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Class Vi

Volume 320: debated on Monday 22 February 1937

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Board Of Trade

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £4,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, and Subordinate Departments, including certain services arising out of the War."

8.23 p.m.

The Committee may like some explanation of this Vote. The total original net Estimate for the Board of Trade was for £259,940 and the revised Estimate is for £263,940. The additional sum required by way of Supplementary grant is £4,000, and that sum arises as follows: There is an estimated deficiency in Appropriations-in-Aid of £8,000, and a saving in gross estimated expenditure of £4,000, leaving a net sum of £4,000. The Committee will see that it has been necessary to increase certain staffs, and not unnaturally the work connected with trade agreements has involved extra expenditure. The expenditure will be found on page 11 of the Estimates under the following heads: Commercial Relations and Treaties Department, £3,700; General Department, particularly in dealing with questions of agricultural policy, £500; and Sea Transport Department, £1,100. There is also an item of £1,100 for overtime, which on a staff of 700 is not very much.

Then there is the Food (Defence Plans) Department, £6,200, and as this matter comes before the Committee for the first time to-night, perhaps a word or two about that Department might be welcome. The main function of the Department is to prepare in advance plans for food control which could be put into operation by the Board of Trade, if the Government so decided, on the outbreak of war, and by a Ministry of Food if and when that was constituted. The Department is not directly concerned with home agricultural production—agricultural policy is a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture—but this Department, the Food Defence Plans Department, will co-ordinate its work with the Ministry of Agriculture. The Department has been entrusted with the preparation of the plans for the setting up of a Ministry of Food and the necessary local organisations. Rationing could only be effected as part of a general scheme of food control. The Department is therefore engaged in framing machinery for controlling the wholesale distribution of home-produced and imported supplies of each important commodity. Those plans are being prepared in consultation with the trading organisations and statutory bodies such as marketing boards, covering producers at home, importers, wholesalers and retailers.

The main purpose of food control is to secure that whenever there might be scarcity, all classes of the community receive their proper share, and control of prices is an essential element. The work has a close bearing on the work of other Departments, such as the Air Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport. The Department therefore works in co-operation with those Departments. The Department reports, through the President of the Board of Trade, to the appropriate committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence. The items of increased expenditure, which are at the top of page 11, amount to £12,600. There are then certain savings which are set out, and I do not think it is necessary, unless the Committee so desire, that I should go through those savings, which are on pages 9 and 10 and amount to £16,600. They are savings by reason of contingencies that were budgeted for not having occurred. The result is that there is a necessity for a Supplemental Vote of £4,000 under this heading, and I hope the Committee will give me the Vote accordingly.

8.28 p.m.

I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.

The Parliamentary Secretary has furnished very little information to the Committee on what we regard as the main item under this Vote. I refer to the item on page 11 relating to the staff of the Food Defence Plans Department, which was recently set up by the Government. We raise no objection to the amount involved, namely, £6,200. That may in fact be a quite inadequate amount, for this Department, having regard to the Government's armaments policy, is one of the most important of all. Therefore, in our judgment the Department is not being regarded with the seriousness which it deserves. There was a speech delivered in this House on Thursday last by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence which was a very important utterance. In the course of that speech, the Minister said something about food supplies in time of war—not a great deal, but the matter was referred to. He said:
"I would like to say a word about two other topics. One is the question of food. Naturally this is a question of interest to the public, as indeed it is to the Government. Control and rationing have been prepared for, but I am aware that those are blank cheques, and that the question is, Where are the asset, where is the food? The Government are conscious that rationing is at most a second best. Storage has excited public interest, but if anybody gives a moment's reflection to that, he will see that the very purpose of any plan would be defeated by a premature disclosure of the steps which the Government are hound to take."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1937; col. 1427; Vol. 320.]
It may be unwise in the public interest to disclose the whereabouts of food storage in time of war, but, on the other hand, it is extremely wise to acquaint the public with the steps which the Government propose to take in respect of food supplies. In short, the public are entitled to know whether the Government are competent to deal with food supplies in time of war, and on that head, a very important matter for the public, we have no information whatever. It is all very well to increase armaments. I say nothing about the Government's defence plans, because this is not the appropriate occasion, but no matter how huge your armaments may be, unless there is an adequate food supply your armaments are of little value. It is the essence of defence, at all events from the standpoint of the general public. There is very little information in this Estimate as to the amount required for the purposes of this Department over an extended period. I presume—the Parliamentary Secretary will correct me if I am wrong—that the amount mentioned, £6,200, is for a limited period. Is it possible to obtain any information as to the amount required for a full year? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will address himself later to that question.

The hon. Gentleman said something about the control of prices. I presume that if war broke out—and I suppose that the Government have made up their minds that war is likely; at all events, they are making what they regard as adequate preparations, and it is only a question of time—there would be a rationing scheme. What is to be the method of price control under such a scheme; or are we to understand that when the Parliamentary Secretary speaks of price control, it is merely a phrase and no more? It is easy to speak of price control, but it is much more difficult to apply it, and certainly there can be no measure of price control unless there is an adequate measure of public control over food supplies.

Furthermore, I hazard a guess that the Government will find themselves unable, without effective public control, to check profiteering. We all know what happened during the last War. Prices rose sharply and steeply, to the disadvantage of the public, and all the measures applied by the Government were ineffective. Public opinion will not tolerate profiteers in the next war. The question of prices is closely related to that of supplies. If there is a shortage of food supplies without any adequate measure of control, prices are bound to rise. That is an economic fact to which no objection can be taken.

As this is the first time this matter has been mentioned in Parliament, will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us what measures the Government have in contemplation. The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head negatively. Are we to understand that we are not to receive information, that we are merely asked to present the Government with this money without putting questions or receiving satisfactory answers? I am sure that no Member on this side of the Committee is prepared to allow the Government to get away with that. What we say, we say in the public interest. The Government are entitled to say that they cannot disclose all the details, but some amount of information is necessary to reassure the public mind. From that position we shall not recede. It is presumed that the Food Defence Plans Committee, over which, I believe, Sir William Beveridge presides, will take steps to consult local opinion and to establish local machinery. It is obvious that too much centralisation would be unwise, but if there is to be local machinery is the expenditure on it to be included in this Estimate? May I ask whether any consultations with local authorities have already taken place; if so, with what effect, and if not, why not? I have no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will be glad to furnish the Committee with such information as is at his disposal.

Further, if some kind of local organisation is established will it include representatives of consumers and workers? It is highly desirable that consumers should be represented, and when I speak of consumers I mean organised consumers. The Parliamentary Secretary has anticipated what I was about to say. He murmered "The Co-op." May I amplify what he said? I mean the co-operative movement, a very worthy movement, one of great importance in our national economy. Surely the vast experience of that movement in matters relating to food supply ought to be utilised by the Government as regards this important aspect of Defence. I heard the Parliamentary Secretary say something about the Food Defence Plans Committee reporting to the Committee of Imperial Defence, but I was not clear of their precise relationship. Obviously there ought to be a relationship. This fundamental aspect of national Defence ought to be constantly present to the minds of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will emphasise what he said and indicate the precise amount of co-ordination that exists between that committee and the Committee for Imperial Defence.

In this connection I have two questions to put to the hon. Gentleman. One is whether proper consideration has yet been given to the dangers from aerial warfare to reserve stocks of food; and that brings me to the question of vulnerability. What steps have the Government in contemplation for the erection of food storage plants? For example, there is a considerable number of wheat granaries in the country, but they are principally, I believe, on the East Coast, where vulnerability is pronounced. I suggest that the Government, if they have not already done so, ought to give full consideration to that important question; and allied with it is the question of cold storage plants. Despite the valiant and magnificent efforts of the Minister of Agriculture, whom I see present, We are dependent on imports for the bulk of our meat supplies, and we are entitled to know whether the Government have thought out that question, and have plans in contemplation for the import of meat supplies, a matter on which I shall say a word before I sit down, and in particular their storage in places not so vulnerable as the East Coast. Further, what steps are being taken to provide alternative and adequate accommodation in less dangerous parts of the country, having regard to the very dread prospect of aerial warfare? I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not regard these questions as injudicious. They seem to us to be very germane to this important Debate.

I do not regard any of the hon. Member's questions as injudicious, but I think a great many of them are completely premature. What the Committee have before them is a Supplementary Estimate dealing with a new Department created somewhere in December of last year, and for a period from December until the end of the financial year, roughly, about four months. The £6,200 is the figure of expenditure for staff, divided among 66 people in different ways. The questions of policy, to which the hon. Member is directing his attention, are all very proper questions, but they are premature and do not arise on this Estimate.

I was very glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that my questions were not injudicious, but I cannot agree with him that they are premature. The Government came before us on this matter last week, and asked us to grant a loan of £400,000,000, which was only a part of the huge expenditure upon armaments, and to some extent they disclosed their plans. Questions on the subject were not then regarded as premature. Surely it is not premature to ask questions on what is a most important aspect of our Defence plans. I repeat that all your munitions are of little avail unless you can feed your people. The Government ought to have applied themselves much sooner to this matter, and if we can do anything to induce them to give the matter more consideration we shall do it.

Our food imports and food supplies are closely related to our Defence, and I should say more's the pity. We have, however, to deal with the existing situation, which will not change radically before the next war. Are the Government conducting any negotiations with foreign countries as regards food supplies in time of war? I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to acquaint the Committee with the details as to countries with whom negotiations are proceeding, but to make a general statement on the matter. It seems to me that the question of where our food supplies are to come from is of primary importance. The situation in the next war, when it comes, may be very different from what it was in the last war, when we received much of our food supplies—meat and wheat and the like—from Dominion countries, in particular Australia and New Zealand. The situation was then more favourable, because the food ships were convoyed by Japanese warships, but we are not likely to receive such assistance in the next war; at all events, it does not appear likely. Our food supplies from the Antipodes may; therefore, be shut off. I hope not, but I merely put the point to the Parliamentary Secretary. As for India, we can expect nothing from that quarter because of the difficult route which has to be traversed. There are difficulties in the Mediterranean, and even round the Cape.

We may be left with two possibilities, apart from further production in our own country, one being Argentina, and the other Canada. I say nothing about Canada, because it does not seem to present any difficulty, but what is the Government's attitude about future supplies from Argentina? We sometimes detect on the opposite benches objections to imports from Argentina. Where do the Government stand? Are they for Argentine food supplies or against them, or are they in favour of some limitation? They had better make up their minds, because we shall be dependent to a considerable extent upon Argentina. I think it was Mr. Lloyd George—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]—I am reminded that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is so seldom here that we are disposed to use his name as though he were no longer a Member of this House—who said on one occasion that the Allies won the War largely because of Argentine meat and wheat. I suppose that he was right. How much more likely is it that Argentine meat and wheat will be required in the next war in order to save the population of this country? We are entitled to information on this point. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not imagine that I have raised it in a frivolous frame of mind; by no means. I hope that he will have something to say about it.

Finally, would the Parliamentary Secretary say something about transport facilities of food supplies across the country from vulnerable points to points less vulnerable? It will be interesting to know what the Government have been doing in that connection. While we do not take exception to the amount asked for, but, on the contrary, believe that it may be far from adequate, having regard to the possible needs of the nation, we ought to be reassured, in order to prepare the public mind for any possible contingency. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to furnish the required information.

8.53 p.m.

In the first place, I want to inquire why the different Departments of the Government regard the filibustering expedition in Abyssinia in different lights. I notice that, on page 11, the Board of Trade refer to "the Italo-Ethiopian crisis in the Mediterranean," whereas on pages 6, 7 and 8, the Colonial Office allude to "the Italo-Ethiopian dispute." There is the famous story of the Cabinet Minister calling upstairs to his colleagues as they were coming down: "What have we decided? It does not matter much what we say, so long as we all say the same thing." It seems as though the various Departments have not quite made up their minds about what happened in Ethiopia last year. They should at least have some uniformity. We know that the Government were born in a crisis and that they drift from one crisis to another. The sooner they go out, we hope in a final crisis, the better for this country and for the world.

I should like to ask the Minister for a little further information with regard to some of the points which were dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). I gather that these figures for staff relate to an expenditure for three months, when the staff was not fully organised all the time. It started in a small way, and has gradually been filled up. Therefore, I take it that, if we multiply this figure by four, we shall not be very far off the annual cost as the Department is at present constituting. That seems to indicate that, if there are 66 people, as is set out here, their average annual salary is about £375 or £376.

Can we be told what is the calibre of the person at the head of this staff, what salary he is receiving, and what his position was before he took up this post, so that we may have some indication of the standing of this branch of the Department with regard to the other Departments? Can we be told whether any of these people have been seconded for this purpose, and, if so, how many; how many are new personnel; how many are temporary, and how many are on the established staff—I do not mean necessarily the exact number, but the kind of proportion? Is it proposed that this should be a permanent branch of the Department, carrying on until the crisis for which it is a preparation has arrived; and, if there are any people from outside, can we be given some indication of the kind of previous experience they have had? It seems to me that to put down, for a first discussion on this matter, the kind of note that we have here, with no further explanation from the Minister, is hardly treating the Committee with proper respect, because obviously this is a matter of the utmost importance to the country, and one in which the country will be vitally interested.

I also want to follow up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham with regard to the position of the stores in which grain, it is proposed, will be kept. I believe that the best mark for aircraft on Southampton Water is the huge flour mill that stands there at the present time. I suppose it is a gamble whether that or the corporation's electricity works is the better landmark for aircraft, and each of them, after all, will be vitally concerned with carrying on the work of the country in the event of hostilities. Are any efforts being made to place grain elsewhere than at the great ports in these great granaries? One gathers as one goes about the country that nearly all the small village and town mills have been done away with, and in the event of hostilities, and possibly the interruption of rail and road communication, it might be very difficult to shift grain or flour from these large granaries at the ports, even if they escape destruction, to the inland population, especially to some of those industrial districts which must be very vitally concerned with the carrying on of munition works during war.

What is the relation between this Department of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture? I noticed that the Minister of Agriculture was here a short time ago, and I was hoping that perhaps we should be favoured with a few remarks from him on this topic especially, as I noticed that the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Major Dorman-Smith), on behalf of the National Farmers' Union, was carefully watching his movements on the Front Bench, possibly also hoping to hear something of the same sort. I hardly think that the hon. and gallant Member and the Minister would be wasting their time listening to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade telling us nothing in his usual bland way; they were quite obviously here because they were interested in the subject, and not in his remarks.

This is one of those Estimates which needs more explanation than we have had to-day. The Parliamentary Secretary used one phrase which I hope he will be able to explain at considerably greater length when he replies. He said that among the matters that were being investigated was the ensuring for all classes of the community of their proper share of the foodstuffs. I hope he will be able to tell us what is the proper share of each class of the community. Is there any difference between the proper share in peace time and the proper share in war time? I hope the Minister recognises that the working classes of this country never, as far as I can recollect, complained about the rationing scheme in the last War, because then at any rate they did get the same share per person as other people. Is that what the hon. Gentleman means is to happen in the next war, and, if so, why cannot this same Department be used for securing the same thing in time of peace? Why cannot it have a little practice, so that, when war breaks out, it Will be merely carrying on the good example that it has managed to create in peace time? I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that, particularly in his phrase which I have mentioned, he gave an indication that it is essential that this matter should be further elaborated before the Committee could agree to part with it tonight. I can only express the hope that it will be recognised, as I believe it was during the last War, that the people who are prepared to work are the people who at least should be first secured in their food. I recollect that one morning, when a large number of German prisoners had been captured, and the bread—

I must ask the hon. Member to keep to the question of the staff.

This deals entirely with the staff. It is about on orderly corporal. The orderly corporal was issuing out the bread ration to the privates, and one man had his piece in his hand, but he refused to move on. At last the orderly corporal said to him, "You have got your ration; why don't you move on?" The man replied, "You call this a ration, corporal; I thought it was Holy Communion" At the present time the staff work of the Department is so bad that the privates in industry quite frequently find themselves in that position in peace time. I can only hope that this staff will so devise their scheme during peace time that, when it cames to war, the people will feel that they can trust the Department, because it has been able to prove that it can deal with this problem of sharing out for all classes of the community the foodstuffs that are available.

9.4 p.m.

The Minister will, perhaps, have gathered by now that we consider by far the most important item in the Supplementary Estimate before us to be this amount dealing with the food Defence plans. I was sorry to hear him attempting to belittle its importance by pointing out how small the amount was, with a view to restricting the scope of the Debate on the subject; but, however small the amount, I think it is necessary for the Committee to recognise that it is symbolical of a very important principle in national Defence; and, as it is quite impossible to separate the staff of this Food Defence Plans Department from the work which they will have to carry out, I think the Committee is entitled to obtain some information from the Minister as to the scope and adequacy of the food Defence plans in time of war.

I deplore the growing tendency on the Front Bench to make a great secret about everything that is put forward in connection with Defence. They have only to mention the word "Defence" to give themselves an excuse for not giving the House of Commons information to which it is entitled. We had an example the other day where, in the case of a contract for some kind of armaments, the Minister refused to tell us the price, because he said the competitors of the tendering firm would know it and it would assist them in the future. In a case like that it is obvious that the competitors and the rivals always know, and the only people who are not to know are the House of Commons. I have a quotation which would not be relevant to this Debate, but I will give it on the first occasion when it will be relevant. A tender for steel for the London County Council was submitted by 15 firms and every one of them tendered the same amount to the last penny, though it was over £40,000. I give that merely to show that this tendency to secrecy which is developing on the Treasury Bench is not conducive to the public interest and has, in fact, no foundation, and I propose to apply that criticism to the reluctance of the Minister to give us the information that we wish for this evening.

It is impossible to set up even the framework of machinery for dealing with food supplies until you know the scale and the principle upon which you are going to control those supplies. If you are merely going to have the half-hearted, piecemeal, progressive control which was established during the last War you will want a very different kind of machinery from what you will require if you are going to establish security of all food supplies and food production in the next war. It has been acknowledged by speakers on the other side that the moment we find ourselves engaged in a new war there will be not only conscription of the manhood of the nation, but conscription of the industrial force of the nation as well, and if the Minister still nurses any doubt about the establishment of that principle, I can assure him now that he will never carry the nation and all his colleagues unified into another war until that principle of the conscription of industry and wealth, as well as manhood, is really recognised.

Not only do I suggest that it does arise, but that it goes to the very root of the system. How can the Minister set up even a skeleton to deal with food defence supplies until he has received instructions from the Government on their scope and scale? I will not pursue the question of conscription if you, Sir, rule against it, but I will deal with some more subsidiary aspects of the principle. The first thing I should like to satisfy myself about is this. I believe that the Government, both in their food Defence plans and their armaments plans are making the mistake of over centralisation of production and storage facilities, and if that applies in the case of armaments, it applies with all the greater force in the case of food supplies. Let us take water, for example, which presumably comes within the category of food. Some people, I believe, do not recognise it is a very important part of their diet, but the water supplies of the country might prove to be a very weak part of our national Defence if they were not properly organised. We should find enormous quantities wanted for anti-fire purposes, and if a war progressed to such a state, which is not at all impossible, that our enemy, in his desperate extremity, took to the use of bacteriological warfare, the country might, with no notice, find itself in a very sorry plight indeed.

The information that we have is that this is the staff of the Food Defence Department. You cannot separate the staff from the work that they have to do. You cannot tell whether the staff is adequate or not without knowing the work which it has to carry out. This is the first time the House of Commons has had an opportunity of discussing the food plans of the Government and, if the Minister finds himself unable to confine the Debate to such narrow limits, he will have to take some part of the blame for not giving a more comprehensive statement of what the money is to be spent upon. I will not pursue the point beyond reasonable limits, but I want to get satisfaction on this point, first, that the main principle of food Defence and food distribution is one which will encompass the whole of the production and distribution facilities of the country, and will not leave one class of farmer and one class of distributor to make a fortune, and another hardly able to make enough to keep his farm going. I should like some assurance that there is to be no over-centralisation of production and distribution.

I will give one example which I am particularly concerned about. In the case of any prolonged warfare, canned food would form a most important part of the sustenance of the nation. You cannot can food, strangely enough, without cans. I believe the Government are relying almost entirely on one district, if not one factory, for the production of practically the whole of the cans that will be used. I should like some assurance, first on the main principle, secondly on this question of over-centralisation; and, thirdly, on the question of adequate methods to deal with the kind of foods which will be available. I will give one further example of the kind of thing that I have in mind. During the siege of Kut the troops came to the border of starvation. The white troops were eating a different class of food from the Indian troops. They were not being interchanged. If they had given the white troops 25 per cent. of what the Indian troops ate and the Indians 25 per cent. of what the white troops ate, they could have carried on the siege for many more months, as the diet of each contained essential elements which were lacking in the diet of the other. Take cereals and peas. I believe peas are wholly inadequate to sustain life for any length of time unless they are put to sprout in suitable conditions, and if they are put to sprout for a few days they produce vitamins and essential elements which without that process would make them useless for the purpose.

I am not satisfied that the Government are tackling these questions with vision and breadth of view. I have recollections of the last War, when we were always being assured that everything was going on splendidly. I was a very simple subaltern then with great confidence in the High Command, but since those days that confidence has been shattered, and it has never been less marked than I find it to-day with regard to the general architecture of the Defence scheme of the Government. We are dealing now with a vital part of that scheme, and before the Committee votes this small but significant sum, it will demand assurances along the lines that I have indicated.

9.15 p.m.

I want to deal with this question from the point of view of the ordinary baker. We are asked to-night for a small Vote whereby to staff the Food Defence Plans Department, and I suggest that of necessity we are entitled to ask what this Department is to do, how it is to be staffed and whether it is to set up advisory committees to deal with various aspects of the question? What, in short, is the Department going to do to ensure that, in the unfortunate event of war, the people of this country will be fed? There is no more important Vote that can come before this Committee. I would really have thought that the agriculturists in this House would have paid special attention to this particular Vote. Here we are setting up an absolutely new Department to deal with a very vital aspect of national defence. You may build as many ships, armaments and all the rest of it as you like; you may spend your £1,500,000,000 but if you have no food with which to feed the country the war would undoubtedly be lost. I want to draw the attention of the Minister to this fact. I am a baker with some special knowledge of the baking and the milling industry. Bread is a vital need in any scheme of feeding the people of the country. As long as they are able to obtain bread, the population will not starve.

When, some 40 odd years ago, I first came into the industry with which I am connected, there used to be not one flour mill, but pretty well a dozen flour mills in every important town in the country. In Birmingham, Worcester, Leeds, Manchester, Chester, in almost every inland town of any importance, you would find not one miller, but half a dozen millers. There has been rationalisation in the milling industry, and I am afraid that the Government hardly realise the position of that industry to-day in relation to this very important aspect of national defence. We have very few mills. They are all situated on the sea coast. In the city of Birmingham, where I served many years as an operative baker, we used to have 12 mills within the vicinity of the town, but to-day there is not a single mill. There are no mills left in the provincial towns. The mills are in Hull, Liverpool, on the East Coast and the West Coast and at Southampton, and they are all very vulnerable. The granaries are situated alongside these mills, and in a war such as we visualise to-day, I can imagine nothing easier than for enemy aircraft to destroy a very vital part of our food supply in a very short time indeed.

The fact that the mills are situated where they are, and that there are no mills in the inland towns, presents a problem to which the Food Defence Plans Department must pay attention. It is so easy to talk about granaries and the storing of food. I would call the attention of the Minister to the fact that there has been a great surplus of wheat in the world for the last five or six years. The result of that surplus has been that people have stopped sowing wheat, and the point I want to make is that, if you start to hoard wheat now and put in into the granaries within the next 12 months, the inevitable result will be to create even a greater shortage of wheat than that from which we are suffering at the present time. These are problems which this Department will have to tackle. If this plan is to work, the Department will, in the very nature of things, be one of the most important Departments we could have.

The question of foodstuffs requires a tremendous amount of inquiry. There is the possibility of storing food, inquiry as to where we are to get it from and the ways and means employed to bring it here. I hope that the Minister will not tell us that, in asking these questions, we are premature. Surely, it is essential at the very beginning of the setting up of a Department of this character, that we should have some assurance as to the actual work which it is proposed that the Department should carry out. The personnel is of the utmost importance. I can imagine nothing more calculated to break down the moral of the nation in time of war than the fact that it might not be able to obtain bread because the mills had been destroyed, and there were no mills left to grind the wheat we had in the country.

I trust that the Minister will realise that men like myself, who know something about feeding the people of this country with bread, are very much concerned about this question. We want to know, among other things, about the baking of bread in the event of war, and to point out to the Minister that it is not in the interests of the nation that the trustification of the bakery trade should continue to the extent that it prevails to-day, with the result that we may have a very small number of places in which to bake bread in order to provide food for the nation, all of which might be destroyed in the event of air raids. Consequently, the seriousness of the position is obvious, and I hope that the Minister will endeavour to give as much information as possible, and that he will believe that, in asking these questions, we have a sincere desire to benefit the interests of the country.

9.24 p.m.

I had no intention of speaking in this Debate until I heard the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield). My sole purpose in intervening is to assure him, I hope with the assent of the representative of the Board of Trade, that the situation is not really as difficult as he assumes it to be. He speaks with great knowledge of the milling industry. I think that I may say without fear of being challenged that, for the efficient way in which it carries out its work, the milling industry ranks as high as any industry in the country. When we come to consider the work that will have to be done by officials of the Board of Trade and those concerned with this Vote, we have to remember that they will be able to rely on the immense experience of the milling trade and the assistance, experience and knowledge which have been amassed by the corn trade of this country, which by common consent is one of the most efficient importing trades in the whole of our commercial system. They have imported at the cheapest possible rates and with the lowest possible expense to the community at large.

Therefore, I sincerely hope that whatever else the Parliamentary Secretary may say when he comes to reply, he will not inform the House that they intend to rely for information and guidance of their policy on officials who may be appointed and who, however able they may be, cannot in any short space of time expect to compete in, their knowledge and experience with those who have given their lives to considerations of this kind. I have no connection with either the milling industry or the corn trade, but I have for many years watched as a matter of interest its operations, and they have always excited my admiration as being the way in which an efficient business should be conducted. I think I would not be going beyond what people in the trade would say if I were to assure the House that if advice and help are required they will be freely offered and freely available.

9.27 p.m.

May I join with my hon. Friends who have spoken and say that we are entitled to ask for the fullest possible information on this Vote? It is setting up an important Department. I want to put two or three questions. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shin-well) mentioned this question of the vulnerability of various parts of this country. I am told that South Wales has one advantage. South Wales has lived for so many years in a period of disadvantage and depression that we almost welcome the news that if there were aerial warfare South Wales because of its topography would be the safest part of this country. Will the committee which is being set up deal with the question of the production of food supplies in this country? Surely it will be part of their job to look after the home front, the feeding of the home population during war time?

In my opening statement I made it quite clear that the Department was not directly concerned with home agricultural production, which will remain under the Minister of Agriculture as before.

In the last War we had frantic appeals from the Government to turn every square yard of land into allotments. In Wales, which is the least vulnerable part, there are 20,000 fewer men employed on the land than there were 20 years ago. I remember attending a conference during the War which was convened to hear the present President of the Board of Trade deal with the question of rationing food during war time. Is that to be given some consideration by this committee?

The right hon. Gentleman came down, addressed the conference, made earnest appeals on behalf of the Government, and said that the production of coal and the production of coal per head were declining. He met men who were working in the pits. They put to him this problem, "How can you expect us to work in a pit producing coal when we get the kind of bread which we do get, and when we get not butter or cheese? If you want us to produce coal for this nation you must feed the people who are to produce it" In the great Soviet Republic of Russia when there was a question of food shortage they drew up a system of rationing, and the Government decided that the first claim must be that of the workers in the heavy industries, steel-workers, and coal-miners. During the War I worked as a miner and we did not get a chance of a hot meal or a cup of tea. We had to rely on snacks. We took bread, which crumbled in our hands. We had no cheese or butter. I gather that the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Committee would work out plans by which the available food would be fairly distributed. In a period of emergency the test should be—some of us say that this test should apply always—what is needed to enable these persons in industry to continue serving the nation. We deplore the possibility of an emergency again, but if there is such an occasion in the future we hope that the Committee will draw up plans by which food will be distributed and that the first claim, after that of those engaged in the fighting, will be the claim of those who are producing essential commodities. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) asked whether the committee would deal with the question of storing food by canning. There are people in South Wales and elsewhere who are devoting considerable attention to this subject. Will advantage be taken of the knowledge they have gained?

9.33 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that any question about the policy of this new Department was premature. We are now considering the salaries of a Department which already, we learn, has appointed 66 persons as its staff, and one would imagine that already there must be in the mind of whoever is in charge some idea of the policy which this Department will be called on to administer. As one who represents in some small degree the consumers of this country through the cooperative movement, I am naturally very much concerned about whether part of the duties of this staff will be to endeavour to regulate in some manner or other the inevitable rise in food prices which must ensue. When the Minister said that any question of policy was premature at the present time my mind immediately reverted to what is already happening in connection with the Government's defence policy. It may be true that some step will be taken in regard to costing for contracts, in order to check the huge profits which capitalist industry will endeavour to extract from the country's extremity, but I would remind the Minister that at the present time we are witnessing a phenomena with which, so far as we are aware, the Government have taken no steps to deal. Contracts for the manufacture of aeroplanes, etc., may very well be subject to costing, but what about raw materials, and certainly food may be classed as raw material. I cannot imagine any system of costing being applied to them. The question will be that of controlling the price of foodstuffs somewhere at the point of entry into the country, or entering into contracts at prices agreed upon which shall not be excessive in the circumstances.

In regard to raw materials, to which food is comparable, we have witnessed to-day the wildest scramble in the base metal markets that has occurred since 1914. Before the Government complete their contracts the prices of everything which they require have enormously increased. I can imagine that when it comes to a question of the staff, for which we are about to vote the money, being called upon as part of the machinery for creating large storages of food in this country to provide against the eventuality of war, then it will be necessary to make very big contracts ahead, and I should like to know from the Minister whether his remark that policy is premature at the moment applies, or whether the Department will not have already invented some means whereby when it purchases these huge supplies of food for storage, steps will be taken to see that excessive profits are not made on the contracts. I speak as one who represents the great Co-operative movement, and who remembers the experience we had in the last War, an experience which we are very anxious should not be repeated under the conditions which are coming into existence. Myself and other hon. Members who represent the Co-operative movement would not have been in this House today if the Government during the War had taken steps to see that when the rationing of food supplies was carried out the Co-operative movement was taken into consultation and treated as fairly and squarely as the great capitalist concerns. I hope the Minister will give us some assurance on the points that I have raised.

9.40 p.m.

I should like to be assured on one point which has been raised in the House recently without much satisfaction. I refer to the poultry industry, which will be essential to us in time of war, and which at the present time is going very rapidly into bankruptcy. I take it that the new staff for which the Vote is required will have to co-ordinate and possibly overlap the work of the Ministry of Agriculture. The predecessor of the present Minister of Agriculture, in a broadcast talk, said that it was the definite policy of the Government to see that as much of our food as possible was produced at home at a price that would not be ruinous to the people concerned. This great branch of agriculture, the poultry industry, is being killed at the present time because of the fact that imports are coming in from abroad.

The hon. Member cannot discuss that subject on this Vote.

I wanted to ask whether the Minister, who is responsible for the imports, will give us an assurance that something will be done to guarantee that this industry will be there in time of need, if war comes? I want to show that if things continue as at the present time the industry will not be there to provide us with food in emergency, because of the fact that it is being killed by very large importations, which we cannot rely upon in war time. It is obvious that in a war we shall have to rely upon our own production at home to a very large extent. We shall not be able to guarantee that the supplies that come from abroad will be as accessible as they are in peace time, and I should think it will be the policy of the Department to build up as far as possible our own resources, so that we shall not be nearly so vulnerable in time of war. I think I am entitled to ask the Minister to give careful attention to that point. Owing to the very large imports that have taken place recently this industry is suffering very much and the market is being demoralised as a consequence. A great many people who are in the industry were encouraged to enter it by the Government, particularly through smallholding schemes. I hope that something will be done to protect the industry, so that it will be there if war time comes.

9.43 p.m.

The Debate has been most helpful, and I am grateful to hon. Members who have taken part and have drawn attention to the very natural interest which arises from any mention of the Food Defence Plans Department. I hope the Committee do not think that in my opening remarks I dealt with the matter too sketchily or too light-heartedly. I was in genuine doubt as to the type of information which the Committee desired me to give. In consequence, I concentrated my attention on the type of matters which the Department had been called into being to solve, and did not deal in detail with the staff. I note from the discussion that the Committee is closely interested in the staff, and a number of helpful suggestions have been made in regard to matters which ought to be taken into consideration. Let me remind the Committee that they are not hearing of this matter for the first time. The constitution of the Department appeared in announcements on 28th November of last year, when it was pointed out that the head of the Department was the second secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, who was seconded from the Ministry of Agriculture by reason of his special experience in problems of this sort. There are two assistant directors, one of whom served in the Ministry of Food and afterwards in the Ministry of Agriculture, while the other has had Board of Trade experience, including the secretaryship of the Food Council.

The Department was established as a sub-department of the Board of Trade and its staff has been recruited exclusively by the transfer of civil servants employed in other Departments of the Board of Trade and from other Government Departments. The staff has been recruited exclusively within the Civil Service. The work is necessarily of a 'highly confidential character and will involve close contact with a number of other Government Departments connected with preparations affecting the civil life of the country during war. For these reasons it was thought well that the staff should be exclusively civil servants. The salary of the director is £2,200, plus an allowance of £300, the assistant directors £1,150, the principals £800 and the chief staff officers £680. The total number of the personnel is 66, including 21 clerks, superintendent typists and shorthand typists and a certain number of other officers. The sum of £6,200 for which I am asking in the Vote, or rather which forms part of the total amount, is a forecast as from the 7th December, 1936, to the end of the current financial year, and hon. Members who have attempted to make an estimate as to what the Department will cost over a period of 12 months are substantially right.

The Department is in essence temporary. It has been set up to deal with a particular situation which it was thought made the setting up of such a Department both necessary and urgent. Its scope is mainly to continue and complete the formulation of plans for the supply, control, distribution and movement of food, including foodstuffs for livestock, as part of the general preparations for national Defence. It also includes the preparation in advance of plans for food control with a view to these plans being put into operation immediately in time of emergency. Also the preparation of plans for the setting up of a Ministry of Food with proper local organisations; food committees in each area, with a divisional officer responsible to the Ministry of Food; and the best method of maintaining uninterruptedly the flow of food supplies. All these things come within the purview of the Department.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary say something on the kind of representation there will be on these local committees?

I think it is much too early. A Department which was set up in November, which has to recruit its staff and deal with the task of formulating food plans in the event of emergency, cannot be expected within a couple of months to give to the House its conclusions on matters of policy, but I agree that the point mentioned by the hon. Member must be taken into consideration. I have no idea what will be the final decision as to the constitution of the local organisations. I imagine they will be modelled on previous experience. The whole point is to secure a better and an uninterrupted supply of foodstuffs and proper distribution. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) is pushing at an open door. Of course, steel workers and miners require food of a different character, and no doubt the best joints of beef will be given to them. The rationing of the individual consumer can only be effected as part of the general system of control when the whole machinery for the control of distribution is under consideration. The plans will deal with consultations with trade organisations, marketing boards, statutory bodies, and there need be no fear on the part of the co-operative movement that the Department will not co-operate with them, having regard to their special knowledge on a number of these points.

The hon. Member has on his own Front Bench the right hon. Member 1or Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) as an answer to that question.

I have not in mind any question of representation on any particular committee set up by the Government, with which some right hon. Member sitting beside me may be associated; I am thinking of what approach has been made to the co-operative movement in relation to the decentralised organisation of which the Parliamentary Secretary has spoken.

I was not referring either to matters to which the hon. Member was not referring. I was answering his express question. I was asked whether communications or approaches had taken place between the Co-operative movement and the Government, and my answer was "Yes," and that assurances had been given that advantage will be taken of the special knowledge which the Co-operative movement has in matters which will be dealt with by the Department. A number of most helpful suggestions have been made during the Debate, but I think questions relating to policy are premature. I do not take the view that it is necessary to solve your problems before you set up your staff to consider them. When the Government as a matter of urgent necessity decided that it was desirable to set up a new Department to consider these problems and to carry on, under one Department, the general discussions which had been taking place over a long period of time, they thought it was desirable to give the Department the best expert assistance possible. That has been done. We have given them a staff, and seconded to them such officers as have special knowledge. The programme on which they are engaged is to formulate all these various plans, and questions of policy to which hon. Members have given voice tonight will be taken into account. But it is too early to announce their solution.

9.54 p.m.

I apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary that because of another urgent engagement I have not heard the whole of the Debate. I am making no complaint on behalf of the Cooperative movement of any lack of consultation, but I am concerned that the Committee should not be lulled into a sense of false security by the kind of answer we have had from the Parliamentary Secretary. The greatest folly of all in 1914 was the lack of proper provision for dealing with this class of war service, the food of the country. In the War Book, as it was known in July, 1914, there was no reference at all to the consumers' movement. It is really approaching the matter from the wrong angle, and the Parliamentary Secretary in preparing for the next war and in forming a department for the supply of services says that it is too premature to decide anything. We ought not again to be put in the position that existed in the case of the War Book in 1914. It is true that the Parliamentary Secretary has said that they will learn by experience and will act on experience gained, but Parliament ought not continually to be asked to vote money in this respect unless it knows what it is getting for that money.

There is another aspect of the matter. The Parliamentary Secretary made a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) which purported to be a reply to quite important strategical questions raised by my hon. Friend. No one would expect the Parliamentary Secretary to give a detailed account of what steps are being taken to deal with strategical problems, but one is entitled to ask for some assurances of a kind that will give confidence to the civilian population concerning the steps that are being taken. We are not asking for details, but what is the nature of the steps that are being taken? When one considers the dangers from air warfare, when one considers the distribution of cold storage, granaries and warehouses for food reserves, how many are within what might be called vulnerable areas subject to air attack, and how many are in non-vulnerable areas? We ought to have assurances that proper steps are being taken in that direction. I feel that the Parliamentary Secretary was unwittingly far too short in his answer on that point, and I hope he will give an assurance to my hon. Friends who made these representations. I gather that

Division No. 87.]


[9.58 p.m.

Adams, D. (Consett)Chater, D.Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)Cluse, W. S.Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)
Adamson, W. M.Cove, W. G.Groves, T. E.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.Day, H.Hardie, G. D.
Sanfield, J. W.Dobbie, W.Henderson, J. (Ardwick)
Batey, J.Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)Henderson, T. (Tradeston)
Bellenger, F. J.Ede, J. C.Hopkin, O.
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.Jagger, J.
Benson, G.Gallacher, W.Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.
Bromfield, W.Gardner, B. W.Jones, A. C. (Shipley)
Brooke, W.Garro Jones, G. M.Kelly, W. T.
Brown, C. (Mansfield)Gibbins, J,Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.
Burke, W. A.Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.Lathan, G.
Cape, T.Grenfell, D. R.Lawson, J. J.

unless they can get some assurance, they would prefer to divide at once and to show that they have not yet been given adequate information.

9.57 p m.

Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite must take their own course, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) does me an injustice. I realise the importance of these strategical questions, and therefore, in my opening remarks, I made a statement in order to allay anxiety. I will repeat that statement. The work of the Food Defence Plans Department has a very close bearing on the work of other Departments concerned with the home front, such as the Air Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport. It is necessary that the Department should work in the closest co-operation with the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. The Department reports, through the President of the Board of Trade, to the appropriate Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence. Of that Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence which deals with this particular subject matter, the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence is the Chairman.

9.58 p.m.

May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether, in view of the fact that he did not reply to the hon. Member opposite who referred to the poultry industry, the agricultural industry and the outlook of that industry is of no concern to his Department, and, further, whether the fertility of the soil is also of no concern to his Department?

Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £3,900, be granted for the said Service"

The Committee divided: Ayes, 92; Noes, 177.

Lee, F.Parker, J.Thurtle, E.
Leslie, J. R.Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.Tinker, J. J.
Logan, D. G.Potts, J.Viant, S. P.
Lunn, W.Price, M. P.Walkden, A. G.
Macdonald, G. (Ince)Pritt, D. N.Walker, J.
McEntee, V. La T.Richards, R. (Wrexham)Watkins, F. C.
McGhee, H. G.Ridley, G.Watson, W. McL.
Maclean, N.Riley, B.Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)Ritson, J.Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Mainwaring, W. H.Rowson, G.Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Marshall, F.Sexton, T. M.Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Maxton, J.Shinwell, E.Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Milner, Major J.Short, A.Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)Simpson, F. B.
Naylor, T. E.Smith, E. (Stoke)TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Oliver, G. H.Stephen, C.Mr. Charleton and Mr. Mathers.
Paling, W.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)


Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. DykeFremantle, Sir F. E.Orr-Ewing, I. L.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)Furness, S. N.Owen, Major G.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.Fyfe, D. P. M.Patrick, C. M.
Agnew, -ieut.-Comdr. P. G.Ganzoni, Sir J.Peake, O.
Albery, Sir IrvingGeorge, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)Penny, Sir G.
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)Perkins, W. R. D.
Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)Gluckstein, L. H.Petherick, M.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J.Goldie, N. B.Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Aske, Sir R. W.Granville, E. L.Pilkington, R.
Assheton, R.Grant-Ferris, R.Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. StanleyGridley, Sir A. B.Radford, E. A.
Balfour, G. (Hampstead)Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)Grimston, R, V.Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.Gritten, W. G. HowardRamsbotham, H.
Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)Guy, J. C. M.Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)Hamilton, Sir G. C.Rayner, Major R. H.
Blindell, Sir J.Hanbury, Sir C.Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Bossom, A. C.Hannah, I. C.Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)
Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.Harris, Sir P. A.Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Boyce, H. LeslieHaslam, H. C. (Horncastle)Remer, J. R.
Brass, Sir W.Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Brocklebank, C. E. R.Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Bull, B. B.Holmes, J. S.Ropner, Colonel L.
Burgin, Dr. E. L.Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Campbell, Sir E. T.Hopkinson, A.Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Cary, R. A.Horsbrugh, FlorenceSanderson, Sir F. B.
Casttereagh, ViscountHudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)Seely, Sir H. M.
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)Hulbert, N. J.Selley, H. R.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)Hunter, T.Shakespeare, G. H.
Channon, H.Jackson, Sir H.Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Clarke, F. E. (Dartford)James, Wing-Commander A. W. H.Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Clarry, Sir ReginaldKeeling, E. H.Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D J.Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Courtauld, Major J. S.Lamb, Sir J. Q.Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Croom-Johnson, R. P.Lees-Jones, J.Sutcliffe, H.
Cross, R. H.Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.Tate, Mavis C.
Crossley, A. G.Levy, T.Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Culverwell, C. T.Liddall, W. S.Walker-Smith, Sir J.
Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)Loftus, P. C.Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Denman, Hon R. D.Lumley, Capt. L. R.Waterhouse, Captain C.
Denville, AlfredMcCorquodale, M. S.Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)
Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.White, H. Graham
Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)Maitland, A.Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Dugdale, Major T. L.Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Duncan, J. A. LManningham-Buller, Sir M.Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)
Eastwood, J. F.Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.Windsor-Olive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Edmondson, Major Sir J.Markham, S. F.Wise, A. R.
Ellie, Sir G.Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.Womersley, Sir W. J.
Emery, J. F.Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)Wragg, H.
Entwistle, Sir C. F.Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Errington, E.Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)
Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Everard, W. L.Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)Commander Southby and Sir Henry
Findlay, Sir E.O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh Morris-Jones
Fox, Sir G. W. G.Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G. A.


"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £4,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, and Subordinate Departments, including certain services arising out of the War,"

put, and agreed to.

Mercantile Marine Services

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Salaries and Expenses of certain Services transferred from the Mercantile Marine Fund and other Services connected with the Mercantile Marine, including Services under the British Shipping (Assistance) Act, 1935, the Coastguard, General Register and Record Office of Shipping and Seamen, and Merchant Seamen's Fund Pensions."

10.8 p.m.

Under sub-head C.2 of this Vote there is a reference to

"increased expenditure on travelling necessitated by increased activity in shipping and shipbuilding and the more intensive supervision of shipping "
Some time ago the Parliamentary Secretary gave an assurance that the surveyors would show increased activity and that more surveyors would be appointed. Is it possible for the hon. Gentleman to amplify what appears in this Supplementary Estimate?

Apart from the extra work arising from the revival of shipbuilding helped by the shipping replacement scheme, increased work beyond what was anticipated when the original Estimate was framed has arisen from the wreck inquiries and from the need for a more stringent survey of cargo ships from the point of view of seaworthiness. There was the loss of three ships laden with coal, which meant that increased attention had to be given to the loading of coal-carrying ships. Then we have had the Sea Fish Commission. The President of the Board of Trade has announced that the Government have accepted the recommendation of that Commission in regard to the survey of fishing vessels, and a definite start in the work by increasing the marine survey staff of the Board of Trade has already been made. To the question asked by the hon. Gentleman the answer is in the affirmative.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ministry Of Agriculture And Fisheries

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £25,900, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants in aid in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and fishery research; and grants, grants in aid, and expenses in respect of improvement of breeding, etc., of livestock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, etc., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing, fishery development; and sundry other services."

10.12 p.m.

This sum of £25,900 is arrived at as follows: There is additional expenditure under various sub-heads amounting to £87,900 and savings under other sub-heads of £76,900, leaving a net charge of £11,000. There has been a shortage of receipts from appropriations-in-aid of £14,900, making the net total required of £25,900. I shall deal with a number of the matters covered by this Vote and I shall be glad to answer any questions that may be asked. Under Sub-head G.3.—"Agricultural Education,"—there is a small sum of £750 for grants-in-aid of annual expenditure of colleges and institutions. The Committee may be interested to know that the whole question of veterinary education is being investigated by a committee, and until it has reported we shall not properly know what are the requirements for the future conduct of this vital part of agricultural education. This sum is for the maintenance of the Veterinary College as it is at present, pending the receipt of the report of the committee and a detailed scheme of veterinary education.

With regard to sub-head H.1, which covers grants for diseases of animals, the additional sum of £48,300 includes £40,000 on grants for compensation in respect of foot and mouth disease. That is a very difficult item to estimate, and our experience last year would indicate what that difficulty is. There were no outbreaks at all during the first five months of the financial year, but between 1st September and the date of the submission of the Estimate there were 65 outbreaks. In this case we are estimating for expenditure in this year on any outbreaks which may occur before 31st March. On the item with regard to cattle slaughtered under the Tuberculosis Orders there has been an increase which is due to two factors. One is the increasing vigilance of the local authorities and the farmers in reporting disease in their herds and making use of the provisions for its elimination. That is a healthy symptom. The other is that in many cases animals are being condemned at an earlier age when they are normally more valuable, and that also may be taken as a healthy symptom, showing that both farmers and local authorities are taking their duties seriously in this matter and are making progress in dealing with this vital problem of cleaning up our herds.

With regard to land drainage the increased sum now asked for arises chiefly in this way, that whereas provision was made on the basis of existing schemes of catchment boards, either by way of loan or by way of grant, recently an increasing number of catchment boards have asked us to assist them by direct grants, paying the expenses of their works out of revenue and not upon loan. That leads to an apparently increased expenditure, which in the long run is not a real increase at all. With regard to the item under subhead L.2 relating to the Agriculture Credits Act, 1923, I would remind the Committee that under that Act and the regulations framed thereunder, borrowers were enabled to pay back what they had borrowed at any time without paying the fine which is customary in these cases for paying back too promptly.

Do I understand the Minister to say that the regulations under which private borrowers repay to the Public Works Loans Commissioners were fixed under the Agricultural Credits Act?

Provision was made in the Act as to the method by which repayments were normally to be made, but this particular Act was passed just after the Corn Production Act was repealed, when many farmers had bought their land; with the idea that that legislation was to be permanent, and it was in those peculiar circumstances that the regulation was made to enable the borrower to repay at any time without the customary fine. The same regulation provided for charging any loss of the Public Works Loans Commissioners to the agricultural Vote and that is the subject which now appears on the Estimate. I shall be glad to answer any question which any hon. Member cares to ask about these items, each of which is relatively small in amount, though they constitute the total I have indicated.

10.19 p.m.

I should like to know the Treasury Minute under which private borrowers under the Agricultural Credits Act are treated more favourably than local authorities. If local authorities wish to repay the Public Works Loans Commissioners prematurely, they have to pay a very stiff premium in certain cases, but private borrowers under the Agricultural Credits Act are allowed to repay the bare amount of their indebtedness, without any premium. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] But this item on the Estimate is part of the amount found by the Treasury in order to compensate the Commissioners, and these borrowers, as I say, are entitled to repay at any time without making any compensation at all. Farmers are bad borrowers, and the losses are so heavy that the Treasury are only too glad to get their money back at any price, but there are certain cases where the loans are adequately secured, and I see no particular reason why the Treasury Minute should apply to all private borrowers, irrespective of the security. I think it is perfectly good policy for the Treasury to say, if there is a loan inadequate in security, "We will get that money back if we can," but where the loan is fully secured, I see no reason why the farmer should be entitled to repay his money without premium, thereby throwing a very definite and heavy loss on the Treasury. Why does not the Treasury Minute stipulate that where a loan is paid back, if there is adequate security, the farmer shall pay his premium, and that only where there is not sufficient security, the money should be repaid without the premium?

10.22 p.m.

I should like to congratulate the Minister on the result of the National Stud. The excess of receipts over payments in connection with the National Stud is £3,000, and that is a very different tale from the results which we had two or three years ago, when the National Stud was almost dormant. The only thing that I would like to suggest is that the National Stud, being situated in the Irish Free State, is not doing its full job and that it would do very much better if situated in this country. I understand that there are some legal difficulties in the way of transferring to this country, and I should like to ask the Minister whether that is the case. If it is not the case, I would like to suggest that there are much better and much more useful areas for promoting British bloodstock—

The hon. and gallant Member cannot, I think, discuss the National Stud on this Vote.

I think it appears on page 17, Sir Malcolm. I only want to point out that I would like to see it transferred to this country, and there is, in my opinion, no more suitable site in this country for the headquarters of the National Stud than Newmarket.

10.24 p.m.

There are two points about which I would like to ask information on this Vote. The Minister must realise as well as any Member of this Committee that the situation of agriculture is a very grave one. I see that he anticipates a saving in salaries of £31,700, and I should like to have an explanation why there are these salary savings. Where research is so essential, not only in connection with foot-and-mouth disease, but also in connection with epizootic abortion and other diseases of livestock, how is it that these savings in salaries are effected? The item G.5 raises the question of agricultural research grants. The Government are proposing to make a saving of £21,500 on this Vote. After the speeches lately made by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, I do not think it is reasonable to suggest saving on agricultural research grants. Before this Vote is passed the Minister should, I suggest, give us some explanation of why, when so much attention has been paid by this Committee to agriculture in the scheme of National Defence, he proposes to make savings in salaries and research grants.

10.26 p.m.

There are one or two matters on which, I think, we might have fuller information. I understood the Minister to say that the additional sum of £750 was due to further grants made to the Royal Veterinary College. I welcome the expenditure in connection with that College, and I should like the Minister to give us a fuller statement as to facilities for education and progress in the erection of the building. Further, I would remind him and the Committee that that very eminent and distinguished veterinary surgeon, Sir Frederick Hobday, has recently left that College, and that another distinguished professor, I think from Cambridge or Oxford, has been appointed. I should like him to explain why Sir Frederick Hobday was removed just at this stage, after he had devoted many years of successful effort to the creation of this new College. There was a good deal of public controversy at the time of his supposed resignation, and I should like to know whether the Government had anything to do with his resignation, or his dismissal—I think his resignation—whether they implemented it in any way, and whether the gentleman who has followed him is as competent as Sir Frederick Hobday proved himself to be. The Minister referred to the constant outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and the very lareg expenditure of money incurred in consequence. At the same time, as the hon. Member for Banff (Sir J. Findlay) has indicated, they are priding themselves upon saving £21,500 on research. I should like to know what measure of research is going on into foot-and-mouth disease, and whether we are likely to overcome the disease, to achieve our aim to secure its ultimate suppression. Perhaps the Minister will explain why we are saving money on research while at the same time spending an increased sum of money on foot-and-mouth disease.

Then there is the question of land drainage. I think we are entitled to know what schemes have been put forward by the catchment boards. In the Bentley area of my own Division of Doncaster there have been two serious floodings—not during the lifetime of this Parliament—and there is great anxiety among the people in Bentley as to whether there will be another flood, particularly having regard to the continuance of rain and of flooding taking place in the country. I understand, for instance, that the Ouse Catchment Board have erected some barrier, but I should like to know whether the Minister is confident that that barrier is sufficient to prevent further flooding of my constituents in the Bentley area. If it is not, what is the use of paying further grants to catchment boards who are not fulfilling the original intentions of Parliament and of the Act of 1930? If the Minister will answer my questions, to the satisfaction of myself and of those who sit behind me, perhaps he will get away with his Vote without a Division.

10.32 p.m.

I would ask the Minister two questions in reference to the Land Drainage Act. Has he had any general complaint with regard to the incidence of the drainage rates? In the Division which I represent, and particularly in the town of Sheerness, there has been a great deal of indignation about the amount of the rate. From investigation which I have made I believe that that resentment is well founded. I have taken the liberty of communicating with the Minister on the subject, but it is seldom that one has an opportunity of raising such a matter on the Floor of the House. I should be glad if the Minister would answer my question, and if he will say also whether he can give me information as to any change likely to be made in the incidence of the rates upon the ratepayers of Sheerness. The town is not by any means rich, in a material sense, and the rate is very heavy upon the poor people. I believe it should not be levied. It may be that my questions are very much upon the borderline of being out of order, and if so, I thank you, Sir Malcolm, for your consideration.

10.34 p.m.

A question I would put to the Minister in regard to drainage rates is in relation to the Special Areas. They were told that the Government would allow 75 per cent., but it is impossible for a distressed area to find the further 25 per cent., when public assistance is costing approximately 9s. in the pound as against an average for the rest of the country of less than 3s. Is it not possible to stretch a point in the case of the distressed areas and to give the full grant, so as to enable work to be found for the unemployed? I think that the Minister will agree that there has been a terrific amount of flooding this winter, and it is particularly hard upon the distressed areas that they cannot be given a grant to enable them to find work for their unemployed.

10.35 p.m.

I want to ask the Minister for information about the savings upon research grants. There is a saving of £21,500 under Sub-head G.5, and a saving of £2,200 under G.6, both for research. The other night the Minister brought in a Money Resolution asking for a sum of money for research into the diseases of fish. Now he comes, almost at one and the same time, intimating that he cannot spend the money he has got for research in these Departments. He is asking us to vote more money—the Minister shakes his head; if he will rise and explain to me, I will conclude at once. I understand that his is the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, and I notice that among the appropriations-in-aid here he has one from the whaling industry. He is drawing £1,100 from whales. Surely the man who is looking after whales can also look after salmon. At the time he brought in his Money Resolution about the blisters on salmon, I asked him why this could not be done in the routine work of his Department, which, as I understand it, deals with agriculture and with fisheries, both sea and freshwater. I imagined that he had perhaps exhausted all the money he had for research. But now I find, from this Supplementary Estimate, that he has something like £23,000 in hand, and I want to know from him why he is saving this money here and putting the House to the trouble of passing new money to him, and, indeed, of passing new legislation, when we have already enough in hand.

10.38 p.m.

If I were able to influence the Committee, personally I would not give the Minister any more money at all, because the administration of land drainage is nothing short of a scandal. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Max-ton) spoke about the whaling industry, but industry in some of the flooded parts of England is becoming a weeping and wailing industry, owing to constant and ever-recurring flooding. As you, Sir Malcolm, have allowed an allusion to be made to an area which is particularly affected, namely, Sheerness, perhaps I might also briefly refer to another district that is particularly affected—the Isle of Axholme. On previous occasions we have urged the Ministry of Agriculture to get a move on in order to take the fullest possible advantage of the 1930 Act, and to give grants of an adequate character to remove some of the injustice of heavy rating in these drainage areas. I can tell the Committee of a particular case which shows the need for action. In the Hatfield Chase area, a certain farmer whom I know rented a farm. He rented it from Hatfield Chase. Finally he bought it, and he now pays more in drainage rates than he paid in rent when he rented it, before he became the owner of the farm. In the Isle of Axholme, an important area, it is nothing less than a scandal that the work has not been done. Land is flooded, and time out of mind the attention of the Minister has been drawn to it both by letters and by interviews, definite promises have been made that relief would be given in some of these areas that are so heavily hit, but no relief of a character that is useful to them has yet been given.

In one area, only about the width of this House, on that side there is a heavy drainage rate and on this side none whatever; on that side a jam factory and on this a brewery. The jam factory pays a very heavy drainage rate, the brewery escapes without paying a halfpenny. The Ministry is well acquainted with every detail but has not taken a step to remedy that grave injustice in that little place. When you suggest new legislation, they say it is a matter of administration and, when you suggest that it should be remedied by administration, they say, "We are looking into it." Meanwhile these people are being summoned and are being called upon to pay tremendous rates, and in some areas there is no land drainage at all. In some of these areas the overlapping authorities have no income and cannot carry out their duties. The benefits that ought to have been conferred upon agricultural land by the 1930 Act have been largely discounted because the grants have not been adequate.

10.42 p.m.

I should like to endorse the hon. Member's criticism. I noticed that when he termed the land drainage of the country scandalous he received the endorsement of hon. Members behind him. I should like to remind them that the scandalous position of land drainage is clue to the Socialist party's Act of 1931.

10.43 p.m.

I should like to reinforce what has been said with regard to this land drainage problem. I was instrumental in bringing to the Minister's predecessor a deputation from the House on the whole problem of the cost of drainage. We were armed on that occasion with data which to the most casual eye seemed quite invincible and should have convinced any Minister of the urgency of the task lying ahead and the unfairness of the costs as they were apportioned between the cities and the county areas. The Minister received us very nicely and said he was very sympathetic and, with a very fixed stare at me, he said, "Look here, how am I, as Minister of Agriculture, to go back to Scotland to the distressed agriculturists and the distressed areas of Glasgow and tell them that we are going to put a general tax on them so that we can give a subvention to some drainage scheme down in the South of England?" He did not meet the figures that I gave. I will repeat them, because I want the present holder of the office to face the difficulty.

May I give the figures of the Trent Catchment Area, because the other catchment areas have been given already? Doncaster has always been very keen to look after itself. The other catchment areas agreed generally to stand together and to fight for the general relief of land, but I am bound to say that Doncaster did not altogether play the straight game. They went outside for little advantages of their own. I will give the Trent Catchment figures. The area of the Trent Catchment is also 2,750,000 acres. The estimated expenditure upon the scheme in the Trent Catchment area, less Government grant of 30 per cent., is £1,564,000, or 12s. 1½d. per acre, and the aggregate contribution from the county boroughs of the Trent Catchment area is £944,253, or £5 4s. 11d. per acre. The contributions from the county councils in the catchment area are £620,597 or 5s. 3d. per acre. The county boroughs in the Trent Catchment area, therefore, contri- bute £20 5s. 4d. for every pound contributed by the county councils. These figures show that the main cost of these drainage schemes is largely imposed upon the thickly populated city areas. In the Trent Catchment area alone, if you take Birmingham, the annual contribution towards the drainage scheme runs into thousands of pounds, whereas Birmingham really gains no advantage out of the drainage scheme at all. The advantages of much of the drainage work redounds to the credit of the agricultural areas.

In my own area of Stoke-on-Trent we have to contribute annually a large sum towards the drainage scheme of the Trent area, and we practically get no advantage from it whatever. The costs are pooled for the whole area, and farming land that would otherwise be under water is drained and the major cost of these undertakings is thrown upon the thickly populated areas of the cities. I should be out of order to suggest remedies, but I want to be quite frank and say that the proposals which I have heard made as to what would be the way out of the difficulty have, I can assure the Committee, not altogether met with my approval. There is the difficulty of the low land and the high land, as to who should pay the most; whether the man on the low land should pay more than the man on the high land, and whether the man on the high land should pay more than the man on the low land. I have a shrewd suspicion that to arrive at the proportion of contribution to be made in each case would be to find out who is the person who gains most by the drainage, or, to put it in a negative way, what would happen to a certain holding of land if no drainage were carried out?

I think that that is really a question for the main Estimate, and not for the Supplementary Estimate.

That is what I say. I was merely suggesting that the methods adopted so far do not meet with my approval. I was going to tell the Committee what I might have said in other circumstances, but I have said enough to hint at that. Here is the point which I want to put to the Minister. He has come here for the first time, and I congratulate him in more ways than one, because he has come into a frightful heritage. His predecessor has simply thrown about his neck problems which will require the stamina of an enormous fellow to attempt to solve. I want him to meet another deputation. But enough has been said to indicate to any new holder of the office that he has a problem to face here and that he has much to straighten out. I hope that in his reply he will tell us something more of the complaints that have been submitted to him, and what proposals, if any, are in the minds of the Ministry as to how these disproportionate charges are to met, or indeed if there is any programme to meet them.

10.51 p.m.

I want to ask the Minister of Agriculture one question about the poultry industry, and I think that you will find that I am not out of order in the manner in which I endeavour to raise this particular question. There are in the anticipated savings, B, G.2, G.4 and G.5, savings in travelling expenses, agricultural education grants and agricultural research expenses. It is within the knowledge of all Members of the Committee that the poultry industry is in a very desperate state at the present time, and I feel that it would be the wish of the Committee that none of the moneys saved under these particular sub-heads is saved in respect of education, research or travelling expenses in respect of the duties in looking after the poultry industry carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture. If we could have this assurance it would give us some measure of content in respect of the greater feeling of misgiving that we have for the future of the poultry industry. If we could feel that the Minister has not saved one penny under these sub-heads, that the saving for research is not a saving in respect of the amount of feeding stuffs that can be fed to a chicken in order that it shall lay more eggs, if we can be assured that the minimum amount of food required by a chicken is being investigated by the Ministry of Agriculture without any effort to save on the moneys granted by Parliament, then I feel that the Ministry of Agriculture in respect of the great chicken problem will have a greater degree of confidence on the part of hon. Members than before.

10.53 p.m.

I should like to support the hon. Member in regard to the matter of research in the poultry industry. I would go as far as to say that one of the main problems before the industry to-day is the fact that certain diseases are liable to be rampant at certain times of the year more than was the case, and there is evidence that the general stamina of the flocks in this country is not what it was a few years ago. For a number of reasons I venture to think that the time has come when the research institutions should look more deeply than they have hitherto into the whole question of the method of keeping poultry. I would like to support those who in this discussion have called attention to the fact that there is money saved here apparently on research, and to express the wish that the Minister will in future devote more money to research in the poultry industry.

I would like to refer to one other point. I could not quite understand what he said in regard to the grant for veterinary research. Some years ago the Veterinary College at Camden Hill came to an end. Now I understand that there is no central research station in this country for veterinary work. At Cambridge and other universities they have research stations where veterinary work is being done. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to what purpose the £750 is going? I could not gather what proportion was for veterinary work and what proportion for other work. What kind of institution is envisaged in the near future, and what plans are being thought out for the purpose of improving our work in veterinary surgery?

10.56 p.m.

I should like to support the plea made so vigorously by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour), whom I congratulate on his ingenuity in keeping within the bounds of order. His plea was supported by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price), who, I know, is very sympathetic to agriculture but whose party associations perhaps prevent him from giving to us that support on agricultural matters which we should like. We desire the National Government to do even more for agriculture than they have already done. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet drew attention to several sub-heads in the Vote and asked my right hon. Friend to give an assurance that he was not effecting these savings in such a way as to make more hard the lot of those who are suffering through the crisis in the poultry industry. I hope that I am well within the bounds of order in saying these few words, and in supporting the plea made by my hon. and gallant Friend. It is the first time that I have had the opportunity of intervening on any agricultural matter since my right hon. Friend was appointed to his present position, and I shall he very interested to hear what he has to say.

10.58 p.m.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) asked for the date of the Treasury Minute. I am sorry that I cannot give him the exact date, but I will inquire, if it is a matter of importance to him. The first repayment under the Act was in 1930. I cannot allow to pass unchallenged his statement that farmers are a bad lot.

I think the hon. Member used the term "bad lot." If he says that they are bad payers, I would point out that if that were so there would be no need for this Supplementary Estimate, which is simply to meet charges because a certain number of farmers have paid their debts to the State before the clue date. Several hon. Members stressed what they thought was some constriction of the provision for research. The Committee ought to be reassured on this point. There is no doubt that agriculture presents many problems wherein research is required. The bulk of the expenditure which is chargeable under this head is recoverable from the Development Fund. The saving of £22,400 arises from the postponement of certain capital charges which have not become payable. For example, part of the sum is for additional land for the Veterinary Laboratory which has not become payable, and will have to be re-voted next year.

Can the Minister tell us why? Have there been any difficulties in this matter?

Provision was made for buying additional land for the Veterinary Laboratory in the financial year, but other factors have meant that it has not been possible to proceed with this work this year, and the money will have to be re-voted. The provision was made in case the negotiations went through in the present financial year, but as this has not been the case, the sum will have to be re-voted. I can assure the Committee that these savings on capital expenditure are due in some cases to the estimates which were made for capital expenditure which had not fallen due. The saving of £22,400 is partly off-set by an excess of £900 on the provision for special research work. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) asked why if there was this excess for agricultural research work in this financial year, it was necessary to provide a sum of £600 or £700 for research work under the Diseases of Fish Bill. The answer is that the Fish Bill is not yet through Parliament.

My point was why was that legislation needed for a bit of research work which I imagined would have been the routine work of the right hon. Gentleman's Department?

The provision in the Fish Bill for £600 was to meet expenditure in the coming financial year, and the reason why it was necessary to make that provision was because no provision had hitherto been made for it. The £600 for research work under the Diseases of Fish Bill is not research work comparable to the present case, it is only to pay a man to test fish to see whether they are suffering from furunculosis or not. The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Short) wanted to know why Sir Frederick Hobday has retired. He seemed to suggest that the Government were responsible for his retirement. I can assure him that something even more powerful than a Government was responsible—age. I can assure the hon. Member that the great services of this distinguished gentleman have been fully appreciated. The research into foot-and-mouth disease has been carried forward with the utmost energy and some of the results obtained have been very creditable.

With regard to floods and the catchment boards, the Committee will understand that, under the 1930 Act, the duty of initiating works to combat floods rests with the new catchment boards. I have no power to initiate works of that character, and I can only assist as far as I can. If I tell hon. Members that there are at present approved works which cost a total of £6,000,000, they will see that the new bodies have taken to their duties very seriously, and I hope that in the course of time their operations will be attended by the abatement of this menace which so much affects many parts of the country. The Committee must have a certain amount of patience with regard to floods. Very often the works have to be done on a very great scale, and it takes a long time for the labour and expenditure to bring obvious results. Often they have to wait on the winds, tides and weather, and very often, in very small places, it is only possible to have a certain number of men at work at a vital place at the same time. Moreover, there is at this time a shortage of skilled labour for this sort of work. These things make the problems less easy of rapid solution than they might otherwise be.

The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland) and other hon. Members drew attention to the drainage rates which, they asserted, were causing dissatisfaction in some parts of the country. Of course, the feature of recent legislation which has given rise to the state of dissatisfaction which has been expressed in the Committee was the change made, in the 1930 Act, in assessing the liabilities to drainage rates, from an acreage basis to an annual value basis. It is not very long since the Act was passed, and there is no doubt that, as a consequence of it, many people who had never paid drainage rates before have had to pay them. I would only say, in answer to hon. Members who have drawn attention to this matter, that the Act contains several provisions whereby, by arrangement among the local authorities concerned and the catchment boards, the burden of drainage rates, if it bears excessively upon any section of the community, may be sensibly eased. I hope hon. Members will wait to see how the 1930 Act works before they criticise too much, and take as much advantage as they can of those provisions which alleviate, by rearrangement of the area, some of the difficulties which have hitherto been experienced. I think I have answered most of the questions which have been asked, but I did not imagine that this discussion would close without a reference to the poultry industry.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication as to when he is going to take the administrative action that has been promised, in order to remedy the grievance of rating, which his side moved as an Amendment to the Land Drainage Bill in Committee?

No, Sir. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Amendment was made by your side."] I am sure I would not attempt to get out of my responsibility by stating that the Amendment was moved by someone on the other side. However, I am not concerned with that question of ancient history; let us face the present and the future. I wish I could promise some sort of legislation that would provide an easy solution for this difficulty, but we already have a very congested programme. I must ask hon. Members to do what they can within the provisions of the Act. With regard to the particular case of the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), we have already done what we can to help, and are still considering the matter. Of course, we have no power to coerce the local authorities or the catchment boards.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I asked a specific question with regard to the Isle of Sheppey? I pointed out that 600 or 700 summonses had been issued, and I asked him whether he could hold out any hope that steps would be taken to relieve the present position.

I understand that the hon. Member has received a full reply from my hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions on this matter. If there is anything further about this particular case which he wants to know, perhaps he will let me know. Generally, in regard to the hon. Member's locality, I think he will find that the new catchment board for the Kent Rivers will materially ease some of the difficulties. To return to poultry, the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) inquired about poultry research. I can assure him that we are prosecuting research very keenly, and are not forgetting the question of the stamina of poultry stocks, which is among the problems being investigated by a Departmental Committee. To the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, I would say that the £750 for the Royal Veterinary College is for maintenance of existing activities. The whole question of veterinary education is the subject of an inquiry by a committee set up for that purpose. Until we have received the report of that committee, it would be premature to incur large capital expenditure or to make plans for the future of veterinary education. In the meantime we are making such grants as are necessary for the maintenance of the institution. When we get the report we hope to make a decided step forward.


"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £25,900, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including grants and grants in aid in respect of agricultural education and research, eradication of diseases of animals, and fishery research; and grants, grants in aid, and expenses in respect of improvement of breeding, etc., of livestock, land settlement, improvement of cultivation, drainage, etc., regulation of agricultural wages, agricultural credits, and marketing, fishery development; and sundry other services,"

put, and agreed to.

Cattle Fund

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £100,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for a Grant to the Cattle Fund."

11.12 p.m.

Early last year when the original Estimates for 1936–37 were approved by Parliament, the subsidy payments under the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) No. 2 Act, 1935, were due to cease on 30th June, 1936. Accordingly, the original Estimate of £1,069,000 covered only the three months of April, May and June. The Cattle Industry No. 2 Act, 1935, provided an extension of the subsidy up to the beginning of November, 1936, on an order made by the Minister and approved by Parliament. An order made on the 15th June, 1936, extending the period to 31st October, 1936, and a supplementary estimate for further funds from 1st July, 1931, to 31st October, 1936, became necessary. When the supplementary estimate was presented in July, 1936, it was foreseen that permanent legislation could not be passed before 31st October, 1936, and that an extending Measure would be necessary. Therefore, under the Financial Resolution preceding the Cattle Industry (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1936, a supplementary estimate in July, 1936, made provision for Cattle Fund for the remainder of the year to 31st March, 1937. The additional sum was £2,930,900, making £3,999,000 for the financial year 1936–37.

The further provision of £100,000 makes the total provision for the year £4,099,000. That extra sum is needed because of the increased number of animals certified from August to December last year. It was anticipated that 668,000 cattle would be certified in this period compared with 661,000 in the corresponding period in 1935. In fact 691,000 cattle were certified. The Committee will realise that it was difficult to forecast precisely the number of animals presented and qualified. The figure depends on the number of home-bred cattle and the number of imported stores eligible after three months. The increase between August and December was due to the increase of store cattle from the Irish Free State in the first nine months of 1936 compared with 1935, this increase being partly offset by reduction of stores from the Irish Free State in the last three months of 1936 compared with 1935. Mainly for the reasons stated more cattle came forward than we anticipated when the July Supplenientary Estimates were framed. As the additional sum for which we are now asking is only 2½ per cent. of the total Estimate I think the Committee will agree that it is reasonable in view of the impossibility of making an adequate and precise forecast of the amount required.

11.16 p m.

It is necessary to point out that the statement just made by the Minister of Pensions proves what we on this side have argued in regard to this subsidy. The fact that this additional sum of £100,000 is required shows as we said that the present method of subsidy is putting additional cattle on the market. Instead of doing what we want it to do, namely, to improve the quality of the animals the subsidy has up to the present actually put a larger number of animals of an inferior quality on the market and helped to defeat to some extent the purpose which was in view. As there is to be an amendment of the basis of administration of the subsidy, we shall not tonight make a long protest against this Supplementary Estimate such as we otherwise would have made. On the details of the Estimate, it would be interesting to know what steps the Government propose to take with regard to the item in respect of compensation for injury to members of certifying authorities. Is this provision by way of premium for insurance to cover any possibility of injury or is it a request to the Treasury to provide £300 in respect of ex-gratia payments actually made in cases of injury? If so, it is a rather heavy charge and some better care ought to be taken with regard to these matters than apparently has been taken up to now. If animals are taken to certification centres there ought to be some arrangement to secure that they do not injure people. It ought not to be difficult to do so and in any case the Government ought to proceed by way of premium and insurance rather than specific payment.


"That a Supplementary sum not exceeding £100,000 be granted to His Majesty to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for a grant to the Cattle Fund,"

put, and agreed to.

Surveys Of Great Britain

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Expenses of the Survey of Great Britain and of minor Services connected therewith."

11.19 p.m.

This Supplementary Estimate arises from the fact that in recent months there has been a greatly increased demand made upon this fund by reason of the requirements of the Services and of the Tithe Commission. That is the cause of the original gross Estimate being exceeded but the appropriations in aid for this extra work will it is confidently anticipated exceed the expenditure, and this is therefore a token Vote.

11.20 p.m.

Will the right lion. Gentleman say something with regard to the savings on this Vote? All we have had is an increase in the pay and allowances for the ordnance survey for preliminary purposes and a reduction of the ordinary pay. The survey, particularly in urban areas, ought to be brought up to date.

11.21 p.m.

I can only say in answer to the right hon. Gentleman that the savings in pay and allowances are consequent on the establishment of military staff engaged in survey work having been incomplete throughout the greater part of the year, and consequently we did not get the number of, military officers that we thought we should get. The same thing is true as to the pay of the civil side. Recruitment for the additional staff which we thought we should get for this work has proved slower than was anticipated. It is due to our not having been able to get either on the military or the civil side the personnel which we hoped to get that we have made the savings.

11.23 p.m.

But here you are increasing the amount paid to the military staff, therefore there cannot be the same explanation as there is for the saving on the civil staff. They are putting on 12 men extra, as well as putting on the staff estimated.

Yes, but we thought we should have the original number for a greater part of the year than we were able to have on the military side as well as on the civil side.

The Minister says that in the original Estimate they made allowance for having more military staff than they actually got, but the Estimate includes an Excess Vote for military wages. If the right hon. Gentleman's explanation is correct, a saving should have been shown.


"That a Supplementary Sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Expenses of the Survey of Great Britain and of minor Services connected therewith,"

put, and agreed to.

Ordered,"That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[ Captain Margesson.]

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.