Dumping of German Wheat.

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr George Dallas Mr George Dallas , Wellingborough

There is no Member of this House whom it would give me more pleasure to follow than the noble Lord the Member for Roxburgh (The Earl of Dalkeith) who became a very great friend of mine during our political fights. I would like to say that in my opinion there is not the slightest hope for agriculture in any of the suggestions put forward in the speeches from the Conservative benches. Some hon. Members who have spoken have stated that it is the duty of the Government to get on with the job, but the representatives of both Liberalism and Toryism have completely failed to make the slightest practical suggestion as to how this problem should be dealt with. Obviously it is not a simple question. We have been told that treaties are involved, and one hon. Member has suggested that we should ask the German Government to make a contribution in regard to this matter. It is difficult to find out exactly what has taken place, but there is no possibility of this Government or any other Government taking up this question with the German Government on the ground of the violation of treaties, because the German Government does not contribute one solitary farthing. Although Germany is already a protected country hon. Members opposite have told us that the hours worked in Germany by agricultural workers are longer than the hours worked in this country; and they have also stated that wages are much lower in Germany, notwithstanding the fact that Germany has the benefit of the remedy which the Conservative party has offered to agriculture and other industries in this country.

All the grain that comes into Germany has to pay an import duty of 13s. 10d. Why is Germany an exporting and an importing country at the same time? The reason is the same as that which is given for the policy adopted in this country. The German people want their loaf to be something like the loaf which the people of this country desire to have, and therefore they have to import hard wheats from America and Canada, and when these hard wheats come in other wheats are exported and a rebate is allowed of the exact amount of the tax paid on the wheat which comes into Germany. Consequently the German Government in no way comes into the picture, because what happens is that there is simply a rebate of the import duty and there is no direct contribution by the German Government.

Some of the figures which have been quoted in this Debate do not make a fair comparison, because the Canadian and North American wheats do not compete with our home-grown wheats. It is not fair to take the total import of wheats into this country and then to deduct the small amount which comes from Germany. The late Government had many opportunities of doing something for agriculture, but their efforts proved very disappointing. We have been told that the reason why the late Government did not do anything for agriculture in 1928 was that an election was pending. I often wonder why the late Government did not apply the principle they have put forward to home-fed meat for British troops. The members of the Conservative party have always claimed to be the friends of the farmers, but I have always asserted that they have always been the friends of the landlords, which is a very different proposition. If the late Government had any remedy at all for this problem they have had many opportunities in the past of applying that remedy, and they have failed to take advantage of the situation which presented itself to them. As a matter of fact the only remedy they have been able to produce is that of Protection.

I thought we were advancing politically in regard to this question when I heard the suggestion from an hon. Member opposite that this is a question which goes beyond the bounds of our own little island, and one which will have to be dealt with in a much wider sense. I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) that I do not think he will find that anything will come out of the Geneva Conference which will enable the Minister of Agriculture to take any action on this matter with the German Government. What every country in the world should try to do as quickly as possible is to reduce tariff barriers, because that action would tend to help our depressed industries. The policy which has been adopted by the Government of the United States may sooner or later have a very serious effect on agriculture, and this is a point which should be very carefully examined. This is a far more serious question than the import of German wheat. I think it is a good sign of the times that we are all inclined to the opinion that we cannot solve this question in a purely isolated way. We have to take a very much wider and broader outlook, and to take into account the conditions of the whole world as they affect agriculture.

On this question I make no apology for what I have said on public platforms. I believe that there is no way out of this difficulty except that of dealing with some Board, or setting up machinery that will have some control over the importation of agricultural produce into this country, whether it be wheat or meat. I think that is the only way in which we can tackle this problem, and I feel certain that the Government—if we run our course as I feel sure we shall do— will be able to go a long way towards settling many of these great problems. I desire to get as much agreement as possible amongst all parties on this subject. I cannot visualise the Liberal party departing very much from their own particular plan, and I cannot visualise the party to which I belong sacrificing their principles in dealing with the great subject of agriculture. As for the Conservative party, I have some difficulty in finding out what is their policy. But in spite of all these differences I think there is a measure of reasonable agreement that British agriculture is something which should be raised above all party interests.

I think there is some little measure of agreement that we should do something quickly to deal with this subject. I agreed with the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) when he drew attention to what is a very serious aspect of this problem, namely, that the number of agricultural workers employed on the land is gradually diminishing, and that young men are definitely refusing to go into the agricultural industry. If we could succeed in two or three years' time in reviving British trade I am sure that British agriculture and British farmers would be presented with the greatest labour problem they have ever known. It is a tragedy that we should allow the land of this country to become derelict; while a large number of the best workers in the land are drifting from the villages where. I am sure they would be very much happier and more contented, and where they would be able to lead more useful lives than in our crowded towns and cities, where they are only increasing the difficulties of the labour problem. Something can be done now, and ought to be done now, to deal with this question of the importation of German wheat, and it ought to be dealt with by the large, broad, international method that we have suggested. If an Import Board were set up to control the importation of wheat, we could say to Germany, "We do not want your wheat, and will not take it," and we could say that to any country without infringing any treaty or anything of that kind. The Board would have the right to buy wheat where it liked, and it would be able in that way at any rate to help the farmer to get a better price. Someone has asked at what figure the price is to be stabilised, and it is suggested that, if it is not stabilised at a higher price, it will not be of any use. Sir Daniel Hall has been quoted. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest authorities on British agriculture, and he was positive that it is the uncertainty of prices as much as the lowness of prices that creates lack of confidence in British agriculture. Therefore, if we can stabilise the price, and steady it for as long a period as we possibly can, we shall bring greater confidence to British agriculture than it has at the present time. I am afraid I have trespassed a long time on the kindness of the House, and I am grateful to the House for haying listened to me so patiently.