§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. H. G. WILLIAMS
I beg to move,"That this House urges the Government to take immediate and effective measures in relation to the livestock industry in order to restore that balance in agriculture which is essential if it is to make its full contribution to the nation's food supply in time of peace and war and to assure a better standard of life to all engaged in the industry.This Motion is drawn in very wide terms because my hon. Friends and I thought it desirable that this vitally important subject should be debated in the widest possible way and without necessarily appearing, by the terms of the Motion, to make an attack upon anybody. I observe that an hon. Member of the Liberal party has tabled an Amendment to the Motion—in line 5, at the end, to add:and hopes that the Government's policy will be based upon the improvement in the quality of the products of the industry, the reduction in the costs of production and distribution, and the stimulation of demand.I do not know what other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen may think of that Amendment, but I do not think it makes a great deal of difference and, if it should be called, I do not think I shall care very much whether that addition is made to the terms of my Motion or not, provided always that the words:reduction in the costs of production and distributionare not intended to involve any reduction of the standard of life of those engaged in any branch of agriculture. I say that deliberately, because, of course, there are some branches of agriculture in which a reduction in the costs of production is not easily effected without reducing the wages of the workers or the legitimate remuneration of the farmers. I say that, also, in order to protect myself from the possibility of a misinterpretation of my views. It may seem strange to some hon. Members that one who represents an urban constituency should, on the first occasion on which he has ever drawn a place in the Ballot for Notices of Motions, select an agricultural subject for discussion. My decision was a deliberate one. I have never failed to tell my constituents that, in my judgment, until we restore 1278 prosperity to agriculture, we shall never solve the problem of urban unemployment. The two things are so closely associated that I think it is the right and proper thing for urban or industrial Members constantly to impress upon their constituents how important agriculture is to the nation.
Some two or three years ago, in the course of a Debate on this question, I made a statement which, I think, rather startled the not very many hon. Members who were present in the House, but which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland repeated subsequently, after, I presume, he had tested its validity, and which I would like to repeat to-day. If you imagined our country divided into two countries, the one called industrial Britain and the other called agricultural Britain, if you were then to examine the trade statistics and find out how much industrial Britain exported to agricultural Britain, and if you then were to compare that with the exports of industrial Britain to the two great Continents of Asia and Africa, which between them contain three-fifths of the world's population—in round figures, some 1,200,000,000 human beings—it would be found that rural Britain was a bigger market for industrial Britain than the whole of Asia and Africa put together. That is, I think, to most people, almost startling in its significance. I, like everybody else, attach a proper and due importance to export trade, but I think we have often been inclined to exaggerate its importance. We do in fact live, so far as 90 per cent. of us are concerned, by what is called taking in one another's washing.
I hope it will not be thought improper if I very briefly review what I will call recent history. From the period 1929 to 1931, when our party were in Opposition, there developed a very acute fiscal controversy. It had many aspects. There was, on the one hand, the controversy between those who were protectionists and those who were not, but within the protectionists' ranks there was an even fiercer controversy between those who took Lord Beaverbrook's point of view of Empire Free Trade and those who took the point of view of the Prime Minister and supported the doctrine of Imperial Preference. I always thought that Lord Beaverbrook was wrong and that the Prime Minister was right. I never 1279 thought it wise that if we became a Protectionist country, we should do so on the basis that we were not entitled, when necessary, to secure to our agriculture or our industries a measure of protection against competition from Empire countries, while at all times giving Empire products a substantial preference over foreign products. I well remember being called upon, the day after Lord Beaver-brook launched his crusade, by a representative of one of his newspapers and being asked my views. I said, "On that basis you can never protect British agriculture," and from that point of view I have never departed.
The unfortunate thing was that though the Prime Minister fought manfully for Imperial Preference against Empire Free Trade, and on two occasions nearly lost his leadership of our party, the time came when he fell into bad company, if I may say so with great respect—I do not see any of them sitting on the Front Bench at the moment, which is a pity—because he became associated with hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who had spent their lives as propagandists for Free Trade and whom events had converted to a new cause which they never thoroughly understood, and unfortunately the Conservative party came into a National Government without having secured thoroughly the acceptance of its fiscal policy. When the Import Duties Bill was introduced—I was fighting my by-election in Croydon at the time—I was horrified when I read in the newspapers that we had decided to adopt Empire Free Trade instead of Imperial Preference. It was a blunder of the first magnitude. The Empire did not expect it, and we have now created vested interests from the Imperial point of view with which it will be very difficult to deal.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I said that we have now created vested interests from the Imperial point of view. Everybody else's interest is a vested interest, I would ask the hon. Member to understand. That was the first decision. The second decision in the Import Duties Bill was to place meat on the free list. That was the second great blunder, and a blunder of the very gravest magnitude. An attempt was made to reverse it, be- 1280 cause it will be remembered that the Chairman of Committees interpreted the Financial Resolution as permitting Motions to omit items from the free list. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), always a stalwart for the cause of agriculture, moved that meat should be left out, and there were 44 stalwarts who went into the Lobby in support of him and his fellow-teller, and 341 less well informed people who voted the other way. I say "less well informed" because nearly all of them would have voted the way we voted if the vote had been taken to-day. Among those who voted with the 44 were myself, the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard), who will second this Motion to-day, and, I rejoice beyond all measure, our new Minister of Agriculture.
We still hoped, however, that when the month of August, 1932, came and that powerful delegation of six Cabinet Ministers went to Ottawa, the thing would be put right. I think the Dominions expected it, and the bulk of us expected it, but to our amazement the provisional grant of Empire Free Trade to the Dominions up to 15th November, 1932, was continued for the duration of the Ottawa Agreement, that is, until some time in 1937. That was the third great blunder, and when the Secretary of State for Scotland became Minister of Agriculture, and when the agreement to differ could not be continued any longer and Sir Herbert Samuel and his colleagues left the Government, he became Minister of Agriculture but was a Minister in Free Trade chains. I do not think that when he originally took on that responsibility he quite realised how much he was going to be hampered. But still there was hope. We were still tree so far as foreign products were concerned, and then, in the summer of 1933, there came the final blow, the trade agreement with the Argentine, under which it was impossible to impose a duty on beef, certainly until 7th November of this year.
Now I see by the papers that the new trade agreement with the Argentine was signed at the Foreign Office yesterday, though I do not think the document is yet available in the Vote Office. I do not know whether the forecast of it contained in to-day's "Daily Herald" is accurate, but most of us are a little 1281 pessimistic. I have attempted to describe, very briefly, the recent history of this matter. Some of us made the life of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland a burden almost with monthly questions as to the growing imports of beef, veal, and other competitive products, and ultimately the time came when something had to be done and we had the cattle subsidy scheme. Not representing an agricultural area and not being engaged from day to day in the actual problems of the live stock industry, I do not profess to speak with any authority on how that scheme has worked out, but I know there will be many hon. Members taking part in this Debate who will explain in what respects they think the present scheme is defective and in what respects they think the forecasted scheme may prove to be unsatisfactory.
But what has happened since the Argentine Trade Agreement? Some 80,000 workers have been driven off the land of Britain. We rejoice, month after month, as we see the statistics published by the Ministry of Labour announcing the new conquests of industry. To-day there are approaching a million more people in this industry than was the case at the top of the 1929 period of trade activity, an amazing result, for which the Government are entitled to claim every conceivable credit. But during a period of only three years—as hon. Members know, the agricultural statistics are taken on 4th June of each year—from June, 1933, to June, 1936, the decline in the number of agricultural employed workers was 79,500 odd—a tragedy—80,000 driven off the land at a time when we ought to see people marching on to the land in increasing thousands.
What is the reaction of this meat problem on other branches of agriculture? It will be seen that in my Motion I refer to the balance in agriculture. That is the vital thing. Agriculture is a group of industries which are not rapidly interchangeable. Although agriculture works from year to year it is not like industry, which can change its products in five minutes. It is nevertheless true that if one branch of agriculture is depressed, with very considerable rapidity those engaged in agriculture engage in other branches. The depression in the livestock industry 1282 has forced a great number of farmers to increase their dairy herds. Each month I receive without charge the publication of the Milk Marketing Board and I always turn to the statistical page. I want to find out how many million gallons of milk have gone into manufacture. I find what has been the trifling increase in the consumption of liquid milk. The thing is the most incredible farce. The more successful the Milk Marketing Board are in stimulating milk production, the nearer they drive every farmer to bankruptcy, because for each additional gallon of milk produced 5½ d. is obtained from the factories instead of 1s. 2½ d. from the milk distributor. The right hon. Gentleman opposite does not, I know, take my point of view, but he agrees with me that we have to make the livestock industry prosperous if we are to relieve other branches of agriculture.
Let me remind the House of the declaration made at Ottawa by the Government. As Schedule H of the Ottawa Agreement with Australia there was a lengthy statement which occupies a page and a half of the bound volume of the Statute, and one paragraph read as follows:The policy of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in relation to meat production is, first, to secure development of home production; and secondly, to give to the Dominions an expanding share of imports into the United Kingdom.I agree with both of those proposals. We have to give to the Dominions an expanding share, but we have failed to give to the home producers their expanding share.
I have already said that the former Minister of Agriculture was in Free Trade chains during his period of Office. He had not been there very long before he realised the fact, and he struggled valiantly, and as far as I can make out he passed on to his successor, to whom we all wish the best of prosperity, a measure of freedom which he himself did not enjoy. We are all now speculating as to what we are going to read in a day or so when the Argentine Agreement is published. A general rumour is that at last there is going to be a duty on foreign meat of ¾d. a lb. I also understand that when the Bill is introduced in about a fortnight's time there is the probability that a subsidy scheme is to be developed somewhat, and that a fixed sum of £5,000,000 a year is to be available. That 1283 is the rumour, as has been generally stated in the public Press.
What is to be the effect of the ¾d., assuming that that is the proposal? Roughly half of our beef is produced in this country. A considerable amount comes from foreign sources and a growing proportion from Empire countries. As long as the growing proportion from Empire countries is duty free, the ¾d. will have no effect on prices. The effect on prices of import duties depends on the proportions which are duty free and otherwise. It is not a fixed thing, and that is one of the mistakes that the Free Traders have made. As long as you have from Empire countries a growing proportion duty free, I do not think the ¾ d. will make any difference to prices in this country. I understand and sympathise with the point of view of the Argentine. They do not want to have a duty which is so high as to ruin them, and I gather that ¾d. is all that they can swallow. They are probably right and know their own business. But if we put ½d. a lb. on Empire meat and ½d extra, on foreign meat I think the price effect would be materially different. You would get an upward movement in price probably equal to ½d. a lb. Such a thing is difficult to forecast: You have to say "Provided other things are equal" and so forth. I believe that with ½. a lb. on Empire meat and a 1¼d. on Argentine meat—it would not represent any additional burden—the total sum accruing to the Treasury would be very much greater and there would be an enhancement of meat prices by a ½d. a lb.
I may be criticised by my constituents in saying it, but I do say that I think the urban community ought not to grudge an extra ½d a lb. on meat prices, and for reasons which I will give. For the moment we know that what I have indicated is not likely to be the case. But what has happened to meat prices? What was the declaration made at Ottawa? In reference to the depressed level of meat prices there was the recognition in 1932 that prices were not on a remunerative level. If hon. Members will go into the Library and consult the Ministry of Labour Gazette they will find the monthly table giving the average retail prices as collected from 5,000 shops every month, many of them 1284 branches of multiple shops and, therefore, very representative of the prices which the ordinary manual worker is paying. In 1932, in November, just after Ottawa, when we were passing the Ottawa Agreements Act, fresh ribs of beef on the average were being sold at 1s. 2¼d. a lb. The price on 1st November, 1936, was 1s. 1½d. That is ¾d. lower now than at the time of the Ottawa Agreements. Thin flank, the lower quality of beef, was 7½d., and it is now 7d.
I think that a proposal which at the outside would not quite restore the level of prices prevailing at the time of the Ottawa Agreements, is something which no consumer in this country can object to, because all the consumers in the industrial areas, with few exceptions, are substantially better off to-day than they were then. Therefore, I am not asking the industrial community to do anything unreasonable, and if we can restore the level of Ottawa prices the subsidy will be entirely available for raising the wholesale price which the farmer receives. I do not want to take the House through a mass of figures, but if any hon. Member cares to study the imports of beef he will find that in 1932 they were 11,964,000 cwt.—that is in the Ottawa year—and in 1935 they were 12,421,000 cwt., an increase of nearly 500,000 cwt.; and if we compare the first 10 months of this year with the first 10 months of last year we find that there has been an increase of 242,000 cwt. So it is perfectly clear that this year as a whole, if it continues as it has gone on for 10 months, is going to show an importation about 750,000 cwts. greater than that which was recorded in the Ottawa year.
It is clear, therefore, that the livestock industry has not had a square deal. I am not going to suggest that protection by tariff, which I prefer, is the only thing to be done. I am not going to deny that those engaged in agriculture have their part to play. They have to manage their herds in the best possible manner. I am quite satisfied that the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland), who is to move an Amendment to my Motion, will advance the argument that by better management of herds better results can be obtained without any one's standard of living being degraded. I think that those who produce beef ought to do more to 1285 advertise their products. What teetotal Members of the House may say about "A Guinness a day keeps the doctor away," I do not know. I am not considering its merits as the advertising of a particular commodity, but its merits as an advertisement. There is not the slightest doubt that the clever slogan advertising popular products has an amazing effect. Those engaged in the production of beef ought to advertise their products, if they can work out some satisfactory scheme.
It is also of vital importance that more attention should be devoted to quality beef. The reputation of British beef is based fundamentally on quality, but there is a good deal of British beef offered for sale which is below the quality we expect. In that way both distributors and farmers injure themselves. I am afraid that a good many old cows are killed and offered for sale as fresh beef, and they do not advertise quality. If we were to have a phrase such as "Let us can the cows and hand them over to Mr. French for our next great war," it might be useful. I always think that such beef when canned is much nicer than when it is fresh. There is no doubt that if you took off the fresh meat market the very substantial qualities of cow beef that are offered to-day, the net result would be an enhancement of the remaining first class beef.
Although the main burden of my speech is to advocate the proper fiscal protection of the livestock industry, nevertheless I recognise to the full that there are other things which ought to be attended to, and I certainly hope that the new subsidy scheme will have due consideration from the quality aspect of the problem. How vital this problem is, is shown by the many communications that I have received since it was known that I intended to move this Motion. If I were to expound all the matter I have received by post I should be able to talk out my own Motion. Nevertheless, bearing in mind how important it is that this subject should be discussed from every conceivable aspect, I do not propose to take up any more of the time of the House, and without further words I move my Motion.
§ 4.1:3 p.m.
§ Mr. EVERARD
I beg to second the Motion.
I am sure that the whole House is indebted to the hon. Member for South 1286 Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) not only for bringing this Motion before the House, but also for the extremely able way in which he has proposed it. I only hope that when another birthday comes—I understand it is his birthday to-day—he will not be too old to forget the agricultural industry, and that he will be able to support us for many years to come. The case which has been made out by my hon. Friend is a particularly interesting one, because it comes from a Member representing an urban constituency. If there is one thing which has appealed to me more than anything else since I have been in this House it is the better understanding and the greater interest which Members representing urban constituencies take in the great industry of agriculture. I only hope that those of us who represent the agricultural industry will see that we do our share to look after those whose prospects and future are in the great towns.
As my hon. Friend has said, the whole future prosperity of the towns lies in the agricultural community outside, and the corollary is also a fact. We are also fortunate this afternoon in having the new Minister of Agriculture with us. I have always appreciated the great feeling for, and knowledge of, agriculture which he has, and his constituency is one which should produce a Minister of Agriculture. If we are receiving a new friend among us, it would be fitting if we said a word of appreciation of the Secretary of State for Scotland who, during his tenure of office, as Minister of Agriculture, probably did more to endeavour to improve the difficult times through which agriculture has passed than any other Minister in recent times. This is a particularly opportune moment for a Debate on the livestock industry because in the last Debate, when the late Minister was speaking on the Second Reading of the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Act on 17th July, he used these words:Only yesterday the Scottish National Farmers' Union representatives came down and interviewed hon. Members of this House on the question of the quality subsidy, whether it would be adequate, and under what terms it would be given. All these matters which, within the time afforded by the temporary Bill, we shall have an opportunity to discuss with them, and they desire and demand that it should be discussed with them, and rightly so. If I were to announce here and now that everything had been definitely decided, there would be no more 1287 use for argument and debate or for the Debate now taking place. We intend to have still more discussions with the producers' representatives and with the representatives of the distributive trade between now and next autumn."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th July, 1930; col. 2491, Vol. 314.]We therefore presume that the late Minister and his successor have been carrying on these negotiations with the producers and the distributive trade, because I think that it must have been made perfectly clear to the late Minister from the speeches which came from practically all the agricultural Members in his own party on the last occasion when we had a similar Debate that there was a great feeling of dissatisfaction at the pronouncement which the Government had made on the long-term policy which they were to institute for the livestock industry. It is interesting to note the great improvements which have taken place in those sides of agricultural production which have been given a more or less guaranteed price and the certainty of a market. Under the wheat quota there is an increase of wheat of about 75 per cent. Then there is the enormous and ever-increasing production of milk, which is now about 3,000,000 gallons a day more than it was four or five years ago. There is, too, the increase of sugar beet. All these are items of agriculture upon which the farmer has the definite knowledge that he can sell his commodity, and he knows what sort of price he is likely to get.
When we come to the side of the agricultural industry in which the most capital and to which the most consideration must be given—that of livestock—it is far more difficult for the farmer with the knowledge that it takes three years before he can get his money back, to decide whether he will rear his calves or slaughter them, or whether he will continue in the livestock industry or turn to milk or some other side of agricultural production. It is because livestock is the slowest and most difficult side of the industry upon which the farmer can take a decision that it deserves and should get so much attention from this House. I give the Government full credit for the efforts they have made since 1932 to do something for the industry. They have made substantial efforts by the cutting down of fat cattle coming in, by the sub- 1288 sidy, by the Ottawa Agreements, and in other ways to bring back prosperity to the livestock industry. I should not be stating the facts if I did not say that the industry fully appreciates those efforts. We have to face the fact as it is to-day, however, and the fact is that whereas before all these efforts were made the index figure for fat cattle stood at 112, it stood last month at 113, including the subsidy. In other words, the farmer is no better off although the subsidy is being paid. During the last three years the average price of fat cattle has been in the neighbourhood of 37s. per cwt., whereas every British farmer knows, and it is generally agreed in the House, that, taking the country as a whole, it is impossible to produce and to pay an adequate wage or anywhere near it unless the price is 48s.
The breeders of store cattle are in a desperately bad condition. Calves have been killed to an enormous extent and we have now to face the position that very nearly half of our stores are coming from Ireland. I cannot believe that that is a satisfactory state of affairs. Although I speak very largely for the grazing side of agriculture, I appreciate that in the north of England and in other places where stores are the whole livelihood of the farmer, it is vitally important that the Government should, in whatever steps they take, ensure that British store cattle have an advantage over those which come in from abroad. I am sure that unless something is done in the new arrangement, the breeders of store cattle will cease to be able to operate.
I was very impressed by the arguments which were used by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Sir E. Ruggles-Brise) in the last Debate on the Government's new proposal which, as we understood it from the answer which the Minister gave on 6th July, was that there should be an increase of the subsidy to £5,000,000 for fat cattle. There is little doubt that there will be a duty of ¾ d. a lb. on Argentine imported cattle, which will produce about £3,000,000. The consequence is, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon said, the Exchequer which is now having to find £4,000,000 a year will be relieved of £2,000,000 of the cost of the subsidy by the duty on the importation of fat cattle and chilled beef from the Argentine. I do not approve of the Government's scheme 1289 because I do not approve of the subsidy. I think that it is the most dangerous method of giving relief to any industry because it is so easily stopped if any Government comes into power that does not approve of it. Far better do nothing at all for livestock than something which will be stopped in a year or two. That is my whole case against subsidies. Farmers still remember the Corn Production Act, and we certainly do not want a repetition of anything of that sort.
For that reason I consider that an actual Exchequer subsidy is a dangerous and bad method of dealing with the present situation. I believe that the only possible method of dealing with the livestock industry is by the method which we have several times put forward in the House of the levy subsidy. We should first have an import duty or levy on all cattle and livestock from all countries, including the Dominions. The Dominions should, of course, pay a considerably smaller amount. We should get in that way a large enough sum to make up the deficiency, irrespective of the Exchequer, and bring the price up to 48s. per cwt. I am certain that until we get down to some scheme of that sort, which will work itself, which will not be dependent on the good will of any particular individual at any time, there will be no security in the agricultural industry.
I agree with the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) who is going to move the Amendment. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon that there is nothing in the Amendment which we do not all desire to see, but all these things will come much more easily when the industry is in a position to be capable of carrying it out. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman visits many farmsteads outside his own well-kept estate. My experience goes to show that the ordiary farmstead in a great many parts of England is almost in the same position as the Crystal Palace is to-day, or at any rate, getting very near it, because of lack of money to enable farmers and owners to keep their buildings and tenements in repair. It is folly to say that we can expect these people without any capital to put all these things right before we have put right the fundamental trouble which has brought them to their present 1290 position, and made livestock a paying proposition.
The whole of this problem is undoubtedly closely associated—much more than most of us think—with the defence of this country. I do not think that anywhere near a sufficient case has been made out for help for agricultural production in time of emergency, and particularly for the livestock industry. The cereal crop takes a year to grow, but if we want to produce a large quantity of any sort of livestock, it takes several years before we get any stock at all. I congratulate the Government on setting up the Food (Defence Plans) Department, and I hope that they will go ahead with it. Anything that any of us can do to help them we will be only too delighted to do, because it is a definite move in the right direction. We may rebuild a large portion of our Navy, but what is the good of doing that simply to escort ships from the Argentine or elsewhere with food, which we could equally well produce in this land and thus save the cost of those ships or at least have them for the defence of the country instead of for the convoy of food ships?
The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said they were now considering or had made arrangements to have a reserve wheat supply, and that is very important, but meat supplies are equally important. Meat forms one of the heaviest cargoes we have to bring across the sea, and I should have thought that one of the first things the Minister would have done would have been to ensure that as far as possible we import less of it from abroad. Further, in time of war one of the most important supplies of fat would be the fat from bullocks and other beasts, because all the pigs and other animals which live on articles of food capable of use by human beings would be slaughtered very much earlier than those which live on grass and other natural foods.
I am glad to see that my hon. Friend has brought into this Motion, and rightly so, the question of agricultural workers. While it is only fair to say that in the last two years the wages of agricultural workers in this country have gone up by about £1,500,000, I do not think anyone in any part of the House who represents an agricultural constituency would say that the pay of the agricultural worker is 1291 any way near commensurate with the pay of a similar man who does a job in a town, and until that situation has been rectified we ought not to be satisfied. After all, it is not the man's fault that he happens to live in some outlandish part of Cumberland or Westmorland or the Highlands of Scotland. He has to work where he is, and if he moves into a town he has often greater difficulty in finding employment. Anything which can help to provide permanent employment for agricultural workers and to improve their standard of living and wages is something which everyone would willingly support.
I am convinced from my knowledge of my own constituency that, if the particular side of agriculture now under consideration is not put on a proper and firm foundation for the future, we shall see a large additional number of men put out of work, and they are the skilled agricultural workers. Every man employed in the livestock industry is a skilled man; he is not the ordinary unskilled worker who can be used for other purposes. Those are the men we must keep in the industry. I appeal to the Government to do something more than is proposed in the scheme which I envisage as in their minds at the moment. I may be wrong in my criticism of the Government on one point. I have said that I do not like an Exchequer subsidy but would rather have a subsidy from a levy on imported produce. There is one other way to do it and still get a standard, or a reasonable, price for agricultural produce. I understand they are taking powers to control imports. If they use those powers properly they can effect the same object of raising prices in this country to the figure which I have mentioned just as well as by any other means. I would ask the Minister whether, if these powers are being taken, the Government intend to make serious use of them in order to bring up the price of beef to 48s. per cwt., or at least to a figure in that region. I feel that the problem before us is one with which everybody in the House, no matter whether his interests are urban or agricultural, must closely associate himself, and I hope that this Debates may be the means of securing a sympathetic consideration of these agricultural problems.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. R. ACLAND
I beg to move, in line 5, at the end, to add:and hopes that the Government's policy will be based upon the improvement in the quality of the products of the industry, the reduction in the costs of production and distribution, and the stimulation of demand.In moving this Amendment I should like to express my sincere gratitude to the Mover and Seconder of the Motion not only for their able and interesting speeches, but for giving the House this opportunity of discussing the principles on which agricultural policy should go forward, apart from the rather binding provisions of any particular Bill which might be before us; and the more so—and I say this without any disrespect to his predecessor—because we have a new Minister of Agriculture in whose ability and energy we on this side of the House have more confidence than we have in, at any rate, some of his colleagues. I hope that the Mover of the Motion will appreciate that I have not suggested the alteration of a word or a line in his Motion. Indeed, it would be impossible to do so when we are asked to support, "immediate and effective measures to…restore that balance in agriculture," "make its contribution to the nation's food supply" and provide "a better standard of life to all engaged in the industry."
Those are aims which are universally and equally desired by all sections of the House; but we occasionally hear speeches from farmers' representatives, both inside and outside the House, in which it is suggested that if the Government would stiffen up the quantitative limitation of imports and instead of this miserable¾d. a pound on foreign meat impose an import duty on Dominion beef and a higher one on foreign beef, so adjusted as to give the livestock industry a nice little guaranteed price, then the Minister of Agriculture could go to sleep assured that his name would go down to history as that of the man who had solved the livestock problem. It was my fear that this Motion, so admirably worded, might be supported by speeches of that kind, and thereafter, if it were carried by the House, give the Minister and the nation the impression that the House regarded such a policy as not only necessary but as being sufficient.
1293 It is not my purpose to deny that financial assistance is required by the industry at the present time. I admit all the facts stated by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) and I do not dispute many of the conclusions which he reached. I moved this Amendment for the purpose merely of emphasis. If it is the view of the House that agricultural policy should be founded upon State assistance, and that organisation should be merely a superimposed veneer, or, as one might say, a kind of tiresome homework which the farmer is expected to do before or after dinner, then, of course, this Amendment will be defeated; but if the House takes the view that a reduction of costs of distribution and of production, an improvement in quality and the stimulation of demand are the basis upon which an agricultural policy ought ultimately to be built to stand alone, financial assistance being a temporary necessity from which we ought some day to be able to escape, then I hope the Amendment will be carried.
There are so many things one could say about the Amendment that if I omit some of them I hope that it will not be accounted to me as carelessness, but rather as righteousness. I should like to point out to the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) that although I agree with him that when farmer-owners are loaning money they cannot improve their farms to the same extent as when they are making money, the suggestions which I am going to put before the House are not in any way dependent upon whether or not individual farmers are making or are losing money. I will give two quotations from the Bingley Report. It states on page 81:From the inquiries we have made we conclude that the full benefit of higher prices will not accrue to the home producer without greater efficiency primarily in the field of marketing, but also in the production of livestock and its preparation for sale as meat.On page 31 it states:The general lack of marketing organisation, the excessive numbers of markets… inefficient use of methods of sale…the lack of market intelligence and of knowledge of supplies and prices the blind movements of stock in search of a reasonable market, the fluctuation of supplies at markets—all these are unfavourable to the farmers' interests.That is strongish language, and we hope that the Minister really means business. 1294 It is well known that many farmers intensely dislike any form of interference, but I suggest to hon. Members opposite that if they represent to the farmers that a levy-subsidy is alone sufficient to solve the problem, and if the Members of the Opposition endeavour to organise the farmers' dislike of any alteration in the present system in terms of the ballot-box, we shall be rendering the greatest possible disservice to the people whom we endeavour to serve.
I have a few words to say on the question of breeding. It is a tragedy that whereas our best stock is better than any in the world our average is not as good as the average of some of our competitors. It is a very grave problem, and I hope the Minister will pay particular attention to the recommendation in the Bingley Report that the Ministry's premium bull scheme should be extended, and should be concentrated particularly on supporting a light-weight good beef type of bull in those areas which export store cattle. It is very largely a question of weight in these days, because consumers, and also to a large extent our competitors, are turning away from the heavy-weight animals to baby beef, and our farmers must do the same. Here is another quotation from page 62 of the report:Although there is some demand for large joints from certain sections of the meat trade, this demand is insufficient to absorb the available supplies of heavy cattle over 11 cwt. live weight, except at relatively low prices for the best class of family trade the tendency in the last few years is to regard 9½ cwts. as the most useful live weight.There is a tendency among farmers' representatives to speak in these terms: "Our costs of production are so much and the price we can get is so much. Therefore, we require a subsidy of so much to bridge the gap." That argument is very plausible, but when you take an extreme case it breaks down. I might say: "The cost of manufacture of a stage coach is so much and yet all I can get for it is so much. Therefore, I demand a subsidy to bridge the gap." That is an extreme illustration, but the difference between that case and the case of the 13 cwt. of beef is a difference of degree and not a difference of kind.
In this matter the Minister might, I suggest, have two objects in view. Let 1295 it be clear for several years to come that the production of the 9½ cwt. 20-months beast is going to be quite profitable. With regard to the 13 cwt. three-year-old beast, admittedly we cannot drive that sort of beast into the bankruptcy courts, but let it be clear that the consumer cannot be expected for ever to bridge the gap between its cost of production and the market cost of an article which the market requires less and less at the present day.
That brings me to the question of slaughtering. Last Session I said in one Debate that in slaughtering we had made very little progress since the days of William the Conqueror. I was taken to task by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). I now want to suggest that many of our municipal slaughterhouses are rather more like the slaughterhouses of William the Conqueror's time than they are like the Chicago or Adelaide meat factories. I am aware that in the smaller centres the methods are open to objection. There port of the technical committee on abattoir design indicates that something might be done among the smaller centres by co-operation among the butchers, but they suggest that the problem was outside their terms of reference. As regards the smaller centres, it cannot be denied that further investigation is necessary. That does not apply to the large centres. We had a report from the Agricultural Committee on the Marketing of Beef and Cattle seven years ago. I make no apology for quoting from it to the House:It cannot be seriously maintained that our meat supplies, taken as a whole, are handled as efficiently as are the meat supplies of our overseas competitors with their up-to-date plant, where nothing is wasted and supplies reach the consumer in the best possible condition. The public abattoirs in this country have none of the advantages of the foreign meat factories.Both absence of resting before slaughter and movement of carcases before setting are injurious to meat. Further, such procedure does away with the possibility of hanging supplies at a proper temperature in large cooling chambers, which is a feature of the trade in most progressive countries.There is one other quotation:The cost of hanging a carcase for a week in Amsterdam is 1s. 8d. and in Smithfield is 15s. 6d.There is no possibility of getting further information than we have on this sub- 1296 ject, except by taking action. Investigation and report have reached finality. There is this report of the technical committee on abattoir design; I hope the Minister means to do something really big on the lines of setting up factory abattoirs, may be experimentally at first. I submit that the experiment must be conducted on a big enough scale to show us how the public will react to the better quality in the meat which will be brought about by better slaughtering methods and better hanging facilities, and that the experiment in abattoir construction must be accompanied by a vigorous advertisement campaign in the district in which the experiment is made.
While I am talking of experiments may I conclude with one small point which is really separate from anything which I have said before, and that is on the question of artificial dried grasses? I believe that for some years now the position has been that the proposal is perfectly sound in principle, in theory, and economically, but that a certain number of quite small technical engineering problems have yet to be overcome. Nevertheless, on the whole, private enterprise is funking those technical problems. Quite a large capital is needed to start one small experimental plant. Would the Minister not think it worth while to go into this question of the artificial drying of grasses in a big way? Let him put £500,000 or £1,000,000 into experiment and research to overcome those technical difficulties. If he succeeded, he would be able to keep the process in his own hands and develop it along lines approved by him. It would make a considerable contribution to the solution of the coal problem, because coal is required in the process. It would enable the farmers to feed their beasts into the autumn, without having to rely so much upon foreign imported foodstuffs, and it would have its effect upon the autumn gluts, when most of our beasts are sold at the lowest prices. If the Minister failed—I hope he will not be afraid of failure—in an experiment of that kind, and if he came to this House and said, "I have spent a million of money on research and I have accomplished nothing," he must not be afraid that the House would turn him out. It would not be the first time that a Government had spent £500,000 or £1,000,000 of public money, and in return had got nothing.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
I beg to second the Amendment.
My hon. Friend has given me the pleasure of seconding his Amendment. I framed it with him, as the Member for a neighbouring constituency, and in other ways. It is a great pleasure to me to join in this Debate at his request. Before I come to the subject of his Amendment, perhaps the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Motion, and whose speeches I very much admired, will allow me to say a word or two arising out of something that was said. They have given a perfectly admirable introduction to the very important subject which we are to discuss to-day. The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) put forward the alternative of a levy-subsidy, compared to a tax. To ordinary people they will seem to be precisely the same thing. Each of them is just as stable and just as unstable, with the Government in power at any time able to modify them up or down, in the Budget of each year, just as they can modify the Tea Duty, the Sugar Duty or anything of the sort. The idea that there is any special virtue in nominally earmarking the yield of a special tax for a special purpose is "all my eye." It does not work. It has never been admitted by the Treasury. The Minister of Agriculture, having come from the Treasury with a good Treasury training, is the last person in the world to admit it. We might as well be perfectly honest about this and say, as we are going to say: "We are going to tax beef." To call it a levy-subsidy will not hurt anybody in the long run.
§ Mr. EVERARD
There is one difference, and it is that the levy-subsidy comes definitely into the Cattle Fund. It does not go into the Exchequer. It is very much easier to take off a subsidy than it would be to destroy the whole of the Meat Act which was set up by the Government.
§ Sir F. ACLAND
It goes into the Cattle Fund as long as the House of Commons says that a similar sum shall be paid into the Cattle Fund. There is no guarantee. If any Government thought that the nation ought to be taxed differently, they would provide the money differently. There is no virtue in that idea of earmarking certain 1298 revenue for certain payments. I entirely agree with what the hon. Member said about the condition of many farms, not only freehold farms, but farms held by landowners. I want to touch upon that to make this point: We shall all have to be prepared sooner or later for the position to arise that the deeper we get into what we are now setting up so certainly and surely, namely, the dependence of all, or the main part, of the agricultural industry upon the State, the less possible it will be, in the long run, to avoid the State having some say in regard to subjects like rent and the conditions in which farms are kept, and what happens to the share subsidy, which has not come yet, I may say as a landowner. One hopes it may come soon to the landowner, who has hitherto done nothing but reduce his rent. That is an unavoidable aspect, if we really look forward.
With regard to the main point of the Motion and the Amendment, I could not help thinking when I heard the two hon. Members speak, how politely and how easily we now cover up the fact that we regard it not only as normal, but as natural and necessary, that advances to agriculture shall rest in one way or another on the general taxpayer. I would bet, if it were in order in this House to bet, that of a dozen speeches from the Government side of the House, 11 would advocate more State money to be applied in some way or other, particularly to that part of the agricultural industry which happens to be practised in their constituencies. In regard to the Amendment, although that process goes on merrily, from the taxpayers' point of view, but not quite so merrily from the farmers' point of view, it all points in the direction of getting ultimately a stiffer State control. We have the Milk Report, of course, on which we cannot ask the Government to do anything yet, which recognises definitely that the main policy in regard to milk shall be taken away from the representatives of the producers and put under public control. That may or may not be wise, and may or may not be done, and we cannot discuss it to-day, but if that sort of thing is done for milk it will follow for beef. If it follows for beef it will be done in other directions, as it has already been done more or less for sugar-beet. You get State control unavoidably, as a corollary to subsidy. 1299 That being so, it is not unreasonable, again as a corollary to subsidy, or tax, or assistance, to suggest to the Government—I am glad to feel that we are not on controversial lines on this matter—that the control which they exercise, in whatever way they choose to exercise it, must take into account the consumers' end. However much they may try, and however successfully they may go on for a few years, ultimately the help which they are tending to give more and more to the different branches of the industry, will be secured only if the consumers are satisfied that they are getting something in return for the large amount of money, which, in one way or another, they are called upon to pay. Therefore, it is right to bring into the picture from the first not merely the question, overwhelmingly important as it is from the point of view of our constituents, of the producer doing better, but also that the consumer has something which he is anxious about, namely, such matters as quality, marketing, the margin between wholesale and retail prices, and matter such as has been touched on by my hon. Friend. These are really essential as elements in these big matters from the beginning. I hope, therefore, that the representative of the Government will be able, as an earnest of his agreement on that main point, namely, that the picture has two sides, the producers' side and the consumers' side, to accept the Amendment as well as the Motion. That would lead to a greater amount of agreement, and therefore a greater amount of good will in regard to the schemes which the Government have to put forward.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Sir EDMUND FINDLAY
I hope that the mere fact that I have some practical knowledge of agriculture will commend itself to the House when I am dealing with this subject, as I have not spoken on any other subject here before. I should like to congratulate the Government on what they have done in connection with subsidies, and the assistance they have given to the English farmer. With the new arrangements that they are making for the cattle subsidy they have put the problems on a satisfactory basis, or satisfactory as far as possible. They have a levy-subsidy for wheat. They have the sugar beet subsidy to help them with their root crops. They have an 1300 arrangement with Argentina to enable them to put their feeding market on a correct basis, and they have a further subsidy which is paid in cash out of the pockets of the farmers. They get their feeding stuffs, oats and barley, below the cost of production. I maintain that this is quite unreasonable.
What is the position in Scotland in this connection? As far as the cereal crop is concerned we get nothing. Certain farmers grow wheat, but in my opinion as a practical farmer those farmers are growing wheat to the detriment of their land, because it is not wheat-bearing land. But it is difficult to suggest that where you get a Government grant of over £3 15s. an acre you should not take a chance. As far as roots are concerned we grow turnips and mangold wurzals, but we cannot grow sugar beet to any degree. Oats we grow below the cost of production to subsidise the English farmer in his marketing of beef. There is a very serious danger that these grievances will endanger the whole idea of co-operation which the Government are trying to bring about between farmers as a whole. I am very loath to suggest, in fact I think it is ridiculous to suggest, that we should get further grants from the Treasury, but I do believe, and I would ask, that the grants which are to-day made should be more fairly allocated. We in Scotland have as much right to this money as the farmer in England.
It was suggested yesterday that as Norfolk has been the means of getting the sugar beet subsidy they have the first right. Perhaps that is correct, but I maintain that those people who have the greatest difficulty in carrying on should receive at least a proportion of the subsidy which the Government are prepared to pay to agriculture. It is a difficult problem, because any subsidy which the Government have to pay on the livestock industry must depend entirely on price. The Government have not yet made up their minds what is a fair price level. Before they come to this House with proposals they must be certain—I say this in all seriousness—what acreage they propose that a farm should be. Three hundred acres is the acreage which the normal tenant farmer farms to-day. That is the case in 80 per cent, or so of the farms. It would be much more efficient to farm considerably 1301 more; but it is the policy of the Government to suggest smaller holdings. Smaller holdings mean greater costs of production. I would ask hon. Members not to take the Amendment too seriously, that a reduction in the cost of production is absolutely essential. The Government could easily insist on a serious reduction in the cost of production. What would be the result? First of all, the farmers would have to cut down every hedge, every tree—
§ Sir E. FINDLAY
No. And they would have to use tractors and farm the land as land is farmed on the prairies. The trees and the hedges are there for a purpose. I believe that the old Liberal view of individualism should be continued. Therefore, the Government should not consider the cost of production too carefully and too economically, that is, from the point of view of the economist, if they want to retain the countryside as it is. How often has one heard the phrase, "The Garden of England." Do we wish an economy which will reproduce in England the condition of the prairies, so that the townsman will have nothing to go to see on his week-ends, or do we wish a very small increase in price, or else a certified price which will enable us to carry on our agricultural industry and make a profit in the way we are doing to-day
It would hardly be fair if I sat down without discussing one or two problems which we have particularly in Scotland. I would ask the Government, before they formulate finally their livestock policy, to allow us representation. I believe that an agreement has already been signed with Argentina which will make it quite impossible for representatives of that industry to make representations to the Import Duties Advisory Committee This may or may not be of assistance to the country as a whole, but I think it is very hard luck on the farmer. I would ask the Government, in formulating a new policy, to consider quality. At the present time the subsidy on a weight basis militates against the Scottish farmer in producing quality. I have taken out some figures which show that, according to the wireless prices, at Carlisle market a 10-cwt. beast fetches 1302 30s. per cwt., which amounts to £15. The farmer gets a subsidy of 5s. per cwt., or 16⅔ per cent. The beasts of my constituents in the North-East of Scotland fetch 50s. to 51s. per cwt., and they get the same subsidy, or only 10 per cent. That is a direct encouragement to grow low-quality beef.
I know that there are difficulties, and I would congratulate the Government on what has happened so far. We have a livestock policy. I think it was Dr. Addison who introduced the licensing of bulls in 1929. He said in this House that that would in time cause an improvement in the cattle trade, and it has done so, but I would most earnestly ask the Government to consider, in regard to the licensing of bulls, the very serious question, which has not been brought up before, of contagious abortion. An enormous improvement has admittedly been made by the use of premium bulls, but it must be remembered that such bulls can become infected with this complaint and can spread it through the herds in their district, and there is no method by which the Government can prevent these bulls from catching it.
Further, we have had experience in Scotland of promises, which I must admit were made in good faith, that the wheat subsidy would be of assistance to the oat grower. The Government must admit that that has not been the case. I think, too, that the promises that the cattle subsidy would be of assistance to the breeder of store cattle have not been borne out either, and I would suggest that in the Government's final livestock policy some direct assistance should be given to the breeder of store cattle. It is in the Government's interest. From my own personal knowledge I can assure them that it costs no more to fatten a good beast than a bad beast. I can also assure the Government that by the time, as a breeder, I have got my percentage, by the time the auctioneer has got his percentage, and by the time the other people interested have got theirs, there is mighty little left of the Government grant to go to the feeder. They are a difficult class to deal with; they require a good deal of showing how to do it. I would humbly suggest to the Government that they should revive again what they did at the Alloa show some years ago, and put forward some practical form of exhibit showing the breeder what is 1303 wanted. They did it at Alloa for the pig trade. An ounce of fact is worth a ton of theory. You will not get farmers to read blue-books, but you will get them to come to cattle shows and see what they should do, and I believe that this would be of considerable advantage in the breeding of good store cattle in this country.
Before I sit down I would like to put forward one further plea. The Prime Minister at the end of July gave a personal undertaking that he would go into the oat question and the barley question. We in Scotland produce, and it is our only paying crop, wheat, and we are not content to remain with only one crop, out of all the crops that we grow, as a paying crop. I would ask the Minister to remember that it is no use holding up the waters of prosperity if you leave a hole in the dam. At the present moment there is a very serious hole which is open. It is no good having a livestock policy unless you have a good growing policy to feed that livestock.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. HOPKIN
I am sure that Members in every part of the House will desire to congratulate the hon. Baronet the Member for Banff (Sir E. Findlay), who has just spoken. He has brought to this House that which we all desire to bring, namely, the result of our own experience in the world outside. Most of us can merely claim to be theorists, particularly in the matter of agriculture, and I am sure the House is delighted to hear that we have one more Member who is something more than a theorist, and who is a practical man prepared to put his experience to the use of the whole House.
The problem, for me, is contained in one sentence that I heard in Carmarthen last Saturday. It is that for some considerable time prime beef has been sold in Carmarthen at 30s. a cwt. plus 5s. subsidy; that is to say, the farmer gets 35s. per cwt. for his prime beef. Is there a Member in any part of the House who will stand up in his place and say that beef can be produced at a profit when it is sold at 35s. a cwt.? If there is not, what is the answer to the question now that figure can be raised? The farmer will not take any glib answer, nor will he take any political theory for a reply, because for him it is a, matter of life and 1304 death whether he gets a sum of money that will at least pay him his cost of production. I admit most readily that I have no practical knowledge—I only wish I had—of agriculture, but I make it my duty to get from the farmers themselves exactly where they stand, particularly as regards prices. A figure of 48s. a cwt. has been mentioned here, but let us take 40s. plus 5s. subsidy as a sum which would clear the farmer's expenses and leave him some little profit. Matters simply cannot go on as they are now, and, just as this House came to the aid of British railways, so in my respectful submission it must come to the aid of the farmer who depends upon livestock and the livestock industry. At the present ridiculous figure, the farmer gets absolutely no profit on his animals; in fact, he loses, because he pays almost that sum, and sometimes a little more, for the stores that he buys earlier in the year. He feeds them all through the summer into the autumn, and then sells them for the sum he gave for them, or even less.
The result is that the farmers, particularly in West Wales, are abandoning the livestock industry altogether and are going in for milk. We see further evidence of that when we look at the figures of the decreasing number of store cattle in the whole country. I asked the Minister of Agriculture some months ago for the comparable figures covering the same month, but in different years, for West Wales, and they showed that there were some thousands fewer store cattle this year than there were last year. Mention has been made more than once in this Debate of the importance of agriculture in relation to defence. If it is a fact that the number of stores is decreasing in this country, then agriculture is by that fact the less efficient for the country in case we went to war. I cannot do better than read what has been written by Professor Stapledon in his book entitled "The Land." With reference to stores he says, on page 197:
The only real hope for cattle is a complete recovery of the store trade on some permanent basis, not only the restoration of prices, but some greater promise of stability in prices than even in times of reasonable prosperity has been associated with this essentially dealers' business.How do the Government intend to improve this present problem? As far as 1305 I understand, the one practical thing that has been mentioned during the Debate since it started at a quarter to four is a reference to A¾d. per lb. on Argentine meat. It seems to me that that is just like offering, to a man who has broken his leg, a piece of sticking-plaster. I have in mind all the time the farmer who gets this 30s. a cwt., and I ask myself, will the imposition of this ¾d. a lb.—whether it is right or wrong does not very much matter for the purposes of this argument—affect the price in the slightest degree? The farmers look with very grave suspicion on any suggestion that is put forward about a Central Meat Board. They seem to think that the last person in the world who is considered in these matters is the British farmer, and that the first person who is thought of is the man in this country who has money on loan in Argentina.
The farmer looks with envy on the iron and steel industry and what has been done for that industry. Rightly or wrongly he asks, if that has been done for iron and steel cannot something be done—he does not suggest that it should be done in the same way—for agriculture, to free it from the position in which it is to-day? He sees, when he looks at iron and steel, that so much is produced in the home market, but what is short is bought in bulk, and so imports are not allowed to come in to such an extent as to knock the bottom completely out of the price in the home market. Farmers are very much attracted, rightly, by the idea of a standard price. We know that, if we go into a shop, we have to pay "X" pennies for a lump of soap, and the price will cover the cost of production and some kind of profit for the manufacturer. The Government ought to see whether something of the same kind cannot be done for agriculture under which the farmer, who produces the things that we eat, might know with certainty that he is not going to sell them at a loss. In dealing with foreign stores might I suggest that after four years the subsidy should cease, and during that term should be a dwindling subsidy?
A matter that is of very great importance to the farmer is that of markets. and I hope the Government is going to deal with those small markets which, at present, do very much damage in reducing prices for the farmer, who attends 1306 the market very often about five or six times during the year. I should like to offer three suggestions to the Government. The first is that they should do everything in their power to stimulate home production. They should do every thing to bring more pasture land into use. It has been calculated that in Wales some 300,000 acres could be made into first class agricultural land at a cost of £6 an acre, and Professor Stapleton suggested that a loan of £12,000,000 spread over 20 years would completely revolutionise agriculture in Wales. What is there to prevent some such loan being made? I entirely support the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) about grass drying plants. Three friends of mine have put their money together to the extent of £2,000 and bought one of these plants, and another has bought a plant at about £1,600, but for the ordinary farmer this is quite outside the range of possibility. Some time ago I asked the Minister if he would consider giving some kind of credit to the farmer for these plants. The answer was No. It is an extraordinary thing that we can make loans to colonies and places all over the world, but we cannot make a decent loan to the farmer with which he could produce things that the country needs.
My second suggestion is that cheaper and easier credit should be provided. At present many hundreds of farmers are in the hands of the dealers. If the Government would only provide some better scheme for cheap credit which is easily available, they would be doing the farmer a great deal of good. My third suggestion is that the Government should build up a collecting and distributing scheme by which the farmer could have the advantage of a bigger share of the price that the consumer pays. We have had a report from the Reorganisation Committee on Milk. From beginning to end the one consideration was the consumer. I am here to put forward the other side of the picture, and I make no kind of apology for doing it, because in Carmarthenshire there are over 8,000 holdings of one acre and more, and these small farmers have as much right to justice and to what is right as the consumer, about whom so much is written in this report. The Government has not taken the big view of this enormous 1307 problem, which affects the lives of more than 1,000,000 people. It deals with a fundamental industry. There are other interests which are more powerful and have greater weight with the Government than the home farmer. It has been the spoken policy of every Government as long as I can remember to give the home farmer a fair deal. As far as I know, no Government has done what it has said and given him the first look in on the home market.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The hon. Member who has just spoken is quite right in what he has said about the price of beef. I do not care who tries to produce beef at that price, it cannot be done without loss. We have had an extremely interesting and valuable Debate. I have been specially interested in two of my colleagues from the West of England, to see how well the son led the father and how well the father followed the son. It is quite an example for parents in Devonshire. I am grateful for this Debate, because it is necessary. If it were a question of a distressed area, we should have a crowded House and it would be made a political question. I should like to see an equal interest taken in agriculture, because I am certain that a great deal of urban unemployment and a considerable amount of the distress in the distressed areas is due to the depletion of workers on the land. In 1921, when the records were first taken, there were 996,000 agricultural workers, and on 4th June this year there were 749,700. Is it not a devitalising movement in our national life when you have 25 per cent. of the agricultural workers going from the land in 15 years? To my mind it is one of the greatest questions that we have to face. The Prime Minister in his election address in 1924 gave this pledge:I regard it as vital that the basic industry of agriculture should be not merely preserved but restored to a more prosperous condition as an essential balancing element in the economic and social life of the country.I think that is wise—that we want a better balance between agriculture and industry—but unfortunately the drift is all the other way; it is from the country to the town. I cannot help 1308 thinking that it is a tragic commentary on all our promises to agriculture. Agricultural labourers are deserting the land largely because wages in other industries are higher. There is no way out of it. If a man can get in an aerodrome or on the road 5s. or 10s. a week more, he is going there. The Wage Board fixes agricultural wages at anything from 30s. to 35s. weekly. You will not keep men on the land at that wage when they see railway workers getting 10s. or 15s. more. The only way to get better wages is to make the produce realise sufficient to pay them. It is rather a commentary on the agricultural situation that we have just passed an Insurance Act for unemployed agricultural workers. There are none. A real, genuine agricultural worker in Devonshire can get half a dozen jobs. I cannot help thinking that we are beginning at the wrong end.
What I have pleaded for and what I am certain is necessary is a stable, reasonable price for agricultural products. Farming is a long-term business. It is no good saying that you can start a farm and produce immediately. Let the men who are prepared to put their capital into the land—and there are plenty of them, for they love the land not because of the amount of money they may get, but because they love the life on the land—know something of what they are going to get. I am certain also that the health of our population would be improved. We have an enormous amount of tinned concoctions and frozen products coming in, but wholesome food is very much better for the people.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the new Minister, although I must say that the former Minister strove his very best for the agricultural industry. I think he was hampered from the beginning; he was tied up with the methods of the Ministry itself. The Ministry of Agriculture seems to be a great advocate of marketing schemes. I have never had much faith in marketing schemes, and I have less faith in them to-day than I ever had. They were the inspiration of the Ministry of Agriculture. The hon. Gentleman opposite held in his hand a report of the Milk Marketing Commission, and I have a copy here. It came from the Stationery Office. Here is the Milk Marketing Board, which has been in operation two, three or four 1309 years, and subsidy after subsidy has been poured into it, and now there is a report an inch thick. Who is going to read it? This is one of the Yellow Books that the Ministry of Agriculture has published from time to time. I had a long list of them the other day. If I were my right hon. Friend I would take the lot and burn them at Smithfield.
What has been the result of the Milk Marketing Board? It really is tragic, but it is also comic. A mother requiring milk for her child has to pay 6d. a quart, and the manufacturer 6d. a gallon. The thing is hopeless. That is the position in the village in which I live, and it is a replica of all the villages in the land. We are not allowed to sell milk at less than 6d. a quart. Many people would sell at 4d. and would be very glad to do so. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not allow himself to be tied up with these marketing schemes. I will give him a piece of candid advice. He represents an agricultural constituency himself, and he has, I am sure, a good many hard-headed farmers there. Let him send his officials from the Ministry down to Gloucestershire, and let him bring some of these hard-headed farmers up to advise him at Whitehall. The officials would be doing something useful, and the farmers, I have not the slightest doubt, would give good advice. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) spoke about the iron and steel industry. I cannot understand why agriculture is not to have the same treatment as the iron and steel. industry.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
My right hon. Friend opposite says that it has had four times as much, and I should like to challenge that figure very much. Can he point to any agricultural population that is as prosperous as the iron and steel population? I should like to find it. Can he find anything like the profits being made in agriculture that are being made in iron and steel to-day? I never like to say anything unkind about my Liberal friends in the West country. We try to keep together as much as we can, but we are a good deal apart on many things apparently. The Minister will have to deal with a very prominent Member of his own Government—the Chancellor of 1310 the Exchequer. He does not seem to have realised how necessary it is that agriculture should have the same treatment.
We have asked over and over again that Dominion products should, with a preference, pay a duty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer when in Devonshire some time ago. chided the Agricultural Committee of the House of Commons because they had demanded that treatment. I think that that demand is only reasonable. We have said right the way through, "The home producer first, the Dominion producer next, and the foreigner third." I say very respectfully to the Government that, if the agricultural interest has a rankling grievance against the Dominion producers, it will not be advantageous for the Empire. The iron and steel tariffs have benefited Birmingham, and I cannot see why Devonshire should be vivisected for the benefit of Birmingham. If the Empire is to be strong and united there must be no sense of grievance anywhere. We were told that the Ottawa Agreement would bring an enormous amount of trade. It has, and one reason is that all Dominion products are introduced into this country free. My right hon. Friend gave an answer to an hon. Gentleman opposite only a few days ago when he said that:Voluntary arrangements have been made with the Dominions for the regulation of their exports of meat to this country."—the very subject of this Debate—The arrangements have provided for increases in the quantities imported."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1936; col. 435, Vol. 318.]So these voluntary arrangements to which we are to trust have resulted in an increase in the quantities imported. We therefore cannot have much confidence in these voluntary arrangements for restricting imports. I would say this to the lion. Gentleman opposite, that the main agricultural competitors of this country are Denmark, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Every one of those countries has a depreciated currency and we have to compete with that. What would hon. Gentlemen who so ably represent mining constituencies say if coal came into this country from countries with depreciated currencies?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I agree, and I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned coke. Only a few days ago there was a Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment. When it was known that 100,000 tons of coke had been brought into this country immediately the mining Members were on their legs to protest against it. That was all right, but we have to compete against countries with depreciated currencies. How can you expect agriculture to prosper in such circumstances? The last question I wish to touch upon is that of defence, which is referred to in the Motion of my hon. Friend. I happen to have been in the House right through the late War, when the real danger was not invasion but starvation. We were told the other day that we had only six weeks' supply of food. If the food danger was great in the last War, it will be infinitely greater in the next. With the menace of aeroplanes, I do not see how any vessel can come up the Channel or how the population of London is to be fed. Eleven million people must be fed from the Port of London. The Port of London is very vulnerable and I really do not know how the distribution from the Port will take place, how the Port itself will be protected, and how shipping will be able to come up the Channel in the presence of this new aeroplane menace. Therefore, it behoves us, as a measure of defence, to increase the quantity of home-grown food. This would be far more efficacious in a future war than spending an enormous sum upon battleships.
It is said that we are to ration, but before we can ration we must have production and the food itself. From the point of view of the strength of the country and of defence it is essential that we should have a larger amount of homegrown food. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said the other day that the Minister was engaged in working out schemes for the increase of production of food in time of emergency. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that cannot come about in a moment. You cannot produce cattle and wheat without a considerable amount of preparation. I remember that during the late War some of the adventurous gentlemen who sat on that bench started to plough all sorts of land. They ploughed up Richmond Park. They got more wireworms than oats, as you would if you ploughed up an old 1312 park. You must have suitable groundwork. You require the framework. If you have the land to cultivate you can expand it, but you want to be able to expand it easily without having a very considerable framework to work upon at the moment. There is no subject that can better engage the attention of this or any other Government than the encouragement of a virile population living and working on the land.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. W. S. Morrison)
I should like, first of all, to express my sincere thanks to those hon. Members in different parts of the House who were good enough to make kind personal references to myself, and to assure them that I appreciate their good will and am grateful for it and will try my best to deserve it. I cannot say how much I feel indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) for seizing the opportunity of the ballot to ventilate this most important topic. It shows in the hon. Member a range of vision which extends far beyond the mere interests of his own constituency, because he raises a subject which is of national importance and of no mere local significance. I feel happy speaking on this subject because the discussion has revealed a very encouraging degree of unanimity in all quarters of the House on the importance of preserving agriculture, and particularly the vital branch of it concerned with the production of livestock. No one entering on his duties at the Ministry of Agriculture could fail to be encouraged by the growing conviction, which is evident, of the interdependence of town and country. The prosperity of one redounds to the prosperity of the other, and any true advance must be secured by an advance along the whole line.
The House has expressed its desire that measures should be taken to improve and safeguard this branch of the industry. In the Motion I can find no cause of complaint, neither can I with the Amendment. Both Motion and Amendment are entirely in accord with the policy of His Majesty's Government, and I hope the House will take what course it pleases with regard to the Amendment. I gathered from the speech of the hon. Member for South Croydon that he was prepared to accept it, although he made the stipulation that efficiency of produc- 1313 tion was not to entail any lowering of the standards of the agricultural labourer or those engaged in farming. That is a condition which I am certain the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) will readily accept. I am sure it is the desire of all parties that those who earn their livelihood on the land shall, as a result of the efforts of this House, have a better chance of living in comfort and in some degree of security. The hon. Member for South Croydon, with his uncanny memory of the past, drew attention to several incidents and to several steps taken by the Government which he described as blunders. My concern is with the present and with the future, and he will forgive me if I do not enter into a dispute with him as to what has happened in the past. I would not like, however, to leave this part of his speech without reminding the House and my hon. Friend that if there have been blunders there have also been triumphs, and I should like to say how grateful agriculture and the House must feel to my predecessor for the efforts he made in a state of collapse of world agriculture to devise measures for restoration. The community can never be sufficiently grateful for the fertility and resource with which expedient after expedient was tried in order to save a vestige of prosperity to the industry, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend leaves the Ministry with the good wishes of the whole agricultural population.
The hon. Member for South Croydon drew attention to one sad feature—the loss of labour from the agricultural industry. That is a feature which cannot but be disquieting to anyone who has the interests of the countryside at heart. I must point out, however, that this loss of labour has not been accompanied by any reduction in production; indeed, there has been, during the last four years, an increase of production of a considerable order. There is no doubt that some part of the cause of the loss of labour is to be found in increased mechanisation, a feature which has disturbed the supply of labour in more than one industry, and, in the second place, in the increasing prosperity in the towns and the attraction of high wages which are payable as a result of the success of the Government's policy in the industrial field. There is no doubt that the only way to secure a greater number of men on the land is to take such 1314 measures as we can to ensure the prosperity of agriculture in the future. Along this line alone can we secure that men shall live in comfort and security.
The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) referred to the discussions which were held with various bodies when the Government were framing their policy for the livestock industry. These discussions are still continuing and much assistance has been derived by the Department not only from representative producers and distributors, but also from those representative members of local authorities who have been consulted, and I should like to thank them for the great trouble to which they put themselves in order to assist the Department by their advice in regard to many features of the Livestock Industry Bill. The hon. Member for Melton drew attention to the question of prices. That, no doubt, is a feature which is accepted as a criterion of its prosperity by all those connected with the industry. It is the reward for their immense toil. If you regard the price situation at the present moment, it is not fair to judge the state of the industry entirely by the prices we have recently been experiencing. There has been a heavy seasonal decline in the prices of cattle, due to many causes, one of which undoubtedly is the summer, if it can be called a summer, which brought a plentiful supply of grass and a great increase in the number of cattle coming forward compared with last year. I would not like those who are attempting to estimate the effect of the Government's proposed assistance of £5,000,000 to this industry to frame their calculations too pessimistically on what is a seasonal low figure. I believe the signs are that the tide has already turned, and that prices will continue to heighten, and we may expect a better return to the farmer who produces beef cattle. That this opinion is widely held is shown by the steady demand for store cattle. It looks as if those in the industry had not been too disheartened by the recent low level of prices but are looking forward to the future with a considerable amount of hope which we trust will be justified.
One point has been made, and I cannot pass from it without emphasising it. I know that disappointment is sometimes expressed with the Government's policy in that the levy to be raised on foreign beef is not in some way earmarked for 1315 the purpose of assisting the cattle industry. Some people feel that if you were to frame such a system, with the money going into a certain fund, that some degree of permanent assistance would be achieved for the industry. After a, moment's reflection those who are aware that one Parliament cannot bind its successor, will agree that no alteration in the form of the assistance makes the slightest difference, that it is entirely a question of what is the most convenient way for the House to handle the matter, and that if the money was paid into a fund, as the history of the Road Fund clearly establishes, no greater degree of permanence would be secured. I should like those who have any misgivings to be reassured that one form of assistance is as permanent as another, and that it is really a question of the most convenient way of doing it. If the Government were to take the advice of my hon. Friend and do nothing about meat which could be upset, it would mean that we should do nothing at all, because anything which one Parliament can do can be upset by its successor. Even the complete tariff system which was advocated by my hon. Friend is not immune from such a reversal. It did not take Lord Snowden very long to reverse the McKenna Duties, and I would urge my hon. Friend to agree that there is no quality of permanence to be derived from the policy he suggests which is not present in the proposals of His Majesty's Government.
The hon. Member for Barnstaple asked us to apply methods which would secure the efficiency of marketing and slaughtering. I cannot reply fully to the hon. Member to-day, because these matters form part of the Livestock Industry Bill which will be in the hands of hon. Members shortly, but I can assure him and other hon. Members that when they see the Bill they will find that this aspect of the problem has been prominently before us and that it contains provisions giving effect to his desires, including the question of central slaughtering. He also referred to grass drying plants. I agree that this is a very important thing and we should—I was going to say, leave no stone unturned—do everything we can to see that this system, if it is a practical proposition, is investigated. I can assure 1316 the hon. Member that it is being investigated by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Council and that we are actively pursuing our investigations. Every single proposal that has been made has been examined, and we are having a meeting shortly to discuss what is the best scheme, and whether it is an economic proposition. While I do not commit myself to the lavish spending of £1,000,000 which the hon. Member advised yet, at the same time, I can assure him that we shall take every practical step to see that the investigation is pursued, and that the results are brought to the attention of those who are interested.
The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), in his customary vigorous intervention in these debates, made certain suggestions which he said should receive my most careful consideration. I say at once that I cannot accept his suggestion that I should make a bonfire of yellow books. I have no doubt that more heat than light would proceed from any such proceeding. I cannot promise to be such a rabid and ruthless iconoclast with regard to the milk scheme as my right hon. Friend suggested, nor can I follow his advice that I should dispense with my present assistants and officers at the Ministry of Agriculture and bring in some hard-headed farmers to run the Ministry for me. When my right hon. Friend advocates the destruction of the milk scheme, he should remember that the hard-headed farmers voted for the continuance of that scheme.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the farmers were told that if there was to be any regulation of imports, they must support these marketing schemes?
§ Mr. MORRISON
I think it is generally recognised by the farming community that they would be in a worse position without the scheme than they are with it. That is the practical situation as it appeals to the hard-headed farmers to whom my right hon. Friend made such a flattering reference. I do not wish to detain the House at any length, for I know there are many hon. Members who wish to take advantage of this opportunity; but since I have been asked what 1317 is the Government's policy in this matter, I would like to deal with some of the speeches made. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton advised us to beware of legislation which follows the evil model of the Corn Production Act. I thoroughly agree with that statement. But what is the feature of the Corn Production Act which most calls for criticism and which brought about the unhappy result that in the long run it inflicted more damage than good upon the agricultural industry? It was that the Act envisaged an unlimited call upon the Treasury, no matter what should happen to world prices in the meantime. That is precisely what some critics of the Government would seem to wish to have as a substitute for the farming subsidies. I myself have the greatest confidence in the proposals that are now before the House and that were enunciated by my right hon. Friend my predecessor on 6th July last.
There is great danger in attempts to load the public finances with a, liability which cannot be foreseen, and, although I would like to see every conceivable thing done to assist the agricultural industry, and the livestock industry in particular, I ask hon. Members who are still fiddling with the idea that a scheme of guaranteed prices with an unlimited call on the Exchequer is a feasible proposition, to remember that meat is in a very different position from wheat for which the subsidy and guaranteed price have worked extremely smoothly and efficiently. In the case of wheat, some 15 per cent. of the total consumption is grown at home, and that gives a very large area of overseas supplies on which a very low levy produces a considerable sum of money which can be spread out over the small area of the 15 per cent. of home production. In the case of meat the position is different. We produce roughly half the supply and, if one excludes Dominion meat from the levy, one would be left with a very small amount to spread over a very large proportion that is home produced. Other difficulties consist in the fact that meat is an article of many grades, is not as homogeneous as wheat, and, moreover, the grades vary very greatly.
Considering that those difficulties would have to be foreseen and dealt with 1318 if a policy of guaranteed prices were to have any permanence, and considering that there are grave risks as to the permanence—as the precedent of the Corn Production Act shows—of any policy which makes an unlimited call on the public funds, I would ask the House to agree with me that His Majesty's Government are proceeding more wisely and more in the interests of the agricultural industry by making in the meantime this grant, which they think to be adequate—given the proper prices for which we hope—out of public funds and then keeping the situation under review to see what the actual course of events may turn out to be. Those are the reasons which I advance to my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite who are interested in this question.
With regard to the levy of ¾d. a lb. on Argentine meat, I listened with great interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for South Croydon as to what would be the effect on prices, and I was very glad to note that his conclusion was endorsed by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin), who also seemed to be of the opinion that it would not cause any rise in prices to the consumer. I hope the hon. Member for Carmarthen will retain that attitude when we produce the Bill imposing the levy, and I hope that he is speaking for all his hon. Friends. The hon. Member spoke of the livestock industry, and I gathered that he asked why the livestock industry cannot be given the same opportunity as is given to the steel industry for the producers in that industry to regulate the market and so improve their individual position. Curiously enough, that is precisely what the Government propose to do, for one feature of their proposals will be a world meat conference at which producers would have the opportunity of examining the situation. The meat-producing countries, among which, of course, our country would be represented, would have an opportunity of investigating the situation and taking such steps among themselves,, by arrangement, as would maintain supplies at reasonable levels. If the hon. Member reflects upon that, I think he will see that we are making an effort to give agricultural producers something of the opportunity which they ought to have in the world market.
1319 I would like again to thank the House for the way in which it has conducted this Debate to-day. I would ask hon. Members to remember that the whole livestock policy as at present envisaged will be contained in the Bill shortly to be presented to Parliament. This proposal to impose a levy of ¾d. a lb. on meat coming from foreign sources will not be contained in that Bill, bat in another Bill accompanying it. Effect is also given to that in the Argentine Agreement, which I think at this time is available to hon. Members in the Vote Office. The International Conference arrangements are designed to give quantitative regulation of imports to the people who can best exercise it, namely, those who are aware of what meat is coming forward, and who can, we believe, do it better than the Government; but at the same time, if these hopes are not fulfilled—if the machinery of the conference should break down—His Majesty's Government will take powers themselves to regulate imports with the same end in view. The marketing arrangements, which have been criticised by hon. Members opposite and which we have been urged to amend and improve, will be covered by the Bill, and at the same time an increased subsidy of £5,000,000 will be paid to those engaged in the industry.
The Bill will contain the qualitative provision of which some suggestion was made by many hon. Members opposite, that is to say, arrangements will be made for a higher level of subsidy to be paid for the good-quality article. I believe that to be fundamentally right. I believe that even in times of depression the best article always gets its price. Even in these times in which we are now living, when we have been suffering from a seasonal glut, there are many good quality cattle still getting a very good price. I hope that one result of the Government's long-term policy will be to base the remunerative value of livestock upon a higher proportion of first-quality beasts which will always secure the confidence of the public and always secure a good price. The hon. Baronet the Member for Banff (Sir John Findlay), to whose speech we listened with such interest, spoke as one having certain practical knowledge of the interests of his constituents, and he asked me to deal with the oats situation. Oats are not connected directly with livestock, except 1320 that the dictionary definition of Dr. Johnson is that they are supposed to be, in England, food for horses; but I would ask the hon. Baronet to reflect with some confidence on the fact that the quality provisions will, we hope, be of great assistance to that industry in the North-East of Scotland, from which fat cattle of the best quality have always come in the past.
I would like to thank the House for dealing with this subject in the way in which it has. There is no doubt that the interests of agriculture and the towns are bound up together, and it is a happy omen that the hon. Member for South Croydon should have moved this Motion this afternoon. I feel there is growing in the country a conviction that this is the case. In peace time, the countryside, as the hon. Baronet the Member for Banff so charmingly said, is a garden, a place which no townsman, however much he may have to labour and live in the towns, would like to be destroyed or taken away. I would also ask the House to reflect on this, that in these times of world fluctuations in prices and exchanges, British agriculture is a pendulum on the price of food which prevents exploitation of our own consumers by foreign producers. It is very obvious that the production, on the whole, of a wonderful supply of food, considering the circumstances in this country, has acted as a very fine balancing factor in preventing wide fluctuations in prices. In war time, our agriculture is essential to our continued survival as a nation, and it can only play its whole part in an emergency, should one come, if in the meantime it is kept in good heart and ready to respond with speed to the extra demands that would he made upon it.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) asked—if the House will permit me to say so—a most intelligent question of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He asked whether a Minister would be appointed to look ahead, and whether the right hon. Gentleman realised the danger of allowing an industry to die and presenting posterity with the horrible problem of a depressed area. I commend that question to the consideration of the House. We have seen what can happen if industries are allowed to perish. Let the House imagine what would be the position if 1321 we were to be so short-sighted in our generation as to allow the agricultural industry to perish from our land so that the whole of this garden to which the hon. Member for Banff (Sir E. Findlay) referred became a depressed area. That would be a dreadful result and a dreadful monument to human futility and stupidity. I hope that no such thing will be allowed to happen by this House. I hope we shall continue to regard the land of this country, not as a possession of the generation now living upon it, not as its creation, but as land drained, cleared and tilled by generations which preceded us. It is not ours to ravish and lay waste because of any passing whim or economic doctrine of one generation, but is something that we should preserve as an inalienable possession of our people and hand down if we can, in better condition than we receive it.
§ Major the Marquess of TITCHFIELD
Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the international Meat Conference will start at work?
§ Mr. MacLAREN
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that his predecessor, in winding up the last discussion which we had in this House on agriculture, promised that the Department would inquire into the contributory elements in the cost of production? During the whole of that Debate there were constant references to the cost of production and the then Minister said he would communicate with the Cabinet Committee and urge them to make an inquiry into the elements in the cost of production of meat. Has anything been done in that respect?
§ Mr. MORRISON
I could not say, but it will be obvious to the House that the cost of production of cattle must vary enormously according to whether they are grass-fed or stall-fed.
§ 6.32 p. m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
May I begin by wishing the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) many happy returns. Last Wednesday we heard him scintillating on electricity. To-day we have heard him sparkling on agriculture, and his eloquence was such as almost to leave the House without a word to say 1322 on this subject. May I also take the opportunity of saying to the right hon. Gentleman who has just made his maiden speech as the head of this Department, that in the short time at his disposal he seems to have obtained a thorough grasp of his new obligations? Apart from the contrast between the turbulent waters of the frozen North which used to roll so fiercely on these occasions, and the calmer waters which flowed so sweetly this afternoon, one might have thought from the speech we heard that the former Minister of Agriculture still stood at that Box so little has the situation changed with the change in individuals. Those who were present when the hon. Member for South Croydon began his speech will remember that he showed that he had not lost his sense of humour, because he said he had put down the Motion in the widest possible terms so as to have a wide debate and so that it should give rise to no criticism. He then proceeded to declare that the expedient of Empire free trade was calamitous, that placing meat on the free list was a disaster; that maintaining it on the free list until 1937 was a tremendous disaster and that the last word in the ill-treatment of agriculture was the trade agreement with the Argentine. He followed up these remarks with a reference to the milk scheme as farcical and his speech, following a Motion which was supposed to give rise to no criticism, was more critical of the Government and many of their proposals than we have ever been.
The hon. Member further showed that he had not lost his sense of humour by asking the Government for something. immediate and effective. Just fancy asking this Government for anything immediate and effective. The hon. Member must know that the only method of the. Government in dealing with livestock production or any other question is to start with emergency measures which are extended periodically until finally it is discovered that the issue can no longer be avoided, and then they embody their proposals in some sort of ad hoc measure. At all events the effective and immediate measures for which the hon. Member asks were clearly understood. He does not want to potter about with levies and subsidies and restrictions and all the other half-baked policies—presumably that is the implication—which the Government have pursued. What 1323 he wants is a practical policy, an import duty large enough to make livestock production an economic proposition in this country.
Like many other speakers on the benches opposite, he was careful not to tell us whence he drew the figure of 1¼d. which he thought would turn the livestock industry into an economic proposition. I know that the Seconder of the Motion said that the price to-day was approximately 37s. per cwt. and that no farmer could produce beef and pay reasonable wages under 48s. per cwt. Therefore, it was argued, what we want is a minimum of 48s. per cwt. It is easy to understand what the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Everard) wants. At the moment we are giving to the livestock side of the industry £4,000,000 per annum. They have been promised that that shall be increased to £5,000,000 per annum. The hon. Member wants an additional lls. per cwt. which would mean an additional £6,000,000 on top of the £4,000,000 per annum which they are now receiving, or £10,000,000 in all. It would be easy for a charitable and generous Chancellor of the Exchequer to give that amount, but the right hon. Gentleman the Minister who has only recently left the Treasury, will not, I think, find it as easy to secure from the Chancellor that extra £6,000,000 as the hon. Member for Melton seems to think.
I regret that I should have to introduce into this Debate one discordant tone. We have reached a stage in our agricultural Debates at which it has become difficult for any hon. Member to do either himself or the subject justice. This afternoon we are dealing with the livestock industry, but that industry is not a separate item; it is part and parcel of a bigger industry. During the last four years, we have been separating the agricultural industry into water-tight compartments. First, the House was called upon to consider the case of wheat and we passed a Measure giving £6,000,000 per annum in respect of that one commodity. Then a case made out for subsidising sugar—not agriculture but just sugar—and we gave £5,000,000 per annum for that purpose. Then someone else made out a case in respect of milk, and we gave the dairying industry some £2,500,000 or thereabouts That again is for one separate commodity. Then we are called 1324 upon to deal with the beef situation, and we set aside £3,000,000 per annum for that purpose. Every one of these branches of the industry has been made a separate economic proposition on the basis of the Government's policy. The old law of the balance in agriculture between one crop and another and one commodity and another, seems to have gone by the board.
To-day we are confronted with a Motion with which no hon. Member on these benches will disagree to the effect that the livestock side of the agricultural industry should be made paying and prosperous on conditions that would be acceptable, I think, not only to hon. Members on both sides here but to all concerned. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) wondered when the Government were going to do anything for agriculture. The hon. Member cannot have been noting the events of some years past, or he would have observed that agriculture has received more in instalments from the Government than all other industries and services put together. It may be that the position in agriculture warrants this. It may be that the lot of 200,000 agricultural labourers during the past 15 years justifies the Government in doing something extraordinary for that industry. But the more money we have handed over unconditionally to agriculture, the fewer workers have been employed on the land. The hon. Member for South Croydon rightly drew attention to the fact that in the past three years agriculture had lost approximately 80,000 employés, but whereas he declared that to be exclusively due to the Argentine trade agreement—
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I think there is a variation, but very little real difference between the two statements. The hon. Member knows that I do not wish to misrepresent him, and I take it that since the time of the Argentine Trade Agreement we have lost 80,000 workers on the land. Since 1920 or 1921 we have lost approximately 200,000. We have been losing them every year for the past 15 years. It is not so much a question of the trade agreement with the Argentine, as of a whole set of factors. The hon. 1325 Member did not deign to explain what he meant when he imported into his Motion the words "to restore that balance in agriculture." He carefully avoided telling us what he meant by restoring the balance.
We also are interested in restoring the balance in agriculture, and we want to know whether it is desired that this country should increase its production of beef by 10 per cent., or by 15 per cent., or is it desired that the production of beef should proceed side by side with the increase in the production of wheat, since we are giving the wheat producer a subsidy of £6,000,000 per? We ought to know what that nice balance is. No Minister has told us. When one is dealing with livestock only, it is difficult to view the industry as a whole and to ascertain what contribution agriculture as a whole has to make to our economy in this country. If the Government made up their minds that instead of the livestock branch of the industry producing 47 per cent. of our requirements it must in future produce 55 per cent. or 57½ per cent., or whatever percentage they decided upon, we should know exactly how that part of agriculture stood in relation to the rest. But as it is we are dealing with milk, with wheat, with livestock, but never with agriculture as a whole.
I return to the proposal of the hon. Member for South Croydon. I know that he is genuinely concerned about the points which he advanced. He wants a direct subsidy as the best, the easiest and the safest means of restoring prosperity to the livestock side of the industry. He wants a duty large enough to prevent the imported article entering the country, or large enough to enable British meat to be sold in place of imported meat. I know that he is a sound economist and I would ask him at what point does he expect the British consumer to transfer his custom from imported chilled or frozen meat to British meat. The margin at the moment is approximately 4¾d per lb. Are we to assume that if a duty is placed on imported chilled and frozen meat of say l¼d a lb., which reduces the margin to 3½d. a lb., many consumers will commence to eat British meat, or must we assume that the price of the English meat is to be increased slightly, but not quite so much as the duty imposed upon imported meat?
§ Mr. H. G. WILLIAMS
I thought I made it clear that if there is a duty of l¼d. on foreign meat and ½d. on Empire meat, the price would rise by ½d., which would bring us back nearly to the retail price at the time of the Ottawa Agreement, and that was the price level with which I thought the consumers ought to be satisfied.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
That is exactly my point. If we are to impose a duty of l¼d. on foreign meat and ¼d. on Empire meat, that will allow the English meat price to rise slightly, by ¼d. Does the hon. Gentleman anticipate that more people will then commence to eat English meat at ½d. a lb. higher? If so, then he must look at the opposite side of the balance-sheet, because every ¼d. or ½ per lb. more you place upon the imported, cheaper quality meat, you are bound to cut off the lowest layer of consumers, so that the chances are that there will be fewer people consuming imported meat and slightly more, on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, consuming English produced meat, but on the whole, because there are fewer consumers of imported meat, a reduction in the number. If there is a reduction in the number of consumers of imported meat because the price is increased by 1¼d. per lb., the price will tend to decrease, and the margin will go off the duty to where it was before the duty, and it may conceivably be that the hon. Gentleman will find that the second state is actually worse than the first.
§ Mr. H. G. WILLIAMS
Much of the hon. Gentleman's argument is the obvious argument. Go back 10 years, when the consumption of meat per head was about 10 per cent. greater than it is now. The price level was far higher then, as a matter of fact, and if you get a continuance of the industrial revival, you will get an increased meat consumption that will look after itself.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten, what the Minister will tell him if he puts the question to him privately some time, that there has been a change in the taste of the people, who are not now consuming so much meat as they hitherto did. Our people are enjoying fruit and vegetables. They are not drinking much more milk, because of the farcical scheme referred to by the hon. Member, and unless one 1327 is very careful they will find that their second state is infinitely worse than their first state. In these days we are called upon, even by the hon. Member for South Croydon, instead of advertising, "A Guinness will do you good," to advertise on the hoardings, "Good old English beef will do you good." That is a good, sound proposition, but yesterday it was a case of advertising, "Drink more milk" and another day "Eat more British bacon." The people cannot eat more of everything unless you give the average worker more money with which to buy these commodities. The workers are being invited to drink more milk, but the hon. Member knows that the price of milk to-day is higher than it has been for decades. They cannot afford to buy more milk, and that is why the milk scheme has been termed farcical.
I should like to see our people not only drink more milk, eat more beef, and consume more bacon, but I should like to see them get hold of the money with which to purchase those commodities. But instead of that, at this moment, a duty is being imposed on imported foreign beef and veal, which means that we are transferring from the taxpayer on to the backs of those who consume imported beef and veal that id. per ¾b.per lb There is no escaping that. The foreign importer will not pay the ¾d. The home consumer will have to pay it, and instead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer paying as hitherto direct from the Treasury so that the consumer of best quality English meat shall pay through his Income Tax what he did not pay through the butcher's shop, namely, an economic price for what he is consuming, we are planting that responsibility on the poor impoverished consumer, who cannot afford to buy the best meat. I do not include in the poor impoverished consumer the great restaurants and hotels, which purchase more imported meat perhaps than they do English meat.
If the hon. Member for South Croydon really wants to get a slight extension of consumption of British beef, I suggest that he should go to the Minister of Agriculture and have a gentle talk with him behind the Speaker's Chair, and that they should conspire together to make a savage attack, first on the Minister for War, then on the Minister for Air, and then on the First Lord of the Admiralty, 1328 for if they will give all our soldiers, sailors, and airmen English meat instead of imported meat, you will expand your consumption all right. We have in this country 1,500,000 people, to put it at a low point, who are unemployed and living on benefits rather than on wages, and we have lots of them working short time. Despite the temporary and to some extent artificial prosperity, there are millions of people whose incomes are so limited that they simply cannot afford to buy the things that are requisite in their homes.
Then there is this other thing of which we ought always to remind the Government. We do not object to the producer or the worker in any industry having a square deal. It is true that we are all consumers and that we are not all producers. While we put the consumers' point of view frequently on this side of the House, we do not forget that the producer is entitled to a square deal, but if we are persistently to pour millions upon millions of pounds into a privately owned and privately run industry, the inevitable consequence, sooner or later, as my right hon. Friend below the Gangway said, will be more and not less national control. If we are to decide what subsidies are required, we must have a costings system. There is no point in giving a person 45s. to produce a quarter of wheat if 28s. is enough. There is nothing equal about the acres, the fields, the counties, or the districts, and at least when the right hon. Gentleman proceeds with his long-term policy—and we are as anxious as I know he is to do our best for the industry—we shall want to know something about the conditions that are to be laid down and what guarantees the consumer and the taxpayer will have that the industry will be organised on the soundest and most efficient lines; and if we can secure safeguards such as we shall require, we shall not be hostile to the right hon. Gentleman's proposals.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Captain HEILGERS
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who has just sat down, said he would never object to the producer and the worker having a square deal, and I am exceedingly glad to know that the hon. Members opposite are going to regard the producer with a more favour- 1329 able eye than they have done in the past. He also said that it was no good asking the workers to buy more foodstuffs unless you gave them more to buy them with. I quite agree with that, but I would put this point to the hon. Member, that at any rate so far as agricultural workers are concerned we have succeeded in giving them considerably more with which to buy foodstuffs than they had when his own Government were in office, and that foodstuffs to-day are still cheaper than they were in 1930.
I welcome the speech of the Minister of Agriculture to-night in particular because he was clear and definite in all he said. I feel that this Motion is welcome. It asks for immediate assistance to be given, and that immediate assistance is going to be given. The question is whether that assistance will be effective. My right hon. Friend made rather a point that at present we were at a very bad time of year for judging the livestock position, and that is true, but even discounting that factor, I would put this to him, that the fall in beef prices in the course of the last three years has been considerable and that we cannot place too much reliance on the fact that prices are going up at the present moment, because even in spite of the continued fall, at this time of year at any rate there has always been a reaction, when the autumn glut became less acute.
The assistance which the Government are giving is generous, and I think it is probably as much as we can ask for from the taxpayer. I would point out to my right hon. Friend that I do not believe the amount of money which we are getting, the £5,000,000, is sufficient to make livestock production profitable in this country, and it seems to me that it is rather a pity to spoil the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. I believe it goes very near to providing what is necessary, and therefore it does seem unfortunate that it cannot go just a little bit farther. After all, beef production is not only a matter of providing foodstuffs for the community, but it is also a means of enriching the fertility of the soil. If the £5,000,000 represented the total of the Government assistance, I would say that it was inadequate, but, as my right hon. Friend has said, it is to be accompanied by quota regulation. I would say, 1330 quite frankly, that contrary, I think, to the opinion of a great many of my fellow farmers, I am a believer in quota regulation. I believe that quota regulation is one of the most effective forms of protection, if it is adequately applied.
Now we are going to have an Empire Meat Council and an International Meat Conference, and those two bodies have been told that for three years imports must not exceed the imports in recent years. I would like to ask the Minister what that means. Does it mean that you have to give sufficient rope to the conference before they hang themselves? Does it mean that that rope has got to be the three years during which we are asking them not to exceed the imports of recent levels? If so, if there is no further restriction in the next three years, I ask where is the market going to be for any increase in home production? There may not be any increase in home production, but if the Government believe that their policy is going to bring something better, then they must look for an increase in two years' time. The position is not like bacon. With bacon you get a pig shut out for every pig produced in this country. Under this scheme you will not get beef shut out. It seems to me that there will be at the end of two years or at any rate, before the end of three years, a considerable number of extra beasts coming on to the market and glutting an already overburdened market. I thought that the Minister dealt very well with the question of the standard price. I have always been a supporter of that. I do not believe, however, with the present rate of assistance, that it would be possible to have a deficiency payment. I regret that a standard price is impossible, particularly because the store producer would benefit more from a standard price than anyone else in the beef industry.
I would like to mention another matter. I am anxious about the power that is operated by the big meat-importing interests. Those interests are largely in the hands of foreign financiers. They control, roughly, 80 per cent. of Smithfield to-day, and although Smithfield is not the whole of England, it has a dominating influence on the rest of England, and if we have these financiers dominating the position in England and in beef in general, I cannot see that there is much likelihood of our own people, in spite of all the efforts of the Government, getting a fair deal. 1331 I suggest that control of Smithfield, control of our meat market, has got to be met, and met by challenging those interests. The way I should suggest would be by setting up a commission with price-fixing powers and powers of direction, much on the lines of the commission recommended by the Milk Reorganisation Commission. That alone will enable us to stand up to these interests, and unless we can, anything that is done will be more or less useless.
I would like to refer to the question of the Dominions. It is, I suppose, the one thing which has hampered the Government almost more than anything—the fact that their hands have been tied by the Ottawa Agreements and by the trade agreements. We are now in a position to deal with foreign countries. But we had no response to the appeals which the Government have repeatedly made for variation and reconsideration of the agreements from either foreign countries or the Dominions. If only the Dominions had shown more willingness to give us a gesture of encouragement, we should have had an easier task with foreign countries. The position to-day by which we give the Dominions Imperial equality, and they give us Imperial Preference, is a position that cannot go on, and they must recognise that, at any rate, as a quid pro quo tothat situation the home producer must have the first place in the home market which he was guaranteed at Ottawa.
In conclusion, I would say that a great deal of cheap food comes into this country. It is the policy of the Government to allow the maximum amount of foodstuffs into this country consistent with a reasonable remuneration for the home producer. That means that the home producer is not always getting a square deal unless he is given compensation. I hear a great many objections made to subsidies. I hear them from the farmers themselves; they say that they do not want agriculture to be on the dole. But I submit they arc entitled to that compensation. We have heard from the late Minister of Agriculture that since 1934 the consumers of this country have benefited by the fall in prices to the extent of £150,000,000, while agricultural subsidies amount to something over £16,000,000. I submit that that is very small compensation for the enormous 1332 value of the cheap food which the consumer is able to get.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. RICHARDS
I think that we should be exceedingly fortunate in having this Debate were it only for the fact that it gave the new Minister an opportunity of revealing what is in his mind, but I could not help feeling, during the course of his speech, that although the voice was that of the new Minister, the thought, I am afraid, was that of the old Minister. I think that it will be very difficult, when we read the speech, to differentiate between what the new Minister, said and the old Minister thought. We are glad also to have this Debate, because it represents an attempt to deal with agriculture as one of the great industries of this country, and to some extent to co-relate it with the other industries. We owe a debt to the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) for pointing out that there are various elements in this problem which we in this House, in all parts, are inclined to forget. Attention has been drawn to-day chiefly to the problem of the producer, but it is well to be reminded that there is the consumer to be considered as well, and the fallacy of the policy so far has been that, as the right hon. Member suggested, we have forgotten the consumer almost completely in some of these subsidy schemes, with the result that eventually the consumer will turn round and rend the industry which, so far, is one of the favourites of the present Government.
No one can envy the task of the Minister who has to try to legislate in order to please all sections of this difficult and important industry. When all is said and done, it is not a single industry in the sense that the cotton, iron or coal industries are single industries. There are difficult problems of adjustment in all these industries, but they have much more in common. The coalfields of the country, differing as they do in their productivity and the conditions under which they work, have much more in common than have the various sections of agriculture. It is not a single homogeneous industry, and we are doing small justice to it in treating it as such. It is really a collection of industries, some parts of which are in violent conflict with other parts, and, whatever the Minister attempts to do, if he attempts to deal 1333 with this industry piecemeal, he is bound to find himself up against the rival claims of other parts of the industry.
For example, there is the inevitable conflict with which the House is very familiar between the raiser of stock and the feeder, and it seems to me that the Government have been almost entirely concerned with the feeder, the person who disposes of the product, and have almost completely lost sight of the serious claims which the raiser in the earlier process of rearing can make on the Ministry of Agriculture. This industry is a very complicated one, and anyone who knows the rearing parts of this country knows the great difficulties under which the rearers of livestock are attempting to work. There is the other difficulty which we are equally inclined to forget. We are attempting to restore the industry to a position which we think is comparable with its importance in the social economy of the country. But let us never forget that the basic fact of our agriculture is that the productivity of agriculture has always been, and is to-day lower than, the productivity of industry generally. To listen to the Debates in this House sometimes one would think that we had left agriculture in the lurch quite deliberately and for no sufficient reason. Whatever schemes we might introduce, we could never hope to keep and feed 45,000,000 people in this country if we entrusted it entirely to our own agriculture. Whatever we do for agriculture, we must remember that we are more dependent in some respects on foreign countries for the produce required for the large communities here than we are on the produce of our own agriculture.
There is a reference in the Motion to the possibility, which we all hope will never eventuate, of another war, and the importance of developing agriculture from the point of view of that dire possibility. Let me remind the House that the tremendous efforts that were made under the Food Production Act during the War resulted in increasing the amount of food production in this country by very little. The normal production of food in this country is about one-fifth of our requirements. As the result of the tremendous efforts that were made under that Act, we managed to reach the position in which we were able to produce 1334 nearly one-third of the amount of food required. It is a wrong policy to imagine that we can by any schemes make this country self-sufficient in food, either in war time or in peace time.
There is the other consideration that I have suggested. Censuses of production have been taken of all the industries in this country, and the basic fact about agriculture is that, taking a combination of capital and labour of the value of £100 from agriculture and industry, the return for industry is always greater than that for agriculture. We have managed to live in this country by stressing industry, for the simple reason that its productivity is greater than that of agriculture, and we have relied upon importation to a large extent for the food and the raw materials that are necessary in order to carry on industry. At the same time, there is no reason why agriculture should be neglected to the extent that it has been. We were sorry to hear of the serious decline in the number of agricultural labourers, but do not let us make any mistake about that. It may be that agriculture is improving, as I have no doubt it is, and that fewer men produce more than they did 10 or 20 years ago. A decline in the agricultural population, particularly of labourers, is not necessarily an index that agriculture is going back. It may be an indication of the improvement that has taken place. In spite of the fact that agriculture is improving in its productivity, it is the duty of every Government to see that the industry is placed in a position comparable to that of other industries in the sense that an adequate return to capital, and particularly to labour, shall be available in this most delectable of industries.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said that the Government were dealing with agriculture in a piecemeal fashion. He was answered by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards), who pointed out that agriculture is not one industry, but a number of industries. It cannot, therefore, be dealt with by one measure, and there must be various measures to deal with the various branches. The hon. Member for Wrexham said that it was impossible to produce in this country all the food we require. Of course it is impossible, but 1335 surely we ought to produce as much as we can. In war time the more food we can produce, the more we shall economise shipping. We shall have to import not only foodstuffs, but raw materials. There is not the amount of merchant shipping that there was, and we have not the number of cruisers that we used to have. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance that we should produce as much food in this country as we can.
The Minister told us to-day that there were indications that the tide is turning, that the tide of prices is flowing the other way. I am bound to say that that is not in accordance with the information I have received from farmers in my constituency. One farmer sent me the average prices that he had received for best quality finished cattle in the third week in November during the last seven years. In 1930 it was 48s. 9d. per cwt., and this year it is 35s. 6d. Another man tells me that in 1933 he was getting 37s. 5½d. for best quality cattle, and this year 33s. 9¼d. or 38s. 9¼d. with the subsidy. With this continual fall in prices there is a continual rise in the cost of production. It all means that the Government have not been successful in achieving their declared object of obtaining a reasonable level of remuneration for the home producers. We, therefore, get the conditions which were described by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Everard). On those farms owned by the occupiers there is steady deterioration of everything on the farm—the buildings and gates falling into disrepair, hedges not kept up, and the condition of the land steadily getting worse. The farmer cannot make a living on present prices, and it is impossible to get the wages of the agricultural labourers to a satisfactory level. There is, as has been pointed out over and over again in the Debate, a continuous decline in the number of men employed on the land.
What are the Government going to do? We have had a sort of outline of it from the Minister. I very much doubt whether it will be adequate. He told us that we must not ask for too much, and that if we ask for a guaranteed price it will be asking too much. Without a standard or minimum price, however, beef production is a gamble with the dice loaded against the British farmer. I would like 1336 to ask again a question which I asked during the Debate on the 17th July to which I did not get an answer. It was in reference to the expression in the statement made by the Minister on the 6th July that the Government did not wish to encourage an artificial expansion of the livestock industry. What does that mean. At what point does production cease to be natural and become artificial? Does it mean that those people who have left the livestock industry and gone into milk, if they go back into livestock will be regarded as artificial expansion? In these days it is necessary to produce all that we can, and we ought not to discourage any form of development of this most important industry. We ought to allow it to develop as much as we can so that we may be as little dependent as possible on imports from overseas.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Major BRAITHWAITE
I would like, on behalf of my farmer constituents, to congratulate the new Minister on his appointment, and to promise him support of the Measures which he will bring forward. I should also like to express to the late Minister grateful thanks for all that he has done for my constituents. I want to make two points. The first is that whatever subsidy is given to the meat producers it will, without a reorganisation of the marketing, be absolutely valueless. When the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) talked about cow meat in a rather joking way, he was touching one of the spots that have made the production of cattle on a profitable basis a real business proposition. I want to suggest that the Minister carefully considers preventing cows which have had more than four calves from competing in the market with real good meat. If he can do something to divide that section of meat from the good heifer meat for which our country is renowned, he will make substantial strides towards recovering the hold that English beef has had on the people. The possibility of making separate markets so that there may be a distinguishing line might be usefully explored. I have taken the trouble to go to other competing countries to see how beef is prepared for this market. In America, in particular, I have had the opportunity of seeing their vast abattoirs, and I tell the House frankly 1337 that unless something of this sort is done in Great Britain, we shall never be in a position to compete with the foreigners. They are in a position, with their volume of production and the mechanical arrangements they have for dealing with this class of industry, to beat us every time.
I would ask the Minister to consider the question of a meat quota Bill. It is a pity that shops supplying the British public should adhere to foreign meat. Every British shop ought to sell some British meat and there ought to be some substantial quota put on each shop so that it would have a responsibility to British agriculture as well as to foreign producers. The strong, vested interests in imported meat are driving a great many of our little shops out of business. While I agree that there is a great leeway to make up in the proper presentation to the public of British meat, I think that an encouragement to shopkeepers to let the housewife see what our own people can produce is eminently necessary.
We wait with the greatest possible interest the introduction of the Government's long-term policy for livestock. More than any other section of agriculture, livestock is the basis on which the industry was founded, and there can only be a prosperous future for it if livestock is made a profitable concern. I hope that the Minister will be able to show us when he introduces his Bill how this money is to be paid out. It is vitally necessary to get the average price up. If he can show us some way of spreading the money which the Government will give so that it will afford a better average figure, farmers will appreciate guidance of that sort, but the marketing and salesmanship of our own commodity are of primary importance to this part of agriculture.
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
That this House urges the Government to take immediate and effective measures in relation to the livestock industry in order to restore that balance in agriculture which is essential if it is to make its full contribution to the nation's food supply in time of peace and war and to assure a better standard of life to all engaged in the
industry, and hopes that the Government's policy will be based upon the improvement in the quality of the products of the industry, the reduction in the costs of production and distribution, and the stimulation of demand.