I am sure I shall be voicing the feeling of the House if I utter a word of very hearty congratulation to the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Wise), who has just spoken, not only on the admirable way in which he delivered his speech, but also on the very great knowledge which he showed in regard to some of the more difficult parts of the question which we are now considering. He told us that the system of marketing cereals had under-gone a great change during the course of the last few years, and he seemed to base upon that the difficulty which has how arisen. I do not intend to follow him there, but, if I may, I would like to go back to the Debate as it stood before the hon. Member rose to speak. The Minister of Agriculture, as has been pointed out by the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), depicted in very grave words the seriousness of this problem with which we are now faced. The right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman), who spoke from the Liberal Benches, raised some considerations which, I must say, rather impressed me, and I think there are one or two points in the Debate, in so far as it has gone, which require clarifying.
Figures were given which showed that the import of these subsidised German cereals had risen 25 times in amount this year as compared with last year. Does the Minister admit those figures, and if there has been such an increase, what is the real cause of that increase? I have been unable really to ascertain what is the cause from what has been said up to now. The right hon. Member for St. Ives asked whether the Germans were really paying a subsidy at all. If they are, they are going contrary to their agreement at the Geneva Economic Conference, and I want to ask the Minister this question: Whatever this arrangement is by which the German farmer pays import licences—frankly, I do not under-stand what it is—does the German Government ultimately bear the cost? That seems to me a very pertinent question, because if the German Government ultimately bears the cost of this procedure, whatever it is, then surely it is of the nature of a subsidy, and presumably it is contrary to the agreement into which the German Government entered at the Geneva Economic Conference. There appears to be a definite difference of opinion as to whether or not there is a subsidy, and I hope that before this Debate finishes the Government will be able to make it perfectly clear, as I do not think it has been made quite clear up to now, exactly what is happening, and whether German cereals are receiving a subsidy. If so, I hope indeed that the Government will take some such action as has been suggested through the Foreign Office to bring to the notice of the German Government authorities the fact that they are not keeping within the undertaking which they gave at the Economic Conference.
I quite agree that at this particular moment it is really no good approaching this matter from the point of view of Protection. We are faced with practical facts. Our arable farmers throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom—I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland, where, as is the case in Scotland, of course, they are mainly growers of oats—are being very severely hit by the importation of this German grain, in whatever way it may be subsidised. Therefore, I do not think it is a practical question now to approach it from the point of view of Protection. Let us, if we can, find some possible action which the Government may take within the limits of our present state of politics; that is, of course, ruling Protection out. I hope that the appeal, which came first from the Liberal Benches, that the Government should, through the Foreign Office, approach the German Government, will not fall upon deaf ears, and that at any rate one advantage will accrue from this Debate, namely, that more resolute and definite action will be taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture to try and find some means of relieving our arable farmers from some part of this great and unfair burden which they are at present having to bear.