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Ministry Of Food (Continuance) Bill

Volume 41: debated on Friday 6 August 1920

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Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

My Lords, the duties of the Food Controller are laid down under the New Ministries Act of 1916; on the other hand, the powers of the Food Controller are established under the Defence of the Realm Act. The New Ministries Act brings the Ministry of Food to an end twelve months after the end of the war, unless it is done earlier by Order in Council; whereas the Defence of the Realm Act, under which the Minister's powers are conferred, comes to an end on whatever date is fixed for the termination of the war. The object of the present Bill is, in the first instance, to bring the powers and duties of that Department into line in respect of the date of termination. The Bill proposes that practically two years shall be allowed during which the Government may continue this measure—namely, until the first day of September, 1922.

I will briefly outline the necessity for continuing this Department. In the first place it has duties of liquidation, not merely of adjusting outstanding accounts but disposing of property, and the liquidation of what, in its way, I take to be one of the largest commercial concerns in the world. It is the confident hope that during the period allotted by the Bill this liquidation can be completed. Should it prove possible to do it at an earlier date, power is taken to transfer to some other Department whatever may remain of the duties of the Ministry of Food. When I use the word "liquidation" I do not mean the mere adjustment of financial accounts, but the disposal of stocks held by the Ministry. There are considerable amounts of mutton, cheese, feeding-stuffs, and so On—

Will the noble Earl explain what is included under the head of feeding-stuffs?

I take it that the ordinary cattle cakes of various descriptions are meant, but I will give my noble friend a Schedule if he desires to have it.

Feeding-stuffs for cattle; the dried fruits are for human beings. So much for the liquidation of stocks. With regard to the supply situation, there are still three commodities of which a notable shortage exists—sugar, hog-products, and butter. Your Lordships are probably very well aware of the sugar situation in the world; production has fallen very seriously, and consumption naturally has to follow suit. But in the process prices have risen to an unreasonably and unprecedentedly high standard and, in consequence, the rationing of sugar is still being continued. Indeed, for the moment I do not quite see how it can come to an end. The administrative costs of this rationing—which, together with the transactions by the Royal Commission, if I may say so respectfully, seem to show a very great standard of efficiency—amount to 2d. per year for every consumer in the country.

As regards the expense, those of your Lordships who have looked at the Estimates will see that during the present year the outlay upon this Ministry has very largely fallen, but I wish to point out specifically that the Ministry, of Food has always been self-supporting. Thanks to the defeat of the German submarine campaign, the marine reserve in the hands of the Ministry, combined with the balance of its modest profit on trading, will amply cover all expenses of liquidation and all costs of administration for the period contemplated by the Bill. In point of fact, it is quite possible, though I do not dogmatise upon the point, that at the end of the period there still may be a substantial sum to be paid over to the Exchequer.

I should like to refer in detail to one or two of the clauses before filially moving the Second Reading of the Bill. Clause 1 deals with the extension of the period of existence of the Ministry. It refers to the powers of the Minister, which are again referred to in the Schedule of the Bill on which I should like to make a few remarks. As I said, practically all the Food Controller's powers are conferred on him by the Defence of the Realm Act, and those powers are continued, subject to two broad limitations. In the first place, powers which are no longer required are dropped out of the Schedule altogether, and, secondly, the powers referred to in Clause 1 and subject to the limitations of the Schedule are modified in various respects. Broadly speaking, the powers are: to hold, where and when necessary, surveys of supplies; to ascertain conditions of production and manufacture; and to make Orders relating to the distribution, the storage, the sale, or the purchase of articles of food. Then there are further Orders relating to dealing as to, for instance, the sale by weight of tea, or bread, or flour, and Orders relating to the display of prices, so that the public may be informed what they are authorised to charge Finally, there are certain Orders restricting the use of certain food stuffs, flour, for instance, under the Cereals Restriction Order, which may not be used for purposes other than human consumption or seeds, assuming that the grain is in a sound millable condition.

Regulation 2GG of the Defence of the Realm Act empowered the Food Controller to take charge of premises where articles of food were manufactured, stored, or produced. It is no longer considered necessary that such power should be maintained, and, therefore, in Section (4) of the Schedule, the power of the Food Controller in this respect is limited to flour and other mills to which the Regulation applies at the time of the passing of this Bill. Hitherto the Ministry of Food has been able to take control of premises and thus govern the output of jam manufacturies, bacon curing stations, or sugar refineries. These powers, fortunately, need no longer be exercised, and it is only in respect of flour mills, which are controlled by the State and gualanteed by the State, that the power under Regulation 2GG still continues necessary. Clause 1 is, of course, the most important clause in the Bill.

Clause 2 is intended to simplify procedure under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts. It provides a uniform penalty, there having been, up to the present, two systems under which prosecutions have taken place. Clause 3 requires a word or two of comment. Powers mentioned here, of course, are existing powers. In the first instance it would appear needless that the Food Controller should regulate the importation or export of food long after the war, It is, however, still necessary. It is obviously necessary that the export of subsidised foodstuffs cannot be allowed. To do so would be to allow the trader in this country to buy the article at subsidised prices, at cheap prices, and sell it abroad at the world's price, which clearly, in the case of flour, is enormously higher. That involves the necessity of this power being retained by the Food Controller. The subsidised articles to which this would apply to-day are bread, flour, wheat-flour, and wheatmeal, and all articles containing any of these products. Free export cannot be permitted of foodstuffs purchased for the Government apart from subsidised foodstuffs. To do so would be to allow a private trader to profiteer by selling abroad at a high and, indeed, at an exhorbitant price, articles which the Government here had purchased at lower prices. Government purchases are not made unless there is a world shortage of the article, or unless private enterprise is unable to, fulfil the obligation of ensuring adequate supplies in this country. Under such conditions to permit free export would probably involve, or possibly involve, a reduction of necessary supplies at home and it certainly would involve an increase in their prices in this country.

As regards the importation of foodstuffs the invariable experience of the Ministry of Food has led one to see that when an essential commodity is rationed on account of short supplies, if it is to be managed with efficiency and economy there must be regulation of the import of that commodity by private traders. Take the case of sugar. A trader or retailer could import sugar into this country and possibly he could sell that sugar at a lower rate than the average rate charged by the Government for the total sugar supplies of the country. If one, for instance, allowed free importation of sugar, it would injure and perhaps defeat efficient and economic distribution in more ways than one. In the first place, it would involve a duplication of distribution, and one must remember that rationing of sugar nowadays involves complete Government distribution from the importer to the actual retailer. Secondly, if free sugar were imported into this country at a higher price than the sugar distributed to the trade by the Sugar Commission, the temptation for those who held the sugar bought at a low price from the Government to treat it as sugar purchased at higher prices through private importers might be irresistible. The sugar would be interchangeable; they are identical articles, and if there was a block of expensive sugar in the market it would tend to raise the price of sugar which should be sold at a much lower figure, and of which the quantity supplied would be greater. That is why it is necessary to maintain these powers to regulate both the import and export of certain food articles. I should add that under the clause any Order which is made to effect this is to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and may be annulled on the presentation of an Address to the King by either House within twenty days.

Clause 4 should, I think, be mentioned. During the war, under instructions of the Government, a large acreage of hops was grubbed up with a view of increasing the production of cereals. Clause 4 gives to the Ministry of Food power to encourage the production of hops for the next five years. It is the duty of the Government to ensure that this important, though localised, industry should be assisted to recover from the injury inflicted upon it at the instance of the Government during the war. It it be not so, I am not at all sure that it would be possible to re-establish this particular branch of husbandry. The clause provides that the Ministry, either itself, or by some other Department, shall exercise powers for the next five years with regard to the regulation of the importation of hops into this country as may appear necessary, bearing always this object in view. That really completes my short exposition of the Bill as I have already referred to the four limitations laid down in the Schedule. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a .— (The Earl of Cranford).

My Lords, I rise under some difficulty to make a few observations upon the Second Reading of this Bill—a difficulty which arises, unhappily, from the fact that I have not the same facility of hearing everything said by those in charge of these measures which I formerly enjoyed. Personally, I have always entertained the notion,and entertained it very strongly, that this was one of the most costly, and unnecessarily costly, of the new Departments which have been created under this Government—bureaucratic Departments which are costing such enormous sums to the country at the present time, without there being, as far as I am able to judge, any serious intention on the part of the present Government materially to reduce their number. I came into the House with the full intention of moving the rejection of this Bill on Second Reading, but after listening to the noble Lord who has just sat down, so far as I have been able to follow him, I think there are some powers given under this Bill, especially with regard to flour—which is, after all, the main ingredient in what is by far and away the kind of food most largely consumed by the population of this country—which are important, and I should hesitate to take that step without hearing more than I have done already upon the subject.

Let me remind the House of what I said about the costliness of this Department—and that began at its very early stages. I find, on referring to what happened in 1918, that the expenditure of that Department for the month of December, 1917, was only £48,000, but within six months after that time it amounted, under Lord Rhondda's administration, to the enormous sum of £183,185,908. That is for the six months following the month of December, 1917, and that information was given to me by the noble Earl opposite.

I also gave my noble friend information of the receipts during that period. Will he please quote them?

No, I do not think you did. I have endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to follow whatever Papers have been given in regard to the expenditure of this Department, but I have never been able to find any account whatever of that expenditure for the six months, which is at the rate of nearly £400,000,000 a year. I have never had any satisfactory answer upon that question from that day to this. I should have pursued the matter and brought it home if it had been possible for me to do so, but, unfortunately, I was laid up just afterwards for many months by a serious illness, and was unable to take any further part in the proceedings of this House. Now what is it that the noble Earl has told us to-night? Among other things I was astounded to hear that under Clause 4 this Department, or some other Department of the State, is to be enabled to continue its work for another five years. Am I right or wrong as to that?

Correct, but only in respect of hops. The Department, as such, can last for two years, but the powers in relation to maintaining and stimulating the growth of hops may last for five years.

Even two years is a great deal more than I should think necessary in any circumstances for the continuation of this Department. I labour, as I have said, under a great disadvantage, but I still adhere to my opinion, and while I am not prepared, after hearing the statement of the noble Lord, to move the rejection of this Bill, I shall certainly take whatever course I find within my powers to reduce the period for which it is proposed that this Department should last. It is only fair that I should give notice to my noble friend that that is my intention. This Department, of course, will have to be wound up, and I cannot see any reason in the world why a Department where the accounts are satisfactorily kept and which is properly administered should not be wound up within six months from the present time. I think a period until, say, March 1, 1921, would be sufficient for this Department to be properly closed.

There is no Department that I am aware of which has given more hindrance to what we have been told by the Government themselves, over and over again, is one of the most pressing necessities of the present time—namely, an immensely increased production of food within our own borders. Over and over again the Ministry of Food has interfered with and arrested that most desirable progress. I will give your Lordships one instance. The Prime Minister, who has grasped the agricultural position in this country more quickly, I think, than anyone I ever knew who had really only a very small practical experience of it before, raised his voice at one time, or issued a manifesto, emphasising the enormous importance of greatly increasing the production of pigs in this country. He was perfectly right. He was very wise in making that recommendation, because where an old ewe produces two lambs, and a cow one calf, in the year, a good old sow thinks very little of producing fifteen or twenty little pigs at a litter, and of doing it twice a year. If there is any danger of running short in the matter of meat the first thing you ought to do, not only for the food of the people, but in the interests of the small holders in this country, is to encourage them in the keeping of pigs, and where they have kept one pig before to enable them to keep two pigs now.

What was the outcome of this statement on the part of the Prime Minister? A Director of Pigs was very shortly appointed, and one of the best men in the country was selected for the position, Mr. Cautley, a member of the House of Commons, and one of the most representative county members in that House. What happened then? He set to work, with very little assistance indeed from the Board of Agriculture, and started the pig-breeding industry all over the country, and just as it was growing and might have continued to grow to any extent, what occurred? A message was sent from the Ministry of Food, if you please, to the Board of Agriculture: "You must stop this immediately." Why? "Because we cannot find the food to give to the pigs." That message was sent at a time—I remember the period perfectly well—when there was such an enormous amount of grass, owing to the season in the country, that animals could hardly be found in sufficient number to consume it. And pigs will eat grass just as well as bullocks will, and what is more they do more good to it, and manure the land better than bullocks. And after all this expense had been incurred it was stopped by the Ministry of Food saying: "We cannot provide the food that you want for the animals."

I have given your Lordships an instance of the intolerable mischief of this Department in interfering with matters regarding which they were consummately ignorant, and of which they remain, I have not the slightest doubt, equally ignorant at the present moment. That is one reason why I want to get rid of this Department, and why it ought to be got rid of at the earliest possible moment. It does nothing but interfere with what is one of the most serious requirements of the country at the present time—an immense increase in the home production of food. Looking at the general political position at the moment, and reading the news which we see every say, one naturally asks: "How long may it be before a greatly increased production of home-grown food becomes a more vital necessity to this country than perhaps it ever was?" I do not think I need delay your Lordships longer upon this. When we go into Committee I shall be prepared to move Amendments, and although I shall not move the rejection of the Bill now, as I had intended to do before the speech of the noble Earl, I shall take every opportunity within my power to reduce the period of the existence of the Ministry of Food.

My Lords, I should like to reply in a very few words to one or two of Lord Chaplin's observations. With regard to the pig control, Lord Chaplin was good enough to say that it came to an end owing to the intolerable interference of the Food Ministry—

And owing to their deplorable ignorance which still survives, perhaps in an exacerbated form.

It is quite true that at one stage Mr. Cautley was invited to do whatever lay in his power to stimulate the production of pigs—a very proper proceeding, too. But the pig, notwithstanding the vivacity of the animal to which Lord Chaplin has referred, produces its increment of population in due course, and at the moment when the increment of population matured, very grave events had happened quite irrespective of the Ministry of Food—namely, serious checks on the Continent and continued loss of food ships. It became impossible for this country, therefore, to continue to import the necessary barley and maize, because the tonnage had to be diverted to other and more urgent purposes. An increased importation of munitions into this country and an enormously enlarged programme of bringing over American troops became necessary. That is why the increased production of pigs failed. It was unfortunate, but I think it is almost frivolous to apply the blame solely to the Ministry of Food.

The noble Lord quite forgets that I stated—and it is a positive fact—that there was an extraordinary production of grass that year, and more than ample as a substitute food for the pigs.

If that be the case, then perhaps this year our farmers will not require to import maize. Yet they are making every effort to import maize and barley for pig-feeding. There is plenty of second-class grass this year, and if it does equally well for fattening pigs our farmers must be very ill-informed if they do not use it instead of the normal pig-feeding cereals. In regard to the statement that two years is too long for the duration of this Ministry, I would point out that it is stated in the Bill in terms that such period may not be necessary, and powers are taken to end the Ministry at an earlier date if the liquidation makes that possible. But the scale of liquidation is immense, and I do not think it is possible that by March, 1921, as Lord Chaplin suggests, this liquidation can be concluded.

Let me reply to two other comments of Lord Chaplin, drawn in such very wide and, may I say, extravagant terms that I should at least like to record my dissent to them. Lord Chaplin said that this Department was one of the most costly that has been established since the war. He quoted the figures of expenditure by the Food Control Department in six months. It was a big figure—£1200,000,000 I think —but if he had taken another six months he might have quoted an expenditure of £500,000,000. It is no good quoting expenditure in a commercial concern unless, at the same moment, you quote income and assets.

May I intervene for a moment? I remember this con- troversy occurring between us before. I said then that it should not be treated as a trading concern. Government Departments never ought to be trading concerns.

This Government Department has to import. Does Lord Chaplin think that a Government Department should conduct its transactions at a loss to the taxpayer?

Does Lord Chaplin mean that a Government Department in these circumstances must not make a profit? Huge expenditure—gigantic expenditure—was involved. The expenditure to-day on bringing the necessary breadstuffs into the country amounts, I suppose, to £100,000 a day. I do not know if that is the figure. But it is all re-sold; the great bulk of it has actually been re-sold and the books have been balanced long ago. I repeat in categorical terms that the Ministry of Food, since its inception till to-day, has been self-supporting and has not cost the taxpayer one penny.

The Comptroller-and Auditor-General, of course, has had the figures; they are laid before Parliament. I will quote the Report on the Ministry of Food by the Select Committee on National Expenditure which was presented to the House of Commons about a week ago:—

"The Ministry has consistently aimed at conducting its operations in such a way that there is, after including the administrative expenses of the Department and of other Departments on its behalf, neither appreciable profit nor loss upon the transactions taken as a whole."

This is paragraph 29 of the Report that was printed by the House of Commons on July 20 last. I hope Lord Chaplin will accept that statement—

"From evidence supplied it appears to be highly probable that the trading and administrative accounts, when closed and audited, will show that the above object has been attained and that only a fractional profit, if any, will remain after any unforeseen losses on realisation of stocks, together with the costs of liquidation and of administration have been met."
I submit that Lord Chaplin, who says that this ought not to be a commercial concern—

Will the noble Erl kindly tell me—for I have never been able to find them—where the figures which he gave me for the first six months after December of the total expenditure of the Ministry of Food— namely, £185,195,268—can be found? Will he tell me where the account of what was received for the same period is to be found in any Papers that have been laid before Parliament? I have never been able to find them.

It is quite impossible for me to say off-hand. where the figures are printed.

Of course I can find out, but I cannot at this moment say on what page and in what volume the accounts for 1917 are printed. At a hazard I should suggest the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, but of course I can inquire. There is no secret about the figures. I quote the unanimous Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Financial Expenditure to prove that this great commercial organisation has not set out to make a profit, has done its best to avoid a loss, and in the process expects, when its accounts are concluded, that only a fractional profit, if any, will remain after unforeseen losses have been met. I wish to say one more word in defence of the Ministry of Food, because I cannot help feeling that it is unfortunate that such broad and easily-made charges should go by default. There was the statement, for instance, that not only was it the most costly of all the Departments but one of the most unnecessary. May I ask your Lordships to take your minds back, we will say, to September, 1916? The submarine campaign, though not at its height, was then giving such grave anxiety to traders in this country that in October of that year the dislocation of our bread supplies was imminent. Traders had stopped bringing and directing breadstuffs to Great Britain.

The price was high, the risk was intolerable, and unless the Government had taken action at that moment, by Christmas there would have been no bread in this country. That is a commonplace; it is acknowledged by every wheat trader in the land. Therefore it became necessary that the Government should take control of the importation, and, consequentially, of the internal control and management of all breadstuffs. That extended to other cereal articles. Had that not been done by Christmas of 1916, or at any rate by March, 1917, there would have been practically no bread in Great Britain.

May I ask my noble friend, when he makes that statement, it he takes into account the flour which is made from wheat, and flour which is made from barley, from oats and even from potatoes, from which it was made in great quantities during the war?

I do not know what you mean by breadstuffs. I have given you particulars of what I mean.

I am taking into account all breadstuffs and all that we used to call "diluents," with which we made the output of flour go further. I do not want to enter into this; but that is the case. Now I ask your Lordships to carry your minds back to the winter of 1917 and the early months of 1918. The Ministry of Food was then in full operation. If it had not possessed the powers some of which are now renewed in this Bill, there would have been no rationing. The result of no rationing would have meant that sugar and meat would have been unobtainable by the artisan classes of this country. Your Lordships will remember in the winter of 1917 what to me was almost one of the most melancholy sights that I can recall, apart from seeing people evacuated from a French village, that there were rows four hundred yards long and ten yards deep of people standing waiting outside the shops to get the most elementary foodstuffs. At that stage the Ministry of Food wisely settled that rationing was imperative, otherwise only those who could afford to pay the inflated prices would obtain those essential materials which were in such short supply. A rationing system was set up—almost extemporised—which in my opinion worked quite admirably. It has been tried in all sorts of other countries in Europe, and it has certainly succeeded, but never so well as in our own country, with one possible exception.

Those are two achievements which food control has accomplished. At the outset it secured the bread supply of this country at a moment when private enterprise had hopelessly broken down. At a subsequent and much more serious stage in our history, by this system of rationing which was carried out with most marvellous efficiency, and above all with unflinching honesty, we were carried through what in my opinion would otherwise have been the greatest crisis in the war and one which we as a country might have failed to survive.

My Lords, I feel bound to support the Second Reading of this Bill, although I hope that at the earliest possible moment the power which is vested in the Privy Council will be brought into operation in order to terminate the existence of this Department. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether what he has said with regard to the Ministry of Food applies also to the two Royal Commissions, of one of which he has been, since the very commencement, himself the chairman. It is perfectly true that they have operated under the supervision, if not under the actual control, of the Food Controller, but I fancy that in law they are quite distinct corporate organisations, and I should like to know whether, in fact, they will stand and fall with the Ministry of Food.

May I say, as having for a long time presided over the Royal Commission on Sugar Supplies, and as being still one of the members of the Commission, that I do not think it would be at all safe to attempt to wind up the Government control in respect to that commodity, at any rate at present. But I hope and believe that, long before the period mentioned in this Bill, probably in the spring of next year, and with the increased and cheaper freights available, it may be possible to discontinue control in the matter of sugar. It is almost common knowledge throughout the world when the British Government is in the market, whether for sugar, wheat, flour, or any other similar commodity and, consequently, as soon as freights are available and cheap enough to bring those commodities in increasing quantity from other countries, it is obviously in the best interests of the consuming population to reinstate the laws of supply and demand and create that competition which does, in the long run, enable the consumer to obtain his food at a reasonable cost. There is this unfortunate fact with regard to all Government control in respect of essential food commodities, that you are bound to base your prices upon the cost of production under the least favourable circumstances which, of course, means that, whereas a certain number of producers make very large profits, others are kept alive in their industry as the result of control, to the detriment of the pockets of the public.

My Lords, would the noble Earl be so good as to look at Clause 1 (2), which says:—

"The Food Controller shall after the passing of this Act during the continuance of his office have and exercise all the powers possessed by him, at the time of the passing of this Act, under the Regulations referred to in the schedule to this Act—"
Now, the Schedule refers to a Regulation to which I want particularly to draw attention. It is Regulation 2B, under which the Food Controller has power to requisition articles of food and so forth, and there is a special provision in that Regulation for the price which is to be paid. Then the subsection goes on—
"which regulations, so far as they relate to the powers of the Food Controller, shall, subject to the limitations set out in that schedule, have effect as though set out in this Act, and shall cease to have effect as regulations made under any enactment relating to the Defence of the Realm."
Regulation 2B originally was a Regulation made under the Defence of the Realm Act and it only derived its validity from that Act. This is, on the face of it, quite c'early a re-enactment of 2B as a clause in this Bill. It happens that 2B has been held, by a decision of the High Court, to have been ultra vires as a Regulation under the Defence of the Realm Act.

I have not read the decision, I have formed no opinion about it, and I do not even know upon what particular train of reasoning the result is arrived at, but that was the decision. I understand the case is under appeal, but the fact that a decision is under appeal does not in the least prevent it from having all the force of a binding decision of the High Court, so far as it goes, and so long as it stands. It appears to me that this subsection (2)—I do riot know whether it is inadvertent or not—has taken advantage of the opportunity of the introduction of this Bill to overrule that decision before it has been brought before the Court of Appeal; because it enacts that the Regulation is to operate, not as a Regulation under the Defence of the Realm, but as something validated by this Bill, and deriving its, validity front this Bill. That is to say, whether that decision were right or wrong, henceforward 2B is to be enacted, and 2B is to be enacted in time of peace, although its whole origin was in the early part of the war.

When this matter was considered in the earlier part of this year under the War Emergency Laws (Continuance) Act, the Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act were continued by Section 2, but subject to this proviso—
"Provided also that no such Regulation, as so continued, shall have greater validity than it had before the time when, but for this Act, it would have expired."
That is to say, in March of this year the Legislature continued 2B, only subject to its infirmities as they then existed, and deliberately refrained from re-enacting it as a new enactment. This Bill comes up to us from another place re-enacting it as a totally new matter, and giving it a validity which, according to the decision of Mr. Justice Salter, it had not at the time it was made. There may be good reasons for doing that. I cannot help thinking that they should be laid before your Lordships' House at some stage or other.

I do not say anything about the attitude of the measure towards a decision of the High Court, though I think that is to be regretted, because I should have thought it would be presumed that that decision was right until it had been, at any rate, argued and reversed upon appeal. But, if there be reasons making it desirable in time of peace to make valid a Regulation which was framed under the Defence of the Realm Act for the purposes of the war, and exceeding the powers of that Act, I suggest that at some stage the noble Earl would perhaps be so good as to lay before the House the reasons for it. I admit this is rather a Committee point, but as the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, put a question to the noble Earl, I thought I might take advantage of this opportunity to bring it before his attention, because he may consider it between now and the Committee stage and perhaps see reason to propose an Amendment. I suggest that there is no reason at all to go beyond the words "Food Controller" and there is no reason to say that it should have effect as though set out in this Act.

My Lords, before the noble Earl opposite replies to the interesting and important point which has been raised by the noble Lord on the cross benches, I desire to make one observation on this Bill. I listened with attention and admiration to the gallant defence which the noble Earl opposite made of the Food Controller's Department. I am not quite sure that he has altogether realised that, certainly so far as this House is concerned, and largely also with regard to the country, the undoubted unpopularity which has pursued that Department almost since its inception has been owing to the belief that many people have entertained, and entertained I think not without good reason, that from time to time the Food Controller was engaged in a sort of death grapple with the Minister of Agriculture on matters affecting the food supply of the country.

As the interests of agriculture are so largely represented in this House it is not surprising that the office of the Food Controller has not been regarded as a rule with great favour by your Lordships. The only point I desired to make is this. My noble friend Lord Chaplin has announced his intention of moving that the term during which the life of the Ministry should be continued should be abbreviated from that which is prescribed in the Bill. I wonder whether it would not be possible for His Majesty's Government to accept some shortening of the period. The Bill proposes that an extended period of rather more than two years should be named for the further continuance of the Ministry, His Majesty's Government holding out hopes that, as time goes on and events mature in a way which it is not possible to foresee at the moment, it may be possible from time to time to drop certain portions of the control, and conceivably even to conclude it earlier. That, I take it, is the object of the provision for transference of certain remaining powers to some other Department. I am afraid the country has not very full confidence in the disposition of His Majesty's Government to shut down these surplus Offices, and therefore it would seem to be wiser, even from their own point of view, if they were to take a shorter period.

I think my noble friend suggests six months; that conceivably might be too short for the winding-up process. I do not profess to know. But the Government could come to Parliament again with the necessary explanations, assuming it to be imperative that still further life should be given to the Department. It may not be possible entirely to wind it up in six or twelve months, although I do not think the noble Earl has committed himself so far as that. In any case, why should not the Government accept a shorter term now and come to Parliament again when, if the reasons are adequate, they would be accepted by another place and here? His Majesty's Government find no difficulty in getting their measures through Parliament with great speed, and I am quite certain that no little satisfaction would be felt in the country if the noble Earl—I do not ask him to say so now, but after consultation—would agree to an arrangement of that kind.

My Lords, I desire to detain your Lordships for one moment more. I assure the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, that there is no indisposition to shut down superfluous Offices. He is much too critical and scholarly a student himself to beg the question deliberately, but that is a question-begging term. It is because this Office is not, in our opinion, superfluous that it has to be carried forward. May I put tins particular difficulty to the noble Marquess? It is conceded that, quite apart from the Sugar Commission and the Wheat Commission, there are gigantic obligations still upon the Food Ministry, and if we announced to-morrow that these Departments were to be wound up in six months we should lose the whole of our staff. The clerk, the warehouseman, the computer, the accountant, everybody wants a certain security of tenure, and if you say the Office is going to be closed in six months your staff vanishes. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, really carries it a little too far. I have given him three or four statements which will require a great deal of reply on his part before he can repeat that this Ministry is both incompetent and costly. One has to think about the actual work that is before us day by day. As it is, the Treasury and other Departments are so exacting in their demands that it is difficult to get the necessary staff to carry on day by day the work of accounting. I give this guarantee on behalf of Mr. McCurdy, not to mention the rest of the members of the Government, that the moment this Department can be wound up it will be wound up. I can personally give that guarantee about the Wheat Commission, and Lord Bledisloe will, I have no doubt, give the same personal guarantee on behalf of his colleagues on the Sugar Commission. There is every desire in the world to end these Departments as soon as conditions permit.

Turning to Lord Bledisloe's question as to these two Commissions, technically they are not within this Bill. Both of them were established before the Ministry of Food came into existence, and the termination of that Ministry does not technically involve the termination of offices which are worked under Royal Warrant. There again, as soon as these Departments can be done away with, of course they will be done away with, and the sooner they can be done away with the sooner everybody will be pleased.

In regard to Regulation 2B, I am certainly not going to embark upon an answer at the present moment. I shall ensure that Lord Sumner's remarks are carefully perused; we shall read them in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow morning. The Regulation in question deals with the requisition of articles of food, and the Ministry of Food desire that the powers should be continued. They are, of course, emergency powers. It is hoped that they will never be put into operation, but we do want to maintain them intact and, of course, we want them to be conferred without any possible doubt as to their validity. If they are included in this Bill in this form I take it they will have statutory validity. There is no concealment as to what the powers are; they are powers which, in certain cases of emergency, might be very important for us to have. But we will look into the question, and when the Committee stage comes forward, if Lord Sumner cares to put down Amendments, I will put myself in a position to give him a reply.

My Lords, I should not have intervened in this debate but for a sentence which fell from tie noble Earl towards the end of his speech. If he will allow me to say so, I listened with considerable satisfaction and conviction to his defence of the Food Ministry and its transactions, but I hope that if the noble Lord, Lord Chaplin, puts down an Amendment in Committee to shorten the life of this Ministry, the noble Earl will be able to produce a rather better argument than he produced just now when he said that they would lose all their staff if they were to terminate the Office in six months. I think there is a little fear outside that security of tenure is precisely what the staff seeks, whereas what is desired by the people is the end of the Ministry. I think we should all feel more happy if provision was made for the staff to finish up the work in six months, or twelve months, or whatever period it may be, rather than it should be said to them: "You probably have two years, anyway." I hope, if the point is raised in Committee, that the noble Earl will offer a better excuse.

I know it cannot end in six months. It is a perfectly incidental thing.

On Question, Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.