As I remarked at Question Time on Thursday, I do not propose this afternoon to discuss the detailed negotiations which are under way with the Argentine Government in respect of a renewal of the Andes Agreement. On that subject I will content myself with just one observation. I have no information, of course, beyond what appears in the Press, but no country that has any self-respect is ever willing to be held to ransom. Therefore His Majesty's Government will have full support from this side of the House in resisting such methods if any attempt is made to apply them by any country at any time.
We are being held to ransom by America.
By any country at any time. Gifts do not seem to us to be ransom; perhaps they do to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I am afraid that probably ends my measure of approval, support and agreement with His Majesty's Government.I should imagine also, however, that we are agreed as to the seriousness of the meat situation which confronts this country. No one will deny that our meat ration is dismally small and pitifully inadequate, lower than it has been at any time either during the war or since. Accurate comparisons are always difficult but I do not think it will be denied that before the war we were as a nation large consumers of meat and bacon. The average consumption—I use the word "average" deliberately—of meat and bacon per head in the United Kingdom before the war was approximately 110 lb. That figure is from a Command Paper and I think it is all right. Taking the present consumption on the basis of the existing ration—that is to say, half a pound of fresh meat a week, 1½ ounces of canned meat, and 2 ounces of bacon—there is a total of three-quarters of a pound a week, that is to say, if my calculation is right, less than 40 lb. a year compared with an average of 110 lb. a year before the war. I think those figures are approximately correct; if they are not, naturally I shall be glad if they are corrected.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down. This is a factual point. Has not the right hon. Gentleman taken two sources of information which are not identical? On the one hand, I believe he has taken a source of information from imports before the war which covered all forms of food, restaurants and so on, and, on the other hand, he has taken rations.
No, I have been careful to try to take comparable figures. If they are not comparable, I shall be glad if the Minister will say so. Since the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) is interested in this matter, I shall give one further comparison which I had also checked up, but with which I did not want to take up the time of the Committee. There was an inquiry by the Ministry of Labour before the war into working class consumption for 1937–38. I want to be quite fair about this. These figures were for people in employment in 1937–38, and showed an average weekly consumption per head of 1 lb. 4 oz. of meat plus 6 oz. of bacon. In other words, the average consumption of meat in a working class household in those days was roughly double what it is at present, and the consumption of bacon was roughly treble.
What were the figures for the unemployed?
The hon. Gentleman really must be fair. I said that I am giving the figures for people in employment. The overall figure is that which I have already stated: 110 lb. a year—that is taken from the present Government's Command Paper, not from a wicked Tory Government Command Paper—as compared with an average of less than 40 lb. at present. If, however, these figures are disputed, I shall be very glad to have the true figures. What I do not think will be disputed is that the meat ration is now woefully below the average consumption of before the war. If anybody wants to say anything else, they are welcome to do so on any platform they like.
I cannot give way; I have a long way to go.Nor is the comparison much more heartening if it is made with other European countries. So far as I can discover, Holland is the only European country with a ration so low as our own. In Austria it is 10½ ozs.; in Denmark, 23¼ ozs., and in a large number of other countries meat is unrationed. Hon. Members may well say that that is because meat is so expensive in those countries that ordinary people cannot buy it. There is something in that—of course there is—but it is not by any means universally true. I am not prepared to be dogmatic about it, but if hon. Gentlemen opposite would look at the present French position, for instance, I have a suspicion that the average ration of meat eaten in France today is higher than the ration eaten here. If the Government feel confident that that is not so, I shall be glad to hear it. There is one other comparison I want to make. If the Minister was correctly reported—he may not have been—I have seen reports from France and elsewhere that in Manchester he referred to the price of meat in France as having dropped to 8s. a lb. I do not know whether he really said that. I do not think he can have meant to have said it. Perhaps he meant 8s. a kilo.
That is quite different. If I remember aright, there are something like two and one fifth pounds to a kilo, which means that the price of meat in France has dropped, not to 8s., but to a figure more like 4s., which is quite different. Now that we are agreed about that, it is a great help.Comparisons apart, I want now to turn to what can be done about what, I suppose, everybody in the House will admit is a deplorable situation. First, about imports. As regards the Argentine, as I have said, I do not want to discuss the current negotiations, but I would say, at any rate, that it would be unwise to rely on any material increase in supplies from that source in the next few years. That would be a wise way to look at it. What is the position in Eire? I must confess I find it very difficult to follow the course of our negotiations with that country. I have seen it stated, for instance, that there are large quantities of cattle available in Eire but the British will not purchase. Indeed, the Eire Minister of Food had some observations to make in reply to something which the Parliamentary Secretary said last December. May I remind the House of what the right hon. Lady said? It seemed very reasonable, and I always like to quote the Government when I think they are being very reasonable. She said:
that was, the Minister of Food—"…the main objective of the recent agreement was to ensure that the supplies of cattle which came from Eire in pre-war days should be received in this country now. My right hon. Friend"—
Then she explained that with store cattle the position had also declined, and added:"went to Eire and discussed the matter very fully but, so far, the results have been very disappointing. The House will be astonished to learn that only 3,440 fat cattle have been received in the period from 1st July to 30th November, against 16,950 in the corresponding period last year."
There came an answer from the Minister of Agriculture in Eire—not a very polite answer, if I may say so; this comes of Governments dealing with these things; they get rude with each other. The Minister of Agriculture said this:"I confess there is something of a mystery about this.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 859.]
I would never say that to the right hon. Lady—"There are almost unlimited supplies of store cattle 2½ years old and over available but we cannot make the British buy them, although they are welcome to do so. Dr. Summerskill ought to discuss these matters with her colleagues"—
It is quite true that I have been away, but I have not been able to discover whether anything has been said by the Government since that observation by the Minister of Agriculture in Eire. So far as my researches go, I have not been able to find a single further statement at all from the Government. Can they tell us now, therefore, what is the position concerning supplies from Eire? There surely cannot be a question of competition from other countries because, as the Committee knows quite well, our agreement with Eire entitles us to 90 per cent. of Eire's exports. Then what has happened, and why are such miserably small quantities becoming available to us? The House may also remember—it is a little over a year ago—that the Ministry of Food were offered 10,000 tons of canned meat from Eire but did not want them and would take only 5,000 tons. The rest went to Czechoslovakia. The Parliamentary Secretary then said:"before presenting an utterly misleading version of the cattle and meat trade between Ireland and Britain."
I can quite understand that, but unfortunately, as I see it, we are not now getting either the canned or the fresh meat. That does not seem to be very satisfactory. I should like the Minister of Food, or whoever replies for the Government, to give the House full information about our relations with Eire on this matter of food supplies, and to say to what extent the trouble is one of price and how much is involved. I do not know whether the question is one of price, but it rather looks like it in view of these exchanges between the Governments. At present, when the meat ration is so desperately small, I should think that the great majority of people would be prepared to pay at any rate a small amount more for the meat if they could be assured of an increase in the quantity available—I think so. But under the present system of Government purchase the consumer has no say in it either way; he cannot register his opinion at all. At present the housewife has to buy other things to make up for the shortage of meat and almost invariably those other things are pretty expensive in points and money. I must make it clear that what I said about price in respect of Eire does not, of course, apply to the Argentine."… we do not want to increase canned at the expense of fresh meat."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 860.]
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would know the answer without my having to explain it. It is because the Argentine is specifically bound in the agreement as to price. I am not suggesting that in respect of the Argentine we should give way; I am suggesting, as regards Eire, a different method. If the question is one of price, we should be told what it is and what it amounts to.I do not want today to discuss the merits or otherwise of bulk buying, a ready subject for debate though that is; still less do I want to approach the matter merely from the angle of Socialism versus free enterprise. But there is this consideration which was forced upon me when I was in Canada and which must be apparent to everybody now in a different context in respect of the Argentine. I would weary the House with just two sentences which I used myself in Toronto, which I really believe to be true. One of the risks attendant upon State trading is that the negotiations between Governments on commercial matters may foster illwill which would never arise if the transactions were diversified through merchants. One may have a misunderstanding between two merchants in different countries which may have no more important effect than a difference between two merchants in the same country, but a misunderstanding about trade between two Governments, with all the attendant publicity, may all too easily foster irritation between two nations. I turn to sources of supply within the British Commonwealth. First, I want to speak of New Zealand. That small country is making the most gallant effort to maintain her supplies. Subject to anything the Minister has to say, I do not think we can look for anything more than a modest increase from New Zealand, perhaps something of the order of 50,000 tons a year, but not more. As to Canada, the whole subject is bound up with the question of dollar exchange and no greater quantities can be taken except at the cost of dollar exchange, or if our Canadian friends are ready to buy more from us. I must say I have some sympathy with our Canadian friends because they were encouraged a couple of years ago to go ahead and produce more, and then we ran into this dollar difficulty which might have been foreseen. Having produced more, largely in response to our policy, they find that we cannot take the goods. I admit the difficulties and if the right hon. Lady cares to look up the papers, she will find that I made out the best case I could in Canada, although it was a task which was not particularly congenial. It is in Australia that the long-term possibilities are most promising, but in the immediate future it does not seem that we ought to look for any large increase. I see the Australian Minister of Commerce estimated the other day that it will be about 12 months before the production of pig meat shows any marked improvement, 18 months to two years for mutton and lamb production to forge ahead, and beef is not expected to rise appreciably for at least four years. Beef, of course, is dependent on the big scheme of development of new areas which is going through. About that development I much hope that agreement with the Australian Government will be reached without delay. I think it is clear, as Mr. Chifley has maintained, that any large long-term scheme is going to involve the Australians in very heavy capital expenditure. Additional facilities for road, rail, harbours and perhaps slaughtering facilities are all needed if the best results are to be obtained. I see that the Australian Prime Minister in "The Times" yesterday estimated that the cost of the one road, from Wyndham to the Kimberley Ranges, alone would be 1¼ million Australian pounds. That is a small part of the project which, I see, Lord Bruce estimates is to cost £50 million, a very large capital expenditure. In all the circumstances, it is not unreasonable that Australia should look for certain guarantees of our willingness to take meat supplies produced by the new scheme over a given period—[Laughter.]—I do not know what the hon. Member is giggling about; no doubt he will explain later.
The scheme is one of preparation and development on a large scale. I think it is a good scheme. I do not exclude the Government occasionally doing some good. I was only pointing out the difficulties into which we get in these negotiations with foreign countries and if hon. Members want examples they have only to open their newspapers on any day of the week. This Australian scheme seems to have immense possibilities and I think it would be to all of us a great comfort if we could rely for our meat supplies, particularly beef supplies, on Australian and home production. I should like to know the position about this guarantee for Australia. I saw that a junior Minister speaking in another place—and I believe statements of policy can be quoted from another place—said:
He went on to say:"The Australian Government will require from us long term assurances for unrestricted markets at fair prices before embarking on that expenditure."
I should like to know whether that is so, because no comparable statement has been made in this House and this was only made a little casually in a Debate on land and water resources by a junior Minister in another place. As the issue is of such great importance, we should be told about it here. Is that principle accepted and do the Australian Government know that it is accepted? Personally, I hope the statement of the Minister is correct. I would only say that if it is thought reasonable by the Government to give long-term undertakings of this character to the Australian Government—and I think it is reasonable—it is also reasonable to give some similar long-term undertakings to our own producers at home. Of the remaining overseas markets there is only Africa, and not even the new discoveries in connection with the tsetse fly are likely to make any difference there for years to come. So, except for Australia, that is the somewhat dismal view I have to inflict on the Committee. The Committee will observe that there does not appear to be any overseas market from which we can expect any substantial increase of meat for the home consumer. I must add that it must be remembered that many of these countries, including Australia, will in the meanwhile be increasing their populations and thereby making greater demands on the supply of meat themselves. All the facts in the survey I have given are available to others and have been available to the Government long since. This brings me to the most important issue of all, production at home. Here I must trouble the Committee with a few figures. Last year at home our production of meat and bacon totalled only 779,000 tons compared with more than one million tons before the war, yet in that time our population has increased by about two million. This seems a completely fantastic situation at present when we are faced with such grave shortages of foreign exchange and when as a result, we ought to be relying to an increasing extent on home production rather than on imported meat to maintain our level of supplies. We must have a full explanation from the Government about this. We have not had one. The plain fact is that no amount of exhortation can enable farmers to produce more unless they are given more feedingstuffs. On the question of feeding-stuffs the Government's policy has been one of order, counter-order and disorder. Going back to August, 1947, there is the famous quotation from the Lord President of the Council—who I am sorry is not present, because I should like to congratulate him on the wisdom and foresight of the observation—when addressing the chairmen of county agricultural committees. He said:"Certainly we can give assurances on these points."
That appeared to us to be Government policy and a policy we could endorse and support. In the Economic Survey for that same year we were told that the"Large increases of feedingstuffs must come from imports, and even scarce dollars will be spent on all that is obtainable, since this operation must lead to ultimate dollar saving."
I am sure the Minister of Agriculture will agree, whatever the Minister of Food thinks about it—"import of £1,000 worth of feedingstuffs"—
Again we are in full agreement. In the Survey for 1948 it was stated on the increase of feedingstuff prices:"will save nearly £2,000 worth of livestock products."
We all agree on that. It was a transient problem; it has transited —it has now gone. The price of feedingstuffs reached its peak in January last year. It has since been falling. Yet in July, 1948, the Minister of Food made this astonishing statement:"There is momentarily less saving in foreign exchange than had been expected from the policy of producing more livestock in the United Kingdom. This, however, is expected to be a transient problem."
In reply to an interjection he added:"For every £ spent on the importation of coarse grains we get only about a third as much meat… as for £1 spent on importing meat from the Argentine, Australia or New Zealand."
I simply cannot understand that statement, and every effort to elicit an explanation has received no response. When my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) made a speech containing a detailed refutation of it, no reply was vouchsafed. We were told that it was not a matter concerning the Ministry of Agriculture but the Ministry of Food. Even more extraordinary, is it not a fact that no imported coarse grains are issued for the production of beef and mutton? If that is so, what in the world was the use of the Minister's statement and what was the value of the calculation? It is quite incomprehensible. I return to the Lord President's pledge. When, some 18 months afterwards my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) asked if the pledge still held good the Minister of Food gave the rather equivocal answer:"I am referring to beef and mutton. I cannot give the figures for pork, …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1948; Vol. 453, c. 880.]
But how could the necessity possibly be greater than it is today? How much lower has the meat ration to fall before the necessity arises? Indeed, was it not great when the Lord President gave his very proper pledge? Last year, in 1947–48, we imported about 1½ million tons of coarse grains. Yet the average before the war, in the years 1934–38, was nearly three times that amount annually. What are the words "if necessary" to be taken to mean in that context? Except for about £250,000 spent on whey powder for calf and chick foods there has been no importation of feedingstuffs from the dollar area. Yet they are obtainable. I do not think that there is any dispute about that, or about the fact that world crops of coarse grains are at a record level—far above ordinary levels. The Food and Agriculture Organisation referred to "an indicated surplus of some 2 million tons of coarse grain." There is no doubt that the feedingstuffs are available. Apparently the Government are not buying them as a matter of deliberate policy. If that is so, they are running exactly counter to the pledge which the Leader of the House gave that they would be bought, even if necessary by using scarce dollar currency. We must know why that pledge, given 18 months ago, has not been fulfilled. It cannot be disputed that if it had been fulfilled there would not be the present drastic cut in the meat ration. Meanwhile, the ration of feedingstuffs to farmers is exactly the same as when the Lord President of the Council made his statement promising all this help. I turn to the contribution of the Economic Secretary at Question Time last Thursday. He was asked if he would authorise the spending of dollars in the purchase of feedingstuffs. He said that supplies of animal feedingstuffs from non-dollar sources had so far proved sufficient to meet requirements of the livestock rationing scheme at current rationing levels. Surely everyone is agreed that the current ration level is totally inadequate. That is the whole point; it is what the argument is about. If we are to improve our present miserably low level of meat rationing we must obtain more feeding-stuffs for our farmers. The position seemed to me to be made even worse by the Prime Minister when he in his turn took a hand yesterday. In reply to the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers) he said:"Yes, Sir, if necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 9th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 1190.]
What an observation, with all respect to the Prime Minister. No one has ever said that they would. The point is that we should have had these feedingstuffs, if possible when the Lord President said that we were going to buy them, that is to say 18 months ago; if not, at least a year ago or even six months ago. That would have made a great difference, perhaps a fundamental difference to our meat ration at the present time. That is our case in respect of supplies of feeding-stuffs. The truth is, so far as I can see, that the Lord President's pledge has been completely ignored. I am not surprised that as the result of that, he is not here this afternoon. We say that it is the Government's duty to obtain the greatest possible quantity of feedingstuffs for our farmers. The Government may say, "How is this to be done within our existing dollar resources?" I would reply, that presumably the Government thought all that out before the Lord President gave his pledge that it would be done, even by using dollars. Otherwise he should certainly not have given the undertaking. At all events, that undertaking was given, and I might remind the Committee that the dollar crisis had already burst upon us. The conclusion seems to me inescapeable that unless the Government are content, and they cannot be content, with the present miserably inadequate meat ration for a period of several years, they must buy more feedingstuffs for our farmers. In doing so they will only be doing what all the other countries in receipt of Marshall aid have for a long time past been doing. I suspect—I hope I am wrong in this—that one of the reasons for the Minister's attitude is that he agrees that it is cheaper for this country to buy meat from abroad than to purchase foodstuffs for use at home. Perhaps he will tell us when he winds up the Debate. I must put a question to the Minister on another subject which is very important in this connection. What is the present position about the pig population? Is it true, for instance, as I have heard it said, that the number of gilts in pig, which was increasing some months ago, as the Minister rightly told us, has once again begun to decline? Is that so or not? If it is, is it due to lack of feedingstuffs, the larger production having been embarked upon as a result of the pledge of the Lord President which I have already quoted? If these facts are correct, will the Government tell us what they propose to do about this matter? They must realise that production depends upon confidence, and confidence cannot be expected if the Lord President makes one positive statement and an opposite course is then followed. Why is it that these countries which have been overrun, such as Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France, have made further strides in the restoration of their pig population than we have? I will sum up. Three and a half years after the close of hostilities we have the lowest meat ration ever. In this respect, therefore, the masses of the people are worse off than before the war and worse off than many of their counterparts in other countries of Europe. In this country the restoration of our livestock population has fallen behind that of Continental countries, although many of them were occupied by the Germans."The hon. Member will realise that feeding-stuffs will not provide bacon next week."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 1700.]
Some people are getting less than before the war.
The hon. Gentleman says that some people are getting less. If that is his final and conclusive answer to this Debate, I do not think that when he comes to ruminate upon it he will find it altogether satisfactory. We are all agreed that we have a problem. It is no answer to say that some people are getting less meat any more than it is an answer to say that I have been getting a good deal more meat in the last two months in the various Dominions.It is a good deal bigger problem than is implied by that comment. We say that this is due to the lack of foresight in the purchase of foodstuffs and that this is a deliberate result of the Government's conscious policy of denying coarse grain supplies to the farmers and preferring to buy meat from abroad rather than purchasing feedingstuffs with which the British farmer could produce more and better meat for the people of Britain. Whatever the cause, the position is that there is this acute shortage of meat today. For this and for their failure in respect of obtaining supplies of meat for the people, the Government must be called to account.
I welcomed the opening remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) although he stated that that ended his support and approval. The Committee will agree that the right hon. Gentleman did deal with this matter in a tactful manner, in view of the fact that at this present moment most delicate negotiations are proceeding with the Argentine. But having said that, he then proceeded to indict my Department, and I feel almost sorry for him at the moment for having to torpedo immediately that excellent peroration. He told the world today that our poor little country has, during the past, had a standard of living, so far as meat supplies are concerned, infinitely higher than the other European countries.
I did not say that.
I should like again to examine the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman and find their source. If he examines—and I think he will agree that this is authoritative—"The State of Food and Agriculture," which was issued by the F.A.O. in 1948, he will find that in 1947 and 1948 the consumption of meat per head in this country was 49.4 kilos; in France it was 44.6 kilos—
About the same.
—in Belgium it was 43.9 kilos; in Italy it was 13.7 kilos and in the Netherlands 23.6 kilos. I think the Committee will agree with me that this is the latest report which we have from the F.A.O.—[Interruption]—I am quite entitled to quote these figures after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I would like it to go out to the other countries who will read his speech tomorrow that, in fact, the European average is 26.5 against ours of 49.4.
That is two years out of date.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not like these figures, but I think they should welcome the fact that their country is living better than these other countries—[Interruption]—and not show such signs of disappointment on hearing that the consumption per head in 1948 was higher in our country than in other European countries. Hon. Members opposite have also forgotten another important factor, which is that these European countries, for the most part, are almost self-sufficient so far as their meat supply is concerned. Where they purchase meat, they buy only marginal amounts, whereas our country has always had to buy about 50 per cent. of its supply. In a moment I will tell them what are the exact figures.A point in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which struck me as quite novel was his discovery in Canada that bulk purchase had the effect of creating unfriendliness between nations. He has been to those great Commonwealth countries, New Zealand and Australia. I was fortunate enough to go on a Government delegation in 1944. Surely he would agree with me that the seven years' agreement which we made with New Zealand—a bulk purchase agreement—has cemented the bonds which tie us? Did he not go out there and find farmers feeling very friendly disposed towards a country which gives a guarantee and security for seven years ahead? Can he say that he was met by farmers out there—and I know the wonderful hospitality of those countries—who felt rather resentful that he represented a country which dared to indulge in bulk purchase? Or was he welcomed, as I am sure he was, as a representative of that country? Knowing the right hon. Gentleman, I am sure he did not—like some hon. Members whose names I will not mention—go abroad and foul his own nest. He remembered that when we are abroad, we forget party and present a united front to the world.
What about the Attorney-General in Poland?
I am sure, in the light of my own experience in these two great Dominions of ours, that the right hon. Gentleman was welcomed, and I say again that these contracts have cemented the bonds of friendship rather than severed them.I am sorry that I have to bore the House with figures, but I am sure that hon. Members will agree that in order to appreciate fully the position, it is necessary to have the background. Probably, later on, they may like to digest these figures at their leisure.
That is all they have to digest.
If the right hon. Gentleman could have proved today that my Department was being advised by inefficient men with no business experience and no experience of the meat world; if he could have proved—which he did not attempt to do—that we have failed to tap every source of supply, however small; if he could have proved that we have not shown the initiative necessary to embark on long-term schemes which would have ensured our meat supply in the future, he would have had grounds on which to criticise us. I believe I can satisfy hon. Members that we have not failed on any of these counts. The right hon. Gentleman talked about pre-war supplies. Of course, the prewar supplies were much bigger than the supplies we have today, because we were able to buy and to produce during peacetime. They amounted to 2,100,000 tons. Of this total just over half of the meat was produced in this country. The remaining million tons were imported. Of this amount, the Argentine sent 440,000 tons; Australia and New Zealand 460,000 tons; other South American countries 70,000 tons, and other countries sent us small amounts which totalled 30,000 tons.It will be remembered that the necessity for increasing crop cultivation and the difficulty of importing animal feeding-stuffs led to a reduction in our home supplies, but this was offset by the fact that we were able to buy during the war from the Argentine, Canada and the United States. Since the war, we have reached the bottom of the curve for home production. In both 1947 and 1948 the figure has been approximately 720,000 tons. I think that was the figure which the right hon. Gentleman gave. In 1947 we received about 1,100,000 tons from overseas, but in 1948 we could get only about 875,000 tons of imported meat. We anticipate that in 1949 our home production will recover to about 760,000 tons. But even assuming that the Argentine will send us the meat she sent last year, which at the moment is very far from certain, we cannot depend on receiving more than about 865,000 tons in imports. This means that again we shall only have about 1,625,000 tons from all sources for the year. If, of course, for any reason Argentine shipments cease after the end of March, then we shall lose 240,000 tons. In the meantime we are faced with a very critical period. I do not want to under-emphasise it. From now until home production becomes available in August and September, we must conserve our supplies very, very carefully. Because of the shortfall in supplies from the Argentine at the end of the year, we had to draw heavily on our stocks to maintain the shilling ration. We ended the year with 50,000 tons less than we ended the year 1947. We had to eat into our stocks—we fully realised that we were doing that—in order to keep up the shilling ration. If we had gone on any longer, we would have reduced those stocks below the minimum level. That is why it was necessary to impose a further meat cut. Despite the fact that these negotiations are going on in the Argentine, I think I am entitled to say that the immediate cause of the reduction was, without doubt, the failure of supplies from the Argentine. The Andes Agreement was signed in February, 1948. That provided for the supply of 400,000 tons of frozen meat in the following 12 months, but from August onwards it became clear that the shipments were not coming in. At the end of the year we asked His Majesty's Ambassador in the Argentine to make representations at the highest level. Nevertheless, when the Andes year ended, we were 108,000 tons short of the expected supply. I want hon. Members to consider this point. We are apt to concentrate on this immediate shortage. Many people are ignoring the fact that this is only a symptom of a world malady. This is a symptom of a world shortage. The world demand has increased with the growth of population and the general acceptance of full employment policies. Particularly in South America has local consumption increased. We must recog- nise the fact that workers both in the agricultural areas and the urban areas of South America are demanding a balanced diet which includes a high proportion of meat.
If the hon. Gentleman makes a simple deduction, he will know how much meat has not reached this country. Unfortunately, meat differs from other foods in taking years instead of months to produce. It takes about four years from the moment it is decided to produce an animal for beef until the beef is available.
The right hon. Gentleman is a farmer. Surely, he must know that the gestation period of an animal is 11 months?
It is nine. Ask the Minister of Agriculture.
Then it takes two and a half to three and a half years to fatten. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite must realise that on these technical questions I am given the very best advice obtainable. I think that hon. Members will agree that there is no quick and easy way to produce a meat supply.Apart from the shortage of meat, there are possible sources of supply from which we are cut off because we lack the necessary currency. We can no longer buy meat from the United States or from Canada as we did during the war, because we have not sufficient dollars. In view of the prevailing shortage of meat for home consumption in North America, the price might be prohibitive. We could get as much meat as we liked from South America if we could pay dollars or an excessive price. But we cannot afford to do either of those things. The Committee must remember that when we enter the South American market we have competition from the United States and the European countries. The right hon. member for Warwick and Leamington mentioned the ease with which other European countries were able to obtain meat. He must remember that when this meat was sold by the Argentine it was sold to countries which only needed a marginal amount for which they were prepared to pay very high prices.
I do not wish to be misunderstood. I do not think that I ever mentioned buying meat. What I mentioned and emphasised was the buying of feedingstuffs.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman told the Committee of the high standard of living of the European countries. He devoted quite a lot of his time to talking about the meat consumption per head in the European countries. I wish to point out that they were buying only marginal amounts and they were prepared to pay very high prices.The right hon. Gentleman asked what are we doing to overcome the shortage. The restoration of home-killed supplies is starting slowly. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is doing all that he can to carry out the expansion programme. The effects of the subsidy scheme for calves and hill sheep are already beginning to be seen; but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, inevitably it will be some years before we will feel the benefit of this progress. Perhaps he was away when this happened, or perhaps he was not told, but we have introduced changes in the price schedules for fat stock. I shall mention Eire in a moment but, of course, we shall do the same for Eire. He must realise that these new fat stock prices will be reflected in the store cattle which we import from Eire. The right hon. Gentleman asked—and it is a very delicate matter—what was the meaning of the exchanges between Ministers in Eire and myself. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am very conscious of the effect of anything I might say on the food position in other countries. When we had that Debate before Christmas I stated the facts, and now I am pleased to say that cattle from Eire are coming in at a satisfactory rate. Last year we received 198,000 head against an average of 448,000 head in the ears 1934 to 1938. This is mainly due to the fact that the numbers of Irish cattle fell off during the war, just as our cattle population here was reduced. Of course, it takes time for them to recover completely. Our principal imports, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, are store cattle. The new fat stock prices will be reflected in the price given for those. I wish to deal now with overseas supplies. Well before the war ended it was realised that so far as our principal overseas suppliers—Australia, New Zealand and the Argentine—were concerned, the basis for increasing production would depend upon the assurances we were able to give them of a continuing and practically unlimited market. For these reasons, long-term contracts were entered into with Australia and New Zealand in 1944. Later, we arranged with New Zealand to enter into another contract for seven years. We were anxious to enter into these contracts. We have started negotiations with the Argentine and Uruguay, but unfortunately we have been unable to finalise them because conditions have developed unsatisfactorily. The Committee will be pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies has set up an interdepartmental working party to investigate the possibility of increasing meat supplies from the Colonies. I have been asked during the last two or three weeks about the position in France, and hon. Gentlemen who have recently visited France have inquired why we have been unable to make arrangements before this. Some of them have been a little concerned about it. I am pleased to say that the French authorities have told us that they have 2,500 tons of pig meat available, and we are sending an agent of ours in a day or two to arrange for the importation of this meat. Furthermore, we have told France that we are prepared to take all the pig meat or beef which she is able to give us, but unfortunately, so far as beef is concerned, she will probably be unable to send us any before 1952. I want to assure the Committee that on every occasion when we discuss business with a European country we ask whether any meat is likely to be available, but experience has shown that the quantities turn out to be negligible. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee on many occasions have stopped me in the Lobby and asked me whether we have investigated the possibilities in these different countries. Many of them, I am quite sure, believe that we sit back and just consider the possibilities of the big exporting countries and ignore the possibilities of the smaller countries which in the past have not sent very large supplies of meat to us. We have an agree- ment with Denmark and one with Yugoslavia, but, while Denmark has sent us a small amount, Yugoslavia so far has failed to send us any. During the war, we obtained some meat from Iceland, but unfortunately it was of poor quality and the price was excessive. In my view, there can be no doubt that the quantities available from Europe, with the possible exception of France, are not substantial. Now I come to Canada and the United States. During the war, we were able to obtain meat from both Canada and the United States, but unfortunately the position has changed so far as supplies are concerned. The United States has not enough meat to supply her own people, and she is, in fact, importing meat from the Argentine. In competition with us, she imported 76,000 tons of canned meat last year, and therefore this market is closed. Mexico has been mentioned on both sides of the Committee, and, when we heard that the United States was not importing meat from Mexico, we immediately sent a mission to that country to find out what the possibilities were. In fact, we have sent two missions, and we have now invited representatives from Mexico to come to this country and discuss the details of a trade agreement. Unfortunately we have so far failed to arrive at any agreement that is satisfactory. In Guatemala, another South American country, we made an agreement with a local company, but no meat has reached us, and I am afraid that that meat may be going in the same direction as the other. We made an arrangement with Uruguay, but local consumption has been high and I am sorry to tell the Committee that considerable quantities have been sent to the United States in the can, and some has gone to Europe, despite the fact that Uruguay has a contract with us to send us meat. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may ask why; hon. Gentlemen frequently ask me questions and wonder whether my Department is being slow in taking advantage of even small supplies, but I hope to convince the Committee today that we are exploring every possible source of supply.
Can the right hon. Lady tell us what action she is taking to enforce these contracts which have been broken?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would tell the Committee what action he would take?
Having made a contract with a small country like Uruguay, hoping that they will send us meat, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have no option but to accept the position when they decide to send some of their meat to the United States or to Europe.
Was there a price in the Uruguayan agreement?
Certainly, so far as I know, there was a price, and it would have been a very stupid contract if there were not.The right hon. Gentleman quite rightly said that New Zealand presents a much brighter picture, and I feel that we owe our warmest thanks to that great Dominion for the help they have given us. Before the war, we imported 260,000 tons, and now it has increased to 360,000 tons, and the New Zealand Government have assured us that they will introduce such measures as are necessary to increase the amount during the next seven years by another 50,000 tons. The right hon. Gentleman was quite right when he said that possibly Australia offers the best prospect of increasing our supplies, and I think hon. Members in all parts of the Committee, on reading what Mr. Chifley said recently, feel that we are very fortunate to have his sympathy and support in this matter. In 1947, we sent out Sir Henry Turner, the Director of our Meat Division, to investigate conditions in Australia, and he told us that it was possible to double the export of meat from Australia, but that, first, it would be necessary to invest large sums of money in the provision of roads, ports and railways. The present position is that, whereas Australia used to send us 200,000 tons of meat, the figure has dropped to 150,000 tons, but we still feel that that country probably offers the best prospect of increasing our supplies. Other countries whose possibilities we have investigated are the Falkland Islands and Africa. It has been felt by many hon. Members that in Africa there were great possibilities. In the long term, Africa may have great possibilities, but, so far as the short term is concerned, there is no doubt that the rising standard of living of the natives will absorb any extra meat produced. In the Union of South Africa, we have made investigations and our representatives have told us that there is no exportable surplus. In regard to Southern Rhodesia, when the Prime Minister of that country came over here, we asked him whether production could be increased, but at the moment he holds out no hope. It is clear from what I have said that the sources of supply which seem to us to be the most profitable in the near future will be France and Mexico. [An HON. MEMBER: "Mexico?"] I have just said that we sent a mission to Mexico, but that we have not yet reached agreement. We have suggested that they might send us 20,000 tons next year. From the point of view of immediate supplies, however, we have to regard France and Mexico as the best possibilities, together with home production, but, so far as long-term supplies are concerned, we feel that Australia can help us most. I was rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not raise the canned corned meat position, because it has caused some Questions in the House. I should warn the Committee that we have been living on our stocks and drawing upon those stocks very considerably. The amount of canned corned meat in the world is limited, and the only sizeable quantities that can be obtained are from South America and the Southern Dominions. We have undertaken to take as much as possible—almost the entire exportable surplus—from Australia and New Zealand. Hon. Members in all quarters have raised the question of canned meat and the right hon. Gentleman once more raised the question of Irish canned meat. This very often confuses hon. Members. They say, "Why is there plenty of canned meat in certain quarters? Why do we not get it? The housewife would appreciate it." I must emphasise again that when we buy canned meat from a country we are jeopardising our supply of carcass meat. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned, I think, 10,000 tons from Eire last year, but he must realise that the housewife wants an increase of her ration of carcass meat; that is what she is after. It is inconsistent for hon. Members to suggest that we should import canned meat from other countries, who are advertising it in a very attractive way, I agree; for we must remember, if we do, that there is a danger of the carcass meat which we could buy at much lower prices going into the can.
If the hon. Lady will permit me to intervene, I want to be clear about this. I do not see the point of her argument, because that 5,000 tons went to Czechoslovakia, so the Irish did without it anyway.
I admit that it is very difficult. As has already been said, the Ministers in Eire read what we are saying in this House, which makes it a little difficult, but I am prepared to answer the point, and the answer is very simple. If we are entering into long-term negotiations with Eire and are prepared to take their exportable surplus, and if at the same time we said we were prepared to take as much canned meat as they like to offer us, obviously the pattern of their trade would change and next year, instead of the meat coming to us in carcass form, it would find its way into the can at a much higher price. It is not a question of buying one parcel of canned meat from Eire. We would be prepared, perhaps, to buy one parcel. What we are anxious to ensure is that Eire continues to produce meat which can be exported to us in carcass form.I am sure that hon. Members opposite, perhaps lacking anything more constructive to say, will raise the question of bulk purchase.
I raised the question.
I agree that the right hon. Gentleman raised the question in quite a novel form, but I find it difficult to understand why it is wrong to buy from the Argentine by bulk purchase and right to buy by bulk purchase from Australia and New Zealand. Furthermore, why, if bulk purchase is responsible for our difficulties with the Argentine, does it not render abortive our other trade agreements? Whereas some hon. Members will, I know, base the whole of their speech tonight on this subject—and I want to anticipate them—they must recognise that they are not unanimous on the subject on the other side of the Committee. Perhaps some of them have read this letter which appeared last week in a newspaper. It said:
"Sir,—You say that the bulk buying of meat by the British Government produced bulk selling by the Argentine Government.
"That is not true. The Argentine Government are in a position to squeeze us because there is a world shortage of meat, and because we are—to a lamentable extent—dependent on supplies from oversea. If we were to confine the purchase of meat to competing private traders in present circumstances, the price could and would be forced up to calamitous heights.
This letter appeared in the "Daily Mail" last week and was written by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). Hon. Members opposite may not always agree with what the hon. Member for East Aberdeen says, but I think the whole Committee realises that he has a great deal of financial and business knowledge and that most of us listen to him with respect. I attach particular importance to this letter because he was my predecessor, or one of my predecessors, at the Ministry of Food, and he is therefore in a specially privileged position; he can see both sides of the picture. He knows very well the men who are buying for us; he knows very well how the machine works and he also knows very well how private enterprise works. I think no hon. Member opposite would say that he would not have the courage to denounce bulk purchase if he thought our system was inefficient."We should still get no more meat than the Argentine Government are now prepared to give us; and they would get a lot more money, at the expense of the British public."
Would the right hon. Lady mind reading out the last two or three paragraphs of that letter?
Certainly. I think it would be fair to read the whole letter, but I did not want to bore the Committee by reading all of it. The last paragraph deals with the need for more feedingstuffs, which is a point upon which we are all agreed, but I think I am right in saying that the whole of the letter is a vindication of our policy of bulk buying.The right hon. Gentleman asked me about bacon and ham, and I thoroughly agree with him that the housewife considers bacon and ham just as important as meat. Our total supplies in 1948 were 208,000 tons and our estimated supplies in 1949 are approximately 240,000 tons. Of that, I am sure the Committee will be glad to hear, home production in 1948 amounted to 73,000 tons and home production in 1949 will amount to 118,000 tons. There is that increase in production which we all want to see. So far as imports are concerned, we have an agreement with Canada for 71,000 tons, but I am afraid a very substantial shortfall is expected. We have done our best to make contracts with other countries. Denmark is building up her pig population and Holland and Poland promise us more bacon at the end of the year. Eire, which, as the Committee knows, was a big producer of bacon in the past, unfortunately is unable to send us any this year, but the Eire Government told us that at the end of this year a token export will probably arrive. We have sent missions to Yugoslavia and to Turkey and both these countries hope to produce some bacon for us. The Committee, of course, will agree that home pig production is of primary importance. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the pig population had dropped. He is quite right. It expanded in 1947, but there was a drop in 1948 because production outstripped the amount of feedingstuffs available. The check was not a very serious one. New pig prices were announced on 17th March which we feel will restore confidence in the breeding side of the industry. I thoroughly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is vitally important to restore confidence not only in the industry of pig breeding but in the breeding of all animals. Of course—and perhaps the attention of the right hon. Gentleman has not been drawn to this—the decision to allow farmers to retain all the barley and 25 per cent. of the wheat from their 1949 crops will help considerably. Furthermore, we are giving a bonus issue of feedingstuffs to pig producers. I think farmers on both sides of the Committee will agree with me that this should help considerably towards increasing the supply of bacon in this country. I must say something about animal feedingstuffs generally. The latest estimate of coupon issues in the year July, 1949, to June, 1950, is of the order of five million tons, consisting of a fair share of protein foods and cereal foods. This compares with a consumption of 4,200,000 tons in 1948–49, so here we have an increase of one million tons. We estimate that in 1950 there will be six million tons available.
Can the right hon. Lady give us the import figures?
We are importing about 2,500,000 tons of cereal in 1949. Pig and poultry rations will take 48 per cent. of the total. The cereal position is improving; the right hon. Gentleman was quite right when he said that, but still we shall have to import 60 per cent. of the cereal ration. It has been said, and I repeat, that we have enough stocks of animal feedingstuffs to see us through until September.
At the present ration?
Yes, on the present ration. In the course of the Debate, hon. Members may want to know certain details about our imports and so on. I would remind the Committee that it is a little difficult to give those details today because the negotiations in the Argentine cover not only meat but animal feeding-stuffs, and therefore it would be unwise to speculate on what our supplies might be.
We want to know exactly where we are, so far as we can. Of course, I do not wish to press for information about the Argentine negotiations, but can the right hon. Lady at least tell us this: are we now purchasing the feedingstuffs we need, even though we have to use dollars, in order to maintain the requirements of our farming?
The right hon. Gentleman is forcing me to say what will happen if the negotiations fail. Does he want me to say that?
I am prepared to give the information to the right hon. Gentleman privately. I want the farmers in the country to have confidence. The negotiations are now proceeding. If I gave the information to the right hon. Gentleman now, if I now disclosed how we propose to get our animal feeding-stuffs should the negotiations fail I should be weakening the hands of our representatives; I can explain to the right hon. Gentleman afterwards how. I should have thought it was quite clear, and if the right hon. Gentleman gives the matter a little thought I am sure he will appreciate the point.I want to say something about the nutritional implications of this cut, because this aspect concerns me considerably. The Committee should remember that the two ounces of meat is more than compensated in its nutrient value by half a pint of milk and one egg. Therefore, in view of the increased supplies of meat and eggs—[HON. MEMBERS: "Milk and eggs."]—I beg pardon, milk and eggs; I am obsessed with meat—I feel confident that this cut will not be reflected in the deterioration of our nutritional standards, but I am not trying to minimise its effect. I am fully aware that it will greatly increase the difficulties of the housewife in stretching the domestic meat ration over the week's meals, while still providing an acceptable and palatable diet. It will hit particularly the home that cannot go outside for its meals. May I then pay a tribute to those women in the villages and throughout the country who are called upon to bear this additional burden, and express on behalf of my Department our gratitude for the resource and ingenuity they display in maintaining the family rations.
With relation to the figure which the right hon. Lady gave us for the consumption of meat per head in this country in 1947— I believe it was 49.4 kilos—that includes poultry and game.
If one takes the present ration of 8d. and with it buys the maximum amount of butcher's meat at the cheapest price, and then include corned beef and bacon, that comes to 12 oz. a week or 17 kilos a year. Can the right hon. Lady say what the present total consumption is, adding in the poultry, game and offal? I suggest that it is not more than 30 kilos a head.
Surely the hon. Gentleman's point was that the people to whom he referred were living on a higher standard than we were. To say that these other things such as poultry and game are included is only a debating point. I am comparing like with like. I am comparing the meat and the poultry available in one country with the meat and poultry available here, and I think that is a fair comparison.
I am asking the right hon. Lady what is the figure today. The figures she gave were based on 18 months or two years ago. What is the figure today?
It is quite impossible at this moment to give the latest figures.
In her peroration the Parliamentary Secretary offered felicitations and greetings to the housewives. I am sure that after her speech the housewives owe very little thanks to her. I should like to extend my felicitations to her on two points to which she referred in her speech. One is the contract which may come off with Mexico, and the other is the contract for 2,500 tons of pig meat from France. I only hope that when the contract with Mexico is completed, she will ensure that her purchasers do not buy meat from cattle suffering from foot-and-mouth disease, because during the last two years in Mexico there has been one of the worst outbreaks of that disease in history.There are other matters to which the right hon. Lady referred and which impressed me somewhat. One felt that if the relations between her Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture had been closer we would not have had the sort of muddle she made about the time it takes to get beef on to the table or about the period of gestation. I only hope that we do not have to eat elephant meat. On the whole, the figures she gave were extremely alarming and much more alarming than some people may have anticipated. As far as I can see, even if there is some resumption of the Argentine contract, the total figures for meat consumption in this country this year will be under 1,600,000 tons according to the figures which she gave. In view of the fact that there is an increase of 2 million in the population of this country, the consumption figure which I believe should be the target in order to get back to the 1938 standard is nothing less than 3 million tons of meat per year. We shall be getting about half. The right hon. Lady attempted to anticipate a great many of the remarks which we on this side of the Committee were going to make about bulk purchase. Ever since 1945 there have been reports, confirmed by the Minister today, about the intractable nature of the meat shortage in the world. I saw President Peron during a Parliamentary mission, and he spoke of the shortage of meat and the absorption of meat in South America and in the neighbouring countries, but when the right hon. Lady talks about a balanced diet for the Argentine workers, she excels even Evita Peron, because in the Argentine they are receiving 299 lb. of meat per annum. Tell that to the housewives of this country. Then there are Venezuela and Bolivia, which used to export cattle but do not do so now. The same is true of Chile and of the United States. The facts are there, and they have to be faced. The case we make is a simple one as regards bulk purchases. It is that all the trends which should have been counteracted by Government policy have in fact been exaggerated. It should have been foreseen that the one great shortage in the world's agriculture would be meat. Where there is a rise in the standard of living, with industrialisation and so on, there is a bigger demand for meat and milk. Wherever people in the world eat cereals, whether it is tortilla or chupatty, the demand has been met, but what has not been met is the new demands for meat and milk. The Government have disregarded these facts throughout. The crux of our attack on the Government, regardless of whether they have the best experts and brains, is that their overall policy has been entirely wrong for the last four years. Look what has happened in the Argentine. There is a much greater consumption of meat and milk, and where the Government's bulk purchasing policy has gone wrong is in not seeing that an increase in payment for beef went to the Argentine farmers. That was done under the 1946 agreement, in which Señor Erlordi, the Argentine Minister of Agriculture, was concerned. I spoke to the Argentine farmers, and they are in favour of this country. They like us, but it is the Governments that have been at fault. The Argentine Government were on the defensive against our bulk purchase. In May, 1948, Señor Miranda said that the reason he had started bulk selling was because we had started bulk buying. If we had gone in and insisted—and that is the point of bulk purchasing—that something was pushed out to the Argentine farmers, there would have been an increase in the meat for this country. But what has happened? We have made two main errors. The first was not to see that the increase in price went direct to the producers of meat, and the second was failure to appreciate that the great shortage was not going to be in cereals but meat. Furthermore, our Government have failed to use that knowledge of an impending surplus in cereals to build up our cattle stocks in this country for the time when these coarse grains would be available. We should have insisted that the farmers in the Argentine got an increase in price, and we should have foreseen that the great shortage was to be meat. In point of fact, we have paid a cheap price for meat in the Argentine and a high price for the feedingstuffs, with the result that the production of feedingstuffs goes up and meat production goes down. The same thing has happened to a certain extent in the case of Australia. If we had paid a slightly higher price to the farmers direct, there would have been a bigger supply of sheep. The Government's intervention, far from adjusting the normal trend of production in favour of this country, has done exactly the opposite—it has decreased the supply of meat available. At the same time, the Government have made no preparations for the absorption of the feedingstuffs that have automatically become available.
I am very interested in the hon. Member's arguments, because I was in the Argentine with him. I am wondering how we could have imposed these conditions on the Argentine Government. How can we compel them to pay higher prices to their farmers? Would that not be interfering with the political and economic affairs of a foreign country?
There was a side payment in 1946 that was paid direct to the Argentine farmers.
No. That is just the difficulty. My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. We very much wish these payments had been made to the Argentine farmers, but the Argentine is, after all, a sovereign State and we cannot control its Government.
I will come back to that point later. I want to refer now to the internal position in this country. However the negotiations go with the Argentine, and in spite of the ridiculously small amount of meat the right hon. Lady referred to in the case of Mexico and France, there is this enormous gap which has to be met, and chiefly by home production. That is the main issue. How is this to be done? Again and again the Minister was pressed to make some statement about the position of feedingstuffs, but no answer was given, or at least there was a very half-hearted reply that there would be an increase of feedingstuffs. The right hon. Lady did not contradict what my right hon. Friend said about the broken pledge of the Lord President of the Council, and she gave no hope beyond the fact that the pig ration could be maintained at its present level, which is ridiculously low in view of the world position.I want to turn to the question of home production of beef, which as the Minister now realises is not dependent on imported feedingstuffs except in the case of oil for making winter oil cake. There has been a grievous and dangerous decline in our stock from 2 million cattle killed per year to 1½ million. We believe that there can be a very great expansion and development, and that this expansion and development should have been begun when the Government first appreciated that there was to be a world meat shortage. It should have begun two or three years ago, but that is precisely what did not happen. It has begun to a certain extent now, but there is still this grievous gap to be made up. I come from the Highlands of Scotland, which is a great area where something more could be done. The conditions which apply there probably apply also to areas in Wales and to certain parts of England. In the old days there used to be a far larger cattle population in the Highlands than there is today.
Who threw it away?
We have to go into these things. I would remind the Committee that Sir Thomas More said in 1530 that sheep eat men, and that there is a song still sung in the Highlands in praise of foxes, because foxes kill sheep and sheep are the enemy of man. The sheep died out and the land became forests. What we need now is more cattle in the Highlands, together with sheep. One of the troubles has been that there are now large areas of bracken, and this also applies to other parts of the country, but cattle can do much to reclaim land. The hill-farming scheme, which is most welcome, although a little late, has done a great deal, but it does not apply in general to cattle. It applies largely to sheep. I believe that the Government should pay proper attention to the use of marginal land. Much of our marginal land is now being wasted. If it were properly used it would go some way towards meeting the present situation, which is likely to get worse.The right hon. Lady gave the House and housewives of the country some extremely depressing news today. I believe that the ration can be built up chiefly by the importation of feedingstuffs for pigs and further widening the hill-farming scheme to include cattle schemes. Beef-eating Englishmen have become forced vegetarians. In our new almost fakir-like state of austerity, the steer is a sacred animal, and the pig an untouchable which can only be sacrificed at certain phases of the moon, in the presence of some of the high priests of this "Ministry of Mumbo-Jumbo."
The account which the Parlamentary Secretary gave to the House was even more gloomy than I expected. The immediate prospect is bad, and the right hon. Lady could not hold out any hope of a very much better state of affairs for years to come. The Opposition and the country may well criticise the Government for not having foreseen the present situation earlier. It will come as a considerable shock to the public that the cut in the meat ration is likely to continue, that it may become more severe and that the long-term outlook is so bad. Even if we were to increase home production to the extent which is planned we shall only reach a figure equal to the pre-war production figure. If foreign supplies cannot be maintained or increased, if, indeed, they are not decreased, it means that we cannot get back to prewar rations by 1952. If my calculations are wrong I hope the Minister will put me right, and that the position will be clearly explained.It is rather late in the day, but I believe that the answer is to tell the public what the situation is now and what it is likely to be in future. There is great uncertainty about what will happen in connection with the large block of imports from the Argentine. But apart from that, the only big possible increase is from the Australian scheme which requires very large capital expenditure and a long time in which to develop. From experience of large-scale schemes of this sort we have learned not to expect that they will go faster than the programme. Australia has her own special difficulties; she is very much subject to drought, and there may be severe setbacks in the progress of that scheme. Nevertheless, I hope the Australian project will go ahead. There is some bacon to come from there, but not much, I understand. When the Queensland bacon scheme gets going I believe it will produce about 40,000 tons. That will be a help. We need all these quantities, of course, but they are very small. I do not consider that the question of bulk purchase is very relevant to this discussion. The real problem is the shortage of meat and the rising standard of living. It may be more efficient to buy some commodities through the Government, and it may be more efficient to buy others through private enterprise. For my part, I do not believe that it makes a very great deal of difference to the quantity we get, unless we have been trying to buy meat too cheaply. That seems to be the conclusion to be reached not only from the Argentine default, but from other South American defaults. It may well be that the case against bulk buying is not that it is extravagant, but that it is too economical. By that I do not mean to suggest that we should give way to the Argentine, and pay whatever price they demand, but, on the other hand, I do not believe that a consumers' strike would do very much good. The cattle in the Argentine would still roam about while we were on strike, so that the effort to bring the Argentine Government to heel would be unsuccessful. I do not wish to go into that further now except to reiterate that the political issue for or against bulk buying is not really one which affects the size of our ration unless, as I have said, we have been trying to buy too cheaply. Trying to buy too cheaply may be one of the symptoms that we are today a poor country. From most people that fact is disguised by very large food subsidies and social welfare legislation, which I support. Nevertheless, it results in the public not realising that we, as a country, are poor and that the ultimate answer to the question of how to get more imports is the old and dull answer, "By producing more exports." I believe we could get more meat, certainly more bacon from Canada, if we could increase our textile exports to that country. I should like to know whether this is the case, because it is important. Is it the overall dollar shortage which makes it unlikely that we shall get the quantity of bacon from Canada that we require?
No, this is a question of bacon supply. The Canadians cannot supply us with what we are prepared to pay for. The difficulty there is in the supply.
Is that because their own consumption has gone up? Or are they selling that bacon to the United States as they are selling their increased stocks of beef?
Both? Then again we are not offering a high enough price. It is fair to say that it comes down ultimately to the fact that we are not exporting enough. We are a poor country. We have to work harder to get our food. In the past, the food producers all over the world, in my opinion, had a very raw deal. Nowadays, except in such places as Argentina and perhaps some others where the Government system prevents the producers from taking advantage of the increased demand, the producer is getting more.That brings me to the home producer. I wonder whether increased prices for beef and mutton have not been rather long delayed. It may be easy to be wise after the event, but probably if we had had higher prices for mutton and beef in this country for the last two years, we should have had a larger supply of mutton and beef than at the present time. I wonder if the Government are even now being sufficiently generous. I wonder whether, if we do face a bleak outlook, the right thing to do is not to increase prices to the home farmer even more. There is no question of foreign exchange involved there and not very much question of imported animal feedingstuffs. Since half of the subsidy on animal feedingstuffs has been taken off, the price has gone up so much in the last week that the agricultural community have, I believe, a very much clearer idea of the real situation. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) said that the Argentine producer had received a poor price for his beef—not that we are paying a poor price—and a better price for his cereal and on that account produced more cereal. All I can say is that the Argentine Government, if they sell cereals, must have been getting a fantastic price for them in the past. If the British farmer today were paying the full price for feedingstuffs we would have a very much clearer picture of the value of them and of the cost to this country of buying feedingstuffs from abroad. The fact that half the subsidies has been taken off, will go some way towards that end. For mutton and beef very little imported animal feedingstuffs are needed. The development since the early part of the war of improved grassland management is the answer to the mutton and beef problem in this country. Just as in any other part of the world, if we are to make a substantial increase in our own beef production we must spend a great deal by way of capital to get it, upon improved grassland, for example. There is all the difference in the world between good and bad grassland. We must spend capital on farm buildings, on workers' buildings, on farmhouses, water supplies and roads, and, in fact, on all things that have to be done in Australia, with the exception of building railways and ports. If we are to get a big increase, which I am certain we could get, in this country, we must have capital expenditure first. It would mean that mutton and beef would be produced out of the resources of this country with the very minimum of feedingstuffs. That is much the safest way for us to get our mutton and beef. In regard to pigs, we must have cereal. To increase them much further we must have more feedingstuffs. The same is true of poultry, which, although they do not technically produce meat, do, as we have been told, produce a protein food which is a substitute for meat. I believe that the trend of British farming is to use grass, in the form of silage and dried grass, very much more for milk production than has been done in the past, and to use it for beef production. I believe that we can get more supplies of cereals, thus saving on our dollar exchange, and use them for pig and poultry production. I believe there is still a very great increase possible in British beef production. I believe that the increased number of calves is a rather doubtful figure. Nobody knows exactly what the increase is, but there has been a considerable increase in the number of calves as a result of the calf subsidy scheme. My point is that there could be a much greater increase still if a campaign were launched now similar to the campaign undertaken in 1940. If a real appeal were made to British farmers to meet the meat problem I believe that our farmers could make a much greater contribution than they are making today. I believe that it could be made without buying foreign feedingstuffs and without spending dollars, and that it would result in a permanent contribution to the wealth of the country.
I am sure that most Members of the Committee will agree with the latter part of the speech made by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) in regard to the use of grassland and dried grass, particularly for the feeding of cattle and sheep. I am equally certain that the stressing of imported feedingstuffs by the official Opposition is very greatly exaggerated, so far as cattle and sheep are concerned. The situation is very different in relation to pigs and poultry, but our concern at the moment is the production of more cattle. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Cumberland is correct in his assumptions.Earlier in his speech the hon. Member joined forces with the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) who suggested that the Government had not been sufficiently far-sighted in allowing the present situation to develop. I would remind the Committee that the present Government have been responsible for four years, so far as the state of the country's meat supply is concerned. I am at a loss to understand how the Government could be blamed for lack of foresight during that time and how they can be held responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves. Perhaps I speak more feelingly than any Member of the Committee on the subject of shortage of meat. When I was last behind the block or the counter I was serving to the community a 1s. 2d. ration. In all conscience that was bad enough to serve. We had many headaches and heartaches about it. I would remind the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) that while it may be true that the overall allocation of meat is considerably lower today than it was before the war, it is equally true, and it is a fact of which we must not lose sight, that masses of our people in the industrial areas were getting very much less meat before the war than they are getting today. I say that deliberately and advisedly. I know that in my own constituency, I know that in constituencies exactly like mine, I know from returns from my own shops—and we took very close records and great care about it—that at that time, in 1938, the average spending in some shops was 11d. per family per week. That was in one of the poorest of the industrial districts in the North of England.
I wonder if the hon. Member will give us some idea of what 11d. worth of meat was—how many pounds?
Obviously, it depended upon the type of meat bought. I can illustrate the point better this way. Perhaps on a Saturday afternoon a housewife would come into the shop to buy half a pound or three-quarters of a pound of stewing meat, the cheapest she could buy, and then, with some onions and some carrots and a lot of potatoes, she would cook the family dinner for the week-end. That is the way in which thousands of people in this country were existing in the days before the war. We have not to lose sight of the fact that distribution is an important point in what we are discussing. At the present time the Government are entitled to the credit for the fact that under the distribution methods of today everybody in the country is getting at least a share of what meat is available.I want to stress for the benefit of hon. Members opposite the fact that so far as those people are concerned we are in a very much better position than we were. Therefore, I am interested in their reactions at the moment, and I am informed—and I am quite certain it is right—that the reaction of the mass of our people to the present position is twofold. They either come into the shop and jokingly say, "Shall we come once a month to buy our rations?" or alternatively they say, "In these circumstances we are not prepared to capitulate to a country which is holding us up to ransom." I am quite certain that that is the reaction of our people. I am quite sure that that is their mood at the present time. The Opposition have two complaints: first the shortage of feedingstuffs, with which the hon. Member for North Cumberland has dealt today, and second, the Government's bulk buying policy. I was very interested to notice that today the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington did not stress too much the question of bulk purchases. It occurs to me that the Opposition are becoming very shy about this matter. Whilst in the Press and from the back benches of the Conservative Party we constantly have criticisms of the bulk purchasing policy of the Government, it yet almost appears that they are leaving that criticism now—perhaps, leaving it for the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers).
Let me point out to the hon. Member that we are arguing in this Debate with one hand tied behind our backs, as it were, because of the negotiations that are going on in the Argentine at the moment.
That is not a point on which to interrupt me. So far as the delicacy of the negotiations is concerned, I shall avoid that subject.
They are based on State trading.
There are other parts of the world where bulk buying continues, and we are bulk buying in very great quantities from New Zealand, we must not forget. It has been the Opposition's line in the past that it is largely due to the Government's bulk buying policy that we find ourselves in our present situation. I want to suggest that there is not an atom of truth in that. I am going to suggest that, if it were not for the bulk purchasing by the Government at this time, we should find ourselves in a very much worse situation than that in which we are. The Opposition are comparing the present shortage with what they describe as the palmier days of the war. They need to be reminded once more of the Lend-Lease that operated during the war.
What about Marshall Aid?
All right, what about Marshall Aid? At all events, we are not getting meat from the United States of America at the present time, as we were during the war under Lend-Lease.
Why do we not get feedingstuffs?
True it was that we were getting a considerable amount of not very useful meat during the war, but we were getting thousands of tons of meat from the United States then, which assisted the then Minister of Food very considerably in his provision of meat in this country. Without Lend-Lease the ration in 1943 and 1944 would have been very small indeed. It may be true to say—I have not examined it very carefully—but it may be true to say that the ration at spring time in most of the war years would have been worse than it is at the present time—eight penny worth of carcass meat and two penny worth of corned meat—had it not been for the assistance coming from the United States in the form of Lend-Lease.Since the Opposition talk about the lack of foresight on the part of the Government I take them back in time to 1940. I was then a very humble officer in the Meat and Livestock Division of the Ministry of Food. I remember how, during the autumn of 1940, the Government of the day increased the price for cattle—and not only butchers' cattle and good beef cattle, but for all cattle—coming into the collecting centres, so that the result was that there was as much milk running down the flags of the slaughterhouses as there was blood. That is not an exaggeration. During the autumn of 1940 the dairy cattle were pouring into the slaughterhouses. I refer hon. Members to a Question which was asked at that time of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food by the right hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). He asked:
The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), who at that time was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, replied:"Whether he is aware that farmers are at present sending in so many animals for slaughter that there will be a shortage of home-produced animals next spring; and whether he will stop this by indicating to centres how many beasts they are to take? …"
How did they deal with that limitation? The Government of the day dealt with it by pushing the meat ration up to 2s. 2d. from ls. 10d. and in addition to the amount of cattle pouring into the British farms they continued to dish out from the cold stores meat which had been imported from across the Atlantic at the cost of many British lives."This is the time of the year when home-produced meat is always most plentiful, but I am aware that farmers have been sending in for slaughter more fat animals than usual. For the last two weeks limits have been imposed on the numbers of beasts accepted at the collecting centres, and similar limits will be continued so long as entries are exceptionally heavy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th October, 1940; Vol. 365, c. 271–272.]
The autumn of 1940 was when the ploughing campaign was at its height and the British farmers had to get rid of their cattle, willy-nilly.
I agree, but in spite of that there was a complete lack of foresight in regard to the building up of our stocks, and there was not the same difficulty with regard to the feedingstuffs as applies today because there was no dollar shortage. So we increased the ration to 2s. 2d., and I remember that in spite of the 2s. 2d. ration we were asking butchers to take another body of beef over and above the ration because of the flood of cattle at that time. If that was an example of foresight, under the rule of Lord Woolton, then I think that the record of the present Government in that respect is a very brilliant one.
Eightpence against 2s. 2d.
Those incidents were, in my view, the most blatant examples of lack of foresight in all our rationing affairs. That happened when feeding-stuffs were less difficult to get, dollar expenditure was not involved, we still had investments in the Argentine, and our cold stores were well stocked with frozen meat.Today those conditions do not apply as a direct result of that lack of foresight and lack of planning, and we are suffering, from that after eight years. I am quite sure that the incidents of that autumn had a tremendous influence on the stocks of the country at the present time. We have today to deal with the problem of home production and importation. The question of feedingstuffs has been adequately dealt with and will probably be further dealt with by other hon. Members. Therefore, I want to say a few words on the question of importation. I would point out that so far as carcass meat is concerned, the Government are backing the "right horse." They have switched over from the Argentine to New Zealand. I think that I can claim that I am playing my part at the moment with regard to the abolition of the trading in horse meat. By a slip of the tongue one can sometimes put oneself in a rather peculiar position. So far as carcass meat is concerned, in the pre-war years we imported from the Argentine 21 per cent. of our needs and we have now dropped to 19 per cent. In the case of New Zealand, they were providing us with 12 per cent. of our total needs, whereas in 1948 we imported from them 23 per cent. of our needs. It would appear that my right hon. Friend has become a trading imperialist and taken all that credit from the other side of the Committee. Apart from the Commonwealth, our sources of supply are almost negligible except from the Argentine. While it is difficult to deal with the Argentine question at all, it does bring me to say a few words about bulk purchase. The Opposition say "Send the right men, leave it to private enterprise and we will get the meat." I wonder if they would get one pound more meat from New Zealand if private enterprise rather than bulk purchase was dealing with it. I wonder whether we would get another one pound of meat from the Argentine if the buying was in the hands of private enterprise. I wonder how private buyers would manage to purchase meat from bulk sellers. Private buying seems to me to be a very ridiculous system. I would like to have a look at the form of private enterprise which we had in the Argentine in the days before the war. The same people owned the stock yards, the factories, the refrigeration and the meat boats, and they had wholesalers in Britain. Even then they were entering into the realms of distribution to the detriment of the smaller trader. When the "Daily Express" set up The Council of Retail Distributors and sent the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) all over the country to boost it, it was to protect the small retailer from the Co-ops. But not a word was said about the Vestey Group and Union Cold Storage vying with the same small trader for the retail trade. I suggest that the pre-war set-up of buying meat from the Argentine was the wickedest type of bulk purchase and bulk selling ever devised. I would refer the Committee to the report of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into Anglo-Argentine Meat Trade, published in October, 1938, in Command Paper 5839. On page 5 of that document it states that only three firms, Sansenina, Poels and Packing House Products, did not definitely refuse to give facilities to collect the evidence necessary for the inquiry. In 1937 we took 90 per cent. of Argentina's meat exports. Out of that, 85 per cent. was in the hands of six companies—Armour, Swift, Wilson, British and Argentine, which is, of course, the Union Cold Storage, Smithfield and Argentine and Sansenina. These firms were the sole importers of meat from the Argentine to this country. Did they compete one with the other? Not on your life! It is true that there was a meat war between April, 1925, and June, 1927, but apart from that the report says that "The importers have always worked together." I wish that I had a little more time to discuss with the Committee the report to which I have referred. I must, however, content myself, because I have been on my feet for a long time, by saying this: The companies bought the cattle and sheep and killed them in their own premises; they chilled and froze them in their own refrigerators, and they shipped them in their own ships to the wholesale buyers. They bought 81 per cent. of the meat coming into this country, and they sold 80 per cent. of that meat to retailers and the other 20 per cent. was sold to the jobbers. In the course of that free enterprise, according to this report, they managed to make a net profit of 16 per cent. on sales out of the British consumers. What is worrying me at the present time with regard to these gentry is that we as a Government are still paying heavy compensation to them for the loss of their business in the realms of importation and wholesale trade. These are the great examples of private enterprise and freedom—private enterprise, forsooth! I want to devote the last part of my speech to making a few suggestions. In long-term policy we have to concentrate on home production as never before. I believe that we have to give more feeding-stuffs to the British farmer. At the same time, I believe that we must ask the British farmer to rise to the occasion, which he has failed to do so far.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am afraid that the British farmer is certainly not doing as well as he might do with what is available in his production of meat for this country.
What evidence has the hon. Member for saying that?
The evidence I have is that, in spite of what has been learned in the days of the war and since the war in the use of alternative feedingstuffs, our livestock population is not increasing at anything like the rate at which it might increase. I am worried also about consumption by people like self-suppliers, who are certainly using for their own purposes meat which could be, and ought to be used to better advantage for the community as a whole.
We are talking about meat; it is the meat ration that is reduced to 10d. not the beef ration.There are some suggestions I should like to make for the short-term. I suggest that there should be some concentration on pig production. I think we could do that safely over 12 months, and to some degree forget a lot of our beef feeding, because of the quick maturing of these smaller animals. If it were possible, I suggest that we use them for pork rather than for bacon. Secondly, I want to make an appeal, and I think the Government should make an appeal, to self-suppliers and pig clubs for a less selfish attitude, and for them to give a greater proportion to the community. If needs be. I would ask self-suppliers for two out of three pigs and pig clubs for five out of six. I think that might be done by regulation if it is not done voluntarily, because we need drastic steps in a serious situation of this sort. I would see to it that everything which goes to the ration in the form of meat should be economical rationing stuff. We get certain classes of beef, particularly, and some mutton that is not suitable for the ration, and which would be much more economically used if handed over for manufacturing. The nation would benefit greatly by that. My last word is on the subject of Eire. We could do very much better in that regard. At the moment it appears to me that we are relying on Irish and English cattle dealers to purchase the cattle for us in places like Dublin Market. I have seen 4,000 good cattle standing in Dublin Market bought by buyers from the Continent. They were paying fancy prices, but not prices we could not approach. In October of last year they were paying 93s. a live cwt., when at the same time a farmer in this country was receiving from the British Ministry of Food for the same grade cattle 103s. a live cwt., including the subsidy. The dealer in Dublin Market buying for England is handicapped because he has to pit his own judgment against the judgment of an English grader in an English collecting centre, maybe two months later, and he is afraid that he will not get the price for the animals that he has paid in Dublin Market. I think that the solution of that problem is an extension of the system of bulk buying between Government and Govern- ment, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it might be worth while reopening negotiations with the Government of Eire to see whether an arrangement could not be reached by which they would purchase the cattle from their producers at an agreed price—95s. or 96s. a live cwt. for any cattle suitable for our ration. I am quite sure that by such an arrangement there could be a real flow of cattle into this country from Eire, because it is very largely the price question which prevents agreement. I apologise to the Committee for speaking for so long. It is not my custom to address the Committee at this length. In apologising, I hope hon. Members will feel that the subject is one in which I am very deeply interested and of which I have some knowledge, and I did want to make those suggestions to the Minister. My very final words are these: Please consider the poor butcher in all these circumstances; remember the difficulties he is having to face, and that it requires much more skill to cut a 10d. ration than a 1s. 10d. ration; he ought to be fully considered in every way that the Ministry of Food can consider him.
We all sympathise with the hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle), who is so deeply interested in the particular line upon which he has discoursed. I personally have the same feelings, although from a rather different viewpoint, being myself a producer of the thing that is today very scarce. When the Parliamentary Secretary began her speech she almost challenged my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who opened the Debate, by saying that the Opposition could not put up anything constructive. I hope that before sitting down I shall have answered, first the hon. Member for West Salford in regard to the criticism he made over the producer of beef not rising to his job, and secondly the point that the Opposition are unable to put up a constructive suggestion to meet our present difficulties.Whatever this Debate has done so far, it has at any rate brought home to me that the policy pursued by our Government and by the Argentine has at last driven home to the House of Commons, and I hope to the country, that to allow ourselves to become dependent upon a foreign country for our meat supplies is folly, and that to neglect our own vast home resources is absolutely criminal. I do not intend to blame people for the present position. In point of fact, if I were being honest with myself, I should say that two Governments are to blame for our present position. I am not in the least bit surprised to find that we are in this predicament. Ever since I entered this House I do not think I have ever before said, "I told you so," but away back in 1943, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) was Minister of Agriculture, I did rise from the benches opposite, when the meat ration was ls. 2d., to draw attention to the position that might be reached by this country after the war—and the war was by no means over then—if we pursued a home livestock policy with an excessive milk emphasis. I said that if we allowed ourselves to turn over too much from meat production to milk it would be found that there would be no beef produced in Great Britain by the end of the war, and that it would also be found that, for many reasons, overseas supplies would have fallen as well. I think that that is precisely what has happened. I understand it was the policy of my right hon. Friend when Minister of Agriculture at that time to readjust the unbalance of our livestock economy; and although it is true to say that the present Government have faced difficulties that were not then foreseen—I am thinking of currency difficulties—there is no doubt that far more could have been done by this Government than has been done to shift the balance of our livestock economy so as to give more encouragement to those who are or were producers of beef in this country. I know of no place in Britain where farmers are not still going over to milk. Away up in the Highlands of Scotland, where at one time milk production was almost unknown, many farmers are going into dairy farming, and vast areas of land simply ideal for the production of beef have now been turned into small dairy farms. Why? In my view there are three reasons. First of all because of the high price per gallon of milk and, secondly, because today there is no sur- plus. In the old days before the war the price of surplus milk was only 3d. and, therefore, the farmer said, "That is too little, I will rear beef cattle." Today the whole of that milk goes to the Milk Marketing Board. Thirdly, there is the quick cash return which the farmer receives every month from the Milk Marketing Board—very attractive ready money. Contrast that with the job in front of the beef producer, a job which is a long and slow business. It takes a very long time for him to turn over his money. His capital expenditure is great, he has labour difficulties and he cannot get today the proper finishing materials to allow him to turn out his beef cattle. I am thinking of one particular economic aspect: If a farmer of any standing goes in a big way for the beef market, his economic need requires more than one turnover each year. He wants a turnover twice a year. and he can only do that if he is allowed to import into this country not coarse grains—as is so often thought by people—but high protein oil cake in order to give a quick finish and get the cattle turned out quickly twice instead of once a year. Today cattle are being stored in winter time, because there is not enough protein to feed them on for a double turnover. The farmer is drawn towards milk production, which is proving irresistible. If we had been able to readjust our policy on the lines which I understood the Minister of Agriculture in the late Coalition Government had intended, we might have redressed the unbalance of our livestock economy. Today we would not have been nearly so dependent on foreign countries, and the British housewife would have had far more meat for her husband and family. The difficulty now is to try to suggest the best possible means of putting this thing right as quickly as possible. I shall forget about blaming the people who are responsible and I shall try to suggest what I think ought to be done.
Would the hon. Member tell us what effect his suggested policy would have on the production of milk?
That would be a long story, but everyone will agree that today if milk were being produced by the right people and in the right place, it would be more economical. Personally, I do not think it would be found that there was any great decrease in the flow. But today many people, who really know nothing about it, are driven to it for the reasons I have already given, and it would be much better for them if they went into something about which they know a great deal more. However, that is a different question and I have not time to deal with it.Looking at this subject from the practical point of view—I never look at it from any other—it is mostly a long-term problem though not entirely; part of it is short-term. It seems to me that it is an ill wind that blows nobody good. It may well be that the present position arising out of the Argentine attitude to this country, and the almost ridiculous position in which we find ourselves, may produce a beef-cattle awakening in this country and open the eyes of not only the Government but of all of us to the short-sightedness of our own policy—that is to be at the mercy of a foreign country when we have in our own hands all the resources necessary. Anybody who has been following the world meat situation as I have to do for business reasons, must have detected long ago that a very curious change was taking place in the economy of the Argentine. The policy of the Peron Government is to carve up the estancias—to do away with the large estates and split the country up into a number of what one might call small, peasant holdings. That may be a very good thing for the Argentine—I do not know—but what we have to realise is that a very different system of farming is evolving in the Argentine, unsuitable to the export of meat on a large scale. For that reason I feel certain that if this policy is carried on, there will be less beef reared on the one hand, and less available for the world export trade on the other. So, apart from prices, many people take the view that Argentine beef production will decline, or if it does not do that it will be tightened up severely because of the enormous increase in consumption in the greatest beef-eating country in the world. It may be that the Government have detected this already, because I noticed recently that they have been look- ing towards two other areas—South Africa and South Australia. It may be that information is coming from the Argentine to confirm what I have said, but if the Government are only learning it now, they are two years behind the times. The Parliamentary Secretary will agree that we must not overstate this Argentine case. There is great danger in overstating it, because supplies coming from the Argentine, if my information is correct, are only equal to 2d. worth of our ration. What has happened in the Argentine cannot be allowed to camouflage the bareness of our own larder here at home, and the neglect of home production and of our home natural resources. Today, according to one of the Ministry of Food officials, a man for whom I have a very great admiration, Sir Henry Turner, Director of Meat Supplies, to whom I have listened on more than one occasion, allowing for our increased population, our annual supply of beef is 800,000 tons short of the pre-war scale and he tells us that home production is 400,000 tons down on pre-war output. Anyone can see that if we can even get back to the pre-war volume of British home produced meat, we have closed half the gap straight away without any increase on pre-war production. I said a minute ago that this problem was in the main a long-term one. For that reason, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) pointed out, we cannot look either to Australia or to South Africa or, indeed, any other source outside Great Britain for any great quick spurt in our ration. There can be no substantial addition to the British ration unless we get our home policy right within the next 10 years. Clearly the answer is we have got to tackle this thing at home here in our own country, and I am perfectly certain, having done the job myself in spite of many handicaps, that given the resources and the incentives, the British farmer can produce a far bigger increase in our meat supplies than any outside source, and he can produce it in a far shorter space of time. What are the steps that should be taken to remedy what is a desperate situation for a meat-eating country like ours, full of heavy industries where the men and women must get a certain amount of protein in their diet if they are to do their hard work? It is a problem partly short-term and partly long-term in character. The first and the most obvious thing is to turn to the pig, because the pig gives us the quickest answer. Of course, the crux of the pig business is feedingstuffs. I am not going into that, but it seems to me strange that France can offer us pig meat, which has been raised upon American maize, and it seems equally queer that Eire is able to make a contract for half a million tons of maize. I do not understand how that can be and why we cannot get it here. Our feedingstuffs, including fish meal, must be given priority if we are to solve the short-term problem of the pig. But anyone who imagines that an increase in the pig population or even pig fattening will solve the problem is living in a fool's paradise. We are merely scratching the back of the problem. It is beef that the British people want—or mutton. Steak or lamb is what they are after and, what is more, I think they would willingly pay for it if they could get it, but the appalling thing is they cannot get it. I would say to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary that if we do not face up to the problem now we shall have to endure perhaps 10 years of the meagre meat ration on which we are living today, a ration which, whatever may be said, is totally unworthy of a great country like this. The next step is to tackle far more vigorously than it has yet been tackled the business of righting the unbalance of our livestock economy in this country. The mere fact that the Government had to introduce a calf subsidy payable at the age of 12 months is sufficient evidence that there is something very far wrong with beef production. This is a calf subsidy introduced to bribe the feeder—not the breeder but the feeder—to carry cattle on to the beef stage because they are not real beef cattle. We are bribing those men to do something they do not want to do. These animals are of doubtful beef potentiality but because of the subsidy the farmers carry them on. You can correct the balance between beef and milk—the first short-term thing to be done—by doing two things. You must give the producer of beef a fair crack of the whip on two counts. You must review the whole price structure for the reasons which I have given. I said that the appeal of milk production was irresistible. Either the price of milk must come down or the price of beef must go up. I do not want to see the price of milk come down. If the price of beef does not go up in order to allow the producer to compete with milk on a reasonable basis, I predict that in a fairly reasonable space of time we shall have nothing but dairy farmers in Great Britain. Therefore, the first thing to do is to tackle the price structure in order to give an incentive to the producer of beef who has left that business and gone into the dairy farming industry. The second thing to be done is to give the producer of beef a fair crack of the whip in terms of feedingstuffs. At the present moment the dairy farmer gets protein feedingstuffs in respect of the gallonage of milk sold. The producer of beef gets nothing at all. The producer of beef has to sell protein feedingstuffs off his own farm in order to get back half the amount of protein by way of cake. If he sells a ton of beans, which are high in protein content, he will get 10 cwt. of linseed cake in return. That position is very different from that of the dairy farmer; the consequence is that the producer of beef is denied the finishing material necessary to make the feeding of beef in winter—that is our problem—an economic proposition because of his failure to get a quick turnover. Having put the price right, we should give him proper feedingstuffs. We must give him the incentive and the tools to do the job; and we must not forget that we have in this country a great reservoir from which we can draw our own raw material. It is not much good contemplating producing more meat for the nation unless we are certain that we have a reservoir to produce the raw materials. That reservoir has existed for years and has been waiting to be exploited as I have exploited it in a fairly big way since 1937. I know that it can be done, and I challenge any hon. Member to say that it cannot be done economically. Away up in the Highlands of Scotland—the same applies in England and Wales—I have found is possible to double the stock-carrying capacity of hill land over 1,000 feet up in a comparatively short space of time. Professor Ellison, speaking the other day at an important meeting in London, showed that there were millions of acres in England, Wales and Scotland which, if properly exploited, could raise hundreds of thousands of store cattle of a beef type in very quick time. I am speaking of marginal lands as well as hill lands. Professor Ellison estimated—I believe fairly accurately and perhaps conservatively—that we could turn out 250,000 store cattle per million acres of land improved. That gives some idea of what we can do. We have 16 million acres of such land, 10 million acres in Scotland, five million acres in England and one million acres in Wales. Professor Ellison tells us, and he should know, that in Wales alone 500,000 acres of marginal land could be improved by ploughing alone. What about our deer forest lands? I do not want to raise the question of food versus sport or anything else. Surely food must come first. Our deer forest lands in Scotland, from Fort William all the way up the west to Sutherlandshire, could carry enormous numbers of cattle if we exploited them, not to speak of I do not know how many thousands of a certain type of sheep. In those areas there is what is known as a heavy storm loss, and if the Government went in for that sort of thing it might be necessary to do something about facing abnormal storm losses at high altitudes to help the farmer to meet that special difficulty. Wool also comes into the deer forest picture. What prevents ordinary farmers tackling this job? I would suggest three things. First, there is the capital outlay involved, which is considerable. Secondly there is the lack of confidence in the future because "milk is the thing." Thirdly, there is no financial inducement on a long-term basis. When speaking about Australia my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) asked specifically about a guarantee being given to Australia. I agree with that, but what about a guarantee to our own people? How can we expect them to launch into an experiment of equivalent size without a long-term guarantee that they will not be let down at some distant date? All this does not mean that the problem is so big that something cannot be done now. I can suggest four things to be done now. I would first suggest that the Government review the legislation which we already have upon the Statute Book covering all the kinds of lands about which I have been talking, marginal lands and hill lands. In regard to the hill cattle subsidy scheme, in order to increase the reservoir, the Government might have to restore the terms which were in operation two years ago. When that change was made two years ago, it might have been quite a good change. All the money was put on the breeding cow. I should not like to see that go down, but I should like to see a restoration of assistance to all farmers in using these altitudes for grazing purposes, knowing that cattle on these altitudes do very much less well than others and therefore these farmers should have assistance. I believe the marginal assistance scheme now in operation has not been extended sufficiently to embrace certain types of land which might be included, and the hill sheep subsidy scheme could also be made much less rigid than it is today. The main aim all the way through must be to build up the largest possible amount of breeding cattle on the lands I have described, but we must also remember that that is only half the problem. The other thing we have to do when we have the cattle, is to make sure that when they go downstairs, as we say in Scotland, to be finished off, that they can be finished. Cattle cannot be finished off in winter with home-grown feedingstuffs on an economic basis at present, and that is why the tap is turned off after the grass season is over. One can feed grass with manure in order to take the place of the cake with which we used to feed in the old days because it improves the grass, puts more content into it, and the cattle can be fattened. But when the grass is over, the tap is turned off, and the yards are only storing the cattle for the next summer. It is an uneconomic proposition because they have not got sufficient high protein, linseed cotton, groundnut cake—whatever you like—to finish these animals quickly enough to make it economic. So I come to the end of what I have to say. I would summarise it this way. First, the pig; second, get back the big arable farmer into beef production; he is the only farmer who can really turn out cattle in a big enough number to make it an economic proposition. Anyone who wants to lose money quickly should go into that business unless he can turn them out in such quantities as to be able to take a very small profit on his turnover. That is what I found in my own experience. Then we have to see that we get the big arable farmer back into the business. We must give him the finishing material in order to turn them out quickly enough to make it an economic proposition. Having got that going, tackle this question of the great reservoir of the 16 million acres of grassland in Britain and then we shall have produced the raw material. So we have the reservoir, the raw material, and the factory as well to turn out the stock, and that is a lot more than we have in terms of other commodities about which we talk a good deal. Many times I have asked for it. A definite long-term policy on this big question is needed. It may be that a Royal Commission is required upon it. I believe that suggestion was made in another place. Let us get on with it. If we dither over it and keep fiddling around with it, as we are doing at the present time, I predict that we shall have to exist for many years on the most miserable pittance of meat that this nation has ever known in the whole of its history.
I think the Committee has listened to one of the most constructive speeches on this subject that we have heard in all these Debates. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) has put his finger on the real issue in dealing with this subject. Although I do not altogether agree with some of his conclusions, I find myself in so much agreement with his speech that I shall try to follow it constructively as I go along.We find in agriculture today a tremendous clash between milk and beef, and that is the source of our difficulties. The reason is that in milk production the farmer has his milk cheque month by month. He has something to carry him on, he can meet his accounts, he can make progress and extend his business because his milk cheque comes in regularly. The beef farmer, on the other hand, has to set out on beef breeding and it is three years before he obtains his first return and then he obtains it annually. So he has to exist on capital—often borrowed capital—for the first three years. Borrowed capital plus interest puts a burden on him for many years, and the result is that any farmer who possibly can do so turns to milk. As the hon. Member has said, milk is today being produced on farms where it ought not to be produced. It has been produced on the beef farms and the mutton farms, and we have to find some solution that will enable the beef farmer and the sheep farmer to carry on financially secure until they can draw from their outlay. Very often when I hear the Minister of Food and his Parliamentary Secretary speaking upon agriculture, cold shivers run down my back, but when I heard the Parliamentary Secretary today say that they had extended the period of gestation for the cow by two months, I almost fainted. That simply shows that we cannot separate the Ministry of Food from the Ministry of Agriculture. They are inter-related and must work together. I have asked often that they should be under one Ministry—[An HON. MEMBER: "Not the Ministry of Food."]—because some solution has to be found of this difference between the two. The production of beef is a long-term policy and I am not being critical when I say that the position in which we find ourselves today is due as much to neglect in the pre-war years as to any other cause, because the long-term policy in beef production starts not with the cow but with the land. We can only carry our calves and our beef stock through the winter according to the amount of winter fodder that we can grow on the land. From May until September our farms will carry twice and three times the amount of stock, but from September until May we are beaten. On the hill farms and the marginal land we have to start with the cultivation of land which will give us that amount of winter fodder to enable us to carry our summer stock through the winter. When we can do that, we shall have begun the solution of one of our most difficult problems. That, of course, means re-seeding. It means better cultivation, it means more ploughing. Taking it on the whole, the production of beef is the longest-term policy in agriculture because it begins with the growing of the crop and then we, have three years or three and a half years to wait before we produce the animal. So this is a question more and more for the Ministry of Agriculture and, as the hon. Member for West Perth said, it needs looking into again, especially with regard to subsidies. The subsidies in Scotland are worked on a different basis from those in England, and we shall have to come more and more into line with Scotland on the beef cattle subsidy if we are to produce beef cattle in England as well. With regard to the short-term policy, undoubtedly the pig is the solution, but we cannot look to the pig for any tremendous increase. Pigs breed quickly but they are dependent upon feeding-stuffs. Although I would point out to the Minister that they are not so dependent upon imported or other feedingstuffs as is generally supposed. The tremendous potato crop we have had this year has assisted so much the growing and feeding of pigs that the amount of feedingstuffs produced has been decreased materially. If we carry on with a tremendous acreage of potatoes, we can look forward to an even greater increase in pig meat than we have had this year. The next animal that will produce meat quickly is the sheep. There is room for a great increase in our sheep stocks. Figures for the consumption of mutton show us to be the greatest mutton-eating country in the world. During the war and the terrible storms at the beginning of 1947, our sheep stocks decreased by something like seven million head. That is a loss which we really must recover. A lamb can be produced to reach the table in 12 months. Next to the pig it is the quickest animal to breed, but we cannot produce it in the same quantities. There is a great lack of interest in the breeding of sheep on many of our hill farms, especially on marginal land, and I attribute this to two causes. First, it is due to the encroachment of the dairyman on the marginal land. That encroachment is having an adverse effect because of the way in which common law acts regarding the matter of fencing. By common law a man is compelled to keep his own stock on his own land; he must erect a fence to prevent his stock from trespassing on to another farmer's land. In the midst of a sheep area, however, a milk producer can hold his cattle on to his own land with two rails or strands of barbed wire, but the sheep farmer cannot do that; he must put up five strands of barbed wire, build a wall or have a fence. The result is that the dairy farmer or milk producer who comes into marginal land does not carry out his obligations to fence because he knows he is defended by common law. I have one case especially in mind, that of an area of about 2,000 acres in which at the outbreak of the war there were 13 flocks of sheep, but where today there is not one single flock because of the encroachment of the milk producer on that land and because of the ploughing policy which was followed during the war. Where sheep trespassed on to the ploughed land and trouble arose between farmers, the sheep producer knew that he would have to fence both for the cattle man and for the ploughing man. That burden was too great for him; he wiped out his flock completely and went over to milk production. In one case a large-scale producer of sheep today has to fence for six of his seven surrounding neighbours, excluding his own fencing, because he carries sheep while they carry cattle; if he puts up a fence for sheep, of course, it turns cattle as well. There is another case of a man who began milk production in a marginal area. He had a bad road leading to his farm. His first action was to take down a stone wall, five feet high and 180 yards long, and make his road. He replaced the wall by two strands of barbed wire. The former five-feet wall had turned the sheep belonging to the sheep farmer but the two strands of barbed wire did not. The result was that the sheep farmer then had to put up a fence in place of the wall which had been removed. All these things are having a devastating effect in marginal lands. There are, of course, other factors. There is the question of public authorities, such as water boards. In this connection I shall mention names. In many places water boards are excluding sheep from grazing on gathering grounds. Many public authorities, however, have for years permitted the grazing of sheep on their land. During the war I was a member of Irwell Valley Water Board which for a time excluded sheep from the gathering grounds. I fought to obtain the grazing of sheep on those grounds. We met the Lancashire war agricultural executive committee and succeeded in that purpose. But a fortnight ago I learned to my dismay that in December of last year, on 10,000 acres of land held by this board, the order was again introduced prohibiting grazing. As a result, 4,000 sheep were sold in December and today those 10,000 acres do not carry a single sheep. It is absolutely criminal for public authorities of this kind to waste this land. On the land of this water board in East Lancashire, one can see derelict farms with roofs taken away, windows taken out and doors taken off. I do not know their exact number, but there must be well over a hundred of one sort or another. It is a crime that such practices should operate. A committee appointed by the Ministries of Health and Agriculture last year published its report and stated quite frankly that sheep grazing on this type of land does no harm whatever. There are other lands in the country from which sheep are excluded in the same way. All this has a terrible effect upon our sheep stocks, and I hope that something will be done by the Minister to ensure that such practices do not continue. I plead with the Minister for more feedingstuffs, especially protein feeding-stuffs. As hon. Members have pointed out, we cannot grow more pigs unless we have more feedingstuffs. By a little greater supply of them our pig stocks could be increased tremendously. There is also the question of carrying cattle through the winter where, again, more feedingstuffs are required. We can carry them through the summer when there is plenty of grass, but we require more feedingstuffs for pigs and poultry and to, finish fat cattle during the winter. The Minister of Agriculture is trying to increase our cattle population by means of a calf subsidy, but we cannot rear calves unless we have calf food. In areas where calves are not suckled we need to have calf meal of some description in order to start them off for their first six months. We cannot get feeding-stuffs for calves beyond the age of six months. The best artificial feeding-stuff for the calf is a dried milk calf food. I think the Minister of Food, rather than releasing milk for three months from the domestic ration, ought at least to have put some of that milk into manufacture so that we could have had more calf milk feedingstuff. We could then have increased the number of calves on our farms tremendously. I have not been able to obtain a calf food containing milk for more than 18 months. Many farmers are in the same position. If this food were brought back on to the market we could increase the calf population of the country. I plead with the Minister to look into the question. If it is a question of trouble with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the Chancellor ought to look into it, because if we can get protein feedingstuffs for our calves, pigs and poultry, we can contribute far more than we are contributing at present to solving the difficulties with which the Minister is faced and contribute far more to the housewife's table.
The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) has demonstrated his intimate knowledge of the farming industry and the Committee have listened to his speech with interest and appreciation, just as they listened to the brilliant speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden), who made a most constructive contribution which appealed to everyone. We are having a survey by experts and I feel a little diffident about getting up, because I am no farming body.The hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) seemed to be chiding some lion. Members for an attack on bulk buying which has not come at all. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said something about State trading and if the Debate has proved anything it has shown that State trading in the Argentine is a proven failure. The hon. Member for West Salford spoke of the firms which traded with the Argentine before the war and they appeared to do it successfully because they bought 90 per cent. of the meat. There was an abundant supply in the shops, irrespective of whether they were private traders, the Vestey Bros., or the Co-operative societies. There was a constant flow of meat from Argentina to the people of this country and. although our people may not have had all the food they wanted, it was there at reasonable prices.
Aye, but what happened to the farmers here?
I do not propose to enter into a discussion with the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) because it would be completely irrelevant on his side. The hon. Member for West Salford seemed to me to cast some heavy aspersions on the Vestey Bros. I remember the original Vestey Bros.; one is still living. They were the sons of an offal butcher in Liverpool, who was not unlike the hon. Member for West Salford himself. They worked very hard and, from small beginnings, they built up a great business. In doing that they were like generations and generations of our countrymen in every branch of industry and commerce.I believe, and I think the meat industry believes, that the Vestey Bros. and their successors did great things. They taught the Argentines how to freeze meat and transport it. They built ships which brought it to our country. They invested much money and took great risks, not only in the Argentine but also in Australia and, I believe, in New Zealand. Those British importers deserve the praise and attention of the Minister of Food. I believe it would pay our country well if we abandoned this system of State trading and put these men back to work in the job they must know so much better than the British Ambassador to Argentina and his civil servant assistants. These are the men who can gauge the market there hour by hour and day by day. Has not the Minister driven a too hard bargain with Argentina? I have traded long enough in a kindred trade to know that hard bargains are bad and fundamentally wrong. We have not got the meat so far, but I am certain that this great nation will send it to us. She is conscious of the part we played in her development and we need not be mealy mouthed about this. Statements have been made about holding up to ransom. I do not believe they are holding us up to ransom.
Did not the hon. Gentleman's leader, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), speaking from the Front Opposition Bench today, declare that he was against being held up to ransom by Argentina?
I suggest that my right hon. Friend did nothing of the kind. He said he would not and this party would not tolerate our country being held up to ransom by any country.
What did he mean?
The hon. Member must ask the right hon. Gentleman what he meant. I am suggesting that there is no reason to be mealy-mouthed about the situation. I think all the fear exists on the Government Front Bench and we can afford to be open with these friendly people with whom we have traded so well for more than a century. It is apparent that meat which should have been shipped to Britain, went to Holland for more money than we agreed to pay, and to Belgium and the United States for exactly the same reason, and on to the Argentine home market for the same reason. No one has a right to excessive profit by a hard bargain. It must be a short-sighted policy because we have to go back to the Argentine each year for more meat.The immediate short-term policy must be to get meat from the Argentine. I have not heard any one suggest how, between now and September, we can get meat from anywhere else. It seems to me that the obvious thing is to be absolutely fair. Apparently this system of State trading obliges the Government to make a contract price a year ahead. Anyone who knows anything about buying and selling perishables must know that is a fundamentally dangerous situation. If the world price rises, the farmer is a pretty sick man as he must be getting a price well below the world price. We have heard today that in Argentina feedingstuff prices have risen and the farmer is caught on two issues, the feedingstuff has gone up in price and he pays more for it. The market value of his product has gone up, but he only receives his share of a bad contract price because of this State trading system. In this situation more attractive offers are taken from other countries which is wrong and inexcusable but understandable. I do not think we need be afraid to say these things. I have read in newspapers of blackmail and of opprobrium being heaped on Argentina, and maybe their newspapers are saying similar things about us, but I think that is wrong. We should tackle the problem as businessmen would tackle it and realise that bad bargains are wrong, and that there must be a share for every participant for a bargain to endure.
As the hon. Member has been so candid on this subject, would he fill in the gap which the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) left in referring to the Australian deal? The Australian offer has been made conditional upon there being a reasonable market for a reasonable period on the part of this country. How else can that reasonable market for a reasonable period be provided by the Government, unless they undertake long-term bulk purchase contracts?
The hon. Member has raised a most interesting point. The answer to it is surely that our Government can say to Australia, "We will take all your products at fair market values," which cannot be determined today in fairness to them or to us. Let us pay a fair price which a willing buyer and a willing seller would agree between themselves, and in case of doubt let the Presidents of Institute of Chartered Accountants in Melbourne or Sydney and London agree upon a fair price. That is the way in which commercial people who have been reared in industry and commerce would proceed.I say to the Minister of Food and to his colleagues on the Government Front Bench that it is worth giving serious attention to that matter now. This artificial system, which was started during the war and because of the war, has long outlived its day. There is no problem involved in my suggestion which the Government could not overcome. They could issue import licences to the traders, exchange would presumably continue to be controlled and the Argentine Government would have to be told, as all other nations would be told, that they can no longer sell to us and buy elsewhere. That is not a problem which is peculiar to Argentina and Britain. It applies to Australia, Canada and all the other nations. We know of the unfortunate position which has arisen in the case of Canada. She is unable to buy here and is buying in the United States, but she wants to sell here. The fact that Argentina wants steel and petrol need not present difficulties. That trade could be put into the hands of private enterprise exporters. The Government would presumably control the quantities exported. That is the only extent to which they would need to put their fingers into the pie. It seems to me what has emanated from the Debate so far has clearly proved that State trading should at least be seriously reconsidered by the Government. I was intensely interested in the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), who spoke of the possibilities of increasing supplies in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) followed that up in referring to the great Highland area which represents more than half the total area of Scotland. I was stopped two months ago at Dingwall by over 20 farmers, members of the Northern Pastoral Club, some of the finest producers of cattle and sheep in the country. They -asked me, in the absence of their Member, to put before the Government their willingness to re-stock all the deer forests and the marginal land—forests covering 2,800,000 acres—in the Highlands which carried huge herds of cattle and sheep a century ago, and which carry scarcely any today. They are willing to take over and restock those forests provided that they are given security of tenure and that the Government are willing to bear half of the cost of insurance against winter storm which wrought so much devastation in 1947. The cost is only 5s. per cent., of which the farmer would pay 2s. 6d. and the Government 2s. 6d. This would bring about this great flow of energy for the re-stocking of these idle acres. I put up this suggestion to the Secretary of State for Scotland. It has been rejected because, the policy of the Minister of Food is that he cannot afford to allow lambs to be sent to the hills where they grow and fatten. He has to send them into the market. That is a short-term policy which needs a great deal of reconsideration. I hope that the Minister of Food will, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Scotland, look at this scheme which has been put up by practical farmers who want to help our country. Another matter which I wish to discuss is fishmeal, which is a vitally important feedingstuff. Owing to the unfortunate action of the Minister of Food we are losing thousands of tons of feedingstuffs per annum through his policy. In his efforts to get a greater quantity of fish carried in the hulls of trawlers, the Minister has encouraged the trade to head their long fish, which represents about 90 per cent. of the total catch. These heads are the finest raw material for fishmeal. Instead of coming to the fish meal plants and then being sent out for cattle feeding, they are being pitched overboard, fouling the grounds and incidentally contributing to the poor quality of the carcase of the fish when landed. The fish would carry far better in ice in the trawler if they retained their heads than they do after being roughly decapitated, which allows bacteria to get at the fish. It is bad for the fish, bad for the people who have to eat that fish, because they are getting a poorer article instead of a better one, and it is bad for the agricultural industry. We were told that the pre-war home production of meat was 1,250,000 tons. Now after the Government have been in office for nearly four years the figure is down to 750,000 tons, mainly because of lack of feedingstuffs. Here the Minister has a source of feedingstuffs to hand. He can, by one of the statutory orders which he likes so much, prohibit headless fish from coming into Britain and the practice will stop overnight. The fish meal industry runs to probably 100,000 tons. It might make a difference to us of huge numbers of cattle, pigs and poultry in the course of a year or two. I shall conclude with a word or two about the consumer, the unfortunate housewife who has to go grubbing about trying to get enough food to feed her family. In considering what are the immediate substitutes for meat which are at hand, the first which occurs to me is herring which is of equal protein value and of higher fat content than meat. It is caught round our coasts in abundance from the latter part of April or the beginning of May until Christmas. Never in the history of the last century have we been able to sell all our fresh herring or anything like that quantity in this small island, where there is a network of railways. However much we could afford to waste food of that kind in other days when there was abundance, we cannot afford to waste it any longer. Yet our catching power is only half what it was prior to 1914, because of the Russian departure from the herring market. In spite of that reduced catching power in craft, men and nets, we are actually exporting nearly 30 per cent. of the herring we catch, herring caught between Wick and Yarmouth. Yet the transport difficulties in this little island appear to be so difficult. That is utter nonsense. We salt the herring and send them to the Control Commission in Germany. The British taxpayer has to pay for them. That ludicrous situation must come to an end; it is not good enough. The Minister of Food has in this country all the facilities at hand for transporting herring in good condition for wholesale and retail sale. If the fishmongers cannot undertake to sell all the catch why should not the under-employed and underpaid butchers be used? Do they not possess the skill to gut a herring or take a package of kippers and hand them over the counter? It would be found that the butchers would be interested. It would help them to pay their overheads and it would help in the disposal of supplies. The fish trade have not been able to dispose of all the supplies up to now. That is a responsibility which must be shouldered by the Government if the people are to get the food which they require. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to that point. I must apologise to the House for taking up so much time. I can only say that I should have liked to say a good deal more.
I am very fond of herrings and I have no complaint on that score against the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson); but I do not like bacon that tastes of fish, so I hope we shall be careful about that.We have heard some very picturesque arguments from agriculturists, arguments which, superficially at any rate, are very attractive; but, of course, the living standard of the British people has reached its present level as the result of a very delicate balance between agriculture, industry, commerce and finance. I am one of those who believe that somehow or other that balance will have to be kept if we are to retain our living standard at its present level. At some period there must be a limit imposed on the extent to which agriculture can be subsidised. We require short-term tactics to solve a problem which I suggest may be only a short-term problem, but we also have to keep in mind a long-term strategy which has regard to this delicate balance between agriculture, industry, commerce and finance. Otherwise, I fear we shall be unable to maintain our living standard at approximately its present level, let alone increase it. The hon. Member for Streatham advanced what seemed to me to be an extraordinary argument. It reminded me very much of my younger days and Bethmann Hollweg and his scrap of paper. It is morally all right to tear up an agreement freely negotiated because the market goes against us—that seemed to be the argument which the hon. Member was advancing.
I pointed out to the Committee that a hard bargain is fundamentally bad, and I gave adequate reasons for saying that.
The hon. Member is a successful business man, and he knows that in business most bargains are hard bargains.
Oh, yes, and hard bargains generally leave the two persons negotiating them with a very lively respect for each other. Speaking from experience gained during nearly 30 years in business, I have never yet succeeded in finding a bargain which was not a hard bargain.The hon. Member went on to say that we should speak without being mealy-mouthed about this Argentine business. No one would wish to prejudice or jeopardise the negotiations now going on with the Argentine, least of all myself, because I am privileged to be the chairman of the Anglo-South American All-Party Parliamentary Group, and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), who was in the Argentine with me, is the able and energetic secretary. I would not wish to say anything likely to jeopardise the negotiations at present going on. How, ever, the fundamental cause of this Debate is the fact that the Argentine has unilaterally repudiated an agreement freely negotiated, freely entered into, regarding 80,000 tons of meat for the British people. That is why we are talking about meat today, and therefore I will permit myself a few observations on that point. I entirely agree that for over a century there has been amity and commercial friendship between Britain and the Argentine, and mutually profitable trading relations. We wish to see that happy condition of things restored at the earliest possible moment. But amity and friendship is a two-way street, not a one-way street. When people enter into bargains they should be prepared to stand by those bargains. The Argentine and Britain have much to offer each other. There can be no doubt that Britain's post-war reconstruction can be greatly aided by the capacity and willingness of the Argentine to send us increased quantities of beef, hides and maize. We, in turn, can help Argentine industrialisation by supplying them with steel, machine tools and capital equipment of various kinds. It sticks out a mile that without amity and collaboration between us and the Argentine we shall both become increasingly dependent on United States dollars. Unfortunately, at the moment the balance of trade is hopelessly one-sided. We are taking from the Argentine something like £100 million worth of stuff a year and they are taking from us something like £40 million worth a year. It seems to me that if the Argentine were prepared to grant export licences to take British goods to an extent that would help to close this trading gap, it might be that our negotiators would be able to take a more liberal view in the matter of price. The hon. Member for Streatham said that we should not be mealy-mouthed and I will accept his advice. It seems clear that Senor Miranda, the principal architect of Argentine post-war economic policy signed the Andes Agreement with a secret unilateral clause in his mind. That clause was, "If the market goes against us, Britain gets her meat at the agreed price, but if the market goes up then we shall demand more money or Britain will not have her meat." It seems to me to be as simple as that. We are a very great nation not accustomed to doing business on those lines. When we make agreements we honour them, and we must expect our friends to do the same. I personally would prefer that our negotiator caught the next plane out of Buenos Aires rather than negotiate another agreement which would be likely to meet with the same fate as the Andes Agreement. I think the British people would agree with that. So far as Anglo-Argentine relations are concerned I think the situation may change, for two good reasons. I consider that Senor Miranda's economic policy towards Britain was founded on two fundamental fallacies. The first was that Britain would not recover from the wounds inflicted by a second war in 25 years, and that therefore her interests and feelings were not matters which need be given much consideration. There is an old Spanish proverb which says:
I fear that Senor Miranda made the same mistake as Philip of Spain, Napoleon and Hitler. The British oak has not fallen, nor is it about to fall. I think that fact probably has been conveyed home by the Argentine Ambassador in London for a long time past. It may now be sinking in and we may get a more fair and intelligent attitude toward Anglo-Argentinian commercial arrangements. The Argentine really should remember that within a very short time, this country will he in an immensely stronger position than it is at the moment. By 1952 all the commodities she wants—petrol, steel, tinplate and chemicals—will be in abundant supply for export from this country and the sterling area. I would say to my Argentine friends, "Just as we had faith in you when you were struggling for liberty in the days of San Martin, so you today must have faith in us." It is clear that if we did stop buying, the Argentine frigorificos would be bursting their walls within three months with sides of beef that could not be sold anywhere else. We should then know who had won the cold storage war. But this is not the sort of atmosphere which should obtain between friends so old as the Argentine and ourselves."When the tree falls many come to carry the wood away."
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that in all he is saying now he is proving the case which I submitted that State trading is fundamentally wrong? All these difficulties have arisen because of it. If the importers were put to work, it would not occur. There would be no international complications with Senor Miranda or anyone else. We should buy the meat we wanted or we should not buy it, but we would do our best.
Now that the hon. Member has made his third speech, I will carry on with my interjections. What the hon. Gentleman has just said is highly speculative.
But very stimulating.
There can be no doubt in any intelligent person's mind that the bulk buying guaranteed market policy of the Government, so far as the countries of the Commonwealth are concerned, has been an outstanding success. It is to the credit of this Government that there has been a greater expansion of Empire trade in the last four years than ever before. Of course, between members of the same family, speaking the same language, taking pride in the same kind of institutions and having the same code of ethics, it is very much easier to conduct business than it is with areas or countries where the conditions are not precisely the same. Bulk buying guaranteed markets as within the family, within the nations of the Colonial and Dominion Commonwealth, is here to stay, I think that never again will there be laissez-faire in that field.I suppose what I will say now will shock some of my hon. Friends, but they must forgive me. I sometimes wonder whether these bulk buying arrangements are quite so effective as they might be in present circumstances in parts of the world like South America. I do not know. I ask the Minister and the Government to examine this matter most carefully. After all, when negotiations conducted through normal trade channels break down, politicians do not feel the necessity to hurl their charges of blackmail across 6,000 miles of water. International relationships are not jeopardised. But there are other considerations. We British, brought up in a strong Nonconformist atmosphere, are inclined to be insular. We are apt to judge conditions abroad by conditions as they are here. In fact, there are fundamental differences. The course of trade, commerce and industry in some parts of the world is facilitated by practices at which we in this country would look askance. Let us freely admit that. Not all the world has taken to cricket. If therefore one is in a country where the national sport is rackets, one really must not be surprised if one is expected to learn to play squash.
What kind of a racket?
I am trying to say as delicately as I can—I fear that nature has not gifted me with delicacy—that there are practices with which a British Labour Government could not possibly associate itself.
Do not believe it.
Oh, yes. One hears of a very vivacious lady's most prized possession being a rope of black pearls presented to her by Mr. Stalin on the occasion of a successful business transaction. One hears of the wife of one economic czar whose 1947 Christmas presents in jewellery alone were valued at £100,000.
Surely, what the Labour Government did was to give £10 million on the side. Was not that rather more than anyone else has given?
The trouble may have been that it was not on the side. However, we must face up to the fact that in some parts of the world there are amenities which lubricate the flow of trade as between individuals, organisations and nations. I think we must have some regard to this, and I must, at any rate, because of my constituents. I know them very well, for I have been brought up with them and have worked and played with them for 50 years, and they still smell all right to me, though they have one terrible drawback, which is that they eat like horses. In this matter, I therefore have to think once, twice and thrice and I say that, in a land where Santa Claus works a 48-hour week for 52 weeks in the year, it is very disappointing for children to find out that there is no Father Christmas.Sometimes I am tempted to think that it may be that our technique is not quite adequate to the requirements of a very grievous situation, and that it may be that that is the reason we are not meeting with such success. I am trying to skate over very thin ice, and I have been frightened of going in all the time, but, to finalise what I have to say, I hope the Committee will permit me to remind my Argentine friends—and I have many, and they treated me most hospitably, as the hon. Member for Stone will confirm—of an occasion when a very distinguished Argentine statesman and President, Senor Bartolome Mitre, spoke. On 7th March, 1861, the then President said:
Later, in proposing the toast, he said:"In answering the cordial salutations which have greeted me, and especially those of the citizens of Great Britain, I will say that I do not acknowledge them as foreigners in this land."
I would commend those words to my Argentine friends, and not least to General Peron, with whom I spoke for half an hour."I might wish that this glass were of gold, not in order to worship it as the calf of old was worshipped, but in order to present more worthily the symbol of the friendly relations between Great Britain and Rio de la Plata, the Britain which was our best friend during the War of Independence."
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) except to say that if he had been able to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) to make a fourth speech, he would have agreed that bulk buying was all wrong. It was an interesting speech to me, because it was a speech from the point of view of a business man, as opposed to those of some of us who have spoken purely from the agricultural point of view.It seemed to me that the hon. Gentleman was speaking as a business man of the 19th century would have spoken. I think that what this country is suffering from today is the fact that it does not realise that the 19th century has passed. It is still expecting that the rest of the world will provide plenty of food at something less than the cost price of food in this country, and it is time we began to realise that, instead of being the greatest creditor nation in the world, we are now the greatest debtor nation. For that reason, in what I have to say I want to deal with what, in my opinion, is the solution of this meat problem. It has been very ably put already by my hon. Friends the Members for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), and I am afraid that to a large extent I can only reiterate what they have said. What we are forgetting today is that the population of the world is increasing annually by 20 million people, and that the cultivated area of the world is standing still, if not decreasing on account of soil erosion. The effect of that 20 million increase is not necessarily to call upon the production of meat, but it is a call on the cereal production of the world, which has a very serious effect on meat production, particularly in this country, since for the last 70 or 90 years we have been relying on the purchasing of coarse grains from all over the world in order to produce our meat. We have to realise that because of the climate of this country we are necessarily a meat-eating nation, and if we are to expect our workers to do the heavy work which they are called upon to do, it is essential for them to have something more than this miserable allowance of one ounce of meat per day, which is approximately the ration. I often wonder how my farm workers get their work done when they have to rely on this miserable allowance and have no provision of restaurants or canteens, and cannot avail themselves of a fried fish shop or a fresh fish shop either. I am speaking of what obtains in many parts of Great Britain where the workers live in isolated spots and cannot get all those amenities which the Minister of Food so often tells us we ought to provide for the men. The problem is both a short-term and a long-term one. The solution to the short-term meat supply problem must surely be that the Minister of Food must go out into the world to purchase coarse grains wherever he can get them. He may say that that is not possible, but I suggest to him that, instead of exporting coal and steel to the Continent of Europe to bring back vegetables which we ourselves can grow in this country, it is better that we should send coal and steel to those countries like Argentina and Canada which need coal and steel and are prepared to exchange those goods for coarse grains. That is the only way in which we can remedy the present shortage. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary that, although she has said that it takes a period of 11 months gestation for a cow, a pig does not take all that length of time and a chicken can be produced in 21 days, so that if we could get the feedingstuffs we could get an almost immediate increase in the supply of food. The particular matter about which I want to speak is the long-term policy. We shall have to tackle these 16 million acres of land which are at present scheduled in our agricultural returns as rough grazing—16 million acres against a total cultivated area in Great Britain of 31 or 32 million acres. It is no good putting up the argument that that land cannot be brought into production. It was in production a long time ago, and if the Government will check up in the Library they will find that between 1831 and 1840 the average annual production of wheat in the United Kingdom was 3,500,000 tons. I must admit that includes Eire, but Eire was never a great producer of wheat. The total grain production was 10,500,000 tons. Despite assertions to the contrary, it is apparent to me that much of the land which today is marginal and derelict or semi-derelict could be brought into production. An illustration has been given in the "Farmer and Stockbreeder" of what has been done on a 400-acre derelict farm in Scotland during the last 17 to 18 years. I think the figures are something like this. When the farmer at present farming took over, the land was keeping one horse and one cow. Today it is running 5,000 breeding ewes, a herd of dairy cattle, a certain amount of arable land and some soft fruit. The annual turnover is £31,000 and the wages bill £5,468—and that was derelict land. An interesting lecture was given only a few weeks ago by Professor Ellison showing what could be done with land which at present is not doing anything to contribute towards the food supply of this country. I am more conversant with the Welsh hills and the borderlands adjacent to them and I am quite certain that those hill farms and the marginal lands which go with them could be brought into full production. Even in my own county there are something like 20,000 acres which I am told by one who knows all about it—I must not mention names—could be brought into production and which at the present time are doing practically nothing. That is no reflection on the county executive committee because they are already tackling 150 acres which was nothing but fen but which can be brought into full production. There is no reason why this land should not produce a full crop. I have experience in my own area of common land which was derelict at the outbreak of the war and which produces crops of wheat of 30 cwt. per acre. That land must be kept in production. That common land now in production must not be allowed to fall back into a derelict state. I suggest that the Government should treat this problem in a serious way and should immediately set a target of at least four million of the 16 million acres to be tackled and brought into production. They should tell their county executive committees that instead of doing small-scale farming on isolated farms, which could be farmed better and at a smaller loss to the nation by plenty of capable young farmers, they should schedule land which is not doing its job and steps should be taken to deal with it. There is another important thing which must be done before that land can be brought into production. We must have rural houses and an improvement of the roads in that desolate country. We do not want any more new towns in Great Britain. We are all unbalanced at the present time. We have only one person in 16 employed in agriculture, while in most other countries the ratio is one to five or one to six. We are entirely unbalanced, so do not let us have any more new towns. Do not let us send our builders to build these rabbit warrens; let us build some cottages in the countryside and get some of our healthy, virile people to live in the countryside once again. Instead of building new arterial roads taking a lot more agricultural land, let roads be built through the desolate places so that people living there can have, easy access to the towns. I emphasise that the solution to our problem is to tackle this land which at the present time is doing nothing. If we do not, then some day this country will go very much more hungry than it is today.
I feel that the speech of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), with which I am very largely in agreement, constitutes in the main an indictment of previous Governments over a long period for really savage neglect of our countryside. He spoke of the need for cottages, and in this respect we are already making far more progress than was made in rural areas for many years before the war, and of the great need for reclaiming marginal land which used to carry large numbers of cattle. All that is perfectly true and it all provides one of the basic reasons for the present difficulty in which we find ourselves.
Surely the hon. Member will agree that it was not because of any Government but because this country opted for an industrial era which created great wealth. No Government could have done anything to land because of the importance to industrialists of sending things abroad so as to bring back cheap food.
A Government is responsible for its policy and if previous Governments had been sufficiently wise as to know what this country needed, millions of acres which are now almost completely derelict would be producing food and we should not be in the mess in which we find ourselves today.It appears that these arguments would be more appropriately answered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, but in debating the country's meat supply I feel it is impossible not to introduce discussions on points concerning increased production in our own country. A great deal has been said about the vital need to increase imported feedingstuffs. In the main I thoroughly disagree with that argument which I think is completely against the long-term interests of British agriculture. My reasons for saying that are that anyone who takes a serious look at the prospects for world grain production and consumption over a period of years must realise that, quite apart from the question of the availability of dollars, no one can say that in a few years time we shall be in a position to import feedingstuffs on a really substantial scale. It has always been pointed out that not only is farming a long-term job but that meat production is a matter of planning over a period of several years. One thing which is absolutely essential for any farmer is that he must know, if he starts a breeding policy, that he can rely on feedingstuffs of various kinds in sufficient quantity to enable him to maintain that policy. It would be quite disastrous if our farmers were allowed to think that at the present time they could have a volume of feedingstuffs which ultimately could not be maintained. Everything possible should be done, therefore, to increase the reliance of our farmers on the production of their own feedingstuffs. I would remind the House of the position with regard to milk production. Towards the end of 1946 we were in a very serious position with regard to the import of dairy feedingstuffs. I believe it was the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) who thought we might not be able to maintain the very meagre milk ration during that winter. We were then getting about one-twelfth of pre-war dairy feedingstuffs imports. Farmers got to work to produce their own feedingstuffs and the milk ration was not merely maintained, but production that winter was increased. It has now reached record levels and milk is off the ration, largely because farmers produced their own feedingstuffs in sufficient quantities to carry the number of dairy cattle necessary for that purpose. If we compare the pre-war meat supply situation with the present, we must realise that although there is a substantial drop, the level of beef and mutton consumption is not substantially less than it was before the war; I refer to the total overall consumption. Where the great drop has been experienced is in pig meat, which is about 600,000 tons down. Fortunately, this is the one main class of meat which can be increased rapidly. The only possible direction in which there is justification for spending dollars on imported feedingstuffs, is to facilitate an immediate, although temporary, increase in the allocation of imported feeding-stuffs for pigs and poultry to enable pig and poultry populations to be built up still further, and to be built up quickly. In the last 18 months there has been an increase of 800,000 pigs and 15 million poultry, which are now at about the prewar level. That is some indication that these stocks can be built up very quickly. However, let me say at once that I do not think that during the past 12 months farmers have done nearly as much as they could have done in that respect. They have had the opportunity of keeping one-fifth of the barley they grew in the last harvest. Instead of using it for pig meal, they have hung on to it in the hope of selling it at the malting price. The advantages which formerly came with the use of subsidised barley meal have now been ironed out, and we can expect farmers to use more of their own barley, particularly as this year they will be able to use all they grow if they wish, but I think it would be a mistake and certainly not in the interests of agriculture if we were to hold out any hope that over an extensive period we could substantially increase imports of dollar feedingstuffs. Reference has been made to the fact that France and Italy have used 90 million Marshall dollars for imported feeding-stuffs. Incidentally, they have also got a large number of unemployed in both countries, and I do not think those two factors are unrelated. We imported unemployment in this way before the war, and I hope that a Labour Government will never adopt such a policy in future. When I first had the honour to address the House I forecast that the situation which has arisen now would arise, and I urged that we should strive as hard as we could to get nearer to the point of self-sufficiency. I mentioned then the need to make the utmost of our grasslands and of the feed which they would produce. This was in October, 1945. I particularly stressed that we should provide grass dryers on a very large scale. Last year we produced 100,000 tons of dried grass. The grass dryer programme is beginning to get under way, and the Government are providing one-third of the cost of installation of approved schemes. Next year if the programme develops on the expected lines, we shall have half a million tons of dried grass, which is equivalent to 1,500,000 tons of coarse grain. When we get to that point we are dealing in figures that matter. If, without dollars, we now had an additional 1,500,000 tons of coarse grain it would solve to a large extent the problem with which we are confronted. We should not allow our present difficulties over the Argentinians defaulting on their meat contract and the great distress which it causes to the housewife to deter us from building up our own agriculture and using the facilities and advantages which we have at our own hands. This boils down to two points of policy—short-term and long-term. As to the short-term point, we ought to use every facility available, including if necessary the expenditure of dollars on feedingstuffs, to bring up quickly the pig and poultry population, but I do not think we should use such dollars for the import of feedingstuffs for cattle. As to the cattle problem, which is a much longer-term problem, I agree with the hon. Member for Leominster that the greatest single factor in increasing our meat production' is the development of our marginal and hill lands, and in that respect I do not think that His Majesty's Government are yet doing nearly enough. I understand that some proposals will shortly be put forward for the development of marginal farms, but that they are of a nature which, in my view, is quite inadequate to deal with the problem which is one of considerable national importance. Mention was made of the experiments which have been carried out by Professor Ellison, who has indicated that in his view one million marginal acres could fairly easily be brought into proper cultivation for the rearing of cattle, and if calves were suckled they could be brought on much more quickly with a resultant increase in meat production of from 12 to 15 per cent. Matters of that kind need careful examination because those methods could be employed in many parts of the country. For example, they could be employed on Exmoor where at present most of the farms are quite uneconomic, where the people are struggling along in conditions of great difficulty and where—and this is far more important—they are not producing anything like the quantity of meat that they could produce if they were given proper assistance. My view of the present situation is this. It arose, first of all, because for many long years our land has been neglected and has not produced anything like the quantity of food that it could and should have done. We relied far too long and quite unnecessarily on imports of foreign meat and other produce, and we are now paying the price. In view of the conditions which are likely to operate in the world in the future, we can no longer rely on imported feedingstuffs to anything like the extent we have in the past. Therefore, we should make the utmost of our own resources, not merely as a stop-gap, not merely because we are a little inconvenienced at present, but because it is the soundest possible basis for future British prosperity, for our future standard of living, for efficient farming and the fertility of British soil.
Few of us on this side would disagree with the closing sentences of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins), but where we might disagree would be in what he said about the importation of feeding-stuffs as a policy, and on minor details of which I shall mention only one. He blamed the British farmer unfairly for not using his own barley for feeding pigs. I would remind him, however, that the price of pigs was based last year on the ability of the farmer to buy feeding-stuffs at £16 10s. per ton, whereas the farmer, even if he could not sell his barley for malting purposes could obtain £22 to £23 per ton for it. It will be seen, therefore, that it would have been hopelessly uneconomic for him to have fed his barley to pigs. I wish I had more time to deal with the hon. Member's speech, but as time is short I will pass on to other things.I suppose that the most outstanding feature of the depressing and colourless speech of the right hon. Lady who initiated the Debate from the Government Front Bench was its total and absolute lack of a clear-cut policy. I suggest that from what I have to say the lines of a policy will emerge. To what extent is our low meat ration, our deplorably low meat ration, due to our methods of procurement? Before the war the great importing companies had their own buying organisations working in the countries from which the meat was procured. They negotiated direct with the producers in the supplying countries, and in many cases they had their own meat works in those countries. It was a most intricate business, because the price of meat had to conform at all times and at once to the prices of hides, tallow and wool. Above all, the price had to produce the meat, and no price is a good price unless it has that result. It can hardly be disputed that Government trading has failed to produce the meat we require. The census of herds showed that in 1947 the total head of cattle in the world was 724 million and that we imported only 495,000 tons of beef. Last year, although the head of cattle was practically the same, we imported only 373,000 tons of beef, so with a supply that was constant the Government succeeded in buying for us 23 per cent. less beef than in the previous year. I go back to our pre-war methods of procurement and remind the Committee that the price had to encourage producers to supply the kind of meat we wanted. I wonder if the consumer demand for small joints after the first world war and the adjustment of the Argentine production in favour of small Shorthorn and Aberdeen Angus breeds could have come about under State trading. Unless there is a rapid translation of consumer choice through trade channels to the producer, there will inevitably be a deterioration in quality, because sooner or later it becomes clear that it is just as easy and just as well to produce inferior beasts as to produce beasts of prime quality. Apart from the harm that it does in embittering relations between one country and another, the trouble about State trading is that prices react too slowly to demand and to changed circumstances, and give no stimulus to quality production. It would be hard to find a better example of the failure of State trading than the case of Argentine meat. As its direct result, the Argentine instituted a system of State trading. The right hon. Lady saw fit to read a letter which my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) contributed recently to the "Daily Mail," in which he said that the institution of State trading by the Argentine was not due to our adoption of the system. That is exactly contrary to what Dr. Miranda says. I would remind the Committee that on 3rd May, 1948, in a speech at the American Club in Buenos Aires, he said:
"Argentina intervened in the commercialisation of its production and put the Argentine Institute for the Promotion of Interchange in operation in September, 1946, in order to protect its economy from the organisations set up by the countries purchasing its production."
Which view would the hon. Member prefer to believe?
On this and other evidence we are forced to believe that my hon. Friend has had an unfortunate and temporary lapse of memory. The Minister has claimed for State trading that it can increase the production of food by giving the primary producers a reasonable measure of security. That is what the Minister of Food claimed on 20th January. In the case of the Andes Agreement, the Argentine Government has retained, or at least has held up, its profit instead of passing it on to the producer.The British consumer has in this particular case been unable to reap any of the usual advantages of long-term contracts placed on a rising market, since the Argentine Government defaulted on its meat contracts when it found itself able to secure better prices from Belgium and Holland, while at the same time it continued to supply us with maize that was contracted for at the beginning of 1948 at around £27 a ton f.o.b., although the world price had fallen by the beginning of this year to about £20 per ton; indeed, it is reliably reported that the Netherlands recently bought 52,000 tons of maize from the Argentine at £17 per ton. In the bad old days of the futures market, buyers and sellers were able to insure against price fluctuations of this kind. Government stocks are now unhedged, and when prices swing against them it is the unfortunate taxpayer who has to pay. But although State trading, as in the case of the Argentine, has had these unfortunate consequences, my hon. Friends and I do not quarrel with the need for long-term contracts in the case of countries in the British Commonwealth and Empire as a means of encouraging for our mutual benefit the production of increased quantities of food. We are, I believe, at present receiving about 62 per cent. of our imported meat supplies from Empire sources. We accepted, in the Agriculture Act, 1947, the principle of long-term guarantees for our home production of food. Because we believe that we in the Empire are one people we accept the same policy for the Empire.
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that within the Commonwealth he believes in bulk purchase?
I have been careful not to use the phrase "bulk purchase" for the good reason that a good deal of bulk purchasing was done by private enterprise before the war. I prefer the phrase "State trading" in this particular instance, because I prefer accuracy. What I say in this case is that there should be long-term guarantees within the Commonwealth and Empire if it is necessary and desirable to stimulate production in the Empire. There is a great deal of difference between giving such long-term guarantees to countries within the Empire and long-term guarantees to countries which are not within the Empire.Let me pass—because I am watching the clock, and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak—from the general to the specific. Lord Bruce, in another place, said, on 30th March, in a speech which all of us must have admired, that Australian beef exports to this country could be increased from 250,000 tons to about 700,000 tons in a relatively few years. It appears that the Australian Government are prepared to go ahead with the costly development which would be required in her northern territory and in Queensland provided that we in Britain guarantee a market for her products over a reasonable period, which Mr. Chifley, the Australian Prime Minister, has said should not be less than 10 years. The "Australian Newsletter," which is issued from Australia House, said, on 24th March, in an article by Mr. Collin, the Minister of Agriculture for Queensland, that the United Kingdom Government had not indicated, at that date, that they were prepared to give these guarantees. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) pressed the Minister to give these guarantees to the Committee tonight, and I hope he will do so. The guarantees which were given last week in another place were introduced into the Debate by a side wind, as it were; that is not the way in which important pronouncements of policy ought to be made. Although the Parliamentary Secretary followed my right hon. Friend in the Debate today, and had a first-class opportunity of supporting that pronouncement, she seemed to shrug off the Australian position in a sentence or two; that was not good enough, and I hope the Committee will not he treated in this way at the end of the Debate this evening. Let me summarise what I want to say in five conclusions. First, State trading has failed in its primary object, which is to secure the maximum possible supply of meat; second, we should, at the earliest possible moment, return to pre-war methods of procurement, if necessary within the framework of guaranteed minimum prices to the producer—
If the hon. Gentleman says that State trading has failed to get beef, why was he advocating, in another part of his speech, that we should pursue it?
I am grateful to the hon. Member because the State trading to which I referred specifically in the early part of my speech was State trading with the Argentine. If I omitted to say so, I say so now. State trading with the Argentine has failed in its primary object, which is to secure the maximum supply of meat for our people.
The Argentines did not keep their bargain.
That is one of the arguments against State trading. They did not keep their bargain, and we have no sanction, short of going to war—which no one proposes that we should do—to force them to their bargain. If the bargain had been between private traders it would have been possible to enforce it. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] With the Foreign Office behind it, as has often been done in the past.
Would the hon. Gentleman send a battleship?
Third, we should henceforth regard the Empire as the primary source of imported meat. We should enter at once into long-term arrangements, particularly with Australia, which would help them to increase their production of beef and mutton.
We are doing that.
Fourth, we should enter into no agreement with the Argentine which will conflict with that policy. Finally, as a short-term measure, we should do everything possible along the lines suggested tonight by so many of my hon. Friends and Members opposite, not the least my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth, to stimulate home production.
This is the second time in a food and agriculture Debate that I have had the pleasure of following the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley), but I cannot agree with him as much tonight as I did on the last occasion, especially on the question of State trading—I shall not use the term "bulk purchase" as it seems to stick in the hon. Member's throat. I have come to the conclusion that the view taken by the hon. Member and other hon. Members opposite is that within the framework of the Commonwealth and Empire we have the same ethical basis, and therefore can carry out State trading with those with whom we have the same "e.b.," as we used to call it. Outside the Empire, no one apparently has the same ethical basis as ourselves; therefore we cannot indulge in bulk purchase or State trading with those outside the charmed circle.I hope the Minister will tell us something about State trading with the Argentine. I may be quite wrong, but I am under the impression that the Argentine which is, of course, a totalitarian State, under a dictatorship like other totalitarian States, can only be traded with through the medium of State trading. I am under the impression that A.I.P.I., the Argentine Institute for the Promotion of Interchange is the only body with which the Ministry of Food can deal for meat. If I am wrong, then my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister of Food will tell us tonight when the Debate is wound up. I have a very distinct recollection that some weeks ago the Minister of Food did actually make that statement from the Front Bench.
Is it not a fact that the Swiss buy their meat from the Argentine by private enterprise because they have found that they cannot do it by State trading?
Only a margin.
But that is only marginal trading. They buy enough to make up their home-produced meat, whereas we buy at present well over 20 per cent. of our supplies. I think that the Economic Survey states that we buy about 23 per cent. of our meat supplies from the Argentine. Later, I should very much like to refer to something else which was said by the hon. Member for West Aberdeen and with which I entirely agreed, except that we are about half a century too late.Now may I refer to the speech made by the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson). That speech really astonished me. I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman that the housewives of this country by no means agree with what he said. As far as the present contract with Argentina is concerned, the general view of the housewives of this country is: "Not a penny on the contract." Perhaps hon. Members will have seen the inquiry which has been made by the "Daily Mail" and in which I think something like 90 per cent. of the response has been: "Not a penny on the contract." My own constituents, with whom I have discussed this matter in meetings recently, have taken the same view. Shopkeepers will tell us that their customers say exactly the same thing: "Not a penny on this present contract." It is very fortunate that this position has arisen just at the moment when the housewife is in a better position to bear the shortage in the meat ration than at any other time of the year. There is the flush of milk and eggs; foreign cheeses are coming off points. These are good salad days, with new young vegetables. To any housewife who knows her job it is possible to make good and nourishing meals during the whole of the week with the help of the ration that she gets at the week-end. It is no good hon. Members opposite shrugging their shoulders. They do not happen to be housewives. I speak from my own experience. Last week-end I happened to be alone in my constituency. My ration was 10-pennyworth of scrag end of neck of mutton. It was English, and much better than anything coming from the Argentine. By careful cooking—roast, stewed and cold—it lasted for three meals. I do not say that things are so easy in the winter, but today there are salads, plenty of milk and eggs, foreign cheeses off points, and fish to give variety, and housewives would sooner "make do" than pay extra on the present contract. I hope that Argentina will remember that and that my right hon. Friend's negotiators will also remember it. I want to make myself perfectly clear. It may be that my right hon. Friend will not entirely agree with what I am going to say now. When we come to the end of the present contract, we shall have to remember that we are in a different world situation from that which we enjoyed in pre-war days. People have not made sufficient of the fact in this Debate that there is an entirely different situation, not only in Argentina but in many other parts of the world. It may be that in a new contract the Argentine would be justified in asking for, and that we should be justified in giving, a better price than we agreed to in the present contract. It would be greatly to our benefit at the present time, since Argentina has not the dollars with which to buy industrial machinery from the United States as she used to do, if we were to enter into some kind of barter arrangement in respect of the new contract. It would be good trading if we were to send more industrial machinery and more steel to the Argentine than we have done in return for meat. Let us not forget either that we must get away from the old 19th century idea which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), the idea that the only thing that we are able to do is import a lot of cheap food to the great disadvantage of our own balanced economy. I am afraid that I could not agree with the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), who took the line that the delicate balance between industry, agriculture and commerce must never be upset. The delicate balance has already been upset. It has been upset by the world situation; not the world situation arising out of the war, but the world situation arising out of many other factors which are permanent and not transitory, such factors as the great rise in world population, 20 to 25 million extra human beings to feed every year; the smaller reservoir, due to soil erosion and other difficulties, from which food can be drawn; and finally a point which has not been mentioned yet, the fact that the people of the world everywhere demand a higher standard of life. We can no longer expect in this country to live upon a standard of life higher than that of the rest of the world. Someone raised a point about a change in the way in which land is used for herds in the Argentine, and said that the estancias were being broken up today and that smaller men were producing cattle. That is not the only change which is taking place in the Argentine. It is not only a question of the estancias being broken up but of a great deal of industrialisation. As a result, the ordinary people, the under-privileged people of the Argentine, are demanding to eat some of the meat which formerly they sold to us and to other parts of the world. All those new factors have to be faced. The delicate balance about which the hon. Member for Wednesbury spoke is already destroyed. Therefore we have to look at the matter from an entirely new point of view. The two best and most constructive speeches made today were, in my view, those of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) and the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden). The speech of the hon. Member for Stone, and his letter in "The Times" the day before yesterday we all appreciated. There is no doubt that we have to engage in far greater production of meat in this country than we have done in the past. We can no longer be dependent for 23 per cent. of our supplies upon a foreign country like Argentina. Certainly, let us do whatever we can in the Commonwealth, with whom we can argue from the same ethical basis; with whom we can bargain fairly and upon whose guarantees we can depend. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies is working to reach such understanding with the Colonies. The Minister of Food who is so often sneered at because of his enterprise in groundnuts, which is only one other method of producing food for this country, is also to be remembered for the work which he has already done in guaranteeing to Queensland in the hog belt a grant of £1,000,000. That may seem very small, but hon. Members opposite should recognise that it is one of the many things which could have been done in the years before the war, for food production within the Commonwealth. If hon. Gentlemen opposite had encouraged the Commonwealth and Empire in the past to produce food for us we should not find ourselves in the difficult position we are in today of having to bargain with a nation that has an ethical basis different from ours. I deeply appre- ciated the speeches of the hon. Member for Stone and of the hon. Member for West Perth, and I think everybody on this side of the Committee did, too. We felt them to be helpful in a Debate which could easily have been much more difficult than in fact it has turned out to be. I think we have to ask the Minister tonight to tell us what pressure is being put upon the Lord President of the Council to carry out the promise which was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington. I remember him making that statement very distinctly. I thought it was a fair statement. If we must spend dollars on feedingstuffs at this time to enable us to produce our own beef, mutton and pork, then we ought to spend dollars, and not feel that, in doing so, we are doing wrong. I do not think we ought to go on spending dollars interminably, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) that we do not want to import unemployment into this country; but there is this interim period in which we ought to spend dollars on feedingstuffs if only to carry us over until we get more home-produced nitrogenous feed from grass-drying. We must spend more dollars if we are to get the useful pig into the larder. I have heard it said by someone that if we are to eat pork everlastingly we shall get very tired of it. However, it is a long time since many of us had a nice bit of crackling on our plates. Besides, there is no need only to eat pork roasted or boiled. There is ham; there is gammon; there is bacon; chaps, trotters, pig's head, brawn. The Lord President ought to spend these dollars to bring more feedingstuffs and help us to bridge the gap. I do not think it is the fault of the Ministry of Food. I do not think it is the fault of the Ministry of Agriculture. There is only one place where we can lay the blame for this. It is the place whence comes all austerity. I think we must find some way of encouraging this modest expenditure. Perhaps, the housewives in this Chamber can help here—the housewives, of whom I appear to be the only representative at the moment.
What about the Parliamentary Secretary?
I do not know if my right hon. Friend will agree with me about this. I have a great admiration for her work, and for the way in which she has distributed the foods she has had at her command. It is not only a question of buying foodstuffs but also of distributing them, and I admire the way she has done that. However as I say I do not know that she would agree with the proposal I now make, and that was why I was not associating her with it. I think we have to find a way of encouraging the expenditure of these dollars and I suggest that perhaps, the housewives who are Members of this Committee could go to the Prime Minister to ask if these dollars cannot be obtained, if only to tide us over immediate difficulties and to obtain feedingstuffs for pigs and poultry. Next year we may find that we are almost self-sufficient in pig and poultry supplies; assisted with Empire and Commonwealth produce we shall not be facing such an unfortunate dilemma. That is not to say that we should entirely give up trading with Argentina. That would be foolish indeed. We do not, however, want to be dependent on Argentina to the extent that we are at present. Therefore, I hope that we shall get some encouragement from the Minister when he replies tonight, and if we do, this Debate will have been of immense value.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) because, although we sit on opposite sides of the Committee, I often find myself agreeing with her. She speaks with good, broad common sense. I liked her appeal to Ministers and Members of her party to persuade the Prime Minister to get the Lord President to make sense of the pledge he gave in 1947. I endorse also the reply she made to the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) and his remarks about our position in the world, and the possibility that quite soon this rather awkward cloud will pass away, and that we shall be able to trade on very much the same terms as we did before the war. Frankly, I do not see that happening, and nor, I think, do most sensible people in this country. I rather think that when we look back. perhaps five years hence, we may bless President Peron for having opened our eyes— admittedly, at a very awkward time—and the eyes of our rulers to the shortcomings of our livestock policy in this country and in the Empire.The Parliamentary Secretary gave us a most despairing view of our meat prospects. She repeated twice—so it must have been her theme song—that we are to get some meat from Mexico and from France. Good heavens, have we really sunk as low as that? Shall we do any better with those deals than with the deal with Uruguay which was paraded a few months ago as our salvation—that wonderful new contract with Uruguay, as it was made out to be. Now we hear that the promised meat is going to Belgium or Holland or somewhere else. We must develop our production sources in the Empire. I hope the Minister will tell us about the development of the scheme in Queensland. There are good possibilities for development in Australia, in Kenya and in many other parts of the Empire to which we ought to give every encouragement. If water pipes or fencing wire, for instance, are required, we should do our best to supply those needs. We should encourage those food production schemes as a complement to our own production here. Several of my hon. Friends have emphasised the possibilities of developing production in the marginal lands, and the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins), on the opposite side of the Committee, spoke about reclaiming Exmoor. I thought that that was a little optimistic, but more meat could be produced on the borders of Wales as well as on the borders of Scotland. I am glad to see the Minister of Agriculture here. I wish he would have heart-to-heart talks with the county agricultural executive committees, and tell them what he wants them to do. During the war we always had a very good response from them when we told them what was wanted, whether it was meat or milk, or whatever it was. The committees are looking around for a job to do, and I think they would respond gladly to a clear lead from the Minister of Agriculture. He should go to see them and discuss their problems on the spot. We could increase beef production from the hills and the marginal lands that might give us 250,000 more store cattle a year, or an increase of 15 per cent. in our beef production. I want for a few moments to speak particularly about pigs, because I happen to have been keeping and breeding pigs for the last 20 years. What is the real lesson that we have learnt from the last set of statistics? In June, 1948, on the farms of Great Britain we had 1,800,000 pigs. In December, 1948, we had 2,472,000 pigs. That looks like some progress at last towards regaining the prewar total of four million pigs. If we look more closely at those figures, and particularly at the gilts in pig—a gilt in pig is a young female pig that has gone to the boar for the first time, I need not tell the right hon. Lady how long it will take to produce a litter because she must not learn more than one lesson in natural history in one afternoon—all I would say is that the number of gilts in pig is the best barometer as to what is to happen in the future. In June, 1948, the gilts in pig numbered 82,000 and in December, 1948, 49,000. That means that farmers who had started to extend their pig breeding called a halt. Why did they do that? Because the promise of feedingstuffs which has been made by the Lord President of the Council and other Ministers who went to the microphone has not been fulfilled. We had a promising rise in the number of pigs, and then we had this fall. I hope that is to be put right, and that we shall have no more shilly-shallying but a continuous rise until we get at least four million pigs. Today the Government have accumulated stocks of barley and other coarse grains sufficient to maintain existing rations for pigs and poultry until September. But it seems that they are very uncertain about their new trading friends the Russians, and others in that circle, and that they dare not take the risk of issuing more rations and so getting a real expansion in pig production. Other European countries are using Marshall Aid dollars for the purpose of getting a flying start in the pig expansion programme. Here the Government are content with a home production of pigs which this year will not be more than 43 per cent. of pre-war and next year will be not more than 50 per cent. That is a miserably despondent target. I hope that now that fat pig prices are put into better balance with barley prices, we shall get a move on and expand the number of pigs, but we must first of all ensure increased rations of feedingstuffs. Therefore, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, I endorse what the hon. Member for Epping has said. We must see that somehow the pledge which the Lord President of the Council gave is carried out, and that we do get a flying start in this increase of feedingstuffs rations for pigs because—and I should like the Minister of Food to take this seriously—it would be the greatest boon to the housewives of this country if they could go into a butcher's shop and buy pork freely and get a bacon ration that could be recognised. I say to the Minister of Food that we could get back to the pre-war production of pig meat in this country in 18 months and then go ahead to expand another 50 per cent., or whatever the needs of the time may demand. This target of 50 per cent. of pre-war production, which is all that the Government contemplate at the moment, is far too low. In my view we should not only give more feedingstuffs rations immediately, which could be done by using what we have in store, which is sufficient to last until September, but we could prudently cover ourselves now with more purchases made with Marshall Aid dollars so that we can get ahead. If that is done, and if we abolish all restrictions on pig keeping, we shall very largely solve this problem. I want to pay tribute to what the pig clubs have done. This is a great movement which succeeds by mutual self-help in overcoming all the frustrations and obstacles that the Minister of Food, in his wisdom puts in the way of the man who wants to keep a pig. The pig club movement is producing 250,000 pigs a year. I believe that number could be stepped up to 500,000 pigs a year, and that most of that extra production would not cost much imported foodstuffs but would be largely accounted for by extra kitchen waste that could be collected. The dustmen of Tottenham who started this kitchen waste collection did so because they wanted to get something with which to feed their pigs. I believe that if the Minister of Food inquired of the pig clubs he would find that a man would be willing to keep two pigs and send one to the Ministry of Food if he could get extra rations for keeping that pig to match up with the swill which be takes the trouble to get, and that we could get 250,000 pigs from that source. The Minister of Food should keep it clearly in mind that the man with a family who keeps one pig today is a good father and a good husband; the man who keeps 20 pigs or 100 pigs is a public benefactor, and he should not be frustrated and held up at every turn as he is today. What hope have we of getting some sense into the head of the Minister of Food on this point? I know that he really believes in his heart that this is only a passing phase, and that quickly we shall be able to buy at reasonable prices all the food that we need from abroad. I do not believe that is going to happen. I wish that the Prime Minister were here, because I believe that he must do as the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) used to do sometimes during the war. He should call to Down-Mg Street the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture, and also the Lord President of the Council, who has interested himself in this problem, and get them to discuss their differences with him. He should then shut them up in a room and insist on their agreeing on an immediate programme for increased meat production on the lines which I have suggested. We should then very quickly get more pigs and that we should quickly get a workable scheme for reclaiming for meat production those hills and marginal land which have been spoken about tonight.
In the Debate today we have had speeches from the meat producer, the pig producer, the butcher and everybody connected with the meat trade. I am not connected with any of those activities; I am just one of the people who try, when they get the opportunity, to eat some of it, and when we have not the opportunity to look for something to put in its place. I want to address three questions to the Minister of Food in the interest of that section of the community which is vitally interested in this question every weekend.The first question is, how strong is the liaison between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food on this matter, because we should like to see a lot more evidence of it than we have done in the past? If there is a strong liaison between them would he tell the Committee why it was that they lost the battle of Dartmoor; and why it was they allowed the soldiers and sailors to take over some of the best grazing land in the West Country instead of using it for the production of meat? Why is it, when lime is so necessary to enable us to rear two bullocks in place of one, that they are allowing lime kilns to be shut down on Dartmoor instead of producing the lime to supply to the farmers who are asking for it? Is it yet too late to stop some of the best grazing land in the West Country from being used for training marines for a war which might never come? I am sure that I shall want some meals next year, while I am not sure about that next war, and I would prefer to see Dartmoor used for the production of meat rather than for training soldiers. Does the Minister think there is any chance of winning that battle? I do not think he has lost it finally, if he likes to make a fight of it. Today we have listened to a great deal about the Argentine. In my city we have a wonderful Co-operative Society, which has 50,000 registered customers for meat. The general manager instructed his shop managers to take a concensus of opinion amongst customers on what should be done about Argentine meat, and whether they thought we ought to pay the price demanded. He has told me that there was 100 per cent. resistance to paying that price. I think everybody in the Committtee is agreed on that. Ever since I have been in the House of Commons I have never heard in one afternoon so many speeches from hon. Member opposite with which I agreed. On this question there seems to be unanimity. We are in for a shortage. Indeed, it is with us. Will the Minister tell us what he is doing to fill up the gap? After all, I must eat. What is he doing to put something on my plate now that the meat has gone? What steps is he taking to increase the allocation of imported poultry and rabbits? I live in a city fronted by the sea and backed by 35 miles of agricultural land; the nearest large town is 35 miles away. Mysteriously enough, where there used to be thousands of rabbits there are now none; every rabbit has disappeared. There used to be thousands of chickens, but bless my soul! they have gone where the rabbits have gone; they are certainly not available for the people in the city. Now I thought that was a most interesting phenomenon which ought to be inquired into.
It is commonly called the law of supply and demand.
I thought I would inquire to see what was happening? What did I find? I found that, although the Minister had fixed a price for chickens—I think it was 2s. 11d. per lb. —
They were all going into the black market.
—to be sold in our Co-operative butchers shops, whenever I asked for one I was told, "Sorry, old chap. We haven't got any." When I went to see the general manager to ask why, he said, "Because we have given instructions that no buying is to take place outside the declared instructions from the Ministry of Food, so we cannot get them." I then discovered that for chickens and hens the price charged to general suppliers by the people in the area—these poor downtrodden farmers who are having such a bad time these days—was £1 per chicken or hen for every bird of 4½ lb. and upwards, bought in bulk. The hoteliers have a different scale. The price for chickens of 2½ lb. and upward to hoteliers, for dinners for the Mercantile Association and similar people who must be fed, was 15s. per bird. I want the Minister to tell me: What is being done by all the food inspectors who are supposed to be looking after this kind of thing? Why are not these supplies of chickens and rabbits generally available? Rabbits are sold by every farmer in the area at a fixed price of 3s. each. I remember when we could get one for 4d. or 8d.
That was in the days of Tory misrule.
Today the price is 3s. each, but we do not see them in the shops because they are going to special suppliers and people who can pay the price for them. I want to know what the Minister is doing to stop this ramp all over the country—because we in my city are not alone in this—and whether we can get an increased importation of rabbits and poultry so that the ordinary people can buy them from their own Co-operative stores and other suppliers. The Minister ought to tell us what he has in mind for meeting this shortage in view of the present meat situation. If he tells us that, I, and no doubt other hon. Members, will be very grateful.Some day or another we shall return to better meat supplies. I hope that day is not far off; I do not think it is as far off as some people think, because I have great faith in our people; if they are given a job they will get it done some way or another, and I believe we can get this job done by growing a very much larger proportion of our meat supply. I should also like the Minister to tell us his policy for butchering the meat in future. I am a member of a local authority which has been trying to provide facilities for obtaining clean meat, so that it can be properly inspected and cooled before it goes to the consumer. We have been waiting for five or six years for a declaration of policy from the Minister, on whether the local authorities have to provide abattoirs or whether there are to be regional abattoirs. We ought to be doing the work now, if we are to make this provision for the future. Tonight, my right hon. Friend ought to make some declaration for the guidance of local people, because that would help us considerably in planning for the future, as we are doing in my own district, where we have to move these facilities out in building a new city.
I should like to be as constructive as I can in the short time at my disposal. I have heard nearly all the speeches and I have heard the blame for this meat shortage being put on conditions which existed as early as the 15th century. Certainly the shortage was started in 1940 by the Battle of Britain, when we had to plough up so much arable land. I will begin by confining my attention to Northern Ireland and the amount of agricultural produce which we ship from there now. At the present time we ship 13 million gallons of milk to England and Scotland, 161,000 live animals, 25 million dozen eggs and 11 million lbs. poultry. I have been informed by the farmers over there that they could double this output, and they have some constructive suggestions to offer.Last Friday night I was at a meeting at which this matter was discussed. It is, of course, a far cry from Epping or Plymouth to County Down, but most of the people who spoke to me were farmers or agricultural workers. One of the first suggestions made was that from these 161,000 animals which are shipped across the water there could be a considerable saving of beef. It was pointed out to me that in the boat journey across, especially if it is rough, and in going into the railway trains the animals lose 1 cwt. per animal live weight. It was pointed out to me that if those animals were killed in Belfast or near the steamer and were then shipped, it would mean an increase of some 4,000 or 5,000 tons of fresh meat for the people of Great Britain. The next point that was mentioned to me by those farmers was the question of what they call in County Down yellow meal. It is a mixture probably of maize and linseed. They told me that the quality of the feedingstuff they are getting now with which to feed their beasts is not nearly as good as it was prewar. Of course, that is common in all food. These farmers complain bitterly about this yellow meal, and they say that in the hard winters which we get in Northern Ireland it is this meal that has to feed the beasts and keep them well. Another suggestion made to me was that it might be possible for maize, if not for all coarse grains, to be bought by private enterprise. I believe that at the present moment our grain merchants are buying grain all over the world, but it cannot be imported into these islands. It can be bought and sold between two foreign countries and our grain merchants are securing a substantial invisible income to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I pointed out to these farmers our difficulties with regard to exchange rates and dollars, they said, "What are our banks for? For years before the war we used to work hard on an overdraft and made a very good living out of that overdraft, too." Another suggestion that was made led me to put down a question two weeks ago to the Minister of Food. It was that farmers and agricultural workers might be allowed to keep one single pig without much interference. It is generally supposed that the people who live in the country live better and have better meals than the people who live in the cities and towns. That is an erroneous idea. In the morning many of these farm workers go away from their homes and do not come back until night time and so their wives have to give them what is called "a piece" for their dinner. In the old days before the war this very often consisted of two or three rashers of bacon between the bread, but today it is impossible to get the bacon. If hon. Members opposite "ask their dad," they will be told what the price of bacon was then.
What were the wages then?
It certainly was possible to have a rasher or two of bacon between the bread. In his answer the Minister of Food said that it was not possible to allow farmers or agricultural workers to keep a single pig without the necessary laws in regard to inspection being enforced. The people do not like these inspections. A great many of those people in the country always kept one or two pigs. Indeed, in Ireland the pig was known as "the gentleman who pays the rent," and I believe that if more licences were given to farmers and agricultural workers the pig population would increase. A great deal of swill that would feed the pigs is lost at the present moment because the people do not bother to collect it. The reason they do not do so is these regulations which the right hon. Gentleman thinks proper and just to maintain.At the meeting to which I have referred the question of the Argentine Agreement was mentioned, and the opinion there was just the same as that of most people here—that the Argentine was taking an unfair advantage so as to twist the lion's tail. Anything that the Minister of Food does to prevent that would have our support. The Parliamentary Secretary gave us a great many figures to digest. The present ration may improve our figures, but it gives us very little to digest.
I should not have intervened in this Debate but for the fact that I believe that, notwithstanding our present difficulties with the Argentine, it is in the mutual interests of this country and the Argentine that these difficulties should be settled. Just as in the long run they will want to sell us their meat, so we desire the Argentine market for many of our industrial products. It is because I believe that a wrong slander has somehow or other crept into this Debate that I would venture to give the House some figures which have been supplied to me.What did the Andes Agreement provide for? It provided for 382,000 tons plus the yield from Patagonia. Then, in addition, there were 20,000 tons of corned beef. What happened then? From that huge quantity of meat, allocations were made to three groups of firms—importers, industrialists and slaughterers—an American, an English and an Argentine group. The Committee should remember that those allocations were based on the Roca-Runciman Agreement of 1934, confirmed in 1936. The allocations were: the American grout,. 49 per cent.: the English group, 20 5 per cent. and the Argentine group, 31 per cent. I am not tonight concerned either to defend or attack the present system, but it is well that we should know the facts of the case. How have these groups met their allocations? It is not always realised that after the price has been fixed by the Argentine Government and this Government, these separate firms have to go into the open market and buy their meat. The Argentine Government do not arrange that. With a quota of 49 per cent., the American group, consisting of Swift, Armour and Wilson, were called upon to supply this country with 193,730 tons. They have supplied 139,700 tons or 72.1 per cent. of their quota. The English group—the Vestey (Anglo) group—were called upon to supply 78,158 tons. They have shipped and supplied 54,000 tons or 66.22 per cent. of their quota. What about the Argentine firms? Five of them in the group were allocated 110,900 tons. They have shipped and supplied 115,600 tons or a percentage of 104.23–4.23 more than their allocation. I have intervened simply to give those figures because, in view of the fact that ultimately we must reach an agreement with the Argentine Government, nothing should be said here to make arriving at that agreement more difficult, and in some measure the case for the Argentine Government should be stated.
I hope that nothing which will be said from now to the end of the Debate will hinder in any way the delicate negotiations that are proceeding. I want to bring the Debate back for a few minutes to its original purpose, which was to discuss what the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) said was a great shock to the country, the cutting down of the meat ration. We have had a series of most interesting and very constructive speeches on how we might rebuild our home production and how we might assist increased production in other parts of the Empire, but very little has been said to bring home to the Government and to the Minister the Minister's responsibility for the present situation.There was a most pathetic speech just now by the hon. Member for the Drake division of Plymouth (Mr. Medland) who asked what has going to happen, because he must eat when he goes home on Saturdays and Sundays. That brings out a point which we sometimes overlook in this House, that being industrial workers and having our own canteen, we are not personally acquainted during the Session with the difficulties of the ordinary family. Therefore, perhaps some of the things which are said here on this topic are said more easily than they would be if we were sitting at the corresponding time in our own kitchens. It is the responsibility of the Government. After all, rationing has been the system in this country for a long time now, and it is an obligation on the Government to fulfil the ration. It is quite true they manage to do that, but they drop the ration and so fulfil it in that way, and that is not a plan which we think is good; nor do the housewives of this country. If I may comment on one or two of the things I have heard today, it is remarkable, for example, how the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) blamed the situation in which we are today on our pre-war arrangements. The hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) thought that the damage had all been done in 1940. None of the hon. Gentlemen who sit behind the Government seem to think that anything is due to what happened in 1948–49, and that is the period which we are discussing today and which has brought us all these difficulties.
Hon. Members opposite never did like to discuss the past.
There are some pasts and there are some other pasts—[An HON. MEMBER: "This is a bad past."]—and what the meat ration is today is nothing to do with the pre-war situation. The Committee has only to remember the point of which I shall now remind hon. Members, that just as ancient Gaul was divided into three parts, so our meat supplies come from three main sources—home production, Empire sources and foreign sources; and if the hon. Member wants to hark back to the past, he has only to remember that before the war we were producing in this country 45 per cent. of our needs and that the amount of meat was 1,250,000 tons, whereas today it is 500,000 tons less than that. So I do not think we need talk about the disadvantages of the pre-war situation, because everybody would be glad to get back to that amount of meat.I remind the Committee that the distribution before the war was 1¼ million tons of home production, about 640,000 tons of imperial production, and about 900,000 tons of foreign production, whereas last year our home production was 750,000 tons—that is, half a million down—and different parts of the Empire sent us 706,000 tons instead of the prewar 642,000 tons, which was a considerable rise, though one must remember that within that total there is a difference of source. The New Zealand production has gone up, the Australian has gone down, and there have been other variations, but the net result has been an increase on pre-war from British sources, whereas last year the foreign dropped from the pre-war 902,000 to 421,000, a drop of nearly half a million tons. That is the difference between the situation today and the situation pre-war. What is extraordinary about the whole meat problem is that the Government do not seem to be ambitious about future production. If one reads the "Economic Survey," which I suppose is the most up-to-date and authoritative statement on the subject, one finds that the estimates for the production are very unambitious. The table takes 100 for its pre-war average in beef and veal, and by 1949–50 it only expects to be at 93; for mutton and lamb it expects to be at 70, and for pigmeat at 50. One might say that is not long for what we are considering today, but the Government also produced a programme at the Committee on European Co-operation. There again, it is a most extraordinary thing to my mind, in view of the obvious difficulties which have been brewing for some time in the whole world meat position, that their forecast for 1952–53 is much less mutton and beef and pig-meat than we had in this country before the war in home production. I find that quite impossible to understand. I do not see why the Government should have committed themselves to so small a programme so far ahead. As a matter of fact, even beef and veal are only about a fractional 10 per cent. increase on the pre-war figures, whereas the others are considerably down. This is most extraordinary. I hope that when he replies the right hon. Gentleman will tell us why so modest a target has been set, not for this year—there may have been some particular difficulties which he can explain—but for 1952 and 1953. Increased supplies of lamb, mutton, pork and bacon are all within the compass of our attainment if we set about doing it and collect the necessary feedingstuffs in time. Therefore, I should very much like the right hon. Gentleman to say something about this. When we come to the subject of imperial development, there are two questions I should like the right hon. Gentleman to clear up. There is the question about Australia, which the right hon. Lady mentioned in her speech. She said—indeed, my right hon. Friend had already pointed out—that Mr. Chifley had made some statements on this subject. The right hon. Lady said, "Oh, yes, as a matter of fact, Sir Henry Turner"—I think that is his name— "went out to Australia as long ago as 1947 to see whether something could be done about increasing meat production out there." If this adviser of the right hon. Gentleman went out to Australia as long ago as 1947, what on earth has been going on ever since? Obviously, if a programme of the kind referred to by Mr. Chifley was to be considered at all so as to be useful in the present world emergency—I accept the right hon. Lady's statement that this is not just a momentary phase; nutritional improvements all over the world are drawing upon the meat supplies of the world, and it is to everybody's interest that the meat supplies should be increased where and when they can be—why is it that, having gone into these discussions, having had some sort of preliminary talks, at any rate, as long ago as 1947, nothing happened until Wednesday of last week, when, quite unexpectedly, a Government statement was made on this subject in another place, tucked away in a Debate on quite a different subject? It is a most extraordinary performance on the part of the Government, which is given to many odd ones. I should like to know, therefore, why there has been so much delay before coming to any conclusion. The second point on which perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be good enough to give an explanation concerns an interruption which he made earlier this afternoon when the hon. Member for North Cumberland was speaking. Something had been said by the hon. Member about Canada, and the right hon. Gentleman said, "Well, the Canadians have not got any bacon, if they had, we would buy it." I hope he will be able to amplify that, because the position as I remember it was that in 1945 his predecessor did all that he could to try to encourage the Canadians to provide us with more bacon. In fact, the Lord President of the Council, in the famous visit which he paid to Canada, invited the Canadians to push on with food exports in the spirit of—using his very familiar metaphor—the "battle against famine." That was in 1946, when the Lord President started up the battle against famine, but in 1947, as I understood it, the present Minister was somewhat abrupt with the Canadians and said that we really did not want any more, and so production was reduced. That is what has been generally accepted for a very long time.
If the right hon. Gentleman has not contradicted it before, he will be very glad of the opportunity of doing so now; but certain it is that the Canadians have long felt somewhat sore at the treatment they have received from him.I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider with his colleague the Minister of Agriculture the constructive speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) and Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) about the possibility and the desirability of opening up more of the marginal land of this country. I should be very glad if he could take this opportunity of making some statement on the White Paper published last week relating to the Committee on Productivity, because it contains a most interesting paragraph on the agricultural industry. The committee develop the thesis that by the extra fertilisation and improvement of grassland something like £40 million of foreign exchange could be saved per annum in this country in a comparatively short time. I should like to know what the Minister has to say about that, whether he has recommended that to the Government or whether the Government are likely to accept such a recommendation. I think that the situation from a long-term point of view has been deployed today. From the short-term point of view, everyone agrees that the only thing that can be done is to try to increase the production of pigmeat and poultry. These are the essentials. I do not know about the rabbits which the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth wants to have produced. There are elements of risk in trying to breed rabbits in unlimited quantities. I think we had better stick to livestock which are more easy and not quite so mobile or erratic, or rather erotic. We had better stick to pigs and poultry. From a short-term point of view the thing to do is obviously to try our best to get the maximum amount of feedingstuffs for them. I must return to the Government's extraordinary attitude to that problem, upon which my right hon. Friend has already touched. I cannot understand what has happened to the Lord President of the Council. He must have known that in a Debate about feedingstuffs his famous pledge would be called into question. Only last month the Minister of Food reinforced it when I asked him whether it was still in being, and that we should be entitled, under any arrangements made by the Chancellor, to use scarce dollars for buying foodstuffs in the United States and Canada should we wish to do so. He replied:
If at this time it is not necessary, it never will be. This is surely the moment. It is not as if there were none available, because all the information which is available in every quarter about the maize situation and the coarse grain situation is that those feedingstuffs are very plentiful. So far as we know there is now no shortage, whatever may have been the case two years ago. One of the most extraordinary facts which emerges in all this complicated story is that the Lord President said that we would use scarce dollars and the Minister of Food last month reinforced it, and said:"Yes, Sir, if necessary."—
We find again, in the Economic Survey, which I suppose we shall be discussing more tomorrow, a sentence on the subject of imported feedingstuffs, which says:"Yes, Sir, if necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 1190.]
We agree with that sentiment, but why does it refer to currency difficulties, when we have it on the highest authority that that is just the one thing which will not prevent our buying feedingstuffs abroad if they are necessary. I repeat if they are ever going to be necessary, they are necessary today. The queer part is that in the European Co-operation memorandum, which included some figures as to what were likely to be the requirements of this country for coarse grains in 1947–48, we gave our estimate as 1,700,000 tons. That was the figure that we gave as our requirements, and in point of fact we did not buy that amount. We bought only 1,512,000 tons, so that we actually purchased less than we told the European Committee was our minimum requirement. But currency difficulties were not to count. It does not make sense. We have gone without these animal feedingstuffs and we have had this very much reduced pig and poultry population. What are we to do now? Surely we must get along as quickly as possible and make up for it. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) gave some disquieting figures as to the drop in production last December as compared with last July, which I hope will startle the right hon. Gentleman out of his apparent complacency on this important subject. Because I know the right hon. Gentleman will have a lot to say—he ought to have a lot to say and certainly he is entitled to have a considerable period of time in which to say it—I do not intend to take the matter any further now; but I would point out to him that, while there are long-term projects which we agree have to be carefully studied for a gradually increased meat production owing to changing conditions in the world, what is important is that today we have to try and raise the meat ration in this country as soon as possible. If he could so arrange that the pork and bacon ration went up, that would be an equivalent which would be generally acceptable. If he could double or treble the bacon ration, in the difficult position in which he has got himself that would probably go a long way to satisfy some of the people concerned. But he must hurry up and get on with it. I repeat that, interesting though the Debate has been, in practically every speech, sight has been lost of the fact that it is the cut in the meat ration today which we are discussing, and it is the responsibility of the Government for that cut which the Committee has to consider. After all, the late lamented Sir Ben Smith did not make a hundredth part of the mistakes which the right hon. Gentleman has made; he went off to the Coal Board. I do not know what the ultimate destination of the right hon. Gentleman may be, but if tonight is his swan-song I am sure there will be a sigh of relief throughout the country. If there is one thing which is quite certain—and I am afraid it must have come to his own notice as well as to mine—it is that the country as a whole has lost confidence in his administration—[Interruption]—certainly. And I would say that the producers in the countryside, upon whom he depends for a great part of the foodstuffs which he distributes through his organisation, certainly have not the confidence in him which they ought to have. Nor are they satisfied that there is co-operation between him and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture who in these Debates never sits anywhere near him. The right hon. Gentleman has broken three records. Whether he is proud of them or not I do not know, but they have all been to the detriment of the country. There was potato rationing, there was bread rationing, and there have been two cuts in the meat ration within the last two or three months. The right hon. Gentleman has a great responsibility in these matters. He has broken three records. I think that ought to be enough and that he had better go."Since further supplies of imported feeding-stuffs are affected by supply and currency difficulties, and cannot be predicted with certainty, It is more than ever necessary to raise production of home-grown feedingstuffs."
I shall come later to the various remarks of a more serious character which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) made, but I cannot forbear commenting on one remark he made. He considered that the country had shown recently that they had lost confidence in the present Administration—
No—in the Minister of Food.
Well, we all stand together.
What about Dundee?
I think we shall find that Dundee will follow in this matter at least the example of the other constituencies in this country. I was about to say if this is a loss of confidence in the present Administration, then long may we continue to enjoy such a loss of confidence. We shall continue Parliament after Parliament enjoying a loss of confidence if that is so, because the electorate persistently endorses us and repudiates the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.I come to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). I think that we in this Committee and the country generally owe him a debt of gratitude for the way in which he made his speech and the restraint with which he dealt with the matter of the Argentine negotiations. He rightly stressed the very great gravity of the situation which has made us, forced us, to reduce the meat ration. Do not think for one moment that any one in any corner of this Committee for one second wants to suggest that it is not an exceedingly grave situation when our meat ration is as low as it is today. My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary used some very well turned phrases when she put the matter in some perspective. A picture had been presented to the Committee of this country being far worse off for meat than any other country in this hemisphere. Really, that is not the case. The right hon. Gentleman rather twitted me and said that I had exaggerated the price of meat in France. He said that in reality the price of meat in France is only 4s. a pound.
I did not say that. The right hon. Gentleman was 100 per cent. wrong, which is not bad.
No. I said that it was 8s. a pound or 4s. a kilo, which is the same thing. [Laughter.] Really hon. Gentlemen are surpassing themselves in childishness this evening. Eight shillings a pound and 4s. a kilo—
There are two pounds in a kilo.
I had alleged that the price of meat in France was 8s., and the right hon. Gentleman said that it was only 4s. That is exactly what I have been repeating here. There are two pounds to a kilo, are there not? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I said that the price of meat was 8s. a pound. The right hon. Gentleman says that I am wrong and that it was 8s. a kilo or 4s. a pound. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is what. I have been saying the whole evening. The right hon. Gentleman keeps repeating that the price is only 4s. a pound. I want him to go out into the country to the housewives of whom he has been speaking and to say, "The price of meat in France is only 4s. a pound." I say to him that, grievous as our present position is, and I do not deny that it is grievous, the housewives of this country would rather have even the present ration than the price of 4s. a pound, and that is the point which is never understood by hon. Members opposite, because 4s. a pound means very little to them, though it is a desperate matter for the housewives of this country.My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was perfectly correct when she showed from the figures of the Food and Agriculture Organisation that, as a matter of fact, low as is our meat level, and no one denies it, the actual level of consumption in those unrationed countries of Europe has been very much lower. [HON. MEMBERS: "Two years ago."] No, precisely a year ago. The figures go up to exactly one year ago, and they show that the consumption of meat in Europe a year ago averaged 26 kilos per head per year. At that time, the consumption in this country averaged 49 kilos per head per year. We do not know what it may be this year, but, even if it is as low as today, it is considerably more than the average level in Europe in those unrationed countries. That is what hon. Gentlemen opposite will never understand—that these unrationed countries may be consuming considerably less of these foodstuffs than we are with our ration, low as it is in this country at present.
No, I must get on. It is precisely because the people of this country understand that fact that they continue to give us their support, in spite of the difficulties they have to go through.The next point to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and it was repeated by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who summed up, was about Australia, and he asked me for an assurance that we were going to give the Australian Government the assurances and guarantees for which they had asked. I am very glad to give him that assurance, but I was struck by the fact that he came to ask me that question after throwing out very serious criticism of the Government's trading policy in bulk buying and long-term contracts. He instanced Eire, and said that in that case this Government had made a bad blunder. He quoted the Eire Minister of Agriculture as complaining that he could not make the British buy Eire cattle. That is an unfortunate instance for him to have Chosen, because, in that particular instance, rightly or wrongly, we leave the buying of Eire cattle purely to private enterprise. We have no powers to force private enterprise to buy, but perhaps we might consider the urgings of the right hon. Gentleman and introduce State trading into that field also. It was a curious argument—this urging, which I certainly think is well justified, to make the longest possible long-term contracts with the Australian Government and give them the assurance so that they can buy from us what they require for the capital development schemes which they must put up if they are largely to increase the supply of meat to this country. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to say definitely whether the British Government are prepared to meet the Australian Government on any reasonable proposal with a really long-term guarantee, and I assure him that we are so prepared. He further asked me whether the Australian Government know this, and whether we have informed them, and I say that we informed them of it months ago. We were delighted to read in the newspapers only the other day that the Australian Prime Minister, who will be in this country very soon, is coming here prepared with definite schemes and a definite proposal to us, on which I am sure we shall be able to make our arrangements and agreements, so as to get this very great scheme, this very long-term scheme, of development in Australia into actual operation. At that point the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington raised the question of coarse grains and animal feedingstuffs, a question which has been raised by a great many hon. Members during the Debate. I shall deal with the whole picture and not reply to individual Members. What is the picture which right hon. and hon. Members opposite have endeavoured to give to the Committee of the position of animal feeding-stuffs? They have tried—and it is within the recollection of the Committee—to paint a picture of a supine Government which was simply, for some strange reasons of its own, refusing to take any steps to buy feedingstuffs in anything like adequate quantities for the farmers and stock-breeders. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is precisely the picture and I am glad to have my remarks endorsed. That is the picture which hon. Gentlemen opposite have tried to paint of the Government's conduct in the question of coarse grains. Let us look at the figures of what has been done. Let us take the post-war years. It is perfectly true that in the years immediately after the war—and I shall give the reasons in a moment, although any hon. Member who has forgotten them must have a very short memory—this country was not able to purchase millions of tons of cereals for animal feeding. For reasons which I shall give we might even have hesitated to do so, even if we could have purchased those cereals. In the year 1945–46—these are crop years—we imported only 414,000 tons of cereals for animal feedingstuffs. That was the low point. What did we do in the next year? In 1946–47 we imported 670,000 tons of coarse grains for animal feedingstuffs. In 1947–48 that figure of our imports of coarse grains had risen to 1,647,000 tons and in 1948–49, the year we are just completing, our coarse grains imports will reach 2,282,000 tons. It really is ridiculous for hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the face of those figures, to carry on with the pretence that we are not importing coarse grains into the country. Let me comment on those figures. Why was it that the figures were low in 1945–46? Have right hon. and hon. Members opposite really forgotten what the condition of the world was at that time? Have they forgotten that at that time there was a 12 million tons deficit, not of animal feedingstuffs but of human feedingstuffs, of cereals in the world? Have they forgotten that at that time this country—my predecessor did it, but all honour to him for doing it—exported feedingstuffs? My predecessor had to send to a starving Germany and a starving Europe his barley and maize, not for animal feedingstuffs but to keep alive human beings who would be dead today if we had taken those coarse grains and used them for animal feedingstuffs. Have they forgotten that at that time the French, whose position has been instanced so often this afternoon, were putting 30 per cent. of maize into their bread, and again in the year after that? Have they forgotten that at that time a great part of the British Commonwealth, India, was in a position of semi-starvation, desperately importing cereals on a scale far greater than normal because her supplies of rice were almost completely cut off? The Committee has been given this picture of a lazy, useless Government which will not import coarse grains to feed British animals. [Interruption.] I take that noise to mean that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite really do say that any—
On a point of Order. Would it be in Order for my right hon. Friend to repeat the last four sentences of his speech, which were completely lost to those on this side of the Committee who want to hear what he has to say?
I can quite imagine why right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are trying to drown what I am saying, because the applause apparently endorses my statement that they really think that the British Government in 1945 to 1946, even if they could, ought to have poured down the throats of British animals those hundreds of thousands of tons of coarse grains which, in fact, were used to feed starving people of the world. That, apparently, causes intense amusement to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The right hon. Gentleman appears to be replying to me. The fact is that on this side of the Committee no one mentioned 1945 and 1946. [Interruption.] I am only trying to put a point to the right hon. Gentleman. I say that in the whole Debate no one on this side has mentioned 1945 and 1946. What we have asked repeatedly and ask again is: why the Lord President's pledge, given in the Autumn of 1947, has not been carried out?
Hon. Gentlemen must permit the right hon. Gentleman to continue his speech.
On a point of Order. May I call your attention to the fact, Major Milner, that during the closing remarks of my right hon. Friend there was constant interruption? One hon. Gentleman opposite and an hon. Lady opposite, below the Gangway, constantly interrupted. May I further call your attention to the fact that there is a custom in this Chamber that if one side is interrupted the other is as well.
The right hon. Gentleman has been very much interrupted. He has only a limited time in which to speak—
A good job too.
—and must be permitted, as others have been, to complete his speech.
The right hon. Gentleman denies that there has been mention of 1945 and 1946. Then he must come to the present year. We were importing only 414,000 tons, but now we have imported 2,282,000 tons. It is utterly untrue that as soon as world conditions made it possible and made it right to import considerable quantities of cereals for animal feedingstuffs in this country the Government failed to seize every opportunity to do so. Is this all?I have given only the import figures. Now we come to the overall figures. We have had constant accusations during the whole of the day that we are failing to stimulate home production of cereals and of every kind of food. I give the figures—they have been available—of both imports and home production for distribution for the animal feedingstuffs ration. In 1945 there were 3,250,000 tons; in 1946, 3 million tons; in 1947, 3,500,000 tons; in 1948, 4,250,000 tons; and we believe that in 1949 the figure will be between 4,500,000 and 5 million tons—a steady increase and improvement.
That is why we have so much meat.
Is that all? That is not all. That is the animal feedingstuffs in coarse grains of every type, including wheat offal. As well as that, we have been able to allow the farmers of this country to retain larger quantities of their cereals than ever before. In the case of barley, up to the 1947 harvest a farmer was able to retain only 5 per cent. of his crop of barley. Up to the 1948 harvest he retained 25 per cent. of his barley and now, coming to the 1949 harvest, he can, if he wishes, retain all his barley for animal feeding. In wheat, up to the 1947 harvest he could retain only 5 per cent., in 1948 he could retain 25 per cent., and in 1949 he will probably be able again to retain at least 25 per cent. These figures are in addition to the ones which I have just given and show that the total availability has gone up more steeply.The actual total amount of animal feedingstuffs which will be available this year will be, we reckon, some 6¾ million tons, which is well on the way to a restoration of the pre-war position. Therefore, this whole picture of failure to buy animal feedingstuffs and to provide animal feedingstuffs, which unquestionably is a most important thing to do, has no element of fact in it whatever; and it is frightfully important that we on this side of the Committee should know the figures and be ready to rebut the base charges which have no element of fact and which have been made this afternoon and this evening. Let me say that by simply repeating over and over again—
What about the ration? Where is the meat?
We are talking about animal feedingstuffs. There has been a steady increase in the distribution of these rations, and it is very important that these utterly baseless charges, in respect of which no figures have ever been produced to substantiate a single one of them, should be met by the accurate figures which I have given to the Committee today.I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate to give the figures—and this matter was referred to by several other hon. Members—of the pig population of this country, and suggestions were made that after some increase the pig population is now rapidly diminishing. The figures are these: In December, 1946, breeding sows and gilts, which are the things which really matter, numbered 150,000; at the end of December, 1947, 205,000; and at the end of December, 1948, 269,000 Once again there is not the slightest element of fact in the suggestion which has been made again and again that somehow or other—
What about 1938?
In 1938 they were, of course, far larger than that. We have had to build up from the very low level of 150,000 sows. That surely is the relevant figure. We were then told that the poultry population of this country was going down. The poultry population has reached and passed the pre-war level. It is perfectly untrue to say that the very large tonnages of animal feedingstuffs which I have mentioned have not had their effect. They have had their effect in restoring, as rapidly as is humanly possible, the animal population of this country, first of pigs and poultry because the breeding cycle is much quicker, and also of cattle.Now I come to another point which the right hon. Gentleman has asked me to cover, and of which a great deal has been made, although I think there is very little in it. That is the statement by the Lord President of the Council that dollars would be used if necessary to buy animal feedingstuffs. That statement is perfectly true. Like every other raw material—because animal feedingstuffs is a raw material for the agricultural industry, just as cotton is a raw material for the textile industry—we shall always buy feeding-stuffs if we can from sterling sources or other non-dollar sources, but if it is impossible to get it from those sources, then I repeat the statement of the Lord President of the Council that we shall, if necessary, use even scarce dollars to buy animal feedingstuffs. I really cannot see any mystery, or any repudiation whatever of that pledge in the statements which have been made on this subject.
Does that mean the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that he is getting sufficient feedingstuffs from the sterling area, and that he need not therefore enter the dollar area at the moment?