Orders of the Day — Civil Contingencies Fund Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 4th March 1919.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr Stanley Baldwin Mr Stanley Baldwin , Bewdley

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Before the introduction of this Bill it was necessary to bring before the House a Financial Resolution, upon which I was enabled to say something in explanation about the nature of this Bill, but hon. Members now have the Bill before them, and it might be desirable to add a little to what I said on the occasion of the Financial Resolution. The Civil Contingencies Fund itself, as Members know, is a comparatively small fund. It has continued its existence from year to year, to provide capital from which the Government may draw in anticipation of sums that are required, and such drawings made in advance are repaid mostly within the financial year in which they are drawn out. The procedure is familiar to old Members of the House. The Civil Contingencies Fund Accounts are examined by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and reported in detail, and are also examined by the Public Accounts Committee in each year. From the year 1861, when the fund was first established, the amount of capital stood at £120,000 for many years, and this amount was raised to £300,000 as recently as 1913, the year before the War.

The reason we have introduced this Bill asking the House to consent to enlarge to a considerable extent the Civil Contingencies Fund for twelve months is as follows: We have done away with Votes of Credit and have endeavoured as far as possible to present full Estimates to Parliament. We shall not be as successful in this effort during the forthcoming year as we should have liked, because it is still impossible for many Departments to estimate with pre-war accuracy what the requirements of their Departments may be. But there are two large Departments in particular for which we shall present practically Token Votes—and I dislike Token Votes as much as my right hon. Friend opposite—those are the Ministry of Munitions and the Ministry of Shipping. The reason is that in each of those Departments there will be in the course of the ensuing twelve months very large Appropriations-in-Aid, and the amount of these Appropriations will go a long way towards supplying the funds for payment on the other side of the balance-sheet. But we have got to remember two things: first, it is quite impossible to for see with certainty what the amount of these Appropriations will be in the course of a year, and, secondly, it will probably be late in the financial year before the Appropriations-in-Aid are received. Therefore a method has to be devised for financing these Departments, in the absence of the Votes of Credit from which they have been financed from the early days of the War until the time when we have dispensed with Votes of Credit.

The means which we have devised is by so enlarging for twelve months the Civil Contingencies Fund that we believe we can get from it all we shall require for this interim finance in the same way that the Vote of Credit was used to supply it from time to time if and when that capital was required for the payment of such services, as I enumerated when I addressed the Committee on the Financial Resolution. I would refer hon. Members to the first and the only operative Clause in the Bill now before us. We seek to provide working capital for the purpose of exchange operations. Then we enumerate the undertakings which would have to be financed, and we use these protecting words, "on account of exigencies arising out of the present War." That guards us to this extent, that no undertaking of such kinds as are described can be entered into except those which arise out of the present War, and then we go on to provide funds for making advances to respective urgent services in respect of provision made or to be made by Parliament. The kind of things that may arise are such as the following: Take the Government programme for housing. Full opportunity for criticism of the Government proposals will naturally arise on the introduction of the Housing Bill. It may be that large quantities of the raw materials for housing—bricks, for example—will require to be paid for before a covering Estimate has passed this House. I do not say that this will happen, but it represents a contingency that may happen, and therefore ought to be provided against, and we seek to provide against it by this Bill.

We subject ourselves, as Members will notice in this Bill, to very substantial restrictions. No issues can be made from the Consolidated Fund after the close of the financial year—that is the 31st of March next year—and every issue made must be repaid not later than the 30th of September, 1920. That does not mean for a moment that large sums will be wanted or may be wanted, and we hope that the bulk of the advances which may be made will be repaid by the end of the financial year. We hope that what are known as the Trading Accounts may be wound up by that date. But we have put the date for these ultimate repayments at September, 1920, so as to allow for the possibility of sums having to be advanced to the end of the financial year, when a margin of time will be necessary before repayment may be made. Then provision is made for the presentation to Parliament of minutes setting forth the purpose for which working capital is required to be advanced from the Civil Contingencies Fund, together with the amount of the advance in each case.

I would remind the House, if I may, that Parliament retains full power to criticise the actions of the Ministers who are responsible for the conduct of these various trading operations, when the Estimates are brought before the House for the salaries of those Ministers and their staffs—in the case, for instance, of Ministries such as the Food Ministry and the Board of Trade, or of the Sugar Commission, whose staff appears under the heading of "Temporary Commissions." Then I would remind the House of one further point. There has been, and rightly been, during the War a very great desire to know what are the results of these trading accounts. But all I have to tell the House to-day is that these accounts are being audited in almost—indeed, I believe in all cases—by professional accountants of high standing, that the accounts when completed and wound up will be examined by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and reported by him in the ordinary way, and that they will be published in due course, when everybody will be able to see the result of the working. I will only add that the moneys alluded to in this Bill do not add one farthing to the Estimates or expenses of the country. They merely provide a convenient form of bank account for which the necessity has arisen in the absence of the Votes of Credit, during this intermediate year, between the time of war and the time when we shall be able once more to have all the Estimates on a peace basis. This is a piece of emergency ad hoclegislation. We cannot do without it, and though I welcome an examination of the Bill and its details in the Committee, I am quite sure that such examination will con- vince the House that I am making no undue request in the circumstances of the moment in asking them to pass this Bill.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

The introduction of this Bill is in compliance with an undertaking by the Leader of the House to me last Friday week in the Debate which arose on the consideration of the Financial-Resolution. On that occasion I asked my right hon. Friend whether the Bill would be drawn in such a way as to permit us to have a wide opportunity or raising the question of Government trading, and the reply of the Leader of the House was that every one of these subjects could be discussed at length. As far as I am able to understand the Bill it is open to us, subject, of course, to your discretion in the matter, to ask the Government what they have done with their existing powers. First, let me say that I welcome this Bill, because as far as I can understand it is the first step towards bringing back some of the old Treasury control over the spending Departments. In Sub-section (2) of Clause1it is provided that Minutes will be laid from time to time before Parliament specifying the purposes for which the working capital has been provided, and the amount advanced in each case. My hon. Friend in charge of the measure has told us rather by way of gently warning us off the ground if I may put it that way, as to particularity, which I have no doubt he rather shrinks from because he cannot possibly be expected to answer in detail for all these vast range of subjects which come within the scope of the Bill, that we shall have the opportunity in Committee on the Estimates. We know very well what that means. The very subject in which hon. Members will probably be most keenly interested, say, meat or wheat, or tea, will probably be buried away and it will be quite impossible to disentangle it from the mass of other subjects which are brought up. Or again, the whole question may be swept away on some discussion of policy which leaves the Committee unable to tackle the urgency of the particular problem. Therefore I hope my hon. Friend will not be too much discouraged if I suggest to him that in all probability he will hear from Members who wish to take part in the Debate of a pretty wide range of inquiry, and perhaps some fertility of comment on this very interesting question of Government trading.

Let me just deal with three or four points. I see that the first thing working capital is required for is for the purpose of exchange operations. I should like to know what that really means. Let me put this case to him. We are no doubt making very large advances at the present time, and are likely to make them for a considerably longer time, say, to France or to Italy. I do not know what the exchange quotation is, but I am sure I am not very far out when I say this, that if you get down to the reality of the value of the franc it would not be much more than 5d. and our advances in the. present and the future to Italy would probably be not worth more than 3d. or 4d. Let me ask my hon. Friend this question: If we are advancing to France on the pre-war value of the franc, and to Italy on the pre-war value of the lira; in fact the values now of those two denominations are not the l0d. of the franc and the value of the lira, but somewhere about 5d. and at 3d. or 4d.I suggest, therefore, that what is happening is that they are getting our goods at half price, and I want to know from him whether this large sum is going to meet that deficiency. Since we borrow money from our own people on the gold standard we have got to pay 20s. in the £1, while we are in fact advancing these huge sums to our Allies—

Photo of Mr Stanley Baldwin Mr Stanley Baldwin , Bewdley

No question of any advances to our Allies comes up on this Bill. There is no question of making advances or loans or any financial transactions. This is purely an advance for repayment within twelve months.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

I am glad of that explanation, but I was entitled to make the comment since reference is made in the Bill to transactions "on account of exigencies arising out of the present war." I am pleased, however, to hear that as far as the scope of this Bill is concerned such matters are outside of it, but the general comment I have made is one of very serious consideration indeed. Let me say a word or two on the question of what I may call the wheat business of the Government. Mr. Runciman, formerly a Member of this House—and I think everybody interested in the trade of the country will regret that he is not here with us to apply his long experience and his very clear mind to the extraordinary problems which lie before us—in a letter to the "Times" the other day brought out some very interesting facts. He there indicated that while we buy wheat from the Argentine at somewhere about 94s. for 480 lbs., it is retailed to our own millers here at 81s. for 480 lbs., and that if free imports were allowed, or if somewhere near free imports could be arranged, the price would be somewhere about 62s. That is a very important statement which has not been seriously challenged. The answer which was given, in so far as it was an answer, was that it is impossible at present, owing to tonnage, and so on, to have the freedom which would reduce the price to somewhere about the figure which Mr. Runciman gives. But there was a very enlightening comment made by the Minister in charge of food control, and it was this, that practically all the British mills, and Irish mills also, are under Government control, and that every one of them is run at a loss. That loss is made up by the Treasury by a payment each month, and there is an annual balance arrived at, and the loss on the trading to those millers is made up to the pre-war standard. What prospects, I ask my hon. Friend, are there of that Government, I hardly call it trading, of that control being abolished, because I see that the Minister in charge of the Food Department said this: It is possible prices can be brought down shortly to some extent, and the Royal Commission on Wheat Supplies, who have had the matter under constant consideration, have already announced they are revising their selling prices and will make a definite statement on or before 3rd March. I may have missed it, but I have not seen any public notice of any revision or any change of policy which has come from the Wheat Commission. The whole subject of this and of the wheat subsidy is exciting the closest attention and the greatest anxiety throughout the country, and I do hope that, even in the absence of the Minister of Food, we shall have some answer on the general question—I know I cannot press for details, for obvious reasons—in order to allay the great public anxiety and commercial unrest and uncertainty, and to know whether we can be assured that there will be a change towards freedom of dealing in this vital necessity of the nation's existence. There is one other interesting matter to which I must make allusion, and that was a letter from a Mr. Toovey, a member of the council of the National Association of British and Irish Millers, to the "Times." I am sure he would not make a statement of the kind contained in his letter unless he was absolutely certain of the facts. This is what he says: The Government not only compel the trade to buy maize at nearly double its economic value, but they also refuse to sell it at all unless the buyer takes 10 per cent. of foreign beans of very doubtful value. Until lately the amount was 20 per cent. The beans are charged at the price of £35 per ton as compared with English beans at £25 per ton. He goes on to describe this and I naturally use his words, and I do not in any sense implement them myself: This blackmailing policy is as futile as it is improper and disreputable. He goes on to say that the beans would be quite unsaleable at the price charged, especially as we are warned that they are not to be fed to horses by the Government themselves. The beans depreciate every week they are in stock, and the losses would have to be borne by a Department of the Ministry of Food. Is that or is it not true? If it is true, is that a defensible method of doing business, if one can dignify it by that name? Has that method come to an end, and, if not, when is it going to come to an end? A word about the meat question. I do not know what the amounts are, but there is not the slightest doubt that there are huge stocks of foreign meat in cold storage in this country. I believe that the price has been reduced about 2d. per pound during the last day or two. I would point out to the House that the average price for this foreign meat before the War was 6d. per pound, and a few days ago it was 1s. 5½d., and even with the reduction which has taken place it is still about 225 per cent. higher than the pre-war price. The storage and distribution of that meat is costing the Government about 2d. per pound, while before the War the cost was three-eighths of a penny to the private trader. What we want to know is what stocks do the Government hold, when are they going to get rid of them, and when are the people of this country going to have the benefit of these large purchases which have been made by the Government, and which are being uselessly held up against the public at the present time? I leave that query where it stands. Can my hon. Friend tell us what is happening with regard to tea? I understand that tea can still be bought abroad at less than control price in this country. I could give a lot of further particulars, but I do not wish to weary the House, and I would like the hon. Gentleman to tell us what is happening in regard to that matter. The position may have slightly improved, but why should it be so slowly and so slightly? If there is one thing clearer than another it is the united chorus of complaint and disapproval from the whole business community, test it where you like. In the City of London and right through every exchange in the land the same cry goes up, "It is time the Government control was, if not swept away at a stroke, considerably lessened, and that business men once more should have the chance of doing the nation's business."

What must be the case, after all? Hostilities came to an end unexpectedly. The Government through all its various agencies was doing what it was not only entitled to do, but it was rightly doing it, and that was making purchases the world over in a general sense and in this country in particular, and budgeting for at least another twelve months of war. When the Armistice was declared there must have been very large stocks held by the Government, in this country and abroad, of wheat, and meat, and tea, and the whole range of the staple foods of the country. Not only that, but there must have been large stocks of wool, of leather, and of all the things that go to make up the needs of an army. In these days the needs of an army are just the needs of a nation—food, clothing, material, and so on—and so there must have been then at the disposal of the Government huge stocks, or, if they had not got the stocks, they must have had commitments or orders under which the various materials and food were being collected, so that at call they could have been got for the nation's needs in war. In addition to that, there has been an immense amount of tonnage released, and it is no use telling us that the answer to that is that we are still being kept on a war footing in regard to tonnage, because everybody must know that the War effort at sea must have slowed down even to a much greater degree than the War effort on land, and the whole vast system of what I might call the auxiliary force is no longer used for naval and military purposes at all, and is and ought to be available for the nation's trade. In addition to that, a very large number of men have been demobilised, and there is a large amount of unemployment in the country. You have got the manufacturers and traders all round crying for men, and you have got men hanging about who cannot get a job. There the fact is, and it is nearly four months since hostilities ceased, and still, turn where you like through the whole range of our business activities in this land, from the huge trading corporations down to the smallest grocer in the tiniest village, the same complaint is arising. I suggest, therefore, that the time has come for the Government to make, not a sort of pinprick effort at all, but that it is time for a big co-ordinating policy to grasp the whole thing. It is not my business to suggest how it is to be done, but I know it can be done. This nation found itself unprepared for anything like the War on a grand scale which we had to face in 1914, and it co-ordinated its efforts then in such a manner as to be the astonishment of the world. If this nation is called upon again to co-ordinate its effort for a serious effort in peace to restore trade it will do it, but it cannot do it now, simply because of the vested interests of these scores of Government Departments—bureaucracy camped out in embattled form on every field of our national life. That is where the trouble is, and there is no central executive with sufficient pluck and power to grasp the thing, and, until there is that driving power put into it, this thing will get worse and worse. There is no more potent cause of the industrial unrest around us to-day than the high prices and difficulties of trade. Sweep all the business, say they, into the great shops, but the nation, when it really comes to it, feeds itself from the little shops. They are there, and they are feeling more than anybody else the pinch of Government control and the inaccessibility of supplies. What we want to do, and I urge that most strongly again on the Government in the interests of our financial future, and in the interests of the pacification of the industrial unrest, is not to let this thing be trifled with any longer. It can be settled by a united effort on commonsense business lines.

Sir J. D. REES:

Will my hon. Friend kindly explain what is meant in the operative Clause of the Bill by providing that the Treasury may issue out of the Consolidated Fund sums to the Civil Contingencies Fund for the manufacture of food and other commodities. I do not understand whether that really portends, as might be inferred from the actual language, any manufacturing activities on the part of the Government, and I cannot believe that the Government contemplates manufacturing food or other commodities.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

They are actually manufacturing building materials now—bricks, and woodwork of every description.

Sir J. D. REES:

I do not believe that any further extension in that direction is contemplated, and, being one of those who disbelieve in Government efforts of this sort, I beg to ask my hon. Friend to explain what is meant by those words which come in the very forefront of the operative Clause of the Bill. I should like to be informed, also, what is the particular object of continuing the control of tea. I confess I do not know. I do not attribute it, like my right hon. Friend, to any desire on the part of the Departments, having got control of tea, to continue that, control. At the same time, stocks of tea are very ample in the country, there is plenty of tea being grown, and I think, so far as I know, there is no great obstacle to bringing home what is required for replenishing stocks as they are exhausted. If I am right in that, I do not myself know what is the object of continuing the control of tea, because it is not as if that led to the distribution of the leaf at a lower price than that at which it would ordinarily be obtainable, but it actually raises the price as against the consumer. If that is so, I do not know what is the object of retaining the control of tea. I reject the hypothesis of my right hon. Friend, but I do ask the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill if he will explain that to me, as well as give me some comfort and some assurance that this Bill does not mean that the Government is about to embark further in the manufacture, purchase, and sale of food and other commodities.

Photo of Mr Henry Cautley Mr Henry Cautley , East Grinstead

I beg to move, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."

7.0 P.M.

This Bill provides for handing over to the hon. Gentleman £120,000,000 of money for the purpose of trading and speculating, and amongst other purposes I find it is to provide working capital for undertakings for the purchase and sale of food, and in that is included the purchase of foreign wheat. Many people take the view that the sooner the Government cease trading and speculating the better it will be, in whatever commodity, but for my part I will be no party to voting money for the Government to buy more foreign goods until I receive assurance from them that the interests of the home grower of wheat will not be prejudiced, and that the obligations already incurred by the Government to the home growers, not only of wheat but also of potatoes, are fulfilled. We have had some experience in the past of Government trading in wheat. They have bought very large quantities, and, not being able to ship them here during the course of the War, they used every effort of every Government Department, both by inducement and compulsion, to get wheat grown in this country. Agricultural committees have been set up, farmers all over Great Britain have been ordered and made to plough up and to grow wheat on most unsuitable land, and when the time comes for realising the wheat that has been grown, we have the spectacle that is going on now of the Government flooding the market and filling up the millers with the foreign wheat they have bought, so that the English wheat which the English farmers in various parts of the country, in times of great stress, were compelled to grow is unable to be sold, or at any rate is unable to command within some shillings a quarter of what is the controlled price. The House will remember that although the Government bought foreign wheat up to 107s. or 108s. a quarter from America, they controlled the price to the English farmer to what is now 76s., but they took care to say that he should not obtain a larger sum per quarter than 76s.;and they also took good care to avoid providing any means for securing to him a market for the wheat which he had grown. There is a moral obligation on the Government, who by these means I have already pointed out have compelled the English farmers to grow wheat at an enormous expense to themselves on this most unlikely land in numerous cases, to see that they got at any rate the present control price of 76s. Yet, when I asked a question yesterday as to what steps the Government meant to take to accomplish this end, I got a negative reply both from the Food Controller and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, on whom we, as farmers, have some right to rely as taking charge of our interests. That being the experience that we have had in the past, have we any better hopes for the future? If this Bill is allowed to go through, can we trust the hon. Gentleman in charge of it with the power of buying wheat in these enormous quantities from abroad as he has done in the past? As the Committee is aware, the only guarantee of price that the English farmer possesses is under the Corn Production Act. The producers of corn in this country are under control. Parliament has interfered—and I think rightly interfered—and has set up Wages Boards to fix wages, and in the last Parliament we secured a better standard of living and a better wage for the agricultural labourer. But, in return for this, a benefit was thought to have been conferred on the corn grower in guaranteeing him a certain price fixed under the Corn Production Act. Now, the price for the year 1920, and that is what I am most concerned with at the present moment, is 45s. a quarter. In addition to the increase of wages, which are tending upwards and are likely to increase over and above the minimum that has recently been fixed, every other commodity, implement or article that a farmer has to buy has increased from 100 to 300 per cent. Nobody knows better, or should know better, because I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary has a lot to learn about agriculture or agriculturists, nobody should know better than he that growing wheat under present conditions, at 45s. a quarter, means bankruptcy for the man who proposes to do it in this country.

I have insisted, as far as I as a private Member can do it in this House, and every Member and the townsmen particularly should realise it, that after the passing of the Corn Production Act agriculture in this country has become a subsidised industry, and that subsidy has to be kept on if the corn lands are to be kept cropped and used for the purpose of growing wheat. For the 1920 wheat preparation has to be made almost now, or within a few weeks. The farmer who is going to sow wheat in autumn has to fallow his ground, and prepare and plough it many times over to get it clean and free from weeds and fit to grow wheat. He has to make up his mind now, and until we can get some declaration of policy from the Government as to what their view is with regard to what is to be done to revise this price of 45s., fixed under the Corn Production Act for 1920, I for one will not vote for entrusting the Hon. Gentleman opposite with £120,000,000 to be used for the purposes of bringing corn and wheat in large quantities to this country. If he likes to tell us now that the policy of the Government is to flood the country with foreign wheat, and that we are to depend in future, as we have in the past, on getting all our bread from abroad we, as agriculturists, will then know somewhat where we are. The result of so doing will be that all this land, which has been ploughed up and made into wheat-growing land at so much expense, will go back, and that three-quarters of the old land which is growing wheat will also go back to grass land, and the number of men employed on the land will diminish to one-half of what it is at the present time. If, on the other hand, the policy of the Government is—and I think it must be, and so far as I have any influence over Members of the House it will be—that wheat growing is still to be continued in this country, we must have some definite statement now as to what the farmer, who puts his money and his brains into producing wheat in this country, has a reasonable ground to expect when he comes to sell it at the end of 1920. We must have some statement of that policy, instead of the jejune answer that I got from the Parliamentary Secretary only yesterday, when I pointed out to him the immediate necessity of everyone interested in this industry knowing where they stood and were likely to stand as they had to make their plans now. I got the bare reply, "Oh, you can grow wheat at 45s. that is all the Government is going to do for you." That showed a want of sympathy from the Board of Agriculture, and we ought to have been able to expect more than that from them. It also showed a want of realisation by the present Government of the position of the most urgent need of agriculture at the present moment. Because I tell the Government, both the hon. Gentlemen in charge of the Bill and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, that the price fixed for wheat in this country is really the basis on which the agricultural labourers' wages have fixed by the Wages Board. It is not for the farmer that I am speaking so much as for the men. Both stand in the same boat under the Corn Production Act, and growing wheat at 45s. under present conditions and prices means bankruptcy for the farmer and the farm labourer; and the workers cannot be employed nor the wages fixed possibly kept up. Until we have this assurance I shall persist; and I will make the Motion which stands on the Order Paper in my name, "That the Bill be read a second time six months hence," and we will not give the hon. Gentleman the money to speculate in wheat in the way he does now.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I beg to second the Amendment.

So far as I can understand this Bill—and I must say it is rather obscure—it is a measure providing the Government with capital for the purposes of exchange operations and undertakings for the manufacture, purchase, and sale of food and other commodities. Obviously, under these conditions which are made in this Bill, the widest possible scope is given to the Government to speculate in all products, and I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench (Sir D. Maclean) that the anxiety of the public and the anxiety of all industries is very great indeed with regard to the methods which the Government employ in this kind of speculation. The right hon. Gentleman referred to industrial concerns all over the country, but I do not know that he referred to the agricultural industry. I can assure the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill that the greatest anxiety of all will be in the minds of the members of the agricultural community, when they see what provisions this Bill allows to the Government. I should be ashamed to face my Constituents were I to go clown and tell them that I voted for a Bill which gave the widest possible permission to the Government to speculate in foreign corn, and by that means to assist agriculture in other countries, whereas I never can get out of the Government, by any means whatever, what is their agricultural policy at the present time. I remember that during the War most of the trouble that arose in this country among the workers and in different industries was because the Government refused to take the public into their confidence and to tell them quite plainly, and in straightforward, understandable language, what their policy was and why they had pursued that policy. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last asked the Government yesterday a question as to what policy they were going to pursue with regard to agriculture in this country. He got an answer which was entirely unsatisfactory and one which, if it is the set policy of the Government, must tend to bring back agriculture to what it was before the War. I am quite certain that no member of this Committee is anxious that that should come about. I am quite sure of that, and least of all the industrial population and the livers in the towns. But it is because the Government refuse to tell us what their policy is, and because these industrial populations are ignorant on agricultural questions—and I am not blaming them for it—that they complain when prices go up and their food becomes dearer. We are asked, under this Bill, to give permission to the Government to pay large sums to foreign countries for corn. It is quite obvious, therefore, that their policy is quite distinct as to what they are going to do in that direction. Why cannot they tell us what their policy is with regard to agricultural questions, and put us out of our misery? I do not want in any way to obstruct the Government or to vote against them at this early stage of their career, but if they will persist in keeping us in the dark, and in keeping agriculturists and the country in anxiety as to what is to be their policy within the next few years, I must support the hon. Gentleman in the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Edgar Jones Mr Edgar Jones , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

I think the House has cause to complain of the form in which this very large sum of money has been brought before it. In the past, when a Vote of Credit has been brought in, very considerable notice was given. There was considerable publicity both for the country and for Members of this House, and, as a general rule, during the War, when a Vote of Credit has been brought forward, the Prime Minister himself has on almost every occasion taken the trouble to come down to the House and we were prepared for an explanation as to what the money was for. We were given very elaborate statements as to the situation of the country, and satisfaction was given to Members in general as to how matters were proceeding. Here, today, covered up under quite an innocent form of Bill, that in previous years amounted to about £120,000, we have a demand for £120,000,000, and if it had not been for the right hon. Gentleman opposite, about an hour ago, the whole thing would probably have slipped through in a very small House, without any discussion at all. I do not complain of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but his explanation of what is involved in this Bill has been very sketchy and very inadequate. The whole question of industrial unrest is largely wrapped up in this Bill. So long as the Government blocks business, so long will this unrest get more acute, because this is not only unrest in the factory and mine and on the railway, but it is unrest in every cottage and at every street corner in this country, and I think the very pertinent points put by the right hon. Gentleman opposite must be answered, because the Government must realise that their statements, issued recently, trying to explain that their control is beneficial, have not been believed by the bulk of the people of this country. They have not been satisfactory.

I have endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to read the defence as to prices of meat and wheat and the control of various articles, but let me add one fact that I have been able to verify. At the present moment, the poor housewife of this country is warned that, because the Government will insist on handling sugar itself, and keep people who know the business off it, she will get no sugar this coming summer for making jam and so forth. At the same time, during this very week, America is selling in this country hundreds of tons of finished sugar goods at a price lower than the price at which sugar is sold to the housewife in this country. When people get up against things like that, they really feel there is something wrong somewhere, and it is high time the Government should give the country a very detailed and exhaustive opportunity for full discussion. I trust we shall have an opportunity where we can come down prepared for a discussion, and not come down, as to-day, to meet a very surprising kind of Bill.

But the particular point I wanted to raise was the very amazing statement made by the Financial Secretary as to a new feature of this Bill. My hon. Friend here called attention to the very extraordinary word "manufacture." The Financial Secretary says that out of this £120,000,000 there is to be a considerable sum of money advanced to the Ministry of Munitions for manufacturing bricks. Really, if this is so, it is the most extraordinary thing I have ever heard of or seen in this House for a long time.

Photo of Mr Stanley Baldwin Mr Stanley Baldwin , Bewdley

I must correct my hon. Friend. I never said anything would be advanced to the Ministry of Munitions for manufacturing bricks or anything else. I said it might be possible, before the Estimate was passed, that we might include provision for these raw materials for housing which would be submitted to the House later, and that it might be necessary to make payment for some of the raw materials used in housing, such as bricks.

Photo of Mr Edgar Jones Mr Edgar Jones , Merthyr Tydfil Merthyr

It is the same point; it makes no material difference. The substantial point is this: We are informed—and it is involved in some technical way in this Bill—that the Ministry of Munitions is going to purchase bricks for the housing policy of the country. The Ministry of Munitions is going to continue trading in bricks and materials for housing. Really, I thought the other day we were distinctly informed by the Government that they had put a new Minister of Supply in to wind up the Ministry of Munitions. I can quite understand the time when the Ministry of Munitions had to take over the brickworks of this country in order to produce bricks in a hurry for the erection of aerodromes, national factories, and things of that character, but to keep up a special section of the Ministry of Munitions, which we want to see removed as soon as possible, in order that the Government may try a new experiment in bad trading and keep up prices for the new housing problem, alarms me very much indeed. We want this cleared up. It is not enough to tell us that some day between this and the end of the Session, if you let this £120,000,000 go through, you may have the chance, on the salary of the Minister, to ask him about all these things. We ought to have had considerably more explanation about this matter, and I believe that for the Government to become a general provider and trader for building houses in localities under various local authorities and societies, is a very serious matter, and the House should hesitate before parting with the Bill until it gets some assurance on that point.

Photo of Hon. Hugh O'Neill Hon. Hugh O'Neill , Antrim Mid

I had no intention of intervening in this Debate, but for the point raised by my hon. Friend opposite. I represent a constituency in Ireland which is largely agricultural, and I feel that, as this question of prices for agricultural products has been raised, it is only right that some voice from Ireland should say a word upon it. Constantly, lately, I have been approached by my Constituents upon this question. Farmers in Ireland, as in England, feel that it is impossible for them to embark upon any agricultural commitments until they know once and for all, and as soon as possible, what is the policy of the Government in this matter. During the War we were told of the great necessity for increasing the food of the country, and a very good response to that appeal was made by farmers throughout the whole of the United Kingdom; for whatever may have been the response in Ireland as regards men, I think there is no question that as regards food it was a very fine one indeed. I think I am right in saying that there was a greater proportional increase in food production in Ireland than in any other part of the United Kingdom. The other day I approached the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture on this point, and he referred me to his speech on the Address, where he said that the maximum prices of cereals for 1918 would be the minimum prices for the 1919 crop. I sent the extract from his speech back to the constituents who had approached me on the matter, and I pointed out to them that that was what was the policy of the Government, but they were not satisfied with that. The farmers said, "We cannot embark upon our sowing for 1919 on a vague statement that the maximum prices for last year will be the minimum prices for this year. We want to know here and now what the prices are going to be." I had a question put down to the hon. Gentleman on this point for to-morrow, but as this subject has been raised in this Debate, I do hope, in order to satisfy the agricultural community at large, that we shall at least be able to get from the hon. Gentleman a statement which will enable the farmers to do what they are only too anxious to do if they get fair treatment, and that is to keep up the food supply of the country upon the basis upon which it should be kept up.

The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD Of AGRICULTURE (Sir Arthur Boscawen):

I cannot, of course, reply to many of the points that have been raised in this Debate, but only to those questions which have been raised by my hon. Friend opposite the Member for Sussex (Mr. Cautley), find by the last speaker and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Northampton (Captain Fitzroy). With reference to the question of food prices generally, of course a reply will have to be sought elsewhere, and similarly upon the general policy of the Bill. But I do want to say one or two words in answer to—I will not say the attack, but the criticisms that have been made on the Board of Agriculture by my hon. Friends. I do think it is rather hard that we should be accused of want of sympathy, for we certainly are not unsympathetic. We recognise to the full what the farmers did during the War. We realise the great sacrifices made. When we wanted the food, the farmers were appealed to, and we got the food. We also realise that the food production at home is not merely an agricultural question but is a great National question, which cannot be dealt with by the Board of Agriculture only. Why am I accused of being unsympathetic? Yesterday my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Cautley) asked me a question as to what would be the guaranteed price for wheat for the crop of 1920.

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

I will read the question and answer so that there shall be no difference. The hon. Member asked,

When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Hoard of Agriculture will be able to make a statement of the Government's policy as to the price for 1920 wheat; and whether he will bear in mind that such statement should be made in the next two or three weeks so as to enable farmers to decide how much, if any, land they will set aside for fallowing and preparing for wheat to be sown next autumn?' The answer I gave was: The only guarantee that can be given at present is that provided for in Section 2 (1) of the Corn Production Act, 1917."—[Official REPORT, 3rd March, 1919, cols. 18 and 19.]

Photo of Mr Henry Cautley Mr Henry Cautley , East Grinstead

That is 45s. a quarter, which means bankruptcy.

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

I quite agree that is 45s. a quarter. May I refer my hon. Friend to what I said in the Debate on the Address? I pointed out that, as regards this year's crop, we were disregarding the Corn Production Act altogether, but we had fixed as the minimum price the maximum which prevailed last November. So far as this year goes, therefore, I do not think there will be any difficulty, though I do not know that my hon. and gallant Friend suggests that there is likely to be.

Photo of Hon. Hugh O'Neill Hon. Hugh O'Neill , Antrim Mid

Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say what is the price?

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

Roughly 75s. 6d. per quarter for wheat. There is a slight alteration to be taken into account, because the actual quarter varies in various calculations. I give the actual figures as given to me by the Food Department. So much for this year's crops. I further pointed out—and in doing so I asked for the sympathy of the House—that the manner in which that was going to be carried out was now being considered by the Government. I said I was not in a position at that time to make any statement—nor am I in a position to do so now. In regard to the future, I realise as much as the hon. Member, or any hon. Member, that the conditions laid down in the Corn Production Act have been entirely upset by the rise in wages, which had not entered into calculation when the Act was passed, and which vary very greatly from the minimum put in the Act. The minimum wage in the Act is 25s. The guaranteed price for next year's wheat is 45s. per quarter. We all know that the minimum wage in any county has been fixed a great deal above the minimum of the Act. In every county it is, I believe, above 30s.; in some counties it is 40s., or more. I do not hesitate to say—I said it before in my observations on the Address—that the balance between wages and prices which was set out in the Corn Production Act has been entirely upset. I realise, and the Government fully realise, that it will be necessary to reconsider the whole scheme of that Act, and that it may be necessary to extend the Act and also to alter the guaranteed prices put in the Act. I further pointed out that this year was hardly the time to do it.

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

For this reason: The condition of world prices are to-day so unsettled that, if you fix another price here and now, the chances are that it may not be the right price after a while. Nobody at the present time knows the value of money, and what wheat prices are likely to be in a short time. If we now were to amend this Act, extend it for a period of years, and put in certain prices, they might be much too high, and then the State would suffer by having to pay those unnecessarily high guaranteed prices for the term of years; or they might be too low, in which case the farmer would suffer. Therefore, I laid it down—and I repeat now, though I fully admit the difficulties of the farmer to-day, especially when considering matters with a view to preparing his land for cultivation next year—that to bring in a large Bill altering and extending the Corn Production Act would be, in my opinion, and in the opinion of those who advise us, a most unwise proceeding at present.

Photo of Mr Henry Cautley Mr Henry Cautley , East Grinstead

Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman state the price for next year, not for the next two or three years?

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

The point of my hon. Friend is, I take it, that as we have fixed a price for this year, so we might now announce the price for next year.

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

I can only say that I will represent that expression of opinion to my hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture, and the Government. I cannot go beyond that.

Photo of Sir Beville Stanier Sir Beville Stanier , Ludlow

Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say when he will be in a position to announce the extension of the guarantee?

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

No, I am afraid that question is rather a hard one. I cannot possibly here and now, as he can see, make any such statement. But I am fully aware of the difficulty, and the Hon. Member may rely upon me doing the utmost I can in the matter. There is the other point which was raised, and which, I know, is causing a great deal of grievance, and legitimate grievance, at the present time. Farmers grew a lot of corn last year and now they have great difficulty in disposing of it!

Photo of Sir Beville Stanier Sir Beville Stanier , Ludlow

The millers will not take it.

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

They are taking a good deal.

Photo of Sir Beville Stanier Sir Beville Stanier , Ludlow

Yes, and leaving a lot of it!

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

Well, the figures I have show that a great deal of wheat is being sold now—a great deal more than in the corresponding period of last year. I have not for the moment the figures with me, and, therefore, I will not go fully into that matter.

Photo of Sir Beville Stanier Sir Beville Stanier , Ludlow

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the millers will only receive it if the farmer will accept a less price that he should accept. I have got wheat held up now in my possession.

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

If I had known that this Debate was coming on I would have got the figures showing precisely what has been done in the last few weeks, and what the price was. I do not think however, though I cannot remember exactly, that the statistics would confirm the view expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend. I fully appreciate the trouble, the risk, and the difficulty of disposing of the wheat. The explanation, however, is really, I think, very simple, and I mentioned it when I spoke on the previous occasion. Nobody expected that the War would end as suddenly as it did. The Wheat Commission, acting on behalf of the Government, were compelled to buy sufficient corn, and had to make commitments, to see the country through if the War lasted another twelve months. The House should remember, and realise, that they were bound to do that. They would have been reproached, and very justly, with having let the country down if they had not done so. What happened? The War came suddenly to an end. The submarine menace disappeared. The difficulties of getting our ships into port also disappeared. The result was, and is, that the corn shipped from America, instead of coming in slowly, came in very much more quickly than we anticipated, and the mills—and as everybody knows all the biggest mills—the mills with the greatest amount of storage in our ports—have been simply filled up with this foreign wheat. And the result is that, for the time being, they have so much foreign wheat on their hands, occupying their storage room, that it has not been possible for them to buy English wheat to the extent anticipated, and as otherwise they would have done. But I am sure the matter is going to right itself. I am told, though I am only speaking from information given to me by the Wheat Commission, that they have not over-bought for the year. If that is so, my hon. Friend beside me in charge of the Bill will not utilise any of its Clauses—or, rather, the Food Controller—to buy more foreign wheat. Why on earth should he? And as the foreign wheat is used up a market will be found for that part of the British crop which has not yet been sold, and the farmer's difficulties will disappear.

Photo of Sir Gerald Hohler Sir Gerald Hohler , Rochester Gillingham

For what period have they not over-bought?

Sir A. BOSCAWEN:

I regret I cannot give exactly the information asked for. Not knowing that this Debate was coming on, it is impossible for me to give answers to some of the questions, but if any hon. Member likes to put a question down, or to ask me privately, I will give him all the information I can. What I wish to say is that I can assure the House, and the hon. Member who has attacked the Board—I think rather harshly—that there is no lack of sympathy on the part of the Government. We realise the difficulties of the farmers. We realise their somewhat clamant demands. We are only too anxious to meet their views. The Government have got the matter in hand. For the time being we think we have made what is a very fair bargain for the farmers in respect of this year's crops.

Photo of Hon. Edward Wood Hon. Edward Wood , Ripon

My hon. and gallant Friend who has just replied on behalf of the Board will not be surprised if those of us who are here representing the cause of the farmers are unable to say that we regard his reply as taking the matter very much further. If the case were such as he has put forward, farmers would be the best pleased class in the community. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Board has been as lavish in his sympathy as he has been sparing in any definition of a practical policy. I only want to put to him two or three practical considerations. The hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill must have been struck by this fact, whether or not some will agree with what has been said on the benches opposite, that at least we agree that we are not satisfied to vote money blindly on this topic, and without knowing a little more, of the policy of the Government. If the matter is taken to a Division, I shall certainly support the hon. Member who opposes the Vote. What I want to put to the Board of Agriculture is that it is really not enough to repeat what I would, without disrespect, call the platitudes of the Board of Agriculture about the controlled prices of 1919 and even 1920, unless you take a further step and fulfil the conditions that have been pressed upon the Board times without number—secure a market for the farmer at those controlled prices. These are two points—controlled prices and a market. My hon. Friend opposite, who made the observation just now, is plainly right when he says that the farmers are not able to dispose of their wheat, and the same thing is true to-day of oats. I can give the hon. Member farmer after farmer in my part of England who has been compelled to take several shillings less for his oats than the controlled price which is so much talked of in this House. I would press this on my hon. and gallant Friend. He would do more to satisfy agricultural opinion and to convince it that the Government is in earnest in this matter if he would place himself in consultation with his colleagues in the Food Ministry, and forthwith issue Regulations to ensure that millers should use a definite proportion of English native wheat in every sack of flour. That is not being done at the present time. If it were done, it would go a long way to relieve the glut of English wheat. I would appeal to the House not to let this matter be side tracked by the suggestion that this is the resuscitation of the old controversy between cheap food for the towns and the other side of the question. It is really no such thing. I recognise the force of the argument put forward by my right hon. Friend opposite and the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway as to the effect of high prices on industrial unrest. We recognise them, and obviously they are of great weight. But that is not inconsistent with securing justice to the farmer. Would my hon. Friend on behalf of the Board of Agriculture feel able to go as far as this: We have recently seen announced in the papers the appointment of an extremely strong Commission to ascertain farming costs. I do not think it can be argued that farm prices must ultimately depend upon the cost of production. I know a great many people have a suspicion of farmers' balance sheets, but if you get your costs established on reliable evidence, would my hon. Friend use all his influence to get agricultural prices fixed on the unimpeachable cost of production? If he does not do that, I see nothing but ruin in front of the agricultural industry at no distant date. Everybody who has lived in our country districts knows that during the last few years labour has more than doubled in order to meet the demands put upon farmers. More cottages have been built, and more men are employed. If the Government now fails to declare its policy that condition of things will disappear in favour of the conditions which existed a few years ago. I do not think hon. Members have the least conception of the sense of insecurity prevailing because the Government have not in turn declared their agricultural policy. Do let us remember that agricultural policy is not a thing of one or two years, but it runs over the whole farming rotation. Therefore I would press my hon. Friend to go rather further than he has yet been able to do. Recently while travelling in the train I met a seed merchant who said his business was at a standstill because farmers did not know where they were, and they were not able to place their usual orders. Everywhere you find the same uncertainty and reluctance to take risks, and I assure my hon. Friend that that feeling will not be exercised unless the Government and his Department refine their policy in more clear terms than they have yet done. They ought to really satisfy those who are farming to-day that the efforts they have made in the last two years will not fail to be recognised now that the immediate danger seems to have passed.

Photo of Mr William Royce Mr William Royce , Holland with Boston

I have been very much interested in this Debate, and after listening to it I have conceived a good deal of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman opposite who, in this instance, is bearing the brunt of the attack. I am sure he is possessed with the best intentions in the world, and he is full of that fluid sympathy which flows so spontaneously from his Department, but I think that sympathy ought to be translated into action. We must remember that discontent is not prevalent only in the case of the farmers. We must admit that forces have, been at work to increase our food supply and farmers have had to change their agricultural methods at the call of the country. They have done so, and ordinary fairness must prompt the Government and Board of Agriculture to help the farmers in this crisis.

I am more concerned with the position of the agricultural labourer. Since the agricultural labourer cannot receive his wages until the farmer receives them, I am in full sympathy with the farmer. We have heard a great deal about the action of the Department in connection with the corn they have bought. I was a member of a deputation on Friday last that interviewed the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food in connection with the potato crop, and we were told that the Government have bought the whole potato crop and had taken it over as from the 1st November, but they could not take deliveries until they had sold them to somebody else. Of course, that left people in a very unsatisfied state, and if this Debate will cause the Department of Agriculture to put its back up and assert itself, and say that it intends to do that which the Premier has indicated, namely, that he would like to make agriculture the great industry it deserves to be in a State like ours, then I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and his Department would receive very much more sympathy from the agriculturists of this country. We must keep our people upon the land. That is the place from whence the greater proportion of the fine specimens of humanity we see in this House come. I think for these reasons we must maintain our agricultural industry if you want to maintain your Empire. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to use all his influence to bring his Department into such a condition that the agricultural community can repose their confidence in it. That confidence has been sadly shaken, and if this Debate is the means of bucking up the Department it will have done some good. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not take my remarks amiss, because I have reason to thank the Department of Agriculture for their action during the War, for they did a really great national service. If however, they are about to allow conflicting influences to influence them in letting the farmers and the labourers down, then they will find that the happy work they have done in the past will be negatived by their impotence at the present time.

Photo of Mr George Roberts Mr George Roberts , Norwich

I apologise for my absence when certain questions were raised relating to food, but I was not aware that this Debate would come on so early. However, I take this early opportunity of replying to questions which I understand have been addressed to me. First of all the question of wheat was referred to. This question has been widely canvassed, and we are frequently asked why we did not avail ourselves of the world's cheapest sources of supply, and that we still continue to keep up prices. There are two or three considerations which we have to bear in mind. First of all, tonnage cannot be found to lift more than 1,000,000 tons of wheat from Australia to arrive in Europe during the present cereal year. Secondly, if we were to concentrate tonnage on the Argentine supply, that undoubtedly would have a tendency to force up prices there. Thirdly, cereals are still being bought on an inter-allied basis, and clearly we cannot take all the cheap wheat ourselves and leave the expensive sources to our Allies.

I am advised that even if we could, the price of flour would not fall below that required to produce the nine penny loaf. I state that to show that the consumer, as consumer, is not suffering because of the policy that we are now pursuing. When we are able to get this cheaper supply, of course we diminish the drain upon the national Exchequer for the subsidy. It will be observed that my hon. Friend who has just preceded me has quite a distinct problem from my own. The home farmer is not anxious that these cheap supplies should be brought in, but my concern is to lower the prices of food as soon as possible. The Prime Minister asked me, when my right hon. Friend left office, to concentrate on food, and a reduction in price as large and rapidly as possible, and that is the policy I am endeavouring to carry out, and any policy that would result in cheapening an essential commodity of life would have my support. I understand the next question of the necessity of having to buy beans has already been dealt with, but it was instituted for the purpose of economising maize. Nevertheless, I realise that there was an element of injustice in compelling people to take what they did not require, but it was a war necessity, and I desired that the practice should cease as soon as possible, and we have stopped it now. That grievance is removed. It was not an expedient introduced to irritate people, but it was regarded as an emergency war measure.

My right hon. Friend questioned me about meat supplies, and asked what were the total stocks in the United Kingdom. I am advised that we have 96,000 tons in stock, equal to three or four weeks' consumption, and if we use it to supplement the home-killed supply it would last about ten weeks. My right hon. Friend will agree that that is not too large a supply to keep on hand, and I regard it as prudent even if the Ministry of Food ceases to exist—for other considerations I shall regard it as prudent—that stocks are in hand in order to protect the home consumer from, say, the operations of the great international trusts. Therefore, I think that one can claim on the face of it that the stocks are not unduly large, and, from the standpoint of the producer, and in the interests of the consumer, I think it is desirable that we should keep these stocks.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

May I ask if this large stock is under the complete control and disposal of the Government, and whether these trusts have nothing whatever to do with them?

Photo of Mr George Roberts Mr George Roberts , Norwich

These supplies are at the disposal of the Government.

Photo of Mr Donald Maclean Mr Donald Maclean , Peebles and Southern

Absolutely? I was anxious to know whether these stocks which are held by the Ministry of Food or the other Departments are under the entire control of the Government and have these trusts anything to do with the stocks now in this country.

8.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Roberts Mr George Roberts , Norwich

These stocks are under the control of the Government. When control ceases there is a great danger that prices may rise to the detriment of consumers owing to the manipulations of trusts, and I certainly regard it as prudent that we should retain some stocks in order as far as practicable to deal with any situation of that sort. The policy of the Ministry of Food is to safeguard the interests of the consumer, and that is the only reason why I make the point. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the fact that a reduction of 2d. per lb. came into operation yesterday. I am now considering the possibility of a further and substantial reduction at an early date, and I see that there is a possibility of my being able to make the announcement before long that such a reduction is practicable. This will only be possible because of the assistance which the Treasury have extended to me. It is widely stated in certain quarters that the Treasury insist upon our holding up stocks in order that loss may not be sustained. I am very happy to say that the Treasury are rendering me great assistance in the direction of wiping off losses in order that the consumer may benefit. My right hon. Friend will be gratified to know that control of tea will cease as from the 24th of this month. It would have been possible to have done it before, but we find it necessary to give the trade due notice. They requested that they should have a month's notice, but as a matter of fact we gave them rather more than a month in order that they might be able to clear their stocks and make fresh arrangements. I hope that, supplemented by the further fact that detailed arrangements are being made for the disposal of our stocks to the trade, will meet the view of my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend asked the general question when all control is to be got rid of. It is far too broad a question for me alone to deal with. It is a question which probably affects other Departments as well as the Ministry of Food, but, speaking generally, our policy is to relinquish control when we are satisfied that control has a tendency to keep up prices and that de-control on the other hand gives the assurance that prices will be lowered. Our policy is control or de-control according as we deem that the consumers' interests will be served. Of course, control was a war measure, and undoubtedly the Ministry of Food has very largely justified itself. A good deal of profiteering did take place, and it was a contributory cause of the great unrest which prevailed. When the public interests may safely be left to the ordinary manipulations of trade, then we will relinquish control, but experience has proved that there are certain forms of control which should assume a permanent character, such things, for instance, as the securing of net weights and qualities of margarine and other things. We are proposing to ask Parliament to give us power to make those things permanent in character.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that there will be embodied in some Bill to be brought before the House a suggestion for permanent control?

Photo of Mr George Roberts Mr George Roberts , Norwich

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the fact that the Consumers' Council directed our attention to the advisability of retaining certain powers which have been exercised under the Defence of the Realm Acts. We have gone carefully into the matter, and we feel that the Consumers' Council were right in the recommendation that they made. We therefore propose to introduce a Bill in order to give statutory effect to that recommendation. I think I have answered the questions which my right hon. Friend addressed to me. I wish one could have had more notice of them and that we could have had due notice of the scope of this

Bill, but I hope on some subsequent date to be able to go more exhaustively into the operations of the Ministry of Food.

Photo of Mr Granville Wheler Mr Granville Wheler , Faversham

I think those who have listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in dealing with the wheat question will realise more than ever the urgent necessity of a statement from the Government on their agricultural policy. Nobody is going to complain for one moment of the policy of the Food Controller in cheapening many articles of food, but the House has to consider the wheat question from the point of view of whether the country is to be dependent to a certain extent upon wheat produced here or entirely dependent upon wheat brought in from outside. According to the statement of the Food Controller, his policy is to cheapen wheat as far as he possibly can, and probably he is perfectly right in the interests of the consumer as a whole, but we who have to think of agriculture must realise what that will mean to the agricultural industry as a whole and how it must affect farming and, therefore, the question of wages. The two statements that we have had from the Ministers replying to this Debate show that the policy of the Government with regard to agriculture should be stated without delay. Otherwise, the farming community will not know where they are and will not be able to make any provision for the future. They will, therefore, be making provision, I should say at a great loss, to lay down land to grass and to go back to conditions that we want to avoid, conditions under which we had a very large amount of grass land and were largely dependent upon wheat brought in from outside. Having heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, I do think it is our duty as agriculturists to call upon the Government for a statement of their agricultural policy not for the next year, but for future years, so that the agricultural community may know where they stand.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 193; Noes, 49.

Division No. 8.]AYES.[8.9 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James TynteBarnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)Birchall, Major J. D.
Ainsworth, Captain C.Barnett, Captain Richard W.Blades, Sir George R.
Astbury, Lt.-Com. F. W.Barnston, Major HarryBorwick, Major G. O.
Atkey, A. R.Barton, Sir William (Oldham)Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-
Baldwin, StanleyBeauchamp, Sir EdwardBowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.
Balfour, George (Hampstead)Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.
Barnes, Rt. Hon. G. N. (Gorbals)Bigland, AlfredBroad, Thomas Tucker
Buckley, Lt.-Col. A.Hopkinson, Austin (Mossley)Raper, A. Baldwin
Burdon, Col. RowlandHurst, Major G. B.Rees, Sir J. D.
Cairns, JohnInskip, T. W. H.Reid, D. D.
Campbell, J. G. D.Irving, DanRendall, Atheistan
Carr, W. T.Jephcott, A. R.Renwick, G.
Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.Johnstons, J.Richardson, Albion (Peckham)
Carter, R. A. D. (Manchester)Jones, Sir E. R. (Merthyr)Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)
Carter, W. (Mansfield)Jones, Sir Evan (Pembroke)Richardson, R. (Houghton)
Cayzer, Major H. R.Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)
Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)Jones, J. (Silvertown)Robinson, T. (Stretford, Lancs.)
Clough, R.Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)Rowlands, James
Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)Samuels, Rt. Hon. A. W. (Dublin Univ.)
Coates, Major Sir Edward F.Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur
Collins, Col. G. P. (Greenock)Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)Scott, A. M. (Glas., Bridgeton)
Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sit J.Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)Seager, Sir William
Cory, J. H. (Cardiff)Lindsay, William ArthurSeddon, J. A.
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)Lister, Sir R. AshtonShortt, Rt. Hon. E.
Cozens-Hardy, Hon. W. H.Lloyd, George ButlerSmith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)
Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green)Smithers, Alfred W.
Craig, Col. Sir James (Down, Mld.)Lort-Williams, J.Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander
Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir HenryLoseby, Captain C. E.Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)
Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)Lynn, R. J.Stephenson, Col. H. K.
Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)Lyon, L.Stevens, Marshall
Denniss, E. R. Bartley (Oldham)M'Curdy, Charles AlbertSturrock, J. Leng-
Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)Sugden, Lieut. W. H.
Dockrell, Sir M.M'Guffin, SamuelSurtees, Brig.-Gen. H. C.
Donald, T.Mackinder, Halford J.Sutherland, Sir William
Doyle, N. GrattanM'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)Swan, J. E. C.
Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham, S.)M'Lean, Lt.-Col. C. W. W. (Brigg)Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)
Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Neath)Maitland, Sir A. D. Steel-Taylor, J. W. (Chester-le-Street)
Eyres-Monsell, Com.Malone, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)Thomas, Sir R. (Wrexham, Denb.)
Falcon, Captain M.Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)Thompson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)
Farquharson, Major A. C.Mitchell, William Lane-Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Fell, Sir ArthurMoles, ThomasThorne, Col. W. (Plaistow)
Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred MoritzTryon, Major George Clement
Foxcroft, Captain C.Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. C. T.Waddington, R.
Galbraith, SamuelMorden, Col. H. GrantWalton, J. (York, Don Valley)
Gibbs, Colonel George AbrahamMosley, OswaldWard, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. JohnMunro, Rt. Hon. RobertWarren, Sir Alfred H.
Glyn, Major R.Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)Watson, Captain John Bertrand
Grayson, Lieut.-Col. H. M.Nall, Major JosephWhitla, Sir William
Greame, Major P. Lloyd-Neal, ArthurWild, Sir Ernest Edward
Green, J. F. (Leicester)Nelson, R. F. W. R.Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)
Greig, Col James WilliamNewman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough)
Griggs, Sir PeterNicholson, R. (Doncaster)Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald
Gritten, W. G. HowardO'Neill, Capt. Hon. Robert W. H.Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Stourbridge)
Grundy, T. W.Palmer, Major G. M.Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)
Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W.E. (B. St. E.)Parker, JamesWilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Hacking, Captain D. H.Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert PikeWood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, W.)
Hailwood, A.Perring, William GeorgeWorsfold, T. Cato
Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanton)Pickering, Col. Emil W.Yeo, Sir Alfred William
Hallas, E.Pinkham, Lieut.-Col. CharlesYoung, Lt.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)
Hamilton, Major C. G. C. (Altrincham)Pownall, Lt.-Col. AsshetonYoung, William (Perth and Kinross)
Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Luton, Beds.)Pratt, John WilliamYounger, Sir George
Henderson, Major V. L.Purchase. H. G.
Hirst, G. H.Rae, H. NormanTELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.
Hood, JosephRaeburn, Sir William
Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)Ramsden, G. T.
Hopkins, J. W. W.Randies, Sir John Scurrah
NOES.
Archdale, Edward M.Horne, Edgar (Guildford)Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)
Beckett, Hon. GervaseHoward, Major S. G.Stanier, Capt. Sir Beville
Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)Steel, Major S. Strang
Bennett, T. J.Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)
Brackenbury, Col. H. L.Kenyon, BarnetTurton, Edmund Russborough
Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)Macmaster, DonaldWeston, Col. John W.
Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)McNeill, Ronald (Canterbury)Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.
Colvin, Brig.-Gen. R. B.Molson, Major John ElsdaleWigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson
Davies, T (Cirencester)Moreing, Captain Algernon H.Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)
Dennis, J. W.Mount, William ArthurWilliams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)
Eiliot, Capt W. E. (Lanark)Newton, Major Harry KottinghamWilson, Col. M. (Richmond, Yorks.)
Goff, Sir R. ParkNicholson, W. (Petersfield)Winterton, Major Earl
Gould, J. C.Palmer, Brig.-Gen G. (Westbury)Wolmer, Viscount
Hickman, Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.Redmond, Captain William A.Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)
Hills, Major J. W. (Durham)Remer, J. B.Yate, Col. Charles Edward
Hinds, JohnRoyce, William Stapleton
Hohler, Gerald FitzroyRutherford, Col. Sir J. (Darwen)TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Cautley and Captain FitzRoy.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Baldwin.]