The gist of the argu- ment which has been advanced by the Mover and the Seconder of this Motion seems to me to be well contained in the question which the Seconder addressed to us: "When is Protection to be given to the British farmer?" That is a question which might very well have been addressed to others rather than to us. It was addressed, indeed, in the late Parliament very frequently to the then Leaders of the House, but I must point out that it was addressed to them in vain. I have always wondered what is the answer to this question: "When is Protection to be given to the British farmer?" I have often wondered why it was that when, as I understand, the majority of the Conservative Members of the House were in favour of agricultural Protection, the answer returned by the late Government was: "We cannot do it." It is obvious that if they did not see their way to do it, we cannot see our way to do it. I would like to say, before I answer the particular points of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, how glad I was to notice yesterday that, as a result of Conservative Members securing places in the Ballot, no less than five of the debates have been allocated to agriculture. I must confess that, compared with that record we, when we occupied the benches opposite, provided the House with a particularly dull time. I think that we never obtained such a record as five places in the ballot to discuss agriculture, and we welcome these opportunities warmly.
The Mover of the Motion said that I might use the first opportunity of an agricultural discussion in this Parliament to introduce a general debate and to discuss and announce our general proposals. I think that a better opportunity is required for that, and I hope that one or two hon. Members who secure a date in the Ballot will afford an opportunity as early as possible for a general debate. To-day, we have a question of such very great interest and importance that we must confine ourselves to it. I cordially endorse what both the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion said about the vital importance and the financial interests of the agricultural question. I hold that agriculture is still the most important industry in this country. We have not only to take its numerical and economic importance but its importance to national health in many ways. We on these benches do not want this country to be regarded as a mere congeries of town and urban districts to which agriculture should be subordinated. We have always cordially advocated mutual interest and co-operation between town and country, and we do regard agriculture as a most essential element in the national life. We hold—though this is not the moment to advance it—that our policy represents the best way to save agriculture. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is it?"] It is in black and white and has been for years past. I hope that hon. Members have not waited until now to read the agricultural policy of the Labour party. To-day, in view of the present composition of Parliament, the opportunity for the policy of this party or any other party, as it stands, remains very doubtful.
I am afraid that I cannot accept the Motion. It urges not only that measures should be taken to counteract the effect upon British agriculture of the dumping of German wheat, but that immediate steps should be taken. I cannot see, any more than the late Government saw, how immediate steps can be taken explicitly to counteract an effect which I agree is most regrettable and most damaging. With regard to the suggestion for the imposition of a countervailing duty, I must point out that that is not a remedy which we can accept, or which the party opposite would accept. If the supporters of the Motion favour a subsidy to keep the English corn grower on his feet, I must remind them that the subsidy system was repealed in 1921, and that in 1926 there appeared the notorious White Paper which embodied the policy of the late Government, explicitly repudiating the policy of subsidy.
May I say, as I have already said to the National Farmers' Union, that I sympathise most deeply, as we all do, with the corn growers in this country who are suffering from the effects of German subsidies, which are downright subsidies in a peculiar form. The phenomenon is deplorable, and it is the more deplorable because there is something artificial and, in a sense, unfair as it appears to us in that kind of subsidy. I wish most sincerely that we could find a remedy. Those who were good enough to study the Labour party proposals will have seen printed at very considerable length the plans and ideas which we arrived at, after most sincere and exhaustive studies, as to the right way to deal with the problem of stabilisation. Severe fluctuations are disastrous. We have a plan for dealing with the matter, but it is a plan which I am afraid does not command a majority in this House.
If the late Government were unable to find a plan either of a Protective kind or any other kind for dealing with the situation, I am afraid that it would be futile for us, to whom Free Trade principles have been imputed, to attempt to go one better in the direction of Protection. The matter is, however, one of earnest interest to us. So far as activity goes, in what we regard as feasible and sound economic directions I can assure the House that we are working to the utmost of our energy in one marketing reform in particular, namely, the promotion of standardisation, which has the support of all parties. That is a policy in regard to which I shall not spare myself in my efforts to advance it and make it a great success. Whether we earn the thanks of the farmers or not, and whether they believe in it or not, and I am thankful to say that they are looking more favourably upon it, that is a direction in which much may be done. I do not advocate it as a remedy for the dumping of German corn, but I mention it as an illustration of the interest we take in the subject of marketing and of the energy that we are prepared to throw into the work.
May I give a few facts, which were not given by the Mover or Seconder of the Motion, in regard to this highly regrettable feature of European exchange and interchange of corn. It is a system which is known in Germany as the import bond system, and it is a curiously intricate kind of rebate. The system has been in existence a long time except for the four years of the War. It was introduced in 1894, and was reimposed in 1906 in a new form. The bond originally permitted a man who exported wheat to import an equal quantity of wheat, but in 1906 the import bond system was extended and exporters of one kind of cereal were allowed to import cereals of another kind. The value to the German grower was raised so late as last July. The duty which is remitted to the importer who possesses one of the bonds is now 3s. 3d. per cwt. on wheat, 3s. per cwt. on rye and 3s. per cwt. on oats. The importation of oats in 1928—this particular importation is as damaging as any other and is most serious in its effect especially upon Scotland—amounted to 57,000 tons, and this year for nine months it amounted to 71,000 tons. The importation of wheat last year was 78,000 tons and this year for nine months 72,000 tons. If we compare the quantity imported with the United Kingdom crop in 1928 we find that for every 100 tons that we grew in this country in that year nearly 8 tons of German wheat were imported. Of course, when you take into account the entire consumption of the country, the figures make the importation look very small, but in comparison with our home produce the figures of importation are very interesting.