May I, a comparatively new Member of this House, offer my heartiest congratulations to the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) on his first speech, to which I am sure the House has listened with rapt attention and has enjoyed very much? I am glad that the hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir E. Iliffe) decided to raise this very important matter. As representing an important agricultural division, I know that this question has come very much to the fore with all with whom I come into contact in my constituency. The question to-day is, what is the Government going to do with regard to the dumping of German wheat into this country? I do not know what the agricultural interests of this country will say when they read the reply that the Minister of Agriculture has given to-day. I do not know what they will think when they read that the leader of the party, so far as agriculture is concerned, tells this House that, as the Government which preceded him had no remedy for this matter, why should he be expected to have a remedy? My reply is that there is a vast volume of opinion in the country which thinks that we can get something from this Government which we could not get from the Government which preceded them. I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture has had to confess to-day that a distinct difficulty exists, but that he and his Government cannot propose a remedy for it.
We must realise that, although this is an important question, it can be over-stated, and that it is possible to hear more about the importation of German wheat than about other things that would be to the benefit of agriculture generally. I do not believe some of the sweeping statements that are made with regard to this particular matter, nor do I agree when it is suggested that all would be well if this particular difficulty could be counteracted and surmounted immediately. It would certainly help agriculture, but it would not solve the difficulties of agriculture, and it would touch only a fringe of the difficulties that agriculture as an industry is up again at the moment. For all that, it is a very important matter, and something which we ought to face; and it ought to be one of those things about which a Government such as we have in office to-day ought to be able to say, "We realise the difficulty of the industry; there is something wrong here, and we are going to take a certain move along certain lines in order to try and remove it." I am, however, very disappointed that all we have got is that, as the previous Administration could not do anything, why should we expect the present to do more than they? All I can say is that we do expect, and shall continue to expect.
In order to get this matter in its true perspective, may I try to explain the importance of it with regard to the price of wheat in this country? The average consumption of wheat in this country for the last Seven years amounts to 134,639,000 cwts. and the average total import of wheat for the last seven years is 103,506,000 cwts. The average importation of German wheat into this country during the last seven years amounts to 888,860 cwts. That enables us to realise exactly how much of the total importation of wheat into this country comes from Germany, and it enables us to realise in a true measure the importance of this particular question. In other words, less than 1 per cent. of the total consumption of wheat in this country is the subject matter of our Debate to-day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] I do not think it is a shame. I think that we ought to talk about it, and if it is wrong that this subsidised wheat should come into this country, we ought to talk about it even if it were less than 5 per cent., because I am afraid that it may grow into a larger proportion. If it does, it will be a very serious problem, and it ought to be tackled in the earlier stages rather than later.
Take the figures for this year. The total of import for this year from all sources is 83,537,000 cwts. The importation from the United States, Argentina, Australia and Canada accounts for 80,903,000 cwts. The official figures do not give us what comes from Germany, but they lump the rest under the heading "all other countries." During the nine months of this year, the total of wheat from all other countries amounts to 2,591,047 cwts. We can assume that less than half of the total imports of all other countries comes from Germany. This is a figure of which we ought to take note, and it is a figure that affects particularly the Eastern counties agriculturists. These figures show again that there has been during the present year a tremendous increase for the figures of imported German wheat, but it is only fair to say that the figures of this year compare favourably, and indeed show a decrease over those of 1926–1927. It might be said that the importation of German wheat which amounts to only 1 per cent. of our total consumption will not have any effect upon the price of wheat in this country, and that it does not matter. I suggest that it does matter, and that we ought to give full consideration to it, especially with regard to the agricultural interests in the Eastern counties.
Where does this wheat go to? The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. B. Riley) said that it was taken in by the East coast ports. I believe that he is right, and the difficulty in this particular matter is that Hull, for instance, can take this German wheat direct into the mill from the quayside at a price which does not give the farmer in Lincolnshire an opportunity of getting an economic price for the corn that he himself produces. Some people might ask us to prove that the mills buy their wheat so much more cheaply than the price at which the English farmer can sell it to them. They might not buy it more cheaply, but the point is that the German wheat can be brought to the quayside in Hull and delivered, say, at a figure somewhere round 40s. or 41s. per quarter, and while the English farmer may be able to get 41s., the miller has to pay 41s. plus the tremendous freightage. In that way it brings down the price of wheat for the agricultural community, and the result is that the farmers are suffering, I do suggest, therefore, that it is a matter that ought to be given serious consideration.
I do not know what the remedy really ought to be. We are not dealing with wheat that is sent into this country on account of over-production in Germany. Germany is a great wheat importing country, and is importing tremendous quantities and again exporting wheat to this country. Attempts have been made to explain just how and why from this tariff-ridden country of Germany this wheat can be dumped into England, and, by the system of licences which is in operation there an equivalent quantity of some other cereal can be taken in to the advantage of the German farmer and the disadvantage of our British farmer. The position being what it is, and I being a Free Trader, I am going to stick to my Free Trade principles. I have up room for taxes on food, and I really believe, as I think hon. Gentlemen opposite believe, that any solution along the lines of a tax upon wheat or upon cereals of any description would be a very dangerous step to take; and this House is not likely to take it.
As a Free Trader, I certainly want fair trade, and if the premeditated action of another Government with a regard to a particular system of tariffs which they care to introduce into their own country means that we are going to have unfair trade for a certain section of the community, such as the agriculturists, it ii up to the Government to protect them, and to see that they have an opportunity to trade upon fair lines, and to introduce some measure or take some action which will give to the farming interest of this country really fair play in this matter. I firmly believe, too, that the solution will not be found along the lines of taxing our own poor people— because they are the people who would pay. We do not hear very much now a days about the foreigners paying. It is our people at home who would have to pay whatever tax was put on. I also realise that the admission of this wheat into this country has not' made the slightest difference to the rice of the loaf to the poor people.
The House should remember, also, that the Government which preceded the present one were asked to solve this very same problem and declined to do so. They said that taxes on food were impossible, and the prohibition of imports was impracticable. The present Government have told the agricultural interests that their policy is one of stabilisation of prices. The Government have professed to have the interests of our agriculturists at heart. Time and time again in the Constituencies they have promised that by the stabilisation of prices or, to use their own words, by a stability in the prices of all main crops and products, they would help agriculture on to its feet again. To-day is the day when the Government might say something to agriculturists as to how they propose to restore agriculture to prosperity again. I was positively sorry to hear the Minister of Agriculture admit that he had no remedy and to find that the only excuse he could offer was that the Government before him had also failed to find a remedy. I say that some consideration must be given to agriculture. We expect, indeed, we insist, that our farmers should pay adequate wages to their men—no one would insist On that more firmly than I would—and when unfair trading conditions exist we must, in justice to them, do all in our power to see that such a state of affairs is remedied at the earliest possible moment.