Dumping of German Wheat.

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

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Photo of Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise Mr Edward Ruggles-Brise , Maldon

I am very glad, speaking as a farmer, that so early in this Session we are having a discussion on this most important matter. Already the handicap from which we have been suffering for many years has brought us to the point that the importation of foreign cereals to this country in such large quantities has become almost the last straw. If we look back upon the history of farming in this county since the War, certain landmarks stand out. First of all, there was a great slump which affected all the industries in this country, and agriculture was no exception. Agriculture has no reason to complain any more than any other industry of that great slump. But agriculture had to bear something which did not fall on other industries in this country. There is not the slightest doubt that the repeal of Part 1 of the Agriculture Act was a disaster to the industry, and that the effects of it are still being felt. Under the protection of that Act, farmers bought farms, buildings and implements and went into the whole business. But they have been very badly let down. Since that time they have been given, no equivalent by this House or by any party represented in this House, and therefore for that and many other reasons the industry of agriculture is lagging sadly behind several other industries.

There has been one other disability, and that is the bad seasons we have had owing to the weather, over which, of course, we have no control. The accumulation of the slump, of the repeal of the Agriculture Act and of bad seasons has brought the great majority of farmers to a very difficult position indeed. Up to the summer of 1928 we had a succession of seasons which, to those of us who live in arable counties, and especially those of us who live where the land is on the heavy side, proved very disastrous. We welcomed the change in the weather in the autumn of 1928, which assisted cultivation, for we were able to sow crops in good order for the first time for many years. This year we have been favoured with admirable weather for the harvest, and we had begun to think that we bad turned the corner and that the tide had turned in our favour. When we got our crop safely back to the farms, and the barns were filled, and there were stacks standing in serried ranks, as they are on my farm to-day, everything looked beautiful to those who did not know the real position.

When I go to market, as I did this morning—I spent the morning on Mark Lane—what do I find? I find that as far as wheat is concerned I cannot make more than possibly 43s. a quarter at the farm, and less if I pay the carriage to London and try to sell it in London to the London miller. If I try to sell my barley —I happen this year to have barley of most excellent quality and a barn full of it—I find that either the maltster or the brewer says: "Yes, that is excellent barley, but I am very sorry that I cannot buy to-day. I have already bought too much, not British barley, but barley coming from another country." So I am hit in that direction as well. When I come to oats, what do I find? I should like to tell the House the true position as regards oats. The actual position as to the price of oats in this country to-day is as follows. Normally, large quantities of oats come to this country from Canada and, to a certain extent, from the United States. This year no oats are coming from either of these countries. Large quantities also come to this country from the Argentine almost every year. This year, owing to the absence of oats from Canada and the United States, the Argentine seller in the ordinary way would be able to get a very much better price for his oats in this country because of the absence of competition from oats imported from other countries. I have it on the authority of some of those who stand high in the Corn Market in London that in their opinion the price of Argentine oats would be 5s. a quarter higher to-day but for the reason—although there are no oats coming from America and Canada—that there are oats coming from Germany. Germany is sending here oats of very good quality indeed, and she is depressing the price of English oats below the cost of production. That is the position to-day in regard to oats.

I would say one word more about wheat. An hon. Member made great play of the fact that the German importation of wheat amounted to only 1 per cent, of the whole of the wheat which we consumed in this country. One per cent, does seem very little, I freely admit, but I would ask the House to consider this point: If you get a demand at the figure of 100 and if you have a supply at the figure of 100, the chances are that you will get a level price. If on the other hand you have a demand still at 100, but a supply at 101, you immediately get a fall in prices, much greater than 1 per cent. That is inevitable. Similarly, if you get a demand at 100 and a shortage at 99, you have an equivalent rise out of all proportion to the 1 per cent. German wheat was coming to this country when we were getting ready to put our wheat on to the market. It has been mentioned in this House by more than one speaker that German wheat competes with our wheat very specially because it is a "soft" wheat. If you get a "soft" wheat coming to this country when our own wheat is being placed on the market, it is obvious that you get in the market that surplus from which farmers are suffering so badly to-day.

Happily, I may give the House some information, of which hon. Members may not be aware in connection with the importation of German wheat. The worst of the trouble is over, thank goodness! But there is not the slightest reason to believe that we shall be free from trouble another season. As far as the next few months are concerned, there is reason to believe that we shall not be affected by the importation of German wheat for two reasons. One is, that the Germans have got rid of that proportion which they wanted to export for various reasons which have been mentioned. A further reason is that the German Government have recently increased the amount which they make compulsory in Germany in regard to the milling of German home-grown wheat. The figure was 40 per cent., and the German Government have now put up the figure to 50 per cent. That is to say, that to-day in Germany every sack of flour which is milled has to contain 50 per cent. of German home-grown wheat. For these reasons, we may hope that for the next few months, at any rate, we shall not be affected by the importation of German wheat.

There are only one or two remedies which have been suggested by the speeches this afternoon. Stabilisation appears to be one of them. There seems to be no agreement as to the level at which we should stabilise. We have not exhausted all the possible methods of dealing with this matter. For some years I have been an advocate, both in this House and outside, of the Government offering some measure of assistance to farmers whereby they might come into a scheme and assure for themselves a price equal to the cost of production, plus a reasonable margin of profit. There may be some hon. Members who have possibly done me the honour of perusing my speeches. That would be one method, and not a very costly one, of stabilizing from that point of view. There is another, which, I think, possibly might be an easier one. Why should not the Government take a leaf out of the book of the German Government? Why, if the German Government are able to insist that every sack of flour milled in Germany should contain 50 per cent, of home-grown German wheat, cannot the British Government insist that every sack of flour milled in England should contain a certain proportion of British-grown wheat? I would commend these two ideas to the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, although these ideas emanate from the Opposition side of the House, will have the large-mindedness to give consideration to views expressed in so many quarters of the House to-day, and will treat the question of British agriculture, not merely from the party point of view, but wholly from a national point of view.