us. Not only is Queen Anne dead, but Queen Victoria also is dead, and we have to shed Victorian economics once and for all, and go forward to the organisation of markets and to world-planning in these matters. It will be a great thing that will prevent the, to my mind, hideous spectre of State Socialism coming upon us. Syndicalism, if you like, but Socialism is appalling.
I think it necessary to explain that, in introducing this Bill, we are not doing something which is intended purely 66 for the farming interests. Admittedly, we feel that we owe something to the farming industry in this time of crisis, and certainly it is in the interests of the nation that the proper farming of this country should not be let down and the land given over to thistles, nettles, and all the rest of it. It is essential in the national interests, therefore, that steps should he taken to give farming a chance to recover. Clause 1 is to ensure that no marketing scheme under the Addison Act should be prevented from functioning by reason of an avalanche from some unregulated import, and the Government are quite certain that it is impossible to expect the producers of this country to undertake marketing reforms under the Addison Act or any other Act if at any moment they can be overwhelmed by an unexpected glut of imports.
I want to make it clear that the Government mean to continue, wherever and whenever possible, to do this by voluntary agreements with the various countries, as has been done in the case of meat and as is being negotiated in regard to butter, and it is only in exceptional circumstances that there will need to be executive action under this Clause.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
The President of the Board of Trade negotiates between representatives of the Government, of producers' organisations, and of those engaged in business, transport, and so on. That is the way in which the voluntary schemes are negotiated. Clause 2 must be read with Clause 1. The two are absolutely interlocking Clauses. There will be, and there can be, no restricting, controlling, or arranging—I use these words advisedly—of any import into this country, whether from a foreign country or from a Dominion—there will be no compulsory order issued by the President of the Board of Trade—unless there is a marketing scheme in force or contemplated to do similar things with regard to the home product. Let me make the matter clear to the British farmer as well as to the importer that the safeguards in Clause 1 are intended to make it quite definite that nothing will 67 be done under Clauses 1 and 2 together without due regard to any existing international obligation.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
We regard the Dominion arrangements as precisely on the same footing in this matter of undertakings as our undertakings under any other international instrument; that is to say, there will be no violation of any commercial treaty or any international convention under the League of Nations or any of the Ottawa Agreements, except with the consent and agreement of the other parties. Clause 2 interlocks with Clause 1, and it is the intention of the Minister under Clause 2, wherever possible, to avoid having to take compulsory powers and make any Order himself, and he certainly will not do so till every step has been taken to endeavour to organise a marketing board on the voluntary basis conceived in the original Addison Act.
The important thing in regard to both those Clauses is Clause 3, which qualifies them. Clause 3 is admittedly one of the important, entirely novel proposals in the Bill. It proposes a definitely new Mate organisation, and, as hon. Members will see from the italics at the end of the Clause, it involves a new charge on public funds, because the body that is set up under Clause 3 is to be an independent statutory body, which is to advise the Minister of Agriculture for England and Wales, or the Secretary of State for Scotland as Minister of Agriculture for Scotland, or the Home Secretary for Agriculture in Northern Ireland.
The genesis of Clause 3 is to be found on page 24 of the Lane Fox Pig Report. There, after going very carefully into the scope of the machinery of the quota, they make it quite clear that they came to the conclusion that what they called quota determination should be in the hands of an independent and non-representative body, judicial in character. This they called the Quota Advisory Committee, and that was an essential part of the structure of their scheme. Quite frankly, His Majesty's Government have accepted the proposition, but not the name. The word "quota" is now used, both on the platform and off it, to mean about five or six different things, and it 68 is considered that it is much better, wherever possible, to get away from the Latin word "quota" and to get something more easily understood by the people. Therefore, in Clause 3 we call it the Market Supply Committee, and this Committee will be advisory and will fulfil many of the functions set out in the Lane Fox Report. It will be a whole-time body and it will have the duty of considering and advising on all problems of supply regulation, both economic and administrative.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Might one ask a question? I gather that the Market Supply Committee is only advising the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretaries of State concerned with agriculture in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but it does not, therefore, advise at all as to importations from abroad.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
But it is obvious that you cannot have import control or import regulations or any kind of import restriction under the President of the Board of Trade unless there is a corresponding marketing regulation of the home product. The Market Supply Committee will advise upon the marketing of the home products, but, in doing so, it is clear that all their regulations and all their reports must go to the President of the Board of Trade who is required to consult the Minister. My right hon. and gallant Friend in charge of the Bill agrees with me that that is the intent: that either through him or through any other machinery they shall be in a position to consider and advise on both the economic and the administrative working of the whole problem of agricultural marketing. These three are admittedly the important Clauses of the Bill. They are the essence of the Bill.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to ask a question about Clause 1, which regulates the importation into the United Kingdom ofany such agricultural product as may be specified in the Order"?Does that mean that the Minister or the President of the Board of Trade may regulate any agricultural product irrespective of what the Marketing Orders are that have been made? I Is it intended to make the limitation much wider than any Order that has been made under the Addison Act?
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
It is anything that is within the terms of the Act. The definition of "agricultural product" in the Addison Act is the definition of it in this Act.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
What I mean is: can they make an order regulating the import of cheese if the marketing scheme is for bacon?
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
There is no difference in the regulation between the marketing scheme and the import scheme. I am rather surprised at the question. The whole object of this Clause is, as I claim, that no home marketing scheme under the Addison Act shall be prevented from working efficiently and effectively by reason of the absence of a corresponding control of the foreign product. Therefore, it is enough in Clause 1 "by order of the Board of Trade," unless there is a corresponding Order in regard to the corresponding article dealing with the controlling of the marketing of the home product.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
That is certainly the intention which my right hon. Friend and all of us had when we prepared the Bill. But I must not take up too much time; I must take one or two more Clauses of the Bill as far as I can. I ought to say one word about Part II of the Bill. I know that some hon. Members are inclined to see Socialism here. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Northern Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) who talked in this connection about "imposed from the top." Let me assure the House that these development schemes are not to be imposed from the top; they are to be built up from the bottom. Clause 4 is obviously merely a permissive Clause, to enable marketing boards to come together and put forward, under the general provisions of the Marketing Act, which is the principal Act referred to by this Bill, their schemes, with this proviso: that one of those boards shall be what we may call a processing board. This part of the Bill, again, arises directly out of the report of the Pig Commission, which reported that there could be no satisfactory reorganisation of the pig industry in this country unless more attention was paid to the production of bacon, and that, in order 70 to produce more bacon, clearly the Pig Producers' Marketing Board must work with a dairy processing board, and there must be a joint scheme.
The hon. Member asked whether in this business they would consider different parts of the country. That is essential to the success of the Bill. You have to consider your factory distribution, your factory rationalisation, the obtaining of the right kind of market for the right type of bacon for which there is a demand. In order to do that we must have two boards working, putting up a joint scheme. Frankly, it is essential on the one hand to have the very best brains engaged in the industry, particularly on the processing side. This Clause, though it desires to avoid a specific recommendation in regard to bacon, is put in general terms and will he of exceptional value both in regard to creameries and dairy products and also in regard to pigs' food. It will be possible to build up those processing boards and agricultural marketing boards jointly by development schemes of this kind. That represents a definite advance on the Addison Act.
I must draw attention to two Clauses in Part III which incorporate sundry minor Amendments to the Addison Act Possibly the two most important Clauses are Clauses 9 and 11. Clause 9 arises out of the specific desire of the Hops Board—which is already under the shelter of tariffs, existing and functioning to regulate quantities as well as prices—to ensure modern, scientific, twentieth century, quantitative regulation of these matters as well as of the prices and the market supply. That is put in and may also be of general use. Clause 11 is to enable boards to negotiate with outside persons. That may be of enormous importance in connection with the Milk industry. I speak only as a layman in these matters. I have not time to go into the details of the Milk Report, but it is perfectly clear that in the future that antagonism of the milk producers and distributors must be broken down, in order that more milk may be produced and consumed to the general satisfaction of the public. The one chance is to get inside the Act of Parliament provisions which will cover the operations of a Milk Marketing Board, and give a pretty clear indication and assistance to the two great organisations: the Farmers' Union on the one side and what is commonly 71 called "The Combine" on the other, to get together in the common interest.
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell), at the end of last Monday's Debate challenged us on Clause 17. Let me assure him that this request for an Amendment to the Act dealing with the poultry and egg trades represents the unanimous demand of all sections of the industry and is therefore, we think, a thing which appearances show should be done, and is done. I should think that there is nobody in the poultry or egg industry or the allied trade who is not in favour of that provision.
Clause 20 and the subsequent Clause arising under it, the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) particularly liked because they include fines and penalties! May I explain to him that those fines and penalties in the Clauses of this Bill are not an increase but a mitigation of the fines and penalties that would be imposed under the Official Secrets Act. Take Clause 20, which deals with the divulgers of the amount of stocks. It is obvious that the Market Supply Committees under Clause 3 of the Bill must be given adequate information to advise the Minister or the President of the Board of Trade, and at present there is no power to require information regarding stocks. It may be said that it is a certain inquisition, but, if we are to regulate and take powers to regulate markets, which I believe will be of value for the home producer, the importer from abroad, and equally for the foreign producer, we must have the proper power to enable the committee to obtain the essential information.
One other word in regard to Clause 22. This Clause should be read in connection with Clauses 1 and 2. There will be no compulsory order either of the President of the Board of Trade or of the Ministers of Agriculture unless there has been an affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. So on any individual scheme dealing with any individual product, Parliament will have the last say as to whether the scheme is a good or a bad one and whether the regulation is a right one in that particular case. That provision safeguards both sides: the consumer and the producer, and also the public at large—the public of this country more 72 than the public of the world. We do not contemplate any bureaucratic, hidden action on these matters of agricultural marketing. We have endeavoured to draft this Bill with as little Socialism as possible, in order to make sure that everything done under it will be done as it should be done, either by the people who are engaged in the production of the product at home or by those who are engaged in the distribution of the imported products. As a Government, we think that those people who are experienced and have knowledge of their job will do it better than politicians or other Government officials. That is our view, but it is not that of hon. Members opposite, who wish to sweep away everybody connected with the industries and have the regulation under their own control.
The success or failure of this Bill in our opinion depends not so much on State or Government action as on the degree to which the producers of this country are ready to co-operate in working it. That is the essential purpose. We believe that if this Bill is worked co-operatively by the people concerned, by those who know the business and are in the business, it will not merely do something for the producer and insulate this country during a time of crisis, but will give a lead to a type of national and international planning of the best kind. We believe that it is the right type of planning, that it is practical and that it is the real alternative to the dangers and inefficiency of Socialism.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
The House will be grateful to the First Commissioner of Works for the full and clear exposition which he has given of the Clauses of this Bill. It is a Bill that needs close and careful examination. The Minister of Agriculture, who introduced it in a very engaging speech, described it as drastic, far-reaching and novel. It is none the worse for that, but those qualities demand that Parliament should give it very close attention. Of course, everyone knows that it is by far the most Socialistic Measure that has been brought before Parliament in recent years. The First Commissioner of Works strives to cover that fact by denouncing Socialism. It is not for him to say that he comesto bury Caesar, not to praise him;73 he comes to resurrect Socialism and at the same time to denounce it. There, again, I do not know that the fact that the label "Socialistic" can be attached to this Bill is a reason for thinking it a bad Bill. It must be examined on its merits, for all those questions of label are in these days, I am glad to think, of very little importance.
This afternoon I desire to state on behalf of my hon. Friends who sit on these benches the view that we take of this important Measure and of the whole policy that it enshrines. For years we have been strongly advocating agricultural organisation and efficiency in production and marketing. We cordially supported the Agricultural Marketing Act in 1931—that Measure which some of the right hon. Gentlemen who now introduce this Measure denounced as Socialism in its worst form, but which is now treated with the utmost deference, and is respectfully described as "the principal Act." The view which in general we take upon these matters I ventured to state on behalf of my hon. Friends in February of last year when I made a speech in the House dealing generally with the whole policy of Protection. Then I said that we were not animated by any hide-bound doctrinaire nineteenth century views, but were quite prepared to consider various proposals on their merits. The Minister of Agriculture spoke about my attitude in February of last year, and claimed that it involved that I should support this Bill. What I said at that time was that we believed in the organisation of industries, whether iron and steel or certain agricultural industries, and that if an industry were engaged in a complete reorganisation of its methods, re-establishing itself in accordance with present day requirements, modernising its plant and changing its methods, and if it could be shown that during the period that the scheme was being put into operation it needed some shelter from destruction by a flood of foreign importations designed to overthrow it meanwhile, we should recognise the justice of such a claim and would be prepared to admit it.
Any such scheme, however, should observe four conditions. First, it should not be the purpose of the scheme permanently to raise the prices of the commodities above the prices prevailing in the world at large, and the industries 74 that were to be put upon their feet were to be made efficient and then to stand on their own legs and to produce in competition with the rest of the world; secondly, that they should not be given any permanent measure of protection which could only conduce to revive inefficiency, but that such a measure as this should be exceptional, temporary and provisional, and should come to an end after a specified period of years; thirdly, that the interests of the consumers should be most carefully safeguarded, and that they should have an important place in the machinery for establishing such a system; fourthly, that there; should be specific Parliamentary sanction in each case. I gave as an example the dyeing industry and how it had been successfully established in this country by these methods to the great advantage of the nation, giving employment to large numbers of people and adding to the wealth of the whole community. All these conditions have been applied in that case. If an agricultural scheme were on those lines, I should have no objection to it in principle.
Before I proceed further, let me say, in parenthesis, that we who are Liberals believe that ultimately the prosperity of British agriculture cannot be restored unless there is a drastic reform of our system of land tenure. We believe that the land of this country cannot carry the landlord, the farmer, the labourer, and, to a considerable extent, the Church establishment, in competition with other countries of peasant proprietors who work the land alone or of ranchers who have some hired labour assistance. I do not dwell on that to-day, because it can properly be said that any such reform must take a very long time to carry out, that it is distant of accomplishment, that the needs of agriculture are pressing and urgent, and that Parliament cannot be asked to spend its time upon the consideration of such matters at this moment. I only make this observation in parenthesis so that it should not be said that I had omitted what is, in fact, one of the most important branches of our long-range policy.
With regard to reorganisation and temporary shelter meanwhile, if this Bill effected just that, we should support it. If the Bill consisted of Part II, we should support it in general terms; I do not pledge myself to every detail. That Part, 75 which the Minister of Agriculture said is the essentially constructive part of the Bill, is a Measure to extend the Marketing Act from production to manufacture, from primary products to the secondary products, from pig to bacon, from milk to butter, and so forth. That is a Measure which certainly should be supported and it gives rise to no opposition in any quarter of the House. The Bill, however, goes far beyond those two objects. These are put forward as the reasons for the Bill and to the public at large they give it its justification. But the Bill includes very much more than that. Sub-section (1) of Clause 2 says that any order may be made under this Bill by the Minister of Agriculture if itwill conduce to the efficient reorganisation of any branch of the agricultural industry in the United Kingdom, orand this is alternative and separate—is necessary in order to secure the economic stability of any branch of that industry.These are words which, so far as I know, have never been referred to by the Ministers who have been advocating the Bill. They are extremely wide words. What is meant by "to secure the economic stability of any branch of that industry"? Anything could be done under those words. Any Measure could be taken in respect to any agricultural product, whether there was a scheme for reorganisation or not on purely old-fashioned Protectionist grounds "in order to secure economic stability". It is not clear from the Bill whether if such an Order is made on such a ground the importation is to be regulated. The First Commissioner stated that Clause 1 and Clause 2 were interlocked and worked together. If an Order is made in order to secure economic stability, does it involve that an importation regulation Order must have been made before, or that an importation Order is to be made after? Which is dependent upon which?
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
As I understand it, this provision is essentially to meet a crash position. Suppose, as happened last year owing to the sudden increase of New Zealand and Australian meat imports, there was a sudden crash of the market, the Minister could, in the interests of economic stability, meet that position by a scheme for a temporary definite period and make an import Order 76 at the same time. He could, therefore, hold against that crash position pending the creation of the full machinery of a marketing scheme.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the explanation. That is how he understands it, but that is not on the face of the Bill. His statement may embody what is the intention of himself and his colleagues, but it would not bind his successors. If Parliament gives these exceedingly wide powers, they might be used, not in that manner at all, but by some Protectionist Minister who wanted to give an advantage to the agricultural community under pressure in this House, and who would use these words without any reorganisation scheme at all, without any reference to reorganisation or greater efficiency, in order to carry through provisions of this kind.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Major Elliot)
Surely the whole of Clause 2 hangs on the words:Where—Both these things hang on the words in Clause 1:
- (a) the importation of an agricultural product into the United Kingdom is regulated by an Order in force under the foregoing Section; or
- (b) the Board of Trade certify that arrangements have been made, to the satisfaction of the Board, for controlling the importation of an agricultural product into the United Kingdom."The Board of Trade may make an Order regulating the importation into the United Kingdom of any such agricultural product as may be specified in the Order, if—(a) an agricultural marketing scheme affecting some branch of the agricultural industry in the United Kingdom is in force or has been prepared or is shown, to the satisfaction of the Board, to be in course of preparation.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
This is a matter of construction. All I can say is that the matter is left very obscure in the Bill, because these words about economic stability appear in Clause 2 and do not appear in Clause 1. If the two are interlocked, why should not the words appear in Clause 1 as well as in Clause 2, just as the words "efficient organisation" appear in both Clauses? There is this further point. These Orders may be made not only when a reorganisation scheme has been made and has been accepted, but if one is in course of pre- 77 paration, a point which has already been referred to by an hon. Member opposite. Thus we may get, as in the case of the iron and steel trade, a tariff first and reorganisation at leisure, or possibly never. Suppose the reorganisation scheme is not successful. It will need a very courageous Minister of Agriculture to agree, when the quotas are once imposed, and prices are raised, that because the agricultural industry has disagreed within itself and the marketing scheme has not been put into effective operation, that none the less the quotas should be removed. He would not be required by the Statute to remove them.
The words "in course of preparation" seem to be very dangerous words. Let me point out in this connection that the Pig Committee's Report, on page 23, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) a few days ago, specifically says that the reorganisation scheme should be effectively adopted in this country before there is any question of imposing restrictions. This Bill does not merely relate to organisation schemes, but it restricts supplies. It differs in that respect from the Marketing Act of 1931, and it is a very important difference indeed. In fact, the Title of this Bill is something of a misnomer. It is not esentially an Agricultural Marketing Bill. It is essentially a Bill for the restriction of the production and supply of foodstuffs. That is a point which, for the first time, is embodied in our legislation.
There is a great temptation for those administering a Bill of this character, where they have the power to stop the importation of foreign imports, on one plea or another to take the easy course and establish a monopoly such as is proposed in this Bill—because this Bill does aim at an effective monopoly; with the organisation of each particular branch of the agricultural industry it is intended to secure monopoly of home and foreign supplies—and thereby to raise prices, to secure easy profits by stopping imports, instead of taking the very difficult course of insisting upon real organisation and high efficiency. Further, this Bill is not only for the present emergency. It is advocated on the plea of the grave plight in which agriculture is in this country as in other countries, and it makes a strong appeal for that reason, and the Minister of Agriculture, in his introductory speech, 78 said "the proposals were not more far-reaching than the emergency". But that is what they are. The proposals do go beyond the emergency. The right hon. Gentleman has said elsewhere thatThe policy of quantitative regulation is not just an expedient for meeting a crisis; it has come to staywords which were quoted the other day by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild). So the farmers and the public at large must consider this Bill not merety as an emergency Measure to meet what the right hon. Gentleman calls "the crash," but as a permanent legislative Measure which will be in force and operative when this emergency is long over, as we hope it will be, five years hence or 10 years hence—without any restriction of time.
The right hon. Gentleman says that, after all, Parliament will have to sanction these schemes, and there is, it is true, that check, which is some check, but not a very effective check. We all know what these Orders are. They have to be accepted as a whole. Parliament can say "Yes" or "No," but it cannot modify them, cannot consider them clause by clause and line by line, and make alterations here and there. They come before the House, usually, at 11 o'clock at night or later, and there is no real, effective control of these Orders, unless there should happen to arise some matter of keen controversy which evokes real interest throughout the country. In the ordinary course Parliament abdicates its functions once it passes a Measure of this kind and entrusts the matter to the Government of the day. I do not know of any occasion in recent years on which any Order under an Act of this sort has ever been rejected or seriously amended by the House of Commons. There may possibly have been one or two not within my knowledge, but they are exceedingly rare, if, indeed, such a thing ever has happened.
Our view, then, is as follows: If this Bill were an extension of the Agricultural Marketing Act, as proposed in Part II, and nothing more, or if it were a Bill to give shelter to particular industries for a temporary period pending reorganisation, we should examine it in close detail and in no unfriendly spirit; or even if it were really a Bill to deal with the present world-wide 79 emergency and nothing more, again we should be prepared to examine it in that spirit; but since it goes far beyond that we feel bound to withhold our support. Furthermore, there is this very grave matter. The Bill touches very closely the whole international situation. The Minister of Agriculture quite frankly admitted it, and used words which are of great importance in that connection. Some hon. Members may say, "Do not let us concern ourselves too much about the international situation; let us consider the interests of our own farmers to-day, and act accordingly." That is not the view of the Government or of the Minister of Agriculture. In stating the case for the Bill, he said it rested on three foundations, the first being the necessity of improving the position of British agriculture. Secondly, he said:We have to reconcile our work with world economics in order to make our contribution to the very difficult questions which have been placed before economists and statesmen in connection with the present economic chaos which weighs on the exchanges and on the markets of the whole world.Again, later in his speech, he said:We have clone our utmost to ensure that world trade does not simply stagnate, by being strangled and restricted by a series of arbitrary decrees under this Bill. We shall ensure, in the discussions which take place on the Floor of this House and with foreign countries, that the whole question of British trade, both import and export, is most thoroughly taken into account in making any Regulations under the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1933; col. 1641, Vol. 275.]Let no hon. Member answer me by saying that these questions of imports and exports are like King Charles's head, and that they have no relation to this matter; that British agriculture is the thing to be considered—that, and nothing else. The right hon. Gentleman does not take that position, nor do the Government. That being a common starting point I ask, Will that, in fact, be observed under this Bill? Will the operation of this Bill in practice conform to that theory? Of course, if all the arrangements made with foreign countries are on a voluntary basis, that would be so; but I do not know that the Government have ever said that they are to be only on a voluntary basis, that in no circumstances are the powers of quota 80 to be exercised without the consent of other countries. Therefore, this Bill goes further than merely permitting voluntary arrangements between the various countries of the world.
It is another instance of the fundamental inconsistency of the Government's policy in all these matters of international trade. They are trying—one must drive this home again and again—to do two incompatible things at one and the same time. They are trying to satisfy agricultural Members by saying that British agriculture is going to be protected, that this flood of imports, which they describe as dumped goods—anything which is sold in this country thereby is dumped—is to be stopped, and that agriculturists have the full assurance that the Government will do it; and yet at the same time they say they are going to use the bargaining power of admitting foreigners into our great market for the consumption of foodstuffs in order to bring down foreign tariffs. They cannot do the two things, and the right hon. Gentleman will find that to be so. He says that these quotas have come to stay. Even if foreign countries were willing to reduce their tariffs against us, still they have come to stay. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) says that British agriculture can only survive if quotas or some similar regulations are maintained. How does that square with this notion that we are going to use our unparalleled food market as a bargaining weapon with foreign countries? I can understand some hon. Members saying, many hon. Members do say—they all use the words printed in yesterday's papers as having been spoken by a very distinguished public man. "If our goods are barred abroad we must strengthen the domestic markets more determinedly than ever before."
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
The Noble Lord applauds that remark, but those words were spoken by Dr. Schacht, the new President of the Reichstag in Germany. And so it goes on. Each country says precisely the same thing as the other, with the result that the world is in the state in which we see it, and that there are 30,000,000 of people unemployed. We have these reciprocal restrictions, and the Germans saying that if other countries are shutting out their goods 81 they must maintain their home market more determinedly than ever before, and shut out British goods more drastically than before. So it goes on—a vicious circle all round the world, with the result, as the Minister of Agriculture says, that we have a state of chaos, and world trade is strangled and restricted; and yet this Measure, I am afraid, will merely contribute to the continuation of that process.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
Does the right hon. Gentleman attribute the fall in world prices entirely to these restrictions?
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
No, not entirely. The depression originated in America from various causes, largely the creation of the American Farm Board, with the best intentions, for the benefit of agriculturists; but it has certainly been maintained and perpetuated, and a recovery has been prevented, by the fact that all these restrictions of tariffs, quotas and exchanges have been imposed in various countries of the world, each fighting against the other. This Measure will have reciprocal effects in other countries, who, when we come to the World Economic Conference, will quote it as a reason against the removal of their restrictions. They will say: "What, do that when you, in March of this year, passed this general system permitting and establishing quotas for any and every agricultural product!"
Clause 1(2) of the Bill says that any Order made must not conflict with present agreements, and the President of the Board of Trade, before he makes any Orders now, will take into account the existing negotiations with the Argentine, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and other countries. That is what would happen at this moment, because this Bill is not passed, but once it is passed, once these quotas are set up, will he be able to consider the matter afresh, if there are other negotiations next year or in 1935? It is necessary to take into account present negotiations now before these quotas are made, but suppose some fresh, situation arises. Suppose, for example, we are trying to enter into a trade agreement for sending, our coal to Germany or to Sweden with less restraints, and they say: "Very well, we will do this if you will permit our agricultural products to enter your country." Then the Government will have to say: "We have made our quota arrangements, and our agricul- 82 turists would object to foreign competition. They are allowing for it. They have put up this kind of factory and they have established that kind of organisation." It would be found that our hands would be very seriously hampered in attempting negotiations of that kind.
There are still one or two points with which I venture to trouble the House. It is frequently said, and it has been said in connection with this Bill, that the interests of the town population and the interests of the consumers would be well served by Measures of this kind. It is said that the villages are the best markets for the towns, and that 'a prosperous British agriculture would mean not only a prosperous rural but also a prosperous urban population. Up to a certain point that is true. Undoubtedly, if the farming community and the agricultural labourers were more prosperous, the country towns who supply them would gain to that extent, but this cannot be a substitute for the world markets on which our great staple industries have so long depended. If there are 4,000,000 agriculturists in this country, that home market is of value; but there are 2,000,000,000 people in the world, and if we can help to restore prosperity throughout the world and to encourage our export trade, that would necessarily be, from a mere arithmetical point of view, of far greater value than the restoration of prosperity in rural England. The right hon. Gentleman says that this Bill will help to that end. Will it? If you restrict supplies by quotas it will not contribute to that end, as I shall show in a moment.
Let us consider our great industries, beginning with Lancashire, of which I am one of the representatives—Lancashire with its cotton trade, Yorkshire with its woollen and other textile trades, the shipbuilding yards and the iron and steel works of the North and North-East, our shipping trade in general, all those great staple industries which are now so much depressed. They cannot directly gain anything from the restoration of rural England, which is much to be desired for itself and enormously to be desired from the point of view of the strength of the country and of the well-being of an important part of our population. It is an exaggeration to say that the prosperity of the towns could be restored simply by 83 the restoration of prosperity to the rural districts. This is specially true, of course, in the case of coal.
When we raise the plea, on behalf of the interests of the consumers, some hon. Members are accustomed to say: "Oh, once more we are hearing of the bogey of the consumer. Cheapness is not everything. The consumers ought to be ready to snake sacrifices for the restoration of rural England, and for the strengthening of the nation." That also contains some element of truth, but how far is that to be carried? This so-called bogey of dear food, as I think the experience of other countries shows clearly enough, is a very stern reality. Once the principle is adopted that at any cost the agriculture of a country is to be made prosperous, look at the results. An hon. Friend of mine put down a question on 14th March, asking for the prices of wheat in the different countries of Europe at the latest date available, in gold pounds per cwt. The reply showed that in Great Britain the price is 184; in France 421, more than twice as much; in Germany, 525, and in Italy 600, more than three times as much. So that it is no bogey, but a reality, that the great populations of the towns have to pay three times as much for their staple of life than they would need to pay if they got that product at the world price. The figure was not given for Belgium, but I took the trouble some time ago to ascertain the comparative prices on one side of the Belgian frontier and on the other. In Belgium there is free trade in corn, and in France there is high protection. In the villages on the French side, the price of a loaf of bread of a somewhat lower quality was from two to two and a-half times what is was three or four miles away on the other side, with the result that the discontent was so great on the French side that the French Government had to subsidise the bakers along the French frontier and give them tickets which could be cashed for a certain number of centimes for every loaf baked, in order to compensate in some degree for the difference, and in order not to allow the contrast to be so glaring as against the villages of Belgium, a few miles away.
It is the avowed policy of the Government to secure a general rise in world prices. We cannot assume that that 84 policy will fail; we have to assume that it will succeed, and if it does succeed, will the quotas be enlarged? Will those restrictions on supplies be removed, or will the people of this country simply have to pay higher prices? It is assumed that the system will be worked scientifically, and that the Minister will turn a tap, in accordance with equity and his own judgment, and will let in more or less of foreign supplies as they may be needed at the moment. That is the theory, but that theory never works in any country. Political influences are too strong, and that hand will be gripped from behind. Once we establish these quotas, we will find that, when world prices have risen, it will be very hard indeed to get rid of them or to reduce their effects. Consumers' committees are to be set up. I would like to know, because it is not clear from the Bill, whether consumers' committees will apply in all cases. Where any action is taken, will there be a consumers' committee? Those consumers' committees do not appear at the initiation of a scheme. Schemes are set up entirely independently of them, and they are only allowed afterwards to watch and to report. Those schemes include the reduction of supplies and not merely the organisation of markets, and it is more than ever important that the consumers should be represented from the beginning. This was the case in the dyeing industry, in which the consumers had a very definite representation on certain committees that framed schemes, and had a direct responsibility for their organisation. We consider that in this Bill the interests of the consumers are not being sufficiently safeguarded.
Then it is said that a Measure of this kind is essential for British agriculture. Why should it be essential in permanence? The Minister of Agriculture said that one-half of our supplies of meat, dairy produce and poultry was produced on our own soil. That shows, so far as 50 per cent. is concerned, that British agriculture can compete with other countries, and if a large part of the rest comes from Denmark it is not because of any advantage that Denmark has in climate or tariffs. Denmark has been a Free Trade country. It is simply because Denmark has a co-ordinated system, carefully organised; the dairy and pig industry are 85 worked together; a great market is found for butter and the buttermilk is fed to the pigs. By a strange modification of nature, the pig becomes a by-product of the cow. The Central Landowners' Association, which is not a political body, recently stated in a memorial to the Minister of Agriculture, that the reason why the home supplies of bacon have not been organised properly was becausethe standardised tank-cured bacon which the consumers demand is not at present manufactured in England on any appreciable scale.They go on to add that there is no attemptto stimulate an adequate supply of pigs of the right type,and they point out how in other ways the industry is deficient. Once it is made efficient and we get pigs of the right type and the right forms of manufacture, there is no reason why, with the immediate proximity of the market, we should not compete in that type of agricultural produce as we have competed with one-half of the agricultural produce in regard to the types that we already supply.
One important condition of success is that our farmers should not be hindered in their operations, and should not be prevented from producing as cheaply as the natural conditions of this country allow. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) made some very pertinent observations in a Debate in November on the subject of agriculture. He said:But again I have to say to the Govern- ment—they must please realise this—that they have injured the farmer in many respects, especially the stock-raiser. They have taxed his fefeeding-stuffs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1932; col. 80, Vol. 270.]He points out also that they have taxed manures, fertilisers, agricultural machinery and implements. In all these ways they have hindered the farmer in competition with agriculturists in other parts of the world. The Danish farmer has all these things free; feeding-stuffs, manures, everything that he needs comes in free. Under our Tariff system we tax the very raw materials of agricultural competition. It is giving a bounty to the Danish competitor, who is able to undersell us in the market for that very reason. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain never agreed to tax any form of raw materials. 86 In this matter the policy of the Government is deleterious, instead of being of assistance, to agriculture.
The Minister says that he wishes only to secure the production, in this country, of products which can as reasonably be produced here as in any other country. Is that really the policy of the Government and of the Conservative party I What about sugar I Under this Bill, once it is passed, any restriction might be imposed upon foreign sugar in the interests of the beet-sugar industry of Norfolk, Lincolnshire and elsewhere. "Products which can as reasonably be produced in this country as in any other": In Java, under that tropical sun, an acre of land produces 6 tons of sugar; here, an acre of land, under beet-sugar cultivation produces 1.3 tons, or less than a quarter. The difference has to be made up by subsidies and rebates of taxation, at the expense of the British taxpayer. About £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 has been spent in a few years in this contest between the sun and subsidies. In the long run it will be the sun which will win.
Whenever the matter is discussed in this House, the stern advocates of economy at all costs and ruthless economy, who sit upon the Conservative benches, plead to maintain this continuous subsidy in order to keep 13witish beet sugar going, against the tropical sugar that Nature gives so bountifully. This Bill would encourage and permit that. With regard to wheat, millable wheat is now only about 4 per cent. of the agricultural produce of this country, and it cannot be, expected in these islands that we can compete effectively, or to any large extent, with the vast wheat areas of Canada and the Argentine. The Bill ostensibly is intended to adapt our production to the changing needs of our time, but the danger is that it will stereotype them. The British agriculture of to-day is very different from the British agriculture of 1870, for example. British agriculture 20, 30, 40 years, hence will be very different from the British agriculture of to-day. But, instead of the industry being a living, developing industry, fitting itself to the changing needs of the times, this Bill will stereotype it. Farmers are a somewhat conservative community—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—with a small "c"—and are inclined to keep things as they are if 87 only loss can be avoided; and it may be that, once this Bill is put upon the Statute Book, reorganisation will fade away while the quotas and restrictions will remain.
The villages are, no doubt, a good market for the towns, but the towns are the only market for our villages. The prosperity of the towns, is vital to British agriculturists. If successful marketing is wanted, the first requisite is the market, and to restrict supplies is not the way to increase and improve the markets of our great urban districts. The way to do that is rather to promote increased consumption, and that can be done by producing efficiently and cheaply, by expanding demand rather than by restricting supplies. I have seen figures—I have not been able myself to check them, but they come upon good authority—showing that the milk consumption per head in the United States is three times what it is in this country, while in Scandinavia A is four times what it is in this country. If our milk consumption approached that of the United States or Scandinavia, and if the supplies were derived from our own herds, this Island would not be large enough to hold all the cattle that would be needed. In the meantime, the children of the poorer classes are starved for want of milk. The consumption of milk in this country ought to be increased manyfold. When people in this country cannot afford to buy fresh milk from our farms, and when milk comes to us in a condensed form from the rich pastures of Switzerland, to suggest that that is an injury to our country is a preposterous inversion of right doctrine. We ought to rejoice that the supplies are available to help to maintain the health and well-being of the poorest children of this country.
If this Bill were confined to the more limited proportions and were governed by the strict conditions which I have mentioned, that is to say, if it were confined to the promotion and conduct of reorganisation, we should support it. As it is, we must vote against it. There are four special points to which I will refer in a very few sentences. In the first place, the quota system is new, and is not understood in this country. See how it works with respect to Argentine meat. We say that no more than a certain amount of meat must come to this coun- 88 try from the Argentine. The importer is, therefore, able to pay less for his meat in the Argentine, since the farmers there, in competition for the reduced supply, would have to lower their prices. But, at the same time that the importer has to pay less in the Argentine, he is able to raise the wholesale price in this country. He pays less for what he buys, and gets more for what he sells. The effect of the quota system is to present great fortunes to the happy middlemen who have command of this trade. They have not even asked for it, but I do not suppose that they would reject it now that it comes to them. I would ask the Government how they propose to safeguard the interests of the community against this transfer of vast sums of money to particular favoured interests?
Secondly, the position with regard to Dominion supplies is obscure. Is it to be left entirely to voluntary regulation? We are anxious, of course, to see the expansion of the Dominions. We are proud of the rapid progress which they have made without the assistance of Measures of this sort in the past, and we are confident that they have a glorious political and economic future. But how far is this Measure to be used for the promotion of Dominion interests in conflict with the interests of the farmers of Great Britain? How far have the Scottish and Welsh and English sheep farmers to forgo increasing their flocks in order that there may be great increases in the flocks of Australia or New Zealand? With regard to pig supplies, if a county council proposes to take a large area of land and divide it into smallholdings for the purpose of encouraging pig production, that cannot be done unless the council get licences for such a purpose from the body which is now to be established. At present it is free. How are they to know whether they will get their licences or not? And, in determining the output of these products in this country, have we to take into account the Dominion production and the Ottawa Agreements The official handbook of the Government of Canada for this year has just been received in this country, and it contains a statement to the effect that in the last five years, on the average, Canada sent to the United Kingdom 26,000,000 pounds weight of bacon per annum. Under the Ottawa Agreement, they have been given the right of sending, per 89 annum, not 26,000,000, but 280,000,000 pounds, or, as the handbook points out, 10 times the supply which they have been accustomed to send during the last five years. Is that to be maintained, and does it mean that the agriculturist here at home in the United Kingdom is to be restricted, and the development of smallholdings and of the industry generally is to be limited, in order that Canada should be able to multiply tenfold her output and her despatch to this country? Is this to be a voluntary agreement, or is the Minister to use his powers under the Act, not according to the natural course of production and trade, but bringing in political considerations, to determine how much the United Kingdom farmer is to produce and how much is to be produced by the farmer in New Zealand, Australia and Canada?
Thirdly, the Bill provides a large machinery for regulations. Every producer has either to be licensed or to obtain exemption from licence. The licence, therefore, will have a marketable value, like the public house licence, or like the motor omnibus licence in London; and the Bill provides, in Clause 6 (3, a), that, if a licence is refused, a sum of money is to be payable by way of compensation. Here you have an entirely new set of problems. I do not know whether they have been carefully considered. Are these licences to be saleable? Are they to involve compensation for all time? Is a new vested interest to be created, and, if so, what is to be the financial result A vast machinery is being set up in order to stop production in excess of the authorised amount, and it necessarily gives rise to great danger of evasion. We know that even in the case of the coal quota evasion is rampant in some of the coalfields, although there you have only a few large producers, all of whom can be to some extent checked and investigated. In the agricultural industry you have tens of thousands of small farmers, all of whom will have to have their production checked, and, as a result, violent penalties are imposed in the Bill for evasion. It is not good legislation to pass a law which is enforceable only with the greatest difficulty, and then to make it good by methods of terror, by imposing penalties so severe that every farmer and producer will be in dread of making some mistake. This 90 will not only apply to cases of withholding or disclosing information, akin to the Official Secrets Act, as I he First Commissioner of Works said. Let the House look at Clause 6 (5). It says:Every person who produces any article in contravention of the provisions of a development scheme … shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds and an additional fine not exceeding the value of the said article, or to both such imprisonment and fines.That is for a first offence. Then turn to Clause 10 (3):If any producer from whom any information is demanded by a board … under the provisions of an order … fails to comply with the demands"—if a form is sent to him and he fails to fill it in—he shall for each offence be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month, or to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, or to both such imprisonment and fine.That also is for a first offence. Again, by Clause 18 (2) a similar penalty is imposed for the offence of failing to make a return, and under Clause 21, in the case of a body corporate of any kind, where an offence is committed and has been facilitated by neglect, every director, manager, secretary and other officer is deemed to be guilty of the offence. There is no precedent for legislation of this character. The Precedent in the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, relates solely to the wilful disclosure of confidential information. To expose the whole farming community to terrific penalties of this sort is a proposal to which this House ought not for a moment to agree. Our prisons are not intended for offences of that character. This great farming community of respected and self-respecting men and women ought not to be exposed even to the threat of imprisonment for offences of this character. Talk of "Dora"! The Agricultural "Dora" will be no sweet and simple village maiden; she will be even more grim and formidable and interfering than the "Dora" of the towns.
Then, again, the Bill entrusts excessive powers to the Minister. In Clause 4 (3) and in Clause 7 (2) it is provided that any Order made is not to be challengeable in the courts, but is to be deemed 91 to be lawfully made and within the terms of the Act. Talk of the "New Despotism"! I was not one of those who raised objections to the powers to make regulations which are delegated to Government Departments under many Acts of Parliament. They are essential if you are to have effective modern legislation. But there is the gravest possible objection to ousting the jurisdiction of the Law Courts, and, when the Committee on Ministers' Powers considered this matter, while they did not think there was any serious objection to the power of making provisional orders and regulations under Acts of Parliament, they did say that proposals such as we now find in this Bill ought only to be very exceptional, and justification ought to be required in each case.
These last are minor points. The substantial points are those which I first mentioned. If modifications were probable in the Bill to bring it within the framework I have suggested, we-should have supported the Second Reading, looking forward to Amendments in Committee; but we have no anticipation that any such modifications are likely to be made. Our reasons for objecting to the Bill are, therefore, that it is not only related to the reorganisation of marketing, but in practice will go far beyond it; that it is not related to an emergency, but will be permanent; that it is another block in the way of the execution of the declared policy of the Government for the concurrent removal by international action of restrictions upon world trade; and that it does not sufficiently safeguard the permanent interests of the mass of the working-class population of this country, whose well-being should be the special care of Parliament.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
It is very fortunate for the House that I am not a statesman, because no statesman can develop his argument in less than an hour. I propose to be a little more brief, and I also propose to bring the House back to the realities of the agricultural situation, which are very critical indeed. Agriculture degenerated in 1932 into a sweated industry. There are tens of thousands of industrious, frugal, efficient cultivators of the land, working 10, 12 and 14 hours every week-day and six or eight hours on a Sunday, who cannot 92 make a living, and are being driven into the bankruptcy court. There is no escaping from that situation. It is idle for anyone here to tell these men that they do not know their business. If there is any man here who thinks the farmers do not know their business, let him take a do farm and farm it himself. Can my right hon. Friend point to any one man who will go down to a farm, take it for five years and make it pay? If you cannot do that, do not lecture the farmers. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend has been lecturing all the time. I really object to it and resent it, because I represent an industrious, honest body of men who are striving to make their way, and circumstances are against them. I do not understand what the hon. Member opposite is talking about.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I said I also represent a body of honest workers. Their land is flooded and they cannot do any work. The right hon. Gentleman opposed any grant being given to drain the land.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
That is outside the compass of the Debate. There is a real 'paralysis in country life. Tradesmen, masons, carpenters, wheelwrights have absolutely nothing to do. I think I heard an hon. Member use the expression "land tenure." One-third of the land of the country is to-day farmed by occupying owners, and they are worse off. The tenants have landlords, but these men have not. They have mortgages to pay. The Government are to be congratulated—this is the first Government to take this matter in hand—for striving, however inadequately, to help these men who really are striving to help themselves. In our own village in Devonshire the only prosperous industries are tax-collecting and distribution. Do not let the House make a mistake. This decay of agriculture cannot go on without grave injury to the country as a whole. My right hon. Friend has talked about imports and exports. Our exports have gone down in volume by 331 per cent. in three years. We have been using these exports to pay for our imports of food. Where is the food to come from if these exports do not go out of the country? We have a plethora for the moment, but how long will it last? In my judgment, increased productivity of the land would be of the greatest advantage to those who live in the towns, because people abroad will not 93 continue to pour products into this country without something in return to pay into this country without something in return to pay for them. Does the hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition Bench realise that there are 180,000 agricultural workers fewer than there were 11 years ago? That is nearly 20 per cent. It means that nearly 1,000,000 have gone into the towns to swell the population there and compete for work that does not exist. Any Government that neglected these facts would be neglecting its duty.
What are we suffering from to-day? I can speak from experience. I know the farming industry. I have farmed a small farm for a good many years. We are suffering from absolutely unregulated competition. Prices have come down to such an extent that it is quite impossible for the farmers to carry on and pay their way. Let me take the price of sheep. Fat sheep in 1929 were making 11ìd. a ld., and in 1932 the price was 7¼d. Butter was 20s. 6d. for 12 lbs. in 1929, and in 1932 it was 13s. 9d. Wool is worst of all. It was 1s. 7⅝d. a lb. in 1929, and 80. in 1932. Here are falls of 30 per cent., 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. What a row there was the other day when the unemployed and the teachers were cut 10 per cent.! The men who are engaged in the production of food have been cut 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. I ask those who criticise agriculture to have some regard to that fact.
This is a long range industry. You must look three or four years ahead. What we want in the Bill is economic stability. I hope we shall get it. I have looked very carefully at the Ottawa Agreements. I am very much afraid that agriculture has been sacrificed. It is being subjected to the most severe Dominion competition. We imported 3,300,000 cwts. of mutton and lamb from Australia and New Zealand in 1929. It increased to 5,000,000 cwts. last year. In 1929 we imported 2,000,000 cwts. of butter. That has increased to 4,000,000 cwts. I do not know what the Minister is going to do about this matter. He is tied to the Ottawa Agreements, but I want him to understand that it does not much matter to the farmer whether he is ruined by a stranger or by his cousin. It is the same thing to him.
Then Australia and New Zealand are operating with depreciated currency. I saw the other day at Smithfield Market 94 that Autralian butter was sold at 70s. a cwt. That means 3d. a gallon for milk. It is impossible for our farmers to compete with that. The other day I was at the county council meeting at Exeter. We are spending £700,000 to £800,000 a year on roads to bring visitors into the county and make the country more easy to get at. What is happening to-day? These roads are congested with lorries, bringing down Argentine meat, Australian, mutton, Danish bacon, and New Zealand butter. Instead of our people being supplied with really sound Devonshire produce, we have these overseas products. We are told that the President of the-Board of Trade is to regulate imports? He is to have the interest of the consumers at heart. He is to consider the effect on commercial relations, and there must be no interference with any Treaty. He must not regulate any imports unless there is a marketing scheme.
Frankly, I do not quite understand what these marketing schemes are going to be. I hope for the best—I think it was Disraeli who described a second marriage as the triumph of hope over experience. I see that the Minister is to regulate the sale of products. Does that mean the production of products. That would be a very serious inroad, indeed. We have enormously improved the cultivation of the land in the last few years. On my own farm I am keeping at least 30 per cent. more stock, owing to improved pastures, than 10 years ago. I am not very much in love with these marketing schemes. I hope they will succeed, but what we want is stability of prices. Let us know whether they are going to be high or low, but we cannot tolerate the up and down that we have been having. Wages have been stabilised. When my right hon. Friend talks about Denmark, the British farmer has to pay a certain wage. I wonder what the wages are in Denmark. I want to maintain the wages of the agricultural worker. I have never understood why a railwayman should be paid 10s. a week more than an agricultural labourer. We have our wages stabilised, therefore, let us have our prices stabilised. We know the Minister's keen and alert brain. We know full well that he has the welfare of the agricultural industry at heart. He made a great impression by his speech in Devonshire the other day. Why do you treat agriculture differently from iron and steel? For iron 95 and steel you have a tariff. If a tariff is good for iron and steel, why is it not good for agriculture? I should like the Minister to devote a few moments in his reply to elucidating that question. I really rather want to know. We are told that farmers do not market their products properly. I agree that there is room for improvement.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am not lecturing them. I say there is room for improvement. There is room for improvement in every one. There are good farmers and less good farmers. There are good politicians and less good politicians. My right hon. Friend is a good politician, and I am a less good one. Let us leave it at that. I was going to give the House an experience of my own. In October I sold some pigs at 8s. 6d. a score—that is 5d. a pound. In February similar fat pigs made 12s. a score or 7d. a pound. The price had gone up. I am told that it is seasonal in respect of pigs and pig products. I wrote to the man who bought those pigs and asked him, "What are your intermediate profits?" He said, "Your pigs are sent to me by lorry. They are slaughtered and then they are sent immediately to the shops to be sold." There are not many intermediate profits there. If anyone talks about marketing and organisation, let him go to Smithfield. I have been to Smithfield Market. There you have an example of congestion and of mediaeval methods such as you could hardly imagine. Every carcase taken into Smithfield Market to be sold is taken on the shoulders of a man. It is congestion to a degree. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will look into the question of the reorganisation of Smithfield.
We are told that we are to have a monopoly. We have cast-iron monopolies to-day. The Argentine meat trade is a cast-iron monopoly. They parcel out the quantities to a, degree of percentage. I have heard also—and this was supplied to me by a meat salesman—that under the New South Wales quota every farmer is parcelled out so many thousand cwts. which he may send to this country. We have these restrictions. I ask the Gov- 96 ernment whether it is not possible to break these cast-iron monopolies in regard to bringing foodstuffs into this country? We know that in the country districts there are rings. There are rings among the dealers, and I do not know how you can break them. I have tried my best, but it is very difficult. If the Government can help in organisation, the farmers of the country will welcome it. Let no one make any mistake; the country cannot go on in this way. It cannot build an edifice of prosperity upon an agricultural decay. As the Government are taking up this matter, I hope that whatever they do, they will insist that the policy shall be permanent. We had trouble enough about that matter in 1920. The agriculturists were then promised guaranteed prices, and the very next year—and there never has been such a brutal betrayal in my memory—the Measure was repealed. Therefore, I ask that whatever policy the Government propose to the House, it shall have an element of stability and permanence, for I am certain that, if given reasonable encouragement, every farmer in the land will respond and do his duty by producing food to the utmost of his power.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. CHRISTIE
After the very lucid and eloquent speech which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman delivered last Monday, it is fair to say that we have a good idea of what the Agricultural Marketing Bill will be when it becomes an, Act and is put fully into force. As the adoption of marketing organisation schemes are essential if the farmer is to receive any assistance from the Government, it is obvious that the country will be covered from one end to the other with a network of such schemes. It is, perhaps, Act sufficiently appreciated that the farmer, if he adopts this policy, will have to give up his rule of life. The farmer is the biggest individualist we possess. When he takes his farm he can do whatever he likes with it. He can grow what he pleases and can change his cropping. He can alter from one form of livestock to another, and he is entirely master of his own life. I do not want to be unfair to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, but it is obvious that when he has got his way the farmer will have to give up a great deal of his freedom. A great deal has been made by some 97 speakers of the effect of this policy upon the small market towns. I will not say that auctioneers will be seen begging for their daily bread, and that grass will grow in the streets, or 'anything of the sort, but it is obvious that the policy will have an effect on the small market towns, and will certainly decrease their prosperity. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests that the industry shall make these sacrifices, but we need to examine very carefully what is to be the quid pro quo.
We have heard that when these schemes are adopted there will be restrictions on imports, but nobody has given us the slightest idea what the restrictions are likely to be or the amount of advantage the farmer is likely to get from them. When we contemplate such an astounding and profound change in the whole of an industry we ought to have a very much more definite indication of the advantage the farming community is to receive. We have had restrictions upon the importations of meat during the past winter, and undoubtedly the right hon. and gallant Gentleman saved the industry from complete ruin, and for that we shall never cease to be grateful to him. But, honestly, anybody who has studied the prices of meat at the present time cannot be very encouraged by the first result, at 'any rate, of the restrictions upon meat importations. I think that they might be very useful if the farmer was on an economic basis. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molten (Mr. Lambert) has just pointed out, he is not on 'an economic basis because he has two tremendous handicaps, both of which were imposed by Acts passed by this House. The first is, that he is committed for the next 80 years to pay a rate of tithe which his industry cannot bear. At the time it was imposed it was considered to be a fair and proper adjustment of a very difficult question, and the adjustment was made with the very best intention. But things have come to such a pass that it has now become a terrible burden. What is far worse than that, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, is the wage imposed by the Wages Board. As far as I can make out, it is somewhere about twice as much as the economic value of the worker. It is not his fault, but is simply due to world causes which 98 he cannot possibly correct. It is the definite policy of this country that the agricultural labourer shall have a decent wage, and, therefore, I suggest, that the Government ought to give some indication to the farmers that in return for this tremendous sacrifice of individual liberty and also for the decay, to some extent, of the markets they should have such prices—they might be called preferential prices over their immediate competitors—as would enable them, not only to meet the ordinary economic charge upon their industry, but also the super-burdens imposed upon them by this House.
Apart from the milk situation, where it is obvious that some form of reorganisation is essential on the lines of the proposals of the Government or those of the Royal Commission, our problem is different from that of any other country in the world. We find every other country hard at work trying to organise its farmers with a view to exporting agricultural products to other countries, but in this country we are in exactly the opposite position. An lion. Member just now said that we produce only three-eighths of our requirements and that we import the rest. Therefore our position is entirely different from that of any other country, and, that being so, it has always seemed to me to be extraordinary that we should go for our model to Denmark, which is an exporting country, and try to adapt our farming organisation to their system, which stands by itself because the farmers there have no market unless they export to other parts of the world. If they had gone a little further north for their example, to Germany, they would have found that Germany has a problem very similar to that of our own. It has found that maize competes very severely with the rye of which it grows such an immense amount. I suppose that if the Germans had had the English mentality they would have immediately said: "We must pass a law like that of England and have at once a Marketing Act. We must have a reorganisation commission to deal with rye, have registration of growers, and restrictions of acreage, and a rye pool." But being, I think, a logical and perhaps sometimes a more sensible race than ours, they did not do any of those things. They set up a body more or less comparable to the Market Supply Committee which is to be set up under this 99 Bill to deal with the question of the imports of maize. Maize is released in Germany at such a price that it does not do the rye growers any harm. That seems to be an infinitely simpler plan. Germany protected her rye growers by making maize such a high price that people found it better business to use rye.
While it is true that restrictions on importations raise prices, you can also place restrictions on importations by having prices too low. Last winter our egg producers had a terrible time and were deprived of the high prices which generally rule during winter, which is really their harvest, by a flood of eggs from South Africa, I believe, or some other part of the world. I was talking to a marketing expert about it the other day and asked him whether any of these foreign eggs were coming in now. He said: "No, because the prices here are too low." That is another method of limiting imports, but it has the one great disadvantage that it only works when our own prices are so low that our own unfortunate producers are forced to the brink of ruin. They are reduced to ruin speedily because the difference between the price of foreign eggs and the price paid to our own producers is so small. I have been watching Smithfield Market very closely lately and I find that the difference between Argentine meat prices and English prices appears to be only about 2d. per lb. About a month ago the Argentine price was 6d. and the English 8d., but last week the Argentine price was 5d. and the English 7d. A great deal of our trouble is really caused by the small difference in the ratio between the two prices. If it could be largely increased, I believe we could to some extent save our producers.
When the right hon. Gentleman gets his Bill and the whole of the machinery is in working order, I presume he will deal, among other things, with the beef situation, and I imagine that he will do his utmost to raise the price which the English farmer gets for his produce. If the difference of 2d. between the Argentine price and the English price persists, it will mean that if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to raise the English price to something like 1s. per lb. for a first-class bullock he will have to raise, by restrictions on meat, the Argentine price to 10d. per lb. That would mean that the 100 people who buy Argentine beef now will have to pay twice what they are paying a large present indeed to the Argentine importer. If, on the contrary, he gave his Marketing Supply Committee the power to regulate the price ratio between the home price and the Argentine price he might achieve the same result without having to put that heavy burden on the people who eat Argentine meat. If the Committee were permitted to say that the ratio shall be increased from 2d. to 7d. per lb., and kept at that figure, it is obvious that the price of English meat would speedily rise to 1s., as it would rise if restrictions were put on, but the price of Argentine meat would still be retained at 5d. per lb.
It may be said that if that were done it would be quite impossible to prevent people at home buying anything but Argentine meat because it would be cheaper, but if the ratio were a permanent ratio of 7d. between the two prices that would defeat itself. If they neglected to buy English meat and always bought Argentine meat the price of English meat would speedily fall, and the price of Argentine meat would fall with it. If the price of English meat fell by 3d. per lb. then the price of Argentine meat would fall from 5d. to 2d., and that would lead to no importation at all of Argentine meat, as was the case with eggs. If the right hon. Gentleman would give his Marketing Supply Committee the power to fix the ratio in every case between the price of the imported article and the article produced by our own people, it would go far to maintain reasonable prices for the farmers in this country and it could be done without doing any harm to the consumer. After all, whichever way is adopted, if it is the way proposed in the Bill, to raise prices by pure unadulterated restrictions, or whether it is the plan I have suggested, you have something like the same restrictions on the imported article, but in one case the price remains low and in the other it must be raised in order to boost up the price of English products. That scheme could be applied not only to meat but to cheese, and butter and eggs, and chickens. A promise that our people would have a preferential price over the foreigner would do more to encourage them to develop their industry and increase their herds and flocks than anything else.
101 It is true that these are Socialist proposals, but all these things are Socialism, and once you have begun to interfere with an ordinary economic system like the working of a farm and you find that what you have done causes injustice and difficulty, it is necessary to take other Socialistic plans in order to meet them. That cannot be helped. I feel, however, that if the right hon. Gentleman goes ahead with the Bill and gets it, as he certainly will, farmers, who will lose a great deal of their liberty in going in for these marketing schemes, will find in the end that the reward is not adequate for the sacrifice. I have a great fear that all that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to do will be to maintain them just about the bankruptcy line, and no more. After all, restrictions so far have not even done that. The right hon. Gentleman said with honest pride that he has imposed restrictions of from 20 to 30 per cent. on imports and that there has been a rise only of one to two per cent. in retail prices.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he can do it again? Can he secure a rise of 30 per cent. in the wholesale price and only a rise of one or two per cent. in the retail price? I do not think so for a moment. A big increase in the wholesale price again must be reflected in the retail price, and I feel certain that the President of the Board of Trade will come in and say, "No, that is too much. As the guardian of the interests of the consumers, I cannot allow such a big increase." The position of the farmer will be rather like that of children when they play that old-fashioned game—shut your eyes and open your mouth and see what you will get. The farmer is only too delighted to shut his eyes and open his mouth, and if it was the Minister of Agriculture who was going to put a sweet in his mouth, I have no doubt that it would be a very fine sweet indeed, but I have an uneasy feeling that the President of the Board of Trade will come along and snatch it out of his hands and say, "No, it is too big. I shall have to cut it down." I think that the farmers of this country will find that they have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage, which they cannot enjoy because there is not much substance in it.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
We have listened to some very interesting speeches from hon. 102 Members opposite. I heard the whole of the speech of the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and also the speech of the right hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore). While I admit that the substance of the speech made by the right hon. Member for Darwen was superior to that made by the First Commissioner of Works, I much prefer the consistency of the right hon. Member for Stafford to the inconstancy of the right hon. Member for Darwen. As a rule a speech by the right hon. Member for Darwen is replied to by one of his late colleagues—the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). On one occasion the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said that the right hon. Member for Darwen had swallowed all the Protection chaff, but was choked by a portion of wheat from Canada. The right hon. Gentleman made a reference to the amount and quality of milk consumed by the children in this country. It is to his lasting credit that he supported the policy of a Government which reduced the income going into an unemployed man's home, which robbed a child of 2s. per week. If it is a question of sincerity, I prefer the speech of the right hon. Member for Stafford. I much regret that the right hon. Gentleman came to the House with a carefully-prepared speech; I should have liked him to have continued his criticisms of the speech delivered by my hon. Friend, but what it lacked in information it made up in vigour. When he referred to the Crown Lands as an example of Socialism I naturally expected that he would also refer to the Post Office, but that did not suit his purpose.
The Minister of Agriculture, in introducing the Bill, said that agriculture was a subject upon which everyone regarded himself as an expert. The reliability of that statement depends on how he defines the word "expert." Such a person has been described as "one who knows less and less about more and more," and as "one who knows more and more about less and less." The attitude of the Minister has, however, been encouraged and endorsed by those responsible for the formation of successive Cabinets. Many have passed from office to office who have had no experience outside this House of that on which they claim to speak. Colonel Lane Fox was an agricultural expert, but he was, at one time, Secre- 103 tary for Mines. No one questioned his right to speak an an authority on the mining industry.
Although I do not claim to possess an intimate knowledge of agriculture, I claim to possess sufficient capacity to appreciate the importance of an industry the annual products of which are, or were at one time, valued at something approaching £286,000,000. The Minister of Agriculture stated that agriculture employs more than the whole of the textile industry—woollens, worsteds, and artificial silk put together. One need not be an expert to appreciate that something is wrong when such an industry has been reduced, in England and Wales alone, from 996,000 persons, in 1921, to 850,000 at the present time. Competent authorities declare that we import annually £450,000,000 to £479,000,000 worth of food and agricultural raw materials, which this country is capable of producing. Any action which will achieve that production here will receive my support, subject to certain safeguards being guaranteed both for the producer and the consumer. My conviction, for what it is worth, is that this Bill will not achieve that object. Another conviction I have is that nothing short of the policy for which we who occupy these benches stand, will achieve that object.
We contend that the Bill will increase the price of articles of food to the consumer. That would not compel me to oppose the Bill, if it could be demonstrated that an increase in price was inevitable and necessary. I hold the view that the first charge upon any industry should be compensation to the people who are occupied in that industry or, in other words, that a satisfactory wage to the worker should be the first charge upon the industry. There appears to be no provision for the elimination of the waste incurred in the distribution of the articles produced. The Minister of Agriculture, on Monday last, anticipated this criticism because in his opening statement he said:It is said also that the middleman is the villain of the piece."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1933; col. 1633, Vol. 275.]All that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman now guarantees is not that this individual shall be eliminated, or that his 104 powers to exploit shall be curtailed, but that he, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, is willing to discuss that question. Has it not been sufficiently discussed already, and cannot action be taken? The Prime Minister, whatever value may be attached to his explanation of the Government's policy at the present moment, is stated in one of the newspapers to have said:The great additions made to the price of goods, between the producer and consumer, should be watched in every possible way, because a part of these accumulations do not represent profitable social service.Not being an expert, let me quote authorities upon this point. As far back as 1924 Mr. Montague Fordham, who, I think, is an appreciated and recognised authority on agriculture, is reported to have said at Fernhurst, in Sussex, that it was possible to save in the distribution of agricultural products alone no less than £250,000,000 a year. He is also reported to have stated that by such a saving he could reduce consumers' prices by 10 per cent., guarantee a wage for the agricultural labourer of £2 10s. per week, and double the farmers' profit. He is also reported to have said that other experts agreed with these figures, among these experts being no less persons than Sir Charles Fielding and Sir Daniel Hall. If those figures are exaggerated, hon. Members are familiar with those supplied by the Linlithgow Commission which stated in one of its conclusions:That on an average over 50 per cent. of the retail price of agricultural products went in the expenses and profits of distribution.I do not know how far Liberal newspapers can be called in evidence, but one Liberal organ recently stated:The real aim of the Bill is simply to raise prices by schemes of restricted supplies, and the only people to benefit will be the middlemen. How the plan will work out is clearly seen in the present Agreement which has cut down Argentine meat imports to this country. Argentine prices have since fallen from 20 per cent. to 25 per cent.; prices in Smithfield Market have risen from 25 per cent. to 65 per cent.The Minister appeared to contemplate an increase in the price of the articles imported which are to be regulated, but he viewed the result of the operation of this Bill with complete equanimity and characteristically Conservative complacency. But whether the Minister 105 anticipates an increase in the price of these products or not, the pig product commissioners are very definite, and the First Commissioners of Works conveniently ignored reading from that report any definite declaration bearing upon the point with which I am now dealing. On page 18 of the report these words are to be found:An expansionist pig policy must, therefore, be directed to securing an increasing share of the bacon and ham trade. To make room for this expansion it is necessary to regulate imports, but in so doing it is most necessary to safeguard the consumer and other public interests.The report proceeds- to discuss a system of quotas, which is a form of regulated imports, and then these words are to be found on page 19:The consumer can be assured a regular and adequate supply, whilst demand is left elastic in that the consumer is not unduly limited in his choice of the bacon he wishes to buy.Again, the commission say:… the quota system, with the safeguards we recommend, should over a period exercise a moderating influence on price changes … a rise in bacon prices is, however, inevitable.As some compensation for an increase in prices the consumer is promised an adequate supply, and a more varied selection of food. But will not hundreds and thousands be unable to purchase these articles? The Minister of Agriculture also suggested that everyone was anxious to give his opinion to the House and country. I only desire to give one more indication of our attitude to the Bill. We shall be told again that we miners' representatives are inconsistent, because of the support we gave to the Mines Act, introduced by the late Mr. William Graham. There are several dissimilarities between the method of the Mines Act in regulating the supply of coal, and the proposal embodied in the Bill now under discussion. We ought not, in trying to ascertain similarities between various Measures, ignore the dissimilarities.
In the first instance, we are not troubled with the importation of coal, yet, fundamentally, this Bill is to deal with imports. We have no coal coming into this country, whereas the amount of products it is proposed to regulate by this Bill is something about the region of 90 per cent. That is a great difference, 106 and I submit it is one which should be considered by those people who occupy much of their time in politics who, in practice, are inconsistent, and point out to other people how that quality is shared by them. Then we are told that there is regulation of prices under the Mines Act. That is regulation of prices which prevents home competition, and not competition from foreign articles. Furthermore, miners' wages are determined by prices and, by the maintenance of a satisfactory price, wages are determined. In the coal industry, if the price is secured, wages have a bottom. When this Bill becomes an Act, no foreign prices will affect the wages of the persons responsible for the product regulated. There is one similarity between the two Measures—that there is nothing to prevent the exploitation of the consumer, in the sense that the middleman takes a larger share of the value of the product than that to which he is entitled. We know that in the mining industry you can get coal at 16s. per ton at the pithead, while the Londoner has to pay something in the region of £2 5s., much of which the middleman gets. That waste in distribution is not eliminated in the Coal Mines Act, nor does this Bill eliminate it.
On Monday last even the experts who occupy the benches opposite were not very consistent critics. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton) said that we on the Labour Benches were in favour of the policy of doing nothing. But he was immediately followed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade who said that we objected to the Bill because it did not go far enough. Both of those criticisms cannot be accepted. We would rather accept the latter criticism. We oppose the Bill because it does not go far enough. The Government know the policy of the Labour party in this matter. We are convinced that there can be no permanent solution of the agricultural problem without, first of all, common ownership of the land. When that has been brought about we believe it will be possible to introduce marketing reform and the standardisation of production, supplemented by control and price development. Without these essentials we say that there will not be a permanent solution of the problem. I was not fascinated by the statement of the right hon. Mem- 107 ber for Darwen, who said that here was a Bill that was to be of a permanent character, a Bill that had no limit fixed to its operation. I am not surprised at the Government introducing a Bill of this kind in view of the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently, that he does not expect a reduction in the number of unemployed for the next 10 years. I assume that it is with that statement in mind that the Government do not intend to place a limit on the operations of this Bill.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Sir ERNEST SHEPPERSON
I am glad to express appreciation of the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) remaining in the House, because I desire to refer briefly to his speech. He criticised the quota principles which are to be applied by the Bill. The Bill certainly does apply the quota principle by regulating imports. I am under the impression—I may be wrong—that the presence of the right hon. Member for Darwen within the Government at the time the Pig Products Commission Report was published made the quota principle acceptable in the Commission's Report rather than what I would prefer, namely, tariffs. I rise as an agriculturist, as one who represents an agricultural constituency rather than as a Conservative, to support the principle of the Bill. I recognise that the Bill is an expression of the intention of the Government and the Minister to raise, by some means or other, the wholesale price of agricultural products, which at present is at such a disastrously low level. I accept the principle underlying the Bill, but I am not convinced that the method of raising prices is the best method. The Bill will raise the prices of agricultural products by regulating and limiting the importation of those products. I am still unconvinced that the better and easier and the more honest method would not be by means of tariffs on these imports. Tariffs would produce a sum which should be acceptable to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would offer a prospect of a reduction of taxation in this country.
On the other hand, it appears to me that by the Government method, the limitation of imports, the money obtained, instead of going into the pockets of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, may go into 108 the pocket of the importer or the distributor. It seems to me to be possible that an importer, with a limitation of, say, 80 per cent. of the amounts to be imported from any particular country, will go to that country and will assume the position of an unwilling buyer meeting willing sellers, who will know that he is unable to take all their produce. He will be able to drive those goods down to a lower price. He will return to this country with that 80 per cent. of goods and here he will assume the position of an unwilling seller meeting willing buyers, from whom he will be able to extract an even higher price. I am aware that the Minister may consider that I am wrong. I may be wrong. I am sorry to say that I have not very great faith in the distributor. I fear that if opportunity is given to him to raise prices under this limitation of imports, he will take advantage of that opportunity. I believe that the toll taken by the distributor, in the difference between what the producer receives and what the consumer pays, is responsible to a large extent for our industrial trouble to-day. I look with fear upon giving to any section of the distributing interest an opportunity to make a further increase in that toll. I hope that I am wrong.
I am a mere agriculturist. Members of that industry may be slow in the uptake and may not be able to adapt themselves to changing modern conditions. It may be that I myself am an example of that, and that I am unable to follow this new idea of quotas and control of imports, and that therefore I may be wrong. The Minister of Agriculture is a financial expert. Undoubtedly he has reviewed both the system of control of imports and the system of tariffs. I am confident, knowing how very necessary it is to increase the revenue of the country, that if the Minister thought that tariffs were a better method than control of imports he would have accepted tariffs. I bow to the superior knowledge of the Minister, and I accept the principle of this Bill and the method by which the increase of price is to be brought about.
I do not want to harrow the feelings of the House on the present position of agriculture, by stating how land farms are going out of cultivation, how land is unsaleable, and how agricultural unemployment is increasing. I am confident that 109 hon. Members opposite are as sympathetic as we are with the agricultural unemployed, but I would suggest to them that they have a more direct interest even than we agriculturists in agricultural unemployment. The young unemployed agricultural labourer does not receive unemployment benefit. He drifts from the country into the towns. He is a physically fit man and strong. In the towns he often displaces a less physically fit town labourer, in work in which strength is an asset. That is a point for hon. Members opposite to consider. The Government recognise that the distress in agriculture is purely a matter of prices. The position is that agriculture is producing its commodities at a 50 per cent. increase in the cost of labour. Agricultural labour is the largest item in the cost of production, and labour in many cases is 100 per cent. above the pre-War level. At the same time the receipts for agricultural commodities are below the pre-War level. There is this gap to be bridged, and the future of British agriculture depends on our ability to bridge it. It can be bridged in one of two ways—by decreasing the cost of production or by increasing the receipts. There is not a single Member in the House who would suggest that we should bring down the agricultural labourer's wage to a pre-War figure. Therefore the only remedy is to increase the receipts. That remedy the Government in their wisdom have thought fit to apply, by the Wheat Quota Act, by their horticultural Acts, and last, but by no means least, by the methods proposed in this Bill.
In my opinion, this Bill is one of the greatest Measures ever brought before this House by any Government. We have the power under this Bill to do what has never been attempted before and that is to stabilise the price of agricultural produce at a figure which will be financially profitable. Clause 1 of the Bill regulates the importation of agricultural products and Clause 2 regulates the sale of home-produced agricultural products. We may divide agricultural production roughly into two categories. There are the agricultural products which we in this country can produce in surplus to the requirements of the country, and there are those which we cannot produce in surplus. The treatment of the two must differ. The Bill in the two first Clauses meets that case. In the case of the commodities 110 which we cannot produce in surplus, such as wheat and meat, we have the power to regulate imports. In the case of those commodities which we can produce in surplus, such as vegetables, fruit, potatoes, the Bill enables that organisation to take place within the industry, that regulation of production and sale, by means of which an economic return can be assured to the producer. That is essential to agriculture at the present time.
I give the House an illustration of the need for that regulation at the present time. The producer of potatoes in this country is unable to sell them because there is a surplus. Why is there a surplus l Last year we ha d a figure of £2to £10 a ton for potatoes. The farmer had to look for some possibility of profit and he went in for potato growing and there was a surplus of 13 per cent. in potatoes. In most parts of the country, favourable climatic conditions increased the yield by one ton per acre, and there is a surplus of potatoes to-day amounting to something like 300,000 tons or 10 per cent. of the production. The result of that unorganised production and unorganised marketing is that farmers are pressing potatoes on the market in excess of the capacity of the market to deal with them. If this Bill had been in force it would have been possible to maintain that production at a certain level and to withhold some of the surplus from the market enabling the agriculturist to get a fair return. I observe that Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 of the Bill provides:In deciding whether to make an order under this section, and in settling the terms of any such order, the Board of Trade shall … have regard to … the effect which the regulation of the importation of that product into the United Kingdom is likely to have upon commercial relations between the United Kingdom and other countries.We are afraid about this point and would like an explanation as to how far existing treaties, conventions or agreements with foreign Powers are likely to hamper the Board of Trade in regulating importations from such countries. If the Minister at a later stage could give us that information I should be very much obliged. In connection with Clause 3 I should like to know what regard is likely to be paid to representation in constitu- 111 tion of the Market Supply Committee. Will there be direct representation of interests, and, if not, is it likely that the committee will thoroughly investigate the position of the various interests affected? I should also like for some information as to Part II of the Bill. It enables action to be taken to regulate secondary agricultural industries such as the production of bacon, and possibly the production of cheese will also be taken into account. Will it be possible under Part II to take action in connection with producing pure beer from British malt and hops? On the question of bacon about which we had considerable discussion recently, it was suggested that this Bill had something to do with birth control among pigs. That statement must have been made by some representative of an industrial area. We in the agricultural areas do not see any reason for birth control among pigs and we realise how little those in the industrial areas understand our difficulties. I have heard that in our large industrial towns "anti-litter leagues" have been started but I have not heard of anybody connecting them with the question of birth control among pigs.
The pleasure which I have in supporting the Bill is in some measure decreased by the distress which I know it has brought to hon. Members opposite. They are unhappy at the introduction of this Bill, not because we are forcing on them a Bill which they do not like, but simply because it is we who are introducing this Bill. Surely, they seem to say, a Bill which directly or indirectly gives the State the right to regulate imports and home production ought to be their own perquisite. What right, they will say, have we to take the wind out of their sails in this fashion? I recollect a meeting in one of the Committee rooms some years ago at which we heard a lecture from one who was then a colleague of hon. Members opposite—a member of the Left Wing. That lecture dealt with import boards and their effect. Coming away from it a Conservative colleague said to me, "What a preposterous idea! You see what we are in for if those fellows get into power." Within a couple of years "those fellows" did get into power but even they had not advanced far enough in their Socialism to dare to put in force the whole of the principles 112 which their colleague had advocated. They put some part of those ideas into a Bill but they baulked at the idea of putting control of foreign imports into their Bill.
What they failed to do we have done. They failed to realise that we are to-day living in an age of speed. We break records in the air and on water and on the land, and hon. Members opposite must remember that the evolutionary process is being "speeded up" as well. We are "speeding up" the rate of change of political thought. Unless hon. Gentlemen opposite "get a move on" they will be left behind and we may witness in the future a very grievous sight. We may see the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and their colleagues dependent solely on the votes of the diehard Tories. This Bill, which I wholeheartedly support, will receive a great deal of criticism in the country among the agricultural community and the criticism will be that it destroys their individual right of doing what they like with their own. It seems to me that industry is passing through an evolutionary process and that that evolution is taking the line of replacing individualism by collectivism. That process of change has nothing to do with Parliament. It is going on of itself. Parliament can neither accelerate nor retard it. Parliament can merely guide it. I am an individualist and I believe that this country achieved greatness in the past as a result of the individual efforts of the units of our population who put forward their best for the financial reward of efficiency. If they were inefficient they suffered financial punishment, but that time has gone and we are in an age, of collectivism.
Individualism may be good or collectivism may be good, but I Am certain that to have collectivism on one side and individualism on the other side of an industry will never answer. British agriculture has been governed by collectivism on the costing side and has attempted to be individualistic on the selling side. That has brought disaster to British agriculture. I sympathise with the agriculturist in his endeavour to retain his individualism, but I suggest to my fellow-agriculturists that, since we cannot do away with collectivism on the costing side, we ought to give it a trial on the 113 selling side. It seems to me that it is better for the agriculturist to give his efforts, his energies and his brains to the productive side of his industry, in which he has no equal in the whole world, and to leave to another form of brains the intricate and difficult operation of marketing his agricultural products. It is for this reason that I whole-heartedly support the Bill.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Major NATHAN
The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), after giving us a disquisition on political philosophy into which I will not follow him, left the House in doubt as to whether he is an individualist in 'a collectivist State or a collectivist in an individualist State, but on one thing there is no doubt. The hon. Member supports this Bill because it is going to raise prices. There was no ambiguity on that point in his speech. He spoke from a mental position different from that of the right hon. Member for South Molten (Mr. Lambert), who opened his remarks by thanking the Government for the Bill, but then expressed the hope that the Bill would not permit of being done the very things that the Bill prescribes to be done, though in the end he stated that he would support the Bill.
The state of mental confusion in which the right hon. Member for South Molton found himself is reflected in the confusion existing on the Treasury Bench. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture stated only last week, in presenting the Bill to the House for Second Reading, that its main constructive purpose was to be found in Part II of the Bill. The First Commissioner of Works, speaking to-day, said the essence of the Bill was to be found in its first three Clauses. That confusion of mind between the two Ministers, over that which the Minister of Agriculture commends to the House as the development scheme and that which the First Commissioner of Works commends as the import restriction scheme, is reflected in the Title of the Bill itself, because neither Part I of the Bill, which the First Commissioner of Works thinks important, nor Part II of the Bill, to which the Minister of Agriculture attaches the greatest importance, has much, if anything at all, to do with marketing. The Bill is misnamed an Agricultural 114 Marketing Bill; it should indeed be named an Agricultural Scarcity Bill.
The hon. Member for Leominster, in what I thought was going to be his peroration, referred to the Socialistic nature, as he called it, of this Bill, but I tell him quite frankly that I should view with very much less alarm a scheme for import boards than I do this Bill. Following out the line of thought of the hon. Member, I do not think it would be an exaggeration to call it a Bill for the Bolshevisation of agriculture. It has its almost uncounted soviets for market supply, for development, for one thing and another; it has its Commissar of Trade and its Commissar of Agriculture, whose decrees are to be absolute, subject to no restraint whatever by the courts of justice in this country, and with a merely formal submission to the Blouses of Parliament; and by this Bill are created a vast number of new crimes hitherto unknown to British jurisprudence, involving, as I think, the right of domiciliary search, without warrant, and an invasion of the principle that an Englishman's home is his castle.
I wish my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General were here, for I should then ask him to guide the House upon this matter. In order to supervise this vast range of new crimes, we shall have to have our own Ogpu in this country. This is the Russian model, carried by a Conservative Government to extremes. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that throughout the last Parliament, and I think the earlier part of this, the greater part of Question Time was occupied by hon. Members from the Conservative Benches asking about Russian propaganda. There are no such questions now; they are unnecessary. The propaganda has done its work on the Treasury Bench, and this Bill is the result.
If my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) will allow me to support him, even though I no longer sit by his side, I think the Minister of Agriculture did him less than justice in the important comment which he made on Clause 2 of the Bill. My right hon. Friend said that there was no restriction on the power of the President of the Board of Trade to make an Order as to the efficient organisation of any branch of the agricultural industry in the United Kingdom or 115 to procure the economic stability of any branch of that industry, and the Minister of Agriculture referred my right hon. Friend back to Clause 1 of the Bill. But Clause 1 applies only to sub-section (1, a) of Clause 2 and does not in any way apply to Sub-section (1, b) under which all that the President of the Board of Trade has to do is tocertify that arrangements have been made, to the satisfaction of the board, for controlling the importation of an agricultural product into the United Kingdom.There is, therefore, no limitation upon the action of the President of the Board of Trade except his own discretion. That means that Parliament is allowing to pass into the hands of the President of the Board of Trade the most important protection for the great mass of the people of this country, who have a vital interest in seeing, not only that the agricultural industry is restored to prosperity, as we all agree it should be, but that the people do not have to pay more than need be for the necessaries of life.
There are many methods by which the agricultural community can be reorganised, but the restriction of imports is a system which is more than ordinarily dangerous for a country like ours. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in recommending the Import Duties Bill to this House over a year ago, stated that the policy then put forward by the Government was a slimming process. If this Bill is carried to its logical conclusion, it also will result in a slimming process, and I call in aid the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It will be within the recollection. of the House that on the discussion of the Import Duties Bill the hon. Member for Leominster was one of those who tried—I am not sure that he did not initiate the movement—to secure at that time the imposition of a tariff upon meat.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I moved an Amendment to put a tariff on meat, and I have said to-day in this House that I prefer tariffs to the control and regulation of imports.
§ Major NATHAN
I do the hon. Member no injustice, and I need scarcely say that I have no desire to do so. He moved that meat should come within the purview of tariffs, which was opposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why? 116 "Because," said he, using words that should be within the recollection of those sitting on the Treasury Bench, "the bogey of dear prices is no bogey."
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I would remind the hon. and gallant Member that at that time the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was a Member of the Government which did that.
§ Major NATHAN
The hon. Member for Leominster must deal with that aspect of the matter with my right hon. Friend himself, and my right hon. Friend is very well able to look after himself. But the argument advanced to-day is not merely that there will be a rise in food prices. There is a further argument advanced to-day by the First Commissioner of Works, who reflected an argument used last week by the Minister of Agriculture. They both said, "Look at the enormous imports of beef, of dairy products, and the like coming into this country, which we might be able to produce ourselves." Yes, but the other side of the picture is that, unless those who now produce and send us those products are able to continue to do so, they will be unable to take our manufactured goods, and they will cease to be our customers. Indeed, it is chiefly to the non-industrial countries, the agricultural countries, which are generally speaking our best customers now, that we must look for our best prospects for the future. This is a Bill which will have, if not as its object, at all events as part of its effect, the pauperisation of our own customers; and let it not be forgotten that in any event some part of our foodstuffs must be imported into this country. I can see high Protection or rigid quotas being adopted here, which will not be limited by the ordinary brake of the home supply outrunning home demand. The temptation to exploit the home market will be irresistible.
It has been said before, and it cannot be repeated too often, that a quota such as is in contemplation here is nothing but a concealed subsidy from the public at large to one section of the community, and in this particular case it is a subsidy from the public, for the purpose not merely of maintaining the farmer's solvency, but of increasing his profits, and not merely his profits alone, but the profits of the importers of products from abroad, whose import into this country 117 is not and cannot be wholly prevented. But I am not at all sure that the most formidable objection to this Bill, at this moment and in the present situation of the world, is not that it introduces a fresh and aggressive form of disturbance into world trade, just on the eve of the World Economic Conference. The Import Duties Act, the Ottawa Agreements Act, the various Orders that are being made under those Acts, and the Bill now before the House—they all create a maze out of which the Government will find the greatest possible difficulty in finding a way when the time comes for them to meet other nations of the world at that Conference, upon which our own prosperity and perhaps the safety of civilisation depend.
§ 8 p.m.
While I look upon this Bill as a courageous attempt to overcome the difficulties of our most important industry, I feel that the House will accept a great responsibility if and when it adopts this Bill as the main weapon in its attack on the evil of agricultural depression. It is a Measure which in my view must call for the closest criticism in all its stages, even from its most ardent supporter, if it is to emerge as the most potent instrument possible for the purpose for which it is intended. I believe that any agricultural Member two years ago would have looked with the utmost horror upon this as almost unimaginable outside the realms of nightmare. Its appearance of confusion, bureaucracy and control would have been overwhelming, and any scheme on such lines would have been strangled at birth. However, the present position is that necessity knows no law.
The House needs no recapitulation of the woes of agriculture. Hon-Members know that there is no single adverse issue which would yield to any action on general principles, however bold and however comprehensive. Instead, the problem is one of the utmost detailed complexity, and one is forced to the conclusion that it can only be met by an equally detailed and dangerously complex solution. Any general measure of remedy, whether by tariff, restriction or other adjustment, must be ruled out or greatly hampered by reason either of its repercussions within the industry or of its more external effects on the consumer or other vital interests. The problem is really a 118 number of closely inter-related problems which will not admit of solution by any common denominator. It seems, therefore, that the only effective policy is to deal with each of these problems in a watertight compartment, with correlating machinery for giving national effect to a number of reorganisation schemes by means of Government sanction and of enabling action where these are needed. This is what the Act of 1931 and the amending Bill now before the House envisage. If the House believes that the principle is good, then it will pass the Bill in the most effective detailed form which the most careful and hopeful examination in all its stages can produce. What alternative plan there can be entirely passes my own humble comprehension.
There is one point upon which I had hoped to be reassured by the excellent speech with which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture introduced the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) touched upon this point a short time ago. By this Bill it is proposed that the Board of Trade shall have the power to regulate imports where necessary in conformity with reorganisation schemes. That is all to the good; I have no quarrel with that proposal. But I find a little farther on a list of the considerations which the Board of Trade must have in mind before making an Order on these lines under the Act. To my mind the most important of these considerations is that the Board of Trade must satisfy itself before waking such an Orderthat it is not at variance with any treaty, convention or agreement for the time being in force between His Majesty and any foreign Power.As there are, I believe, at the moment about 40 of these agreements in operation, I foresee a great possibility of the serious stultification of the intention of Parliament if this restrictive condition is made obligatory. Indeed, I can see little probability of any far-reaching Orders being made under such conditions. Surely the claims of agriculture should in ordinary common justice be certain of equal consideration with any foreign treaty or agreement extant. Such an agreement should be denounced or otherwise terminated if the advantages which one portion of our industry may gain by it is on balance not equal to or compar- 119 able with the advantage which would be given to our most important industry—agriculture—by its annulment. On the other hand, agriculture will not survive a milk-and-water nourishment, and I submit that there must at least be a power, when an Order is contemplated, to weigh on the one hand the necessity of the Order and on the other hand the intrinsic value to the nation of the obstructing foreign agreement.
My right hon. and gallant Friend also mentioned that this part of the Bill would in all probability be one of the hardest to explain to the farmers in the country. Honestly, I hope that at a later stage my right hon. and gallant Friend will be able to give me more reassurance on the effects of this condition—if it must be maintained—than I have at present. If I am not reassured myself, it is utterly impossible for me to speak throughout the country and reassure those farmers to whom my reassurance must and ought to be given. I want, as I know every other hon. Member on these benches wants, to be able to explain this Bill in the country as clearly and as forcibly as possible. It is of the utmost importance that the Bill should be received by the whole agricultural industry favourably and with understanding.
The point was made from the Opposition benches earlier in the day that this Bill had for its object the reorganisation of the agricultural industry by the industry within itself, and that object of course, woke the hostility of hon. Members opposite. I should suggest that the only alternative would apparently be the reorganisation, not only of agriculture but of every industry, by the Government of the moment. Whatever might be the complexion of that Government, it would find the reorganisation of the whole industry of the nation a task of a very large and imposing order. I question very much whether that reorganisation could be carried out within the space of the maximum five years of one Parliament. Whatever view one may take on political grounds and much as I dislike the elimination of individuality from the agricultural industry which this Bill envisages, I am bound, in all the circumstances and after careful consideration of all the factors, to admit that the only possible way out of the difficulty is 120 the reorganisation of the industry by the industry as a whole. For these reasons, I heartily support the Bill.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. SMITH
My main criticism of the Bill is that the Government and the Minister have not taken enough powers to deal with the matter as they ought to have taken. I feel that the powers they are taking are too small instead of being too large. The general criticism is that they are taking too much power, but I want to show where I think they are taking too little. I will refer, first, to the latter part of Sub-section (2) of Clause 1. I understand from the Bill that, generally speaking, the Government want to take power to regulate the imports of foreign agricultural products. I am in thorough agreement with that, because it is absolutely necessary for the Government to have that power if the agricultural industry is to be put on its feet. As far as I can understand the Clause, there seems to be no possibility of the Minister being able to regulate foreign imports because the Sub-section says:The board shall not make such an Order unless they are satisfied that it is not at variance with any treaty, convention or agreement for the time being in force between His Majesty and any foreign Power or between His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of any other country.That means that, if there is a treaty in force between the Government and any other country, the President of the Board of Trade cannot make an Order. May I ask the Minister to give some reason why these words are put in the Bill? If the Government cannot make an Order because there is a treaty in force, the first thing to do is to sweep away the treaty. We are suffering from the existence of these commercial treaties, and what the Government want is power to sweep away those treaties which prevent them putting import restrictions on foreign agricultural produce. It is rather a pity that there are two conditions which must be complied with before an Order can be made under Clause 1. The conditions are quite unnecessary and tie the hands of the Minister. The Minister should simply have power to make an Order to prohibit foreign goods if he so desires.
121 Take a case which applies to my part of the country, that of oats. If the Minister wanted to put the production of oats in a better position the first thing to do would be to keep out foreign oats. No lasting scheme for dealing with oats has ever been put forward. There is no possibility of the producers of oats or barley getting any advantage under the Bill. It would be much better if the Minister had the power to say: I consider that the oat industry is efficiently conducted and that a marketing scheme will not improve it. While the industry is suffering from unfair foreign competition surely it will be only reasonable for the Minister to be able to say that the importation of foreign oats should be stopped without the necessity of having a marketing scheme. I ask the Minsiter to consider that point. I do not suppose that it will be possible for him to take that power, but I wish that he had it, because, as far as I can see, the Bill as it stands will be no use whatever to certain agricultural products which are in a very bad position.
I was much distressed by the different complexion which was put on the Bill by the first Commissioner of Works. It is a great pity that when the Bill was first introduced it was not explained Clause by Clause. Had it been, we should have understood roach better where we were. It was, however, introduced only by a general statement, and nobody understood how the Bill would work. Only to-day have we had a Clause by Clause statement, and nobody knew until to-day exactly what the Bill meant. The First Commissioner made a serious statement when he said that no denunciation of any treaty would take place except with the agreement of the other party. I would like to know if that is the view of the Government. If it is, we are departing from what was stated by the Lord President of the Council, who said that, if there were any treaties or obligations which prevented us from taking action in order to put agriculture once more on its feet, the treaty would be swept away. That statement was made at the time of the last election, and I would like to know if the Government have changed their view and if it is their view now that no denunciation of any treaty shall take place and nothing will be done unless there is agreement between us and the party with whom we made the treaty. I hope that the Min- 122 ister will be able to give me some assurance on this point, for I want to see the Bill go through and to see the Minister with power to regulate the imports of foreign products which are competing so unfairly with our own. I want him to have any power which will enable him to assist every department of agriculture.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. R. W. Smith) that this Bill is not very easy to understand, and it has become even more difficult to understand after the statements made by the First Commissioner for Works, because he has spoken of intentions—of what the Government intend to do—which do not always square with what we find in the Bill itself. It is a Bill of a far-reaching character and of vital interest to the whole industry of agriculture and to the way in which that industry fits into our economic life. In the few remarks I am about to offer to the House I propose, therefore, to make an observation or two on the broader aspects of the policy underlying the Bill and of its chance of achieving the objects which it sets out to accomplish. I do not propose to waste time in describing the catastrophic fall of price, because that is known to all, nor to go into the multiple causes which have led to that catastrophic fall, but I think there is very little doubt that the surest way to reestablish wholesale prices is to work whole-heartedly for the recovery of world trade. For that reason I regret that we are, by introducing quotas, putting further difficulties in the way, for the Government have admittedly declared that the only method of restoring world trade lies in removing the hindrances which are choking and strangling it.
The Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has said, is intended not only for the present emergency but also as a permanent Measure. The Minister of Agriculture, in introducing it, said that their task was to reconcile their work with world economics in the present economic chaos, and also to give a lead to the twentieth century in organisation and development. I would like to compliment the right hon. Gentleman on the boldness of his Bill. It is an extremely bold Bill, but the test 123 of a Bill is how it will work in practice. He is fond of reminding us that we are in the twentieth century. I think we are not likely to forget it. We have never been there before, and now that we are there we have learned a great deal of the new forces working in the world, and have realised that we have still a great deal yet to learn. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in spite of relativity an apple still falls to the earth and the great laws of economics still work. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I am inclined to think that the laws of supply and demand do work. Sometimes they work behind a political screen; they may be interfered with; temporarily they may be altered; but they go on working all the time, and I have the greatest doubt whether any scheme can succeed permanently which is not really based on sound economic lines.
We who are interested in agriculture know how severely it has suffered in the past from want of organised marketing. I myself have preached in season and out of season the necessity for the farmers to improve their methods of marketing. In order to attain that end we had the Measure which is now referred to as the principal Act, the Act of 1931, and on top of that we now have this Bill. In effect this Bill says to the farmers, "The importation of agricultural products shall be regulated to induce you to organise your marketing." The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) said the farmers did not like the principal Act, but that when the Government told them that Protection and reorganisation would go together they responded heartily. I can quite understand the farmer responding heartily to the idea of Protection, but I wonder whether he will respond quite so heartily to the directions of the Market Supply Committee.
A few years ago I remember fighting in a General Election which was called, "The pound-an-acre election." My opponent on that occasion was an enthusiastic young Conservative, now the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), a little bit older now and perhaps not quite so enthusiastic. He went round the constituency saying that if he had his way he would make it £2 an acre. But the farmers did not accept that promise. The memory of the repeal 124 of the Corn Production Act was too fresh. I was astonished to see the other night that the hon. and gallant Member for West Suffolk (Captain Heilgers) declared that this Bill to be the most serious attempt to help agriculture since the Corn Production Act. That is not an Act of blessed memory to the farmers, and I cannot help feeling that the hopes which are held out by this Bill may result before long in the same way as the working of the Corn Production Act and the farmers may be left stranded again. In a Free Trade country the farmer has the great advantage, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out earlier in the Debate, of being able to buy everything he wants in the cheapest market. Denmark saw that, and it was with that advantage that she built up her great and important industry of agriculture. But I have always said that once we became a Protectionist country, as we are now, it would be impossible to leave agriculture alone as the only one unprotected industry. Otherwise, the farmer is handicapped. He has to pay more for all the instruments of his trade, and unless he is protected he does not get a higher price for what he has to sell, and there is no compensating advantage for him. The compensating advantage offered by this Bill is a regulation of imports.
Under Clause 1 Regulations may be imposed even when a marketing scheme is merely under consideration, and it has been pointed out over and over again in the course of this Debate that that may have the most unfortunate results. If we really want to reorganise on a permanent basis we must build up from the bottom, and cannot expect success if we are to hold out the hope of regulation of imports and a quota before the industry has been reorganised or before a scheme has even been put through. In that connection, I would like to quote from a report which is just being presented by the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society dealing with the dangers of schemes being rushed through before they are properly understood. The report is signed by a gentleman who is well known to the Minister, Major Mark Sprott:In the almost desperate state in which many farmers find themselves, and in the Government's emphasis on the need for organised marketing, there may be a danger that marketing schemes will he drafted and submitted to the arbitrament of an agricultural community, many Mem- 125 bers of which may be less concerned with the soundness of the scheme than with the desire to have some kind of scheme as the condition precedent to a restriction of imports.And again:No doubt it is desirable that the procedure through which schemes have to pass should be simplified as far as possible. But any curtailed procedure which would make it possible for a scheme to be put into operation before all the interests concerned have had time to gain an intelligent grasp of the fundamental principles as well as of the detailed provisions, is to be deprecated.That is a point to which the bon. and gallant Member for Brigg (Captain Hunter) referred when he said that it is highly important, if a scheme of this sort is to be successful, that all the persons partaking in it should understand thoroughly and to the full its implications before they embarked upon it, and that they should not allow themselves to be led away by the too readily held out hope of a quota if only they will put a scheme forward.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild), speaking the other day, referred to the difficulties which are bound to arise out of the Ottawa Agreements. I do not intend to enlarge upon that at the present time, except to say that it must be borne in mind that we are giving a first place to agricultural produce from the Dominions, and that that cannot be interfered with except by mutual agreement with the Dominions. Should the Dominions refuse to come into any such agreement, they are in a position absolutely to call the tune themselves. They may make their own bargain and say: "If you wish us to restrict our exports to the old country you must put a quota against some foreign country." When we put on quotas against a foreign country, there is a natural and inevitable result is that the direction in which we should go in order to secure the recovery of world trade? I cannot impress it too strongly upon the House that, so far as I see it, the only hope for this country, for our great industry of agriculture—and agriculture is a great industry—and for our great manufacturing industries is the speedy restoration of world trade.
Any steps that we may take, in order to benefit one particular industry, which may go in the direction of retarding that day of recovery, is all to our harm and 126 loss. I am afraid that the step that is proposed to be taken in this Bill is a dangerous step, because it retards the day of ultimate recovery. It is admitted on all hands that the balance between town and country has been grievously misjudged in past years in this country, and that we ought to do all that we can to restore a proper adjustment and to develop our undeveloped or underdeveloped resources. How are we going to succeed in that by basing ourselves upon a scheme which manufactures scarcity and raises prices by artificial means? That is not the way, and these are not the lines, upon which we should develop what we hope to be an expanding industry. We should take no steps to reduce production in this country, but every step that we can to stimulate it. As has been pointed out already in the course of the Debate, our farmers enjoy only a comparatively small proportion of the enormous markets at their door. We should take every step to encourage and extend their production so that they can have a greater share of our own markets.
I ask whether this Bill contains those necessary elements of goodwill which should subsist between town and country, or whether there is not rather a danger in it that those who are on the borderline of existence may say, when they see retail prices rise, as they are bound to rise, "Oh, yes, this industry is getting the benefit, and we are being made to pay for it"? If any ultimate benefit accrues to the industry by this method, we know that it will eventually go to the increasing of rents. An allegation of Socialism has been made in regard to this Bill, and various views have been expressed on that point. I am inclined to agree with the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) who said that the Bill was not Socialism at all, but was Bureaucracy. There is restraint from Whitehall throughout. I do not care to dip into the future, but it is possible that this Bill may be followed by another in a few years' time, which will include import boards. That is the corollary for which we may look. After that, the logical consequence will be that we should have a Bill to provide for what is called the "liquidation of the Kulak," which would include my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot and his friends.
127 Without going too far into the future, let us have another look at this Bill, which I do not consider to be Socialistic, but thoroughly bureaucratic. You are putting the control of what should be an expanding industry not into the hands of the industry itself, but into the hands of the directing powers sitting in Whitehall This has been rather well summed up in a paper which I saw yesterday. Possibly some other hon. Members of the House may have read this extract, which is taken from a most respected Conservative paper:The Agricultural Marketing Bill is the most extraordinary Measure of bureaucratic control ever proposed to Parliament. The text swarms with restrictions, precautions, inquisitions, penalties. Not only are imports subjected to arbitrary decree, but the production and sales of home agriculture are to be regulated in the manner of ancient Egypt. A premium is put upon stereotyped practice. Administratively, the thing cannot work for long. Farmers will hate the regulating system when they understand it. Prices raised in this way will mean, sooner or later, a national storm.I have always understood, and I particularly understood it after visiting Denmark with some of my farmers, that the whole of the vitality and the initiative of agriculture in that country comes from the fact that the Danish Government does not interfere, and does not attempt to control. It looks with a benevolent eye on the workings of the agricultural industry, but the initiative is left entirely to the industry itself. One sees with regret here that there are proposals not only to restrict imports from abroad but to restrict production at home. I cannot believe that proposals of that nature can permanently put our agriculture on a satisfactory basis. Every effort to restore world trade should, in my opinion, be made, and I think it will surprise people to find, when the recovery comes, that the effect will be immediate. This country will feel the immediate effect of improved wholesale prices perhaps sooner than any other country, and the industry of agriculture will, with the rest of the country, share in the improvement as soon as it takes place.
The use of the quota is, to my mind, a most dangerous boomerang. You may put on the quota that you think will benefit your own country, but the devastating result may be the putting on of a retaliatory quota which in the end 128 may hit you and do you far more harm than the good that you think you may secure by putting on a quota in the interests of agriculture. I do not consider that any assistance to agriculture can be permanent if it is based on fictitious methods of price raising. In the end the farmer may be badly let down by this Measure, as he was when the Corn Production Acts were agreed upon. The scheme, of course, will go through, and, if my fears prove to be wrong and the Minister's hopes right, and if the Bill is a great success for agriculture, I shall be no less happy than I shall be surprised.
§ 8.47 p.m.
In his very interesting speech earlier this evening, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) took exception to the Bill because, among other reasons, there was no time limit set to it, and it might go on for ever. Agriculture is very sick. If the right hon. Gentleman, unhappily, were ill, and called in a doctor, and the doctor put him on a diet and said to him, "As long as you go on with this diet you will be all right, but you may have to go on to the end of your life," I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman would say? I do not know him well enough to be able to answer with certainty, but lie might say he would prefer a short life and a merry one, or he might say, "Doctor, let us agree to differ; we will be one month on the diet, one month off, and so on"; or he might take, as I feel sure he would, the proper, statesmanlike view, and do what the doctor told him, going on with the diet as long as it might be necessary, even if it were necessary for the rest of his life. Agriculture, as I have said, is very ill, and I feel sure it is not possible, in a Bill such as this, to put any limit to the time which will be required to cure it.
I want to record my belief that, although this Bill is a little complicated and long, as has already been pointed out, it has been conceived by my right hon. Friend the Minister, as is, indeed, the duty of his office, in the common interests of all three partners in the agricultural community—the farmers, the labourers and the landlords—and that it will help to get them out of the plight in which they now find themselves. It is a profound truth to say that the in- 129 terests of farmers, agricultural labourers and landlords are indissolubly bound together, but it is a truth to which the Opposition deliberately turn a deaf ear, because I cannot believe that they are incapable of grasping it.
I want to call attention, therefore, to two points which they have made in the reasoned Amendment which they have put down for the rejection of the Bill. They say that the Bill provides no improvement in the lot of the agricultural labourer, and also that it will result in subsidising the landlords. The truth that I have put forward is easily demonstrated. Let us take the farmer as the central figure in the agricultural partnership. I think all parties are agreed that the whole intention of the Bill is to help the farmer to reorganise his business, and, having done so, to be able to sell his produce at a reasonable profit. The agricultural labourer is protected by the Agricultural Wages Board, which ensures that he gets the proper wage. But that protection is no longer of any use when he is not employed because the farmer cannot make a profit, because he has used up his reserves and has no cash left with which to pay his labourer, and, therefore, has to stand him down.
It is a fact that during this past winter more agricultural labourers have been out of work or only partially at work than for very many years—perhaps more than ever before; and a very large number of farmers have just been hanging on simply and solely in the hope and belief that the National Government which is now in power means to make agriculture once more a going concern and to regard it as a business which, if properly and efficiently conducted, should be made to pay. Therefore, I say that a Bill designed, as this is, to help the farmer, will directly improve the lot of the agricultural labourer, because it will increase the demand for his services, and will give him security in employment instead of being out of work, and, as times improve, he will be able to go to his Wages Board and ask for his share in the returning prosperity. Farmers are generous-minded people, and I am quite sure that they will not grudge him his share.
As regards the landlord, the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) was very much afraid that the landlord was going to get unduly rich out of this Bill. I 130 do not think there is any fear of that, or I might perhaps even say any hope of that. I think the hon. Member was a little confused between Limehouse land and farmhouse land. The Minister, in his speech last Monday, made it quite clear that, on the whole, rent now merely means the replacement value of the buildings and equipment of the land, and, under any system, this replacement value would have to be borne either by agriculture itself or by the consumers of agricultural products. Thus, the replacement value or rent is clearly a proper item in the cost of production, and, that being so, I do not think any question arises of the landlord being subsidised by anybody.
I spoke just now of farmers hanging on in the hope that the Government were going to do something for them and that times would improve, but in a very large number of cases it would not be possible for them to hang on like this unless their landlords had the same hope, and were helping them in every possible way by easing conditions, by making allowances, by forbearance, by making abatements of rent, and were thus doing their best to help their tenants along and to keep the land in cultivation. I agree entirely with the view expressed last Monday by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir 'S. Rosbotham), that the farmer who has a, landlord behind him is in a much better state than the owner-occupier, who has to bear everything himself; and I also agree that the breaking up of large estates, owing to exorbitant rates of death duty, has been a real calamity to the industry. Seeing, then, that in bad times the landlord is a prop for the farmer, it is only reasonable that in better times he should get, not an increased rent, but a rent restored to its old unabated level, which may show some slight interest on the capital sunk in the land, and will enable him to spend more in maintaining and improving buildings and equipment, and on kindred industries such as forestry, land drainage and so on. It will also allow him to spend money on improving rural housing. He cannot do this unless he is getting his rent, any more than the agricultural labourer can be sure of getting an adequate wage and regular employment unless the farmer is producing at a profit. That is the whole crux of the matter.
131 In my part of the country the farmer regards this Bill as essential, and he regards immediate action as even more essential. I agree with him, and I support the Second Reading because I believe it will be good for all sections of the agricultural community, because I believe the interests of the consumer are cared for in the principal Act and in this Bill itself, and because I believe it would have the worst possible effect on England if agriculture were allowed to perish.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I am sorry to wipe the eye of the Noble Lord the Member for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington), because I was very much hoping that the House would have an opportunity of listening to one of those most valuable contributions that he always makes on agricultural problems. The Bill has met with a very cold and suspicious greeting from all sides of the House, I think, and not much enthusiasm has been shown for it by anyone. The great interest that Members of the Conservative party take in these agricultural Measures has been well demonstrated by their complete absence from the House. Whether it is because they think it is such a bad Bill that they are ashamed to come into the House to support it, or whether it is because they have lost interest in anything done by the Government it is difficult to say. We oppose it whole-heartedly. There are, indeed, a few scattered elements which we greet as precedents for future occasions. We are always indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for giving us fresh precedents. We think, for instance, his system of the compulsory collection of data, and what I may call, roughly, his provision for dealing with farmer saboteurs, are excellent and, if put into force in due time, we have considerable hope that at the next election most of the farmers may be in jail, which may assist us in some of the rural constituencies. Another feature which we also think excellent is the abolition of the power of the courts to control orders made by the Minister. We believe that it is desirable that those orders should be controlled only by this House, and this precedent of taking away from the courts all power of control over orders made by this House is an excellent procedure to be followed in future.
132 The argument of the First Commissioner of Works, as I understand it, is that this is the nearest that the Government can go to Socialism without being labelled Socialists and they have sat down, presumably, in this drafting committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member, as I gather, and said: "Let us see how near we can get to Socialism, but do not let us go so far that the other place can accuse us of Socialism." But, in doing that, they have completely missed the mark. The right hon. Gentleman—not, I am sure, the Minister of Agriculture—has failed entirely to appreciate what Socialism means. He seems to think it means the running by civil servants of the farming of the country. Of course, that has not the slightest relationship to anything that it really means. A Socialist Government would use the best people available, just as any other Government would. If it is a matter of regulating imports or having an import board, they will use the best people available in the existing industry. But the vital question is, in whose interest it should control it? Do you leave it to the Union Cold Storage Company to control the imports on behalf of the shareholders of the Union Cold Storage Company, or do you leave it to a body of experts to control it in the interests of the nation? The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have decided to hand it over to the importers, of whom I take the Union Cold Storage Company simply as an example. They say. "We must give a monopoly to the privileged or vested interests. We must not allow the community to get the benefit of any of it." That is the difference between Socialism and this ridiculous Measure. It is not a question of, Who is the man to get to do it?" The question is, "What are the policy and the principle behind the actions of the people who are carrying out these various deals? Is it a question of private gain or of public good?" We say that, if imports are to be controlled, they should be controlled in the interest of the public and not of the importers, which is the principle laid down in this Bill.
The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Christie) said that, in his view, the German system of maize control was far superior to this. I am delighted to hear that he supports import boards because, of course, the German system is purely 133 and simply import boards—State purchase and State distribution at State fixed prices—and, if you are going to have a quota on imports, our view is that it must be done through the State so that the State gets the benefit of it, and whatever increase in price is created goes, not into the hands of some private individual or firm but to the benefit of the State. We think that tariffs are better than this arrangement. If you put on a tariff, at least the community benefit by the amount of the tariff, whereas under this system you are going to raise your price—because that is the whole object of it—but you are going to say that the extra price, instead of going to the Exchequer, is to go into the importer's pocket. It is simply a fantastic scheme. Whatever your beliefs may be on Socialism or anything else, to go out deliberately to raise prices and to put the excess price into the pocket of an importer seems to us to be the conclusion of some one who is mentally deficient. I am not, of course, suggesting that that is an apt description of anyone who is sitting on the Front Bench at the moment.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean the putting of the money into the pocket of exporter in foreign countries and not into the pocket of importer in this country?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
That is exactly what I do not mean, because the moment you restrict purchases in a foreign country by the importer here, you have a glut on the foreign market and the importer can purchase more cheaply, and, therefore, the money does not go to the exporter from the foreign countries but it goes into the pocket of the importer. The hon. Baronet shakes his head.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
If they did, I could not place much reliance on their evidence, because I think that the figures given by the Board of Trade on that matter as regards what happened last year are more effective, and probably more accurate, than any of the firm mentioned by the hon. Baronet would be. The right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works gave us one very interesting admission which, of course, is commonplace nowadays, but I was delighted to hear it fall from him. He admitted that 134 capitalism had failed. We have said it often, but we have seldom had it as he will clearly see it set out in the OFFICIAL REPORT when he sees his speech.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that Socialism has failed more than Capitalism. All I was dealing with at the moment was the fact that Capitalism had failed. It is sufficient for the argument I was going to produce.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Really, the right hon. Gentleman should not say that, because what he said was, that Capitalism has produced an imperfect world and has been unable to cope with the problem of distribution. He said that it had coped with production adequately, but it was unable to cope with distribution. I think that he will find that that is so. I naturally have not the OFFICIAL REPORT and cannot tell, but I took a note at the time, and that is the impression which it made upon me. I agree with him that Capitalism has failed to cope with the problem of distribution, and that is why this sort of Bill is brought forward. It is because the old conception of interfering individualism and competition, which is the basis of the capitalist theory, has broken down that this sort of Bill has been produced in this House, and it is the very best evidence in the world that its failure has been such as to bring about these Measures which are suspected of Socialism. But in the Bill which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has brought forward he has preserved the very thing which has caused Capitalism to fail. He has attacked it at the wrong place, and in our view the restriction and control brought in under the Bill is quite ineffective because it misses the main object of restriction and control. The main object of restriction and control is to get a plan in the interests of the community. This Bill only uses it for bolstering up certain privileged interests. It is devised for that purpose 135 alone, and we say that if you try to bolster up specific and particular interests, you will inevitably fail, because you will raise so much opposition from other interests.
The passages which the hon. Baronet the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) raised are out of a Conservative paper. It was the "Observer," I think of yesterday. This is a Conservative criticism, and not my criticism. It states that prices raised in this country will mean, sooner or later, a national storm. That is the result of protecting particular interests, and not setting out for a plan which is to benefit the whole community. It is because of that fact that we believe that the Bill attempts to introduce the elements of control upon entirely the wrong basis. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) complained of the lack of support which the farmers had had, and suggested that this was the first Measure which had been brought forward by any Government to protect the farmer. If he had been here, I should have liked to have drawn his attention to the fact that for about 200 years the so-called farmers' friend party—the Tories—have had power, in and out, in this country. What have they done for farming? Absolutely nothing. They have taken no steps either to assist or to organise it. It was not until the Labour Government came into power in this country that what is admittedly the basis of the whole of the action of the Government now was passed through this House—Dr. Addison's Marketing Bill. It is interesting, perhaps, to read the reception which that Bill received at that time from the Conservative party. I will read an extract from a speech in the Third Reading Debate by the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel RugglesBrise), who is one of the experts on agriculture in the Conservative party:We see the spirit of compulsion, the spirit of inquisition. We see the denial of liberty to the individual in dealing with what he has himself produced and what he should have the right to dispose of as ho wills. We see individual enterprise cut and curtailed at every point. In fact the Bill provides a glaring example of true Socialism at its worst."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1931; col. 175, Vol. 255.]Now we have everybody rising from the Conservative benches and saying "We 136 are bound to state that the Marketing Bill of Dr. Addison was the wisest and best thing that has ever been done for agriculture in Great Britain." The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture himself said so.
§ Major ELLIOTT indicated dissent.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Clearly enough he will not deny that the whole of his structure, as he has stated, is built upon Dr. Addison's Act. That is the stepping-off point of his policy. It is a curious and an interesting conversion which we see in the Conservative party, that this once hated piece of Socialism is now made the chief corner stone of their Bill. We are glad, because, no doubt, in a year or two they will be coming back here with import boards and all the true paraphernalia of Socialism and will be saying: "Yes, we now agree that that which, in the Debate last year or the year before, we said was impossible and ridiculous we now say is a wise and an essential policy for the country." This conversion, if only it were a little more rapid, would lead us to have some hope for the future of agriculture. There was one other thing in the analysis of the right hon. Gentleman of the cause of the catastrophic fall in prices and of the tragedies of unemployment which I was also very glad to hear. There used to be an old fallacy that it was the Labour party which caused the crisis, but that admirable analysis which we had this afternoon, like so many we have had in this House from the Front Opposition and other benches, again conclusively proved that it was not either very accurate or very truthful to say that the Labour party caused the crisis of 1931. We are glad that at last truth is being recognised. We do not desire to go back to what the right hon. Gentleman calls Free Trade and laissez faire. We agree that a policy of laissez faire is hopeless in present circumstances, and that is why we cannot see the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel).
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I am unable to distinguish the point of view taken by hon. Members of the Liberal party from a policy of laissez faire. Nor do we agree 137 that the only alternative to that policy is the policy proposed by the Bill, or is a policy of tariffs. The Bill proceeds upon the basis that you must ensure that the markets of the world are not glutted by bankrupt stocks. Why not secure them by getting the goods consumed? Why must we always look at the problem as one of over-production and not as a problem of under-consumption? The Government is drifting into a policy when we shall have to restrict everything, everywhere, and always. In fact, the Bill might well be christened the workers' belt-tightening Bill; something which is designed to create an artificial scarcity in a world where, admittedly, there is more than sufficient for everybody; and we are going to do it, apparently, by stopping an avalanche on British markets.
What about the avalanche from the Dominions? How is it proposed to stop that avalanche? Hon. Members will have read with interest no doubt the Canadian figures since the Ottawa Agreements. The effect of the Ottawa Agreements in the last month for which the figures are published, they appeared in "The Economist" this week, is that the imports into Canada from this country are down by$2,250,000 and exports from Canada to this country are up by $3,500,000. Most people have said that Mr. Bennett made a good deal, and it seems that the avalanche has started flowing from the Canadian markets. It will be interesting to hear how the right hon. Gentleman proposes to stop that part of the avalanche. It is not much good stopping a small leak if the big leak is to continue. We believe that you cannot effectively control imports by leaving out of the control a vast portion of imports—that is the imports from the Dominions. This may be, in the words of the First Commissioner of Works, a scheme to insulate this country, but I should have thought it was unfortunate to do this at a moment when the World Economic Conference is about to meet; and if you want to insulate this country it is no good leaving one large portion open to attack by all the elements outside. And that is what is happening. Our precise reasons for opposing the Bill are set out in the Amendment. As we say, this Bill has no relationship to any kind of Socialism:
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
In that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and I are in agreement. It is merely a charter for the vested interests which surround the farming industry, the middle man, the dealers, and the landowners.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
It is interesting to know that the Minister of Agriculture looks upon that as a vested interest.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes me to mention the Wages Committee. If he looks upon it as a vested interest I will. The only reason that has stabilised agricultural wages is this, that if they went any lower they would mean starvation.
§ Major ELLIOT
Does the hon. and learned Member deny that the Wages Committee have helped to keep up agricultural wages?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I certainly deny that agricultural wages could go any lower without reaching starvation level. Whether the Agricultural Wages Committee have saved the agricultural labourer from starvation or not I am not prepared to argue, but I certainly believe that no decent race of people could allow anybody's wages to sink lower than the wages of agricultural labourers in this country. I do not look upon the duty of the community to give people 28s. or 30s. or 32s. a week as being something which is a vested interest. On the other hand, I look upon the middle man and the importers, the people who are taking large profits a t present out of the products of the agricultural industry, as being vested interests which are drawing upon what might otherwise be the profits of the workers on the land. We believe that the effect of the Bill will be to increase the power of those people who are sucking the profits out of agricultural products and to decrease the resisting power of the farmer and the agricultural worker. The consumer, of course, is entirely left without any form of protection under the Bill. Another serious drawback is that there is no attempt of any sort or kind of planning of the agricultural industry.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
The Minister of Health approves, at least, I gather that he does. The reason is that the origin of anything done under the Bill must be a voluntary scheme. Nobody can start any scheme unless they get the voluntary approval of the agricultural interests in the particular area or in the particular portion of the industry. It is impossible, therefore, for anyone to plan under the Bill because they never can tell which or what agricultural products will become the subject of a marketing scheme, and until they know that they are unable to deal with the wide range of agricultural products. Take any agricultural product you like; barley, cotton or wool, it is impossible to deal with them under the Bill until an agricultural marketing scheme is set up. That prevents any one from taking a wide view of the whole agricultural problem: and a wide view we think is absolutely essential. Import boards, which would naturally go with marketing boards, and which were intended to go with marketing boards, cannot be set up under the Bill. It is essential to leave the import side of a particular product quite outside any considerations of planning. Take any commodity you like, take bacon produced in this country and large quantities of cheap bacon imported from abroad; you cannot have a pool selling scheme by which the benefit of the cheap imported bacon goes to the consumer or to the farmer here. That benefit has to go to the importer or the dealer in bacon. That is a very vital factor in the successful operation of any scheme of this sort. Then there is also the point mentioned by the right hon. Member for Darwen, the question of land tenure, while the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Major Mills) stated that in his view we rather unfairly criticised the position of the landowner in this matter. He took the view that the landlord, the farmer and the worker all had a common interest. As soon as he will convince me they have got a common purse, I shall believe they have got a common interest. I have never seen any indication that they have pooled their resources yet.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Certainly, but I have never seen it being done. Landlords are better off than the agricultural labourer.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Yes, the landlords, generally speaking, are better off than the agricultural labourer. What we say is that the system of private enterprise has brought agriculture to where it is now. Now agriculture is asking to be assisted by the community. We are prepared to assist the agricultural labourer and the farmer, but we do not see why the landlord should be assisted too. We do not see that be has any particular claim any more than the holder of War Loan or of anything else upon the community for special consideration. Therefore, we look upon it as a very vicious feature of this Bill that it is doing something which, under the existing system, is bound to enure very largely to the interest of the landlord. If he is not getting his rent now, he will get it in the future; if rents are low now, if prosperity comes to farming they will go up. You will have an improved value of the land arising out of this scheme and out of the extra prices the consumer will have to pay and that improved value should go to the State and not to landlords or any other section of the community. Therefore, we hold that any scheme of this sort should have, as a first condition, the taking over the land by the State in order that the State may get the improved value as an economic proposition, because the State cannot afford to subsidise an industry and improve its value for somebody else.
§ Sir B. PETO
When the hon. and learned Gentleman speaks of taking over the land, does he mean taking it over and paying for it?
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Certainly, take it over on the basis of the valuation on which the taxpayer has paid Schedule A Income Tax for several years. It is a perfectly simple proposition. The last feature of the Bill to which we seriously object is the whole psychology that lies behind it, the psychology of scarcity. It seems to us that the framers of the Bill have looked upon the world situation with a wrong eye. They have looked upon it as a time when it is necessary to conserve everything in order that there may be enough of it instead of which we look on it as a time when it is necessary not to conserve things but to get rid of them in order that people may spend their time and energy replacing them. There 141 are two ways of increasing prices. One is by reducing the supply and the other by increasing demand. Both have the same effect in increasing prices, but, if you do it by increasing demand, you satisfy those of the population who have not enough to eat. If you do it by reducing supply, you make it worse for those people who have not enough to live on at the present time. You have only to look round in the industrial areas and in some of the rural areas to find hundreds of thousands of children and men and women who are living on a far lower standard than anyone in this House would wish them to live, if it were possible for them to have more. Nevertheless, the Government are tackling this problem not by trying to get up prices by increasing consumption but by trying to get up prices by cutting down the already inadequate consumption of goods which exist. We believe for those reasons that this Measure will not produce any lasting cure of the agricultural situation. It may sporadically cause rises in prices here and there to the detriment of the consumer and the benefit of the vested interests, but it can never serve to put once again on its feet this great industry which every one in this House desires to help.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
My friends behind me will agree with the last words of the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down when he said that we all desire to put the agricultural industry on a sound footing. In my judgment, that is a notable feature of this Debate. It is not only a notable feature of the Debate in this House, but of the view of the country to-day. It has not always been so. There were generations in which the vast majority of the people in the country thought that our future lay entirely in urban industry and in industrial advance, and that the productions of agriculture might be relegated to distant Dominions and far off parts of the world. That point of view has entirely changed. It has been said and felt in every quarter of the House, in the course of the two days' Debate on this Bill, that without a prosperous agriculture you cannot have a prosperous nation, and further, that the truest of all foundations of successful trade is the exchange of your own urban products for your own rural 142 products. In any case, the nation as a whole and this House as a whole realise in a way that it was not realised a few years ago that the fountain of health, of strength, and of happiness lies in the country and not in the town.
But we do not start the consideration of this Bill on that common basis alone. We start on another common basis. It is agreed that, among the methods by which agricultural prosperity can be enhanced, is orderly marketing. It has been said and said very forcibly, among others by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, that that view was hidden from the world and that it was suddenly displayed by the Labour party in the last Parliament. I can only recall my own experience in this matter. My interest in agricultural marketing and in orderly cooperation started in the work of Sir Horace Plunkett in Ireland in 1903. I still think, having glanced over its pages only the other day, that his book "Ireland in the New Century" is one of the most remarkable contributions to agriculture and public thought in the last generation.
I am left quite unmoved by this narrow and party taunt that our interest in marketing began with the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931. No. All are agreed that orderly marketing is of advantage to the farmer. All are agreed that for producers who are small and highly individualistic to present a united front is of immense importance. But the claims of marketing can be exaggerated. If I ventured to criticise anything so sacrosanct as a Labour party Act of Parliament I should say that that Marketing Act of 1931 and the argument with which it was sustained, and the principle on which it was based, strained the principle of marketing too far, tried to make it bear a burden which it was not capable of bearing. What was the argument It was maintained that if the farmers—there was then a completely Free Trade atmosphere—would only concentrate their attention on marketing they would be able to secure for themselves out of the middleman's profits, even with the unrestricted flow of foreign imports, a profitable agriculture. For that assumption there never has been a scintilla of foundation. It is one thing to say what is unquestionably true, that orderly marketing improves the profits of the producers. It is another thing to say 143 that orderly marketing in a Free Trade world will turn farming losses into farming profits.
As a matter of fact, the correct line of approach to this Bill is this: Its main object is to remedy that fallacy of the 1931 Act. The farmers of 1931 looked askance at the Act and at the arguments on which it was based. But give organised marketing a region in which it can work, do not seek to place on it burdens which it cannot bear, associate it with some control of imports, and then you will get an agricultural system which both parties can combine in approving. It is noticeable that that is the view of the farmer himself. No sooner had the National Government secured the approval of the country at the General Election than it became clear to the farmer that we had entered an era of restriction of foreign imports by one way or another, and immediately his point of view with regard to marketing radically altered. He himself became the originator of half-a-dozen or more marketing schemes. I do not think there has been any alteration of point of view more rapid and more remarkable than the conversion of the farmer to orderiy marketing. But do not let the Opposition think that it was their Act that did that. It was the introduction of Protection; it is because the farmer now knows that he lives in an economic situation in which orderly marketing is truly worth while. That is the true and proper line of approach to this Bill.
The first set of provisions of the Bill aim at making feasible and useful the Marketing Act of 1931. Where marketing schemes are in existence or prepared, or about to be prepared, the President of the Board of Trade may issue orders for the regulation of imports. That deals with one side from which glut may come. But there is the other side from which glut may come, and that is the home production side. If orderly marketing is to be given a load which it can bear, you must also make certain that you are taking steps to prevent glut arising from over-production. That is the second main provision of the first part of the Bill. These two provisions, combined with the provisions of the 1931 Act, do make a coherent whole by which, safeguarded and secured, the farmers of this 144 country can develop their industry in peace and science.
Of the other main provisions of the Bill there is only one which needs mention now. That is the provision which deals with the question of the development of a new secondary industry from an agricultural product. What I have mentioned secures that the existing products of the farmer will be cultivated upon a profitable basis. But everyone knows that if you are to bring British agriculture to its full fruition you must not stop at the produce of the farmer as it exists to-day. There are whole regions of agricultural produce which are left practically unexplored. The most important of these perhaps is the manufacture of bacon. There are others which I might mention, particularly the manufacture of milk products.
It is with the development of these secondary products of agriculture that the other main part of the Bill deals, again upon the basis of an orderly market. It provides that where two marketing boards, the one of the primary agricultural product and the other of the secondary manufactured product, come together, they may ask the Minister, and he may make an Order for a development scheme under the control of what is called a Development Board. Some play was made on a superficial reading of the Clause with the point that the main power of the board seemed to be to restrict the number of factories. The point of the development scheme and board is this: That when you have, by means of orderly marketing, by means of quotas and restrictions of foreign importation, taken steps to ensure that there will be development of a secondary product, the second part of the Bill ensures that the development will be an orderly and not a haphazard one.
I will not deal with the smaller, though extremely interesting—and, from a practical point of view, important—provision with regard to the sale of eggs, nor will I deal with Clause 14 further than to say that those of us who took an active part in the discussion on the Wheat Bill will remember that certain Clauses of that Measure were very hard to understand and a great deal of fun passed across the Floor of the House on that topic. I can assure hon. Members that no Clause in the Wheat Bill compares in complexity 145 with Clause 14 of the Marketing Bill. It is quite easy for anyone who can describe off-hand what is a spiral staircase or solve a three-move problem in chess, but to ordinary intelligences such as my own or such as, I believe—though on a much higher scale of course—are the other intelligences in this House, I am sure that Clause 14 will be a cause of much quiet fun in Committee.
Two broad questions have been raised with regard to this Bill. The first is whether it would not have been better to have selected the method of a tariff rather than the method of a quota. The answer is not difficult. In the circumstances in which British agriculture finds itself, faced with highly organised competitors who have seized the British market and whose produce cannot immediately be replaced by home produce but whose produce can in the course of time by proper development be replaced by home produce, I for my part have no doubt that the method of quota, restriction—that is allowing in the foreign produce that you need at any given time and excluding that part which you do not want—is a far more precise and accurate weapon and a more scientific method than taxing both that part of the foreign produce which you want and that part which you do not want. I think, and even the most ardent Protectionist would be forced to agree, that when the problem is, how much of a foreign article you are to allow in, a tariff never enables you to deal with it accurately. A quota does, and that is why, in my judgment, when you are considering such questions for instance as the development of the bacon industry, it is clear that the quota restriction method is a more accurate and more perfect weapon than the tariff weapon.
The only other general consideration which has reappeared throughout the Debate is the question of whether there ought not to be import control boards rather than free entry of such part of the foreign produce as we need. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol naturally used that as a peg on which to hang, if I may say so without the appearance of patronage, a most admirable disquisition on Socialism. But we are not concerned with abstract disquisitions on Socialism; we are concerned with the effect on the agricultural industry, and also with the general problem of raising 146 the purchasing power of the world. The moment you adopt a quota system you admit that you are anxious to or that you have to allow in some part of the foreign produce. The question is: Are you going to buy that produce at a decent price or at a bankrupt price? If you select the bankrupt price method you do nothing whatever to enhance and develop the purchasing power of the world and I cannot see how international trade can be conducted when one of the parties is determined to conduct it on the basis of bankrupt prices.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how he is securing by this Bill the prices to be paid for foreign imports?
§ Mr. SKELTON
That matter was dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade at the end of the discussion on Monday last and it is to be recollected that in the case of a largo number of articles which will probably come under the quota system, the import is on a commission basis. Take for instance the specific case of the bacon industry. The foreign imports of bacon come mainly from Denmark and we know that the whole export of bacon in Denmark comes through a co-operative organisation and that co-operative organisation unquestionably has some control of the price, and, still more, is able to ensure that it gets the benefit of any enhanced prices.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I should be glad to argue that with the hon. Member on another occasion. But, even assuming that the meat producers of South America are not so well organised as the bacon producers of Denmark, what is to prevent better organisation coming along and, surely, anything that tends to develop organisation, even among the meat producers of South America, must be welcomed by the hon. Member. Of course we have suffered a great shock in this Debate. We have been told that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and his small and select band, for once are going to separate themselves from us in the Lobby. I gathered from the right hon. Gentleman that, though it was not the sole cause of that decision, one of the 147 main causes was that the method of quota restriction as it appears in the Bill is not a temporary emergency Measure but may last for a long time and that is more than the right hon. Gentleman, on 20th March, 1933, can stomach. What about 11th February, 1932? What about that no less interesting occasion on which the present Home Secretary stated the agricultural policy of the Government? I should like to recall to the House that on that occasion my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Agriculture dealt with the short-term policy, including the Wheat Bill and then continued:The foregoing proposals refer to immediate action. The Government's long-range policy is designed to facilitate economic development in those branches of the agricultural industry which are likely to be the most remunerative and particularly those which lend themselves to most rapid development.Then the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the question of milk and he proceeded:With regard to bacon the preparation of a scheme for the organisation of the bacon industry will be undertaken forthwith, and, provided a feasible and satisfactory scheme is evolved, the Government will be prepared to promise some form of quantitative regulation of imports."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1932; cols. 1030 and 1031, Vol. 261.]That was part of the long-term policy of the Government in the halcyon days before anyone had "agreed to differ." That terrible predicament had not yet arrived. When the agricultural policy was stated by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, there was no murmur of agreement to differ. There was agreement to agree, and part of the long-term policy on which there was agreement to agree was the policy of placing quantitative restriction on foreign bacon so soon as a marketing scheme had been evolved. It was therefore an unexpected shock when we learned that our right hon. Friend was going to vote against us because the quantitative restriction under the Bill is not a mere emergency procedure, but is a long-term policy.
At this late stage of the Debate I do not think there is much that can profitably be added on the principles or indeed the details of the Bill. We have spoken on both sides of the House of the development of agriculture and the increase of agricultural prosperity, and we have used 148 resounding, abstract phrases, but in the end let us remember that we are dealing in a Bill like this, with the lives and the livelihood of men and women. It is sometimes said by Members of Parliament perhaps that the farmer occasionally seems importunate or over-urgent in his demands on the politician, but let us remember that while he is coming to us with his claims and his pleas at home, day after day, in fair conditions and in foul, he is continuing the long, patient work of cultivating the soil and, as I think, of maintaining the life of our nation. I ask the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill, because it is one of the Measures which, in our judgment, will bring it about, as far as we can, that the indispensable and indomitable work of the farmer shall not in the future be done in vain.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
Before the hon. Gentleman resumes his seat, will he give some reply to the many questions asked from both sides of the House as to the effect of this Bill upon Dominion supplies?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend, and I apologise for not having replied to those questions. I think those who have followed the Debate will agree that many of the questions that have been asked were really on Committee points and might more properly be dealt with in Committee. But the question with regard to Dominion supplies is clearly one of major size, and my reply to it would be that, so far as the curtailment of Dominion supplies is concerned, for the period in which the various Ottawa Agreements are in force, we shall rely upon voluntary agreements between ourselves and the Dominions. The first of these Agreements, carried through in the autumn by my right hon. Friend, is an earnest of what can be done in that direction, and I should be very much amazed if the right hon. Gentleman's complaint of the Ottawa Agreement was that through its action we were unable sufficiently to restrict foreign importation.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I wish—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]—I have no doubt that hon. Members who are anxious to divide will resent my intrusion, but I cannot make any apology to the House for detaining hon. Members for a few more minutes. We have listened to a speech 149 from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland delivered with all his usual felicity and brilliance. As a Parliamentary performance, nobody would, I think, deny for a moment great credit to my hon. Friend, but, when it comes to Scottish agriculture, I would ask hon. Members what ray of hope the hon. Member held out to the farmers of Scotland in connection with this Bill. I would say to my hon. Friend, in his capacity not as a winder-up of Debate, but as Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, that if he thinks he will reform Scottish agriculture with pigs, he is very much mistaken, because he will not. There are more important things than pigs in Scottish agriculture. The emergency in Scottish agriculture is enormously—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]—Hon. Members who say "Divide!" will recall that if we did, we should come to raspberries, which are important, but which are infinitesimal in importance in comparison with this Bill, which is, as everyone admits, the most important Measure dealing with agriculture that has been introduced in this House since the War.
I think everyone will admit that permanent prosperity can only be restored to agriculture by a rise in basic commodity prices all over the world, but no one can expect that to take place unless and until we can get an agreement with the United States of America for a policy of controlled inflation to counteract the uncontrolled contraction that has taken place during the last few years. In the meantime, the position is going from bad to worse, the emergency is increasing, and we in this country have an opportunity which no other country in the world possesses at the present time to take emergency action to deal with our own situation, pending some international agreement at some future date.
I want to ask the Government—and no reply has been given in this Debate to this question—What emergency action are they proposing to take under this Bill to save British agriculture in the few weeks that lie immediately ahead? From the speeches that have been made by Ministers of the Crown, no one in this House would have any idea that farmers, not only every day, but almost every hour, were being driven to bank- 150 ruptcy, that every day farm labourers were not only having their wages reduced, but were actually being dismissed from the farms, because no farmer at present is prepared to sow for the forthcoming season owing to the uncertainty of the situation. I want to bring to the notice of the Government the fact that they have left, at the end of this Debate, the farmers of Scotland in absolute and complete uncertainty with regard to what their position is to be during the current year. There is not a farmer in Scotland who, as a result of this Debate and of the speeches made by Ministers, has any idea what crops to sow or what prices he can expect for his produce during the current year.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture talked a great deal in his opening speech of this Debate about glut. He said that we had come into an era of glut and that the consequence was that we must obtain at all costs control over production. Hardly anyone in this House would deny that it was necessary to obtain control over production, and that part of the Bill which gives the Government authority over agricultural production in this country will command the approval of the House, but it is when we come to the second part of the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] I am prepared to carry on. I am not going to be made to sit down until I have finished. We have suspended the Eleven o'clock rule, and we can talk on this Bill till Twelve o'clock if necessary. I hope any hon. Members who sit for Scottish agricultural constituencies will join in the Debate when I have done and keep the flag flying, either on this Bill or on the Financial Resolution, so long as they join in and drive home to the Government the immediate urgency of the position in Scotland, which has not yet been dealt with by the Government.
I was saying that this Bill could be divided into two parts. With regard to the first part, the whole House is in agreement on the necessity of obtaining control over the production of agricultural produce within this country. By the second part, dealing with the control of imports into this country, the greatest possible anxiety is caused to very many of us—at any rate on the side of the House which supports His Majesty's Gov- 151 ernment under normal conditions. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland should know that the basis of Scottish agriculture is the 500–1,000 acre farm, the farm that grows meat, the farm that grows livestock, the farm that grows cereals in rotation. I would ask my hon. Friend, who never mentioned any of these things, what is likely to be done under this Bill for livestock, for oats, and for barley? If the Government do nothing for those three basic agricultural products, then basic agriculture in Scotland will sink. Farmer after farmer, not only in the North but in the Midlands of Scotland, will go into bankruptcy, and the Government will have to be held responsible. So far as the English farmer is concerned, he can at least claim to have had his wheat and his beet sugar subsidised. We can grow neither wheatnor beet sugar in Scotland. The basis of Scottish agriculture is livestock, meat, oats and barley. What does this Bill do for the Scottish farmer under these conditions?
The Minister was careful to explain in his opening speech that nothing under Part 2 of this Bill should be done in contravention of any existing commercial treaties which we had with foreign parts. To the questions which some of us have addressed to the President of the Board of Trade during the last two weeks he has replied quite specifically that he possesses no power to restrict or limit the importation of oats into this country, although he has admitted that those oats have been subsidised during the past few months, in particular by the German Government and also by other Governments. We have had exactly the same experience as far as barley is concerned. Years ago we were promised a duty upon the importation of foreign malted barley, and we were then told that we could not possibly have it, because it contravened one of the commercial treaties which were in existence with European countries. Unless the Minister of Agriculture can persuade his colleague the President of the Board of Trade either to rescind or to modify some of those foreign commercial treaties, this Bill he has produced, and for which he is asking a Second Reading, is absolutely valueless so far as Scottish agriculture is concerned, and he would do much better to go in for a straightforward tariff policy, 152 as has been suggested by one of my hon. Friends.
It is no good fobbing off the farmers of this country with tall tales about quotas, prohibitions and restrictions if you cannot carry them out. As far as Scottish agriculture is concerned, I cannot see that this Bill will bring much prospect of relief to the Scottish farmer, because the hon. Gentleman will be entitled to get up, as has so often been done before, and say, "We cannot operate this provision of the Bill because we are prevented from doing so by the existence of this or that commercial treaty or agreement in force at the present time." We have never had a satisfactory reply from the Government in all these Debates upon this absolutely vital question. I suppose we cannot get any more replies now, and I do not see any harm in drawing the attention not only of the Government But of the House to this fact. What is the use of asking the House to pass this Bill and telling it that the Bill will save agriculture, and bring protection to all our farmers, if, in fact, we are to be prevented from applying any of the provisions of Part 2 by existing commercial agreements?
Before I sit down I should much like to read to the House—it will only take a minute and a half—a letter which I received this morning from one of the leading agriculturists in Aberdeenshire:I would repeat to you the hardships under which farmers here are working. Oats cannot be produced below the price of 20s. to 25s. per quarter, according to locality. It is impossible meantime to obtain more than 13s. per quarter for the very best milling quality obtainable.In this connection I would remind the House that the President of the Board of Trade admitted, in reply to a question the other day, that oats were not only being imported into this country at that figure of 13s. a cwt., but were actually being subsidised by the German Government. For how long is this country to permit its own producer, who can produce all the oats which it requires, to compete year after year with quantities of oat products dumped into this country and subsidised by foreign Governments? Not even the Liberal party would agree with that policy. My friend goes on to say:We are sometimes advised to use our oats for cattle feeding, etc. Those who have done so this year are worse than those 153 who have sold their oats at 12s., as during the last five months, in spite of what the Minister of Agriculture has said about the rise in wholesale prices, fat cattle have slumped a minimum of £4 per head, and to-day fat cattle in Turriff Mart are a tragedy.I would only say that we have heard much about the Ottawa Agreements. The hon. Member has been invited to express an opinion with regard to the Ottawa Agreements. I, for one, say without hesitation that either voluntarily or compulsorily, so far as cattle and oats ate concerned, those Ottawa Agreements will have to be revised by the Government. At the present moment, as a result of these voluntary agreements, the importer has made a certain amount of money bat the Scottish, and indeed the English, farmer has not benefited to any great extent except for a short period—so far as England is concerned—before Christmas under one of these voluntary agreements. The average price of best Scotch prime beef has fallen by 1d. a pound and there is no indication at the present moment that that fall is not going to continue.
I do not believe that the Minister of Agriculture will be able to save the basic agriculturists of this country by means of a purely voluntary agreement. Sooner or later we must have a Government in this country which are prepared to face up, while the emergency persists, to protecting our agriculturists against foreign Governments. We are the only country that can do it. If we had done it years ago our countryside and our whole unemployment problem would be in a much better position than it is to-day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) talked a great deal about the export trade of this country: that it was vitally important in the nineteenth century during the industrial revolution. But the agricultural industry goes far back behind our export trade, which is merely a product of the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century—and God knows whether the industrial revolution was as great an advantage as all that! Until we can restore a measure of prosperity to the countryside I see no hope for the future. It is
§ quite hopeless to try to regain the export trade, as far as industries are concerned, that we had in the nineteenth century. It is time that this Government and the House got rid of the mirage of export trade, which we shall never catch hold of again, and concentrated themselves on the home products and the agricultural developments of this country. I beg the Government to take immediate action on this question before it is too late.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
The hon. Gentleman and several others who have risen apparently desire to continue this Debate. Speaking on behalf of myself and my colleagues, we have no objection at all to the Debate being continued, and in order that the Government may give an opportunity for the continuance of the Debate, I move that it be adjourned to another day, so that the Government may give the House full time to consider the very admirable speech that the hon. Gentleman has just delivered. It would not be in order for me to discuss the Bill, but I should like to point out that he made an agreement with the Deputy-Secretary as to when this Debate should conclude. We should be very sorry to prevent a much fuller discussion on what we have agreed and what everybody has agreed is the most important question of the day. I should like to hear the question thrashed out along the lines taken by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), and I beg the Lord President, in view of the fact that many of his own supporters desire to continue the Debate, to give us another day in order that the Bill may be more fully discussed. If it is, as everybody agrees, the most important question, three days is not too much, nor is two and a-half days or as much as the right hon. Gentleman can squeeze out of Parliamentary time.
§ Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 44; Noes, 337.157
|Division No. 87.]||AYES.||[10.17 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Batey, Joseph||Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Cape, Thomas|
|Banfield, John William||Bracken, Brendan||Cocks, Frederick Seymour|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||John, William||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Daggar, George||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Price, Gabriel|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Kirkwood, David||Slater, John|
|Dobbie, William||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Thorne, William James|
|Edwards, Charles||Logan, David Gilbert||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Lunn, William||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||McEntee, Valentine L.||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Maxton, James||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Hicks, Ernest George||Milner, Major James||Mr. D. Graham and Mr. Groves.|
|Hirst, George Henry||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke||Courtauld, Major John Sewell||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L||Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division)|
|Albery, Irving James||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Cranborne, Viscount||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Craven-Ellis, William||Holdsworth, Herbert|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Hore-Belisha, Leslie|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Croom-Johnson, R. p.||Hornby, Frank|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Crossley, A. C.||Horobin, Ian M.|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Culverwell, Cyril Tom||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Balniel, Lord||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Howard, Tom Forrest|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil)||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Dickle, John P.||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Drewe, Cedric||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Duckworth, George A. V.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)|
|Bernays, Robert||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||James, Wing Com. A W. H.|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Dunglass, Lord||Janner, Barnett|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Eastwood, John Francis||Jesson, Major Thomas E.|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato|
|Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)|
|Boothby, Robert John Graham||Elmley, Viscount||Ker, J. Campbell|
|Borodale, Viscount||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Kerr, Hamilton W.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Kimball, Lawrence|
|Boulton, W. W.||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul|
|Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Law, Sir Alfred|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Leckie, J. A.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Everard, W. Lindsay||Leech, Dr. J. W.|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Fermoy, Lord||Lees-Jones, John|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Leighton, Major B E. P.|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Fox, Sir Gilford||Levy, Thomas|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Lewis, Oswald|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Fuller, Captain A. G.||Liddall, Walter S.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Ganzonl, Sir John||Lindsay, Noel Ker|
|Buchan, John||Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Gibson, Charles Granville||Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest|
|Burghley, Lord||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Glossop, C. W. H.||Lloyd, Geoffrey|
|Burnett, John George||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. G'n)|
|Butler, Richard Austen||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Loder, Captain J. de Vera|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Gower, Sir Robert||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)||Lymington, Viscount|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Mabane, William|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Graves, Marjorie||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Carver, Major William H.||Greene, William P. G.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (1. of W.)|
|Castle Stewart, Earl||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro',W.)||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Grimston, R. V.||McKie, John Hamilton|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||McLean, Major Sir Alan|
|Christie, James Archibald||Gunston, Captain D. W.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Macmillan, Maurice Harold|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Hales, Harold K.||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)||Maitland, Adam|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest|
|Colfox, Major William Philip||Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Hanbury, Cecil||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Harris, Sir Percy||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Marsden, Commander Arthur|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Martin, Thomas B.|
|Cooke, Douglas||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Copeland, Ida||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Meller, Richard James||Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.||Stewart, J. H. (File, E.)|
|Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Storey, Samuel|
|Mills, Major J. O. (New Forest)||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)||Stourton, Horn John J.|
|Milne, Charles||Robinson, John Roland||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Ropner, Colonel L.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Rosbotham, Sir Samuel||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Roes, Ronald D.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Ron Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Morgan, Robert H.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Runge, Norah Cecil||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||Templeton, William P.|
|Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Morrison, William Shephard||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)||Thomton, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Muirhead, Major A. J.||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Munro, Patrick||Salmon, Sir Isidore||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Nall-Cain, Hon. Ronald||Salt, Edward W.||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Newton, Sir Douglas George C.||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Nunn, William||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. O.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Savery, Samuel Servington||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Scone, Lord||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Patrick, Colin M.||Selley, Harry R.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.|
|Pearson, William G.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Peat, Charles U.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Penny, Sir George||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-|
|Percy, Lord Eustace||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Petherick, M.||Skelton, Archibald Noel||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.||White, Henry Graham|
|Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Pickering, Ernest H.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Somervell, Donald Bradley||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Pownall, Sir Assheton||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Soper, Richard||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Ramsbotham, Herwald||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Ramsden, Sir Eugene||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Rankin, Robert||Spencer, Captain Richard A.||Womersley, Walter James|
|Ray, Sir William||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Rea, Walter Russell||Spens, William Patrick||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'oaks)|
|Held, William Allan (Derby)||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Remer, John R.||Stevenson, James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Blindell and Lord Erskine.|
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Mr. LANSBURY
In view of that Vote, may I ask the Lord President of the Council what he really intends to do to-night?
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Mr. Baldwin)
It is within the knowledge of nearly every Member of the House that there was some discussion as to the time which would be given for the Second Reading of this Bill. An agreement was reached between all parties that the Division on the Second Reading of the Bill should take place at about 10 o'clock, and after that understanding, extra time was given. On the other side of the bargain, it was agreed that the Financial Resolution and the two Orders, the last being the Scottish Raspberries Order, should be taken tonight, but that we would not sit up late. By the speech that has been made and by the Division that has been taken we 158 have lost time, but we are most anxious to adhere to our bargain in the spirit as well as the letter. Therefore, I propose that the Second Reading Division shall be taken not later than Eleven o'Clock, and I propose to move the Closure of the Debate then, if necessary. We do not propose, after the undertaking that we gave not to sit up late, to take any further Business to-night.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
I am sorry at this late hour to keep the House, but at the same time I make no apology, because this Bill may be and can still be almost the great charter of agriculture. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) complained that there was nothing in this Bill for Scotland. I am not so much concerned with Scotland, since Scotsmen generally rule us, as for England, but there is in this Bill the possibility that agriculture may be lifted, as it has not been for 100 years, out of the rut of laissez faire in which it has been put by a selfish industrial and commercial policy. If we 159 are to get this charter, if it is to mean anything, and the possibilities are enormous—I have personally conducted, perhaps, as much research as any private Member of the House into the possibilities—it means that there is a chance, not only that 500,000 people may be put to work again in agriculture in the fulness of time, but a chance of £200,000,000 of our imports being cut out, and a corresponding amount of trade with our own people. It means, also, that another 500,000 people in the towns and in industries subsidiary to agriculture may get a chance as well.
We have to have that purpose before us, and to realise that it gives a, real meaning to the Bill. It must be lifted out of the realm of party politics. Agriculture is a long-term business, as has been pointed out more than once to-night. Time and again Members in this House and people outside, including Sir Oswald Mosley, have talked glibly of planning, but planning is not possible so long as you are subject to the vagaries due to the volatile fickleness of a democratic vote based not so much on necessities as on the appeal that it can make at the moment. The Preamble of the Bill does not state its purpose beyond the fact that it relates to agricultural marketing, but we have had also the Minister's own statement of the purpose of the Bill in his peroration, while at the end of his peroration he said that the whole world would blame us if we sat by with folded hands and did nothing to meet the crisis.
The Bill means something even more than that. It is not only a Bill to sustain employment and the balance of imports and exports, but is an effort to regain national health, to find a substitute for the emasculated work of tending conveyor belts, for a home life that is lightened and a health that is upborne by housewives apprenticed to the tin-opener, for the synthetic virtues of minds suckled on the gentle inanities of the British Broadcasting Corporation, for emotions that are titillated by the glycerine-set sorrows of Hollywood, for a life made unendurable by unemployment and by old women's laws for bullying the poor. For these we wish to substitute craft, realities, self-defence, and the home again.
How does the Bill propose to do that? It proposes to set up a duumvirate 160 between the Minister of Agriculture and the Board of Trade. I do not believe that there is any greater supporter of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture in this House than myself, but there have been 11 Ministers of Agriculture in 13 years; and the Board of Trade, surely, of all bodies dealing with Government in this country, is concerned, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen said, with exports, and the export side only. After all, we must have some better assurance that the Bill is going to have a permanent trial. It may be that 15 years will see the full fruition of it.
I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture and told him my objection to Clause 1, and he very kindly replied to me in his speech, though he called me one of the Members for Southampton. Surely it is no use going to the World Conference with the idea that we are going to have disunity and lack of order and stability at home in order to try to produce it abroad. You must have unity first. You must have knowledge of your purpose before you can go to any world conference with any confidence. You cannot build a house with half-baked bricks, nor can you always rely on the same enthusiasm in the President of the Board of Trade or, far more, in the Minister of Agriculture. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) used the ominous words "till we come in." That shows the danger with which this Bill is going to be confronted. Suppose we have a fresh agreement to differ. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) drifts back and goes to the Board of Trade. How are the Board of Trade and the Minister of Agriculture going to reconcile themselves? The Board of Trade was brought up with a Free Trade bias. It cannot meet day-to-day requirements. If, for instance, Mother Hubbard gowns are sent to Denmark, they know how many they can export and they know what influence it will have on employment in Lancashire. But there are no figures to show whether Mother Hubbard gowns are sold in this country to the more prosperous housewives who may be in agriculture and to dairymaids. That is not considered, and it cannot be considered, because there are no figures.
161 The effect of Clause 1 is to remove from the Bill the hope of permanence. You may say that, after all, it is only putting into the Bill what is the general practice, but have we found the general practice so extraordinarily satisfactory in the past? Have we found that we have allowed anything to develop steadily without cross-currents? You cannot lock the doors of the farming industry and go away and leave it as you can a factory. Agriculture must develop steadily. Three years from, now the cattle that we are starting to breed will come into produce for milk. Three years from now the pigs we have bred will be coming into full fruition, birth control or no birth control. Those pigs will be the basis of an expanding industry for bacon and pork. But also three years from now we shall have to face an election. The figures of unemployment will be brought home to Members on the Front Bench. We have been singularly free from personal bribery of Members of the House of Commons in the last 50 or 60 years, but there is a new form of bribery which has crept in—the bribing of the electorate with promises and the taxpayers' money. There is one more form of bribery with which we have hardly yet begun to reckon. Foreign countries, seeing that we are the only market for their goods, will take advantage of the position to bribe us with temporary trade agreements which will absolutely stultify the whole effect of agricultural reorganisation. That is our very grave danger. We shall have conferences to which we shall go saying that we must do everything to help the world recovery. Foreign countries may say: "We will take half-a-million tons or 2,000,000 tons of your coal, but you must let us go on bringing in our goods." It is not an easy thing for farmers to contemplate if they know that they are to be up against that focus of destiny.
After all, the Board of Trade are concerned with exports rather than with home consumption. They, as the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) said, may be described as the Union Cold Storage Company, because they are the people most concerned with the keeping up of exports, and perhaps with the least knowledge of what is being done by revived agriculture to keep the trade home. What is 162 the alternative? We must have some reform, some planning which will last.
If we are to have planning which means anything at all and confidence—and doubly so in the agricultural industry—we must invent some means of escape from this vicious circle of democracy in which we find ourselves. The alternative, surely, is to leave the Board of Trade out of Clause 1. Leave it as a Cabinet consideration by all means, and put into it what is envisaged in Clause 3 for a far different purpose, namely, the Market Supply Committee. If you are not to have functional representation and the only means by which you can thoroughly syndicalise industry in the interests of the nation, you must put up some alternative. Therefore, you must take the first step by having an independent authoritative committee who will put up devices based on the purpose of a reformed agriculture, in consonance, by all means, with the consumer, and with regulations dealing with our foreign trade. At any rate, put it up with all the weight of authoritative and independent opinion behind it for the sake of a revival of agriculture and the recovery of our country, so that Members on the Front Bench who have to revise their recommendations will be in an awkward position because that body will have such a weight of independent opinion behind them. It is easy now to override this independent opinion, because only two bodies, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture, are concerned with putting in force any particular Order under the Bill. When the Government were setting up the Tariff Advisory Committee the Lord President of the Council made a series of speeches saying that we must take tariffs out of any party organisation and make sure that the country regarded the committee as a permanent body, capable of giving impartial advice, and free from all vested interests. If industry can have such a body, surely we have a, right to ask for something of the same kind, something which will give far more assurance for the future, for agriculture.
The First Commissioner of Works said that the first thing in regard to the Bill depends on the organisation and confidence of the producers themselves. My farming friends of the Farmers' Union and elsewhere are very seriously con- 163 cerned. They were, to put it bluntly, had over the Corn Production Act. For 100 years they have seen the balances weighed against them in favour of other industries, and every single Bill that has been brought in, presumably for the benefit of agriculture and to give farmers security of tenure, has hit them on another side of their own industry and in the end has hit themselves as well. They are not going to look forward with any great ease of mind, or take the change proposed by the Bill very easily or with any great heart and confidence, if they think that the whole of their work may be upset at the end of three years. I think there is something in the plea against Part I of the Bill and the dictatorship proposed, and I hope that the Minister will consider it for the sake of the future prosperity of agriculture and in order to give confidence to the farmers. It will be for the benefit of agriculture as a whole and the consuming public in this country.
I hope the Minister will consider some alteration of Clause 1 when in Committee, and if he cannot do what is suggested will seriously consider setting up for the whole of agriculture such an impartial committee as I have suggested, thus clearing the industry for ever from the devastating influences of Socialism. I hope he will set up an impartial commission which will be able to give complete non-party advice as to what is best in the interests of agriculture and in the interests of the country as a whole. Many people by their votes in this House try to send other people to a better world. That is hopeless. Acts of Parliament can send people in this world to a worse place than they were before, but unless we get Clause 1 drastically altered, with some real hope of permanency and continuity for the rebuilding of agriculture in this country, we shall have damned agriculture more than we knew. Apart from that, I believe this Bill is a great charter whereby agriculture may rebuild itself and find its own guaranteed market, and as such I support it whole-heartedly, but one must have faith in the agriculture of this country and in the future of this country. Of all the efforts of the National Government, this Bill stands out as something to give us faith, but we cannot have faith without hope, and we cannot have hope without the promise that this 164 Bill will be of permanent endurance on which to build our new house.
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ Mr. JAMES STUART
I know the House wishes to come to a decision, and I realise that if I speak for any length of time the Closure will be moved, as the Lord President of the Council has said, but as one of his loyal supporters I hope he will forgive me if for a few moments I express my support for the speech made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and restate the fact that the farming community in Scotland is grievously disappointed with the measure of attention which it receives. I understand it is admitted that under this Bill there is no possible hope held out to the grower of oats or barley. As hon. Members may recollect, a few days ago we raised this question on the Motion for the Adjournment and on this occasion, owing to the fact that the Government have seen fit to suspend the Eleven o'Clock Rule, we have a better opportunity of drawing attention to the grievance.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Captain Margesson)
I would remind the hon. Member that the Rule is not suspended for the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. STUART
I realise, any way, that the Closure will be moved. In spite of that, I should like to take this opportunity of drawing not only the attention of the Minister of Agriculture, but also of the Secretary of State for Scotland and of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who was present a few minutes ago—all Members representing Scottish constituencies who, I should have hoped, would have had the interests of Scotland at heart—to the fact that the position in regard to oats, in particular, is very serious indeed. We find at the present time a position in which farms are being offered at reductions of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 50 or 60 per cent. of their rents. That will merely mean that the rents will come down, and it will be quite impossible for the landlord to keep his farms in repair.
I realise that the usual answer to our questions and complaints is that the question of a duty on imported oats is under consideration by the Import Duties Advisory Committee. It has been under 165 their consideration for a considerable time, and, while I am in agreement with the principle that the question of a duty is better kept out of the political arena, at the same time if we are continuously to be put off with this answer, and if the Advisory Committee cannot make up their minds on this subject, I suggest quite seriously that the Government should take steps to see that some other method is adopted in dealing with such a very urgent question as this, because unless some decision is come to, it is an undoubted fact that the agriculturist at present does not know what action he is to take with regard to the forthcoming season. It must be realised that he has to be informed in advance, in order that he may know how to deal with his crops and how his rotation is to be arranged.
I do not wish to bore the House. I realise that most Members are irritated at being delayed, but the opportunity has occurred to raise this matter, and on the last occasion I think I occupied only two or three minutes in drawing attention to this subject. It is absolutely essential in the interest of agriculture in the north of Scotland that we should go on pressing this point of view on the Government. I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is now present. I know he is in sympathy with the Scottish farmer. He represented a Scottish agricultural constituency for a number of years. One of the first political meetings I ever attended I went to in order to listen to him, so that I would know how these matters should be dealt with and how political meetings should be addressed.
§ I am not very good at it myself, but thanks to the Under-Secretary's instructions I succeeded in gettting into this House, and I am very grateful to him. I know well from the years that he spent representing a Perthshire constituency that he is in touch with the farmers in Scotland and with their views, and that he realises their difficulties. We have a Scottish Minister of Agriculture, a Scottish Secretary of State and a Scottish Home Secretary—
§ Mr. STUART
Yes, and a Scottish Prime Minister, but he is not present, and I realise why he is absent. We do at least trust that with all these men in the Government, men who understand Scotland and realise the difficulties of the Scottish farmer, they will not go on neglecting the farmer's interests, but will see that steps are taken in order to assist him in dealing with the importation of foreign oats and barley and other things. I do not wish to be closured by the Lord President of the Council, but I do wish to impress this matter most seriously on the Government. We shall go on raising the matter. I shall take every possible opportunity myself of doing so, and I hope my hon. Friends will do so too, irrespective of whether it annoys the Government or not.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 314; Noes, 62.169
|Division No. 88.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Boothby, Robert John Graham||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds. W.)||Borodale, Viscount||Caporn, Arthur Cecil|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Bossom, A. C.||Carver, Major William H.|
|Albery, Irving James||Boulton, w. w.||Castlereagh, Viscount|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Castle Stewart, Earl|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col Reginald V. K.||Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Cautley, Sir Henry S.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Boyce, H. Leslie||Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., s.)|
|Atkinson, Cyril||Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Christie, James Archibald|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Clarry, Reginald George|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Brass, Captain Sir William||Clayton, Dr. George C.|
|Balniel, Lord||Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Cobb, Sir Cyril|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Broadbent, Colonel John||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Colfox, Major William Philip|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Buchan, John||Colman, N. C. D.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Burghley, Lord||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Conant, R. J. E.|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Burnett, John George||Cook, Thomas A.|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Butler, Richard Austen||Cooke, Douglas|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Copeland, Ida|
|Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Caine, G. R. Hall-||Courtauld, Major John Sewell|
|Bird, Sir Robert B.(Wolverh'pton W.)||Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.|
|Blindell, James||Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Craddock, sir Reginald Henry|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Leckie, J. A.||Rosbotham, Sir Samuel|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Rose, Ronald D.|
|Crookahank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Levy, Thomas||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Culverwell, Cyril Tom||Lewis, Oswald||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Liddall, Walter S.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil)||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Dickie, John P.||Llewellin, Major John J.||Salt, Edward W.|
|Drewe, Cedric||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn.G.(Wd.Gr'n)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Eastwood, John Francis||Lymington, Viscount||Scone, Lord|
|Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Mabane, William||Selley, Harry R.|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Elmley, Viscount||McCorquodale, M. S.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||McKie, John Hamilton||Slater, John|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||McLean, Major Sir Alan||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Macmillan, Maurice Harold||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Maitland, Adam||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Fox, Sir Gifford||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Fremantle, Sir Francis||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Soper, Richard|
|Fuller, Captain A. G.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Martin, Thomas B.||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Gibson, Charles Granville||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Spens, William Patrick|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Meller, Richard James||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Stevenson, James|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Milne, Charles||Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Storey, Samuel|
|Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.)||Mitcheson, G. G.||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|Graves, Marjorie||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Greene, William P. C.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Moreing, Adrian C.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Grimston, R. V.||Morgan, Robert H.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Morrison, William Shepherd||Templeton, William P.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Hales, Harold K.||Munro, Patrick||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)||Nail-Cain, Hon. Ronald||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Hanbury, Cecil||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Newton, Sir Douglas George C.||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Nunn, William||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Herbert, Capt. S. (Abbey Division)||Patrick, Colin M.||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Pearson, William G.||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)||Peat, Charles U.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir John S.|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Penny, Sir George||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Hornby, Frank||Percy, Lord Eustace||Wedderburn,Henry James Scrymgeour-|
|Horobin, Ian M.||Petherick, M.||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, B'nstaple)||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Pybus, Percy John||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Wise, Alfred R.|
|James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Ramsden, Sir Eugene||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Rankin, Robert||Womersley, Walter James|
|Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Ray, Sir William||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Ker, J. Campbell||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Kerr, Hamilton W.||Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham.|
|Kimball, Lawrence||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.||Commander Southby and Dr.|
|Law, Sir Alfred||Robinson, John Roland||Morris-Jones.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke||Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Maxton, James|
|Adams, O. M. (Poplar, South)||Hall, George H. (Marthyr Tydvil)||Milner, Major James|
|Attlee, Clamant Richard||Hamilton, Sir R.W.(Orkney & Z'tl'nd)||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Banfield, John William||Harris, Sir Percy||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Batey, Joseph||Hicks, Ernest George||Pickering, Ernest H.|
|Bernays, Robert||Hirst, George Henry||Price, Gabriel|
|Bracken, Brendan||Holdsworth, Herbert||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Janner, Barnett||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)|
|Cape, Thomas||John, William||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Daggar, George||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Thorne, William James|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Kirkwood, David||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||White, Henry Graham|
|Dobbie, William||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Edwards, Charles||Lunn, William||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Williams, Thomas (York., Don Valley)|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Mr. C. Macdonald and Mr. D.|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Graham.|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a standing committee.