Dumping of German Wheat.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 30th October 1929.

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Earl WINTERTON:

The Debate so far has been very free from party controversy, and I do not wish to travel in the slightest degree outside that path. We have just listened to a very interesting speech from the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman), and I am sure he will not think me offensive if I remind him that while there may be differences of opinion on certain aspects of agricultural policy among those who sit on these benches it is nevertheless equally true of his own party, for there are serious differences as to the exact construction which is to be placed on certain aspects of the Liberal land policy. Further, I imagine from what has been said by the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon that there are differences of opinion in the party opposite. However, we are not concerned with such matters this afternoon, and the right hon. Member for St. Ives is quite accurate when he said that the issue here is a very narrow one. I should have thought that we were precluded from discussing the whole question of the importation of foreign wheat into this country, and the question as to the effect of an import duty, whether it is good or bad, does not arise. What we are concerned with is the dumping of German wheat and other cereals into this country, and hon. Members on this side of the House have made it quite clear that they are referring to the amount of German wheat and other cereals which are imported into this country as a result of the bounty given in Germany.

Having narrowed the point down in this way let me proceed to deal with it a little more fully. The Minister of Agriculture paid a great tribute to my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Agriculture not only by basing himself on the policy which my right hon. Friend adopted, but by quoting the ipsissima verba of my right hon. Friend, thus adopting not only the policy but the very language of the late Minister of Agricul- ture. It is part of the case made by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion that the situation has been getting gradually worse. The figures which have been given are really remarkable. There has been an increase, between the year ending the 15th July, 1928, and the year ending on the same date, 1929, in the number of quarters imported from 22,000 to 590,000. That is an enormous increase. The right hon. Member for St. Ives has suggested that the figures for the first year are exceptionally low, but I think, though I have not verified the figures, that if he looks at the years before 1928 he will find that there has never before been anything like the importation of 590,000 quarters. If that is so, the problem is obviously more important than it was and, therefore, the question raised by the right hon. Member for St. Ives also becomes of greater importance; that is, are the Government satisfied that this is not a breach of the contract given by the German Government at Geneva? The right hon. Member for St. Ives, with a considerable knowledge of what took place at Geneva, thinks there is a possibility that there may have been a breach of that undertaking and, if that is so, then the question arises as to whether representations should be made to the League of Nations at Geneva that Germany has committed a breach of the undertaking which she gave.

Some very striking phrases have been used by the Minister of Agriculture in connection with this matter. He has used stronger language than was ever used by the late Minister of Agriculture. He said that the effect of this dumping was most regrettable and most damaging and that it was a deplorable phenomenon. No denunciation of the fiscal views of hon. Members on this side of the House in any way absolves him from the responsibility of finding ways and means of dealing with what is "most regrettable and most damaging and a deplorable phenomenon." I have had placed in my hands a copy of a letter addressed to him by the National Farmers' Union on the subject. It may be that the remedies they suggest are impracticable. The right hon. Gentleman gave some reason why they are impracticable, but when a Government is faced with what is "most regrettable and most damaging and a deplorable phenomenon" surely the responsibility rests on the Government to consider ways and means for dealing with it? What the right hon. Gentleman said is of great importance and I am quite sure that the agricultural community in the country will regard it as of great importance and will want to know what steps he is taking to deal with the situation.

The right hon. Gentleman in the course of his observations referred vaguely to the stabilsation policy of the Government or the party to which he belongs. I do not want to get away from the narrow terms of the Motion but it is interesting to note that 24 hours after the right hon. Gentleman refused to tell us what is the agricultural policy of the Government he should, on an occasion which he himself says is not an appropriate opportunity, make some vague reference to the stabilisation policy of the present Government. We are, I think, entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether this stabilisation policy, which certainly appeared in the literature of the Labour party before the General Election, is still the policy of the party and whether the Government can hold out any hope that a Bill to put this policy into force will be brought in during the present session. I think the leader of the Liberal party will agree that it is rather a peculiar situation that the day after the Minister of Agriculture has said that the occasion has not been reached for stating the agricultural policy of the Government he should, by a side wind as it were, bring in the question of the stabilisation of agriculture.

I have nothing more to say to the right hon. Gentleman, except to urge him, in view of his admission of the seriousness of the situation, to examine closely the points put by my two hon. friends and consider whether some means can be found for dealing with the situation, which I have no hesitation in saying has brought the farmers of this country almost to despair. They have had the finest wheat harvest ever known in our generation, indeed for the last two generations, and but for the dumping of this German wheat there would have been a bigger demand for British wheat. There will be a demand for British wheat for the making of flour and biscuits; but the importation of this German wheat will be most damaging because it happens to be of exactly the same quality as wheat-produced at home, and it will displace British wheat from the very limited market at its disposal. We all know the rather unfortunate fact that the public to-day like to have a large quantity of foreign hard wheat, not of European quality, included in their flour, and therefore the market is a limited one. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister referred to the scheme—and incidentally I think he will admit that it was the scheme of his predecessor—for grading British flour, among other products that come from the soil of this country. I hope it will be successful. We all hope so, but nothing of that kind can get over the damaging effect of this immense increase in the import of German cereals into this country. Nobody can exaggerate the seriousness of the situation from the point of view, both of the present and the future of the production of cereals in this country.