I beg to move,
That immediate steps should be taken by the Government to counteract the injurious effect upon British agriculture of the dumping of German wheat and other cereals upon the markets of this country.
I wish to direct the attention of the House this afternoon to the unfair competition to which British farmers are subjected at the present time on account of the dumping in this country of bounty-fed German cereals, and I propose to ask the House to press the Government to deal with this matter without delay. Perhaps I ought to explain to hon. Members how this bounty-fed system works. In Germany, as hon. Members know, there is an import duty upon grain, and the bounty is provided by giving German exporters of grain an import licence for a quantity equal to that of his export, which licence the exporter sells to the importer who uses it to pay the duty on his imports. Germany must import a certain quantity of hard wheats in order to mix with the wheat she grows for the purpose of milling. When the exporter sells his licence to the importer he obtains a subsidy of something like 13s. 10d. per quarter, and in that way he can undersell the farmers of this country. The same system applies to both barley and oats, but in those cases the amount of the subsidy varies.
Even apart from these subsidies it is very difficult for British farmers to sell in competition with these German imports, and competition would still be unfair as between the British and the German farmer on account of the fact that much longer hours are worked on the land in Germany than obtain in this country. Yesterday I interviewed a man who had been studying this question in Germany, and he assured me that during the four winter months the German agricultural labourer works 48 hours a week, and that rises to 50 hours per week for two months of the year, and during the six summer months the hours worked by the agricultural labourers are no less than 66 per week. In addition, the growers in many districts rely during the sowing and harvesting seasons upon women and child labour from the Balkans. They work in gangs under a foreman, and they are paid a rate of approximately 3d. per hour. The effect of this export bounty on imported wheat from Germany is unfortunately growing in intensity, and in February next the subsidy is going to be considerably increased.
It is necessary to compare the imports of wheat from Germany for the 12 months ending 31st July, 1928, with the imports for the 12 months ending 31st July, 1929, in order to realise the full seriousness of the situation. For the year ending 31st July, 1928, we imported from Germany to this country 22,500 quarters of wheat. For the year ending 31st July, 1929, we imported no less than 590,000 quarters of wheat. That is to say, the imports for last year were 25 times greater than those of the previous year. This bounty system is playing havoc among the farmers of this country, and it means definitely less employment on our land, a matter which, I am certain, will give concern to the Lord Privy Seal. Not-withstanding all this, the consumer in this country does not appear to be benefiting, even at the cost of the ruin of the farmers. It is rather alarming, also, to contemplate that France and Austria both threaten to follow the example of Germany, owing, no doubt, to the bountiful harvests which they have experienced this year.
This matter, I believe, is complicated by the existence of the Anglo-German Commercial Treaty, which was signed in December, 1924; but, whatever the difficulties may be, it is a matter which requires immediate adjustment. That treaty contains the usual Most Favoured Nation Clause, which prevents us from imposing a duty upon goods coming into this country from Germany which differentiates from the duty imposed on similar goods coming from other countries, but, of course, this does not apply in any way to the Dominions. If these imports of bounty-fed wheat, barley and oats continue to grow, it will be absolutely impossible for the farmers in this country to exist, and, indeed, I contend that that is now the case.
There are one or two possible solutions. One would be to put a duty on all bounty-fed cereals coining from abroad, except from the British Empire, and to use that duty to subsidise the cultivation of those same cereals in this country. Unfortunately, however, it would be necessary that the same duty should be imposed on cereals from countries which did not subsidise their exports. That, I am afraid, is inevitable on account of the Most Favoured Nation Clause. We might, however, make it absolutely clear that, when the German treaty terminates, I think at the end of next year, we would cancel this general duty on cereals and make it apply only to those countries which subsidise their exports. Another solution would be to subsidise the growing of these particular cereals in this country until such time as the German treaty expires.
The matter is of really vital importance to the farmers of this country. They must have assistance in this and, if I may say so, in other directions also; otherwise the land will go out of cultivation, and we shall see a further concentration of population in our great towns. The National Farmers' Union, I understand, has already approached the Government in connection with this matter, and I believe the Minister of Agriculture gave them a sympathetic hearing, but, so far, no action whatever has been taken. I hope that during the course of this Debate we shall receive an assurance from the Minister that this question is to be tackled immediately. It was the intention of the Conservative party that 25 per cent. of the flour used for the bread for the Navy, Army and Air Force should be milled from home-grown wheat, but that proposal has been dropped by the present Government, and they appear, as far as I can see, to have given no indication whatever that they realise that a prosperous agricultural community is vital to this country. I am aware that the Minister of Agriculture stated yesterday that he proposed to outline the agricultural policy of the Government at an early date, but, in view of the importance of the subject which I am raising at the present moment, I would ask him to take this opportunity of stating what he proposes to do in connection with the importation of these bounty-fed cereals, because I can assure the House that it is ruining the farmers at the present time, and is greatly reducing the amount of labour employed on the land.