I regret that there should have been any feeling as to the alteration of the Notice on the Order Paper, but the Committee and the right hon. Gentleman opposite will recollect the difficulty we had in promising him that we would put this Motion upon the Paper before the House rose for the weekend. Out of deference to the right hon. Gentleman, I admit that I hustled rather to get it there to meet his convenience. Having done that, I admit at once that a verbal alteration, even if it is a verbal alteration of some moment, had been slipped, and I would beg the right hon. Gentleman to believe me when I say that, in fact, it does not really alter what was the main intention of the Government in the original Notice, except in the matter of Customs administration.
This Resolution which I am asking the Committee to accept, with the Amendment which has been read out to the Committee, contains in it a proposal to deal with one aspect of agricultural produce in this country. I do not claim for it that it is more than one aspect of the problem which arises for solution by the Government and this House, but that it is part of the problem is, I am sure, the common knowledge of everyone who knows the circumstances of the country. We explained that, when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade did not include agriculture in the Measure which he submitted to this House, that was done largely because the perishable nature of agricultural produce did not come within the scope of the word "forestalling," and it was not practical really to deal with some of these matters under that Measure. Since that time, the Government have given their careful consideration to the problem of agricultural produce coming into this country.
Agricultural produce can play a large part in helping to deal with the problem of the balance of trade. There are a good many branches of agriculture where we can produce in this country efficiently and satisfactorily and where we can materially lessen the expenditure upon products coming from overseas. The Committee will recall that successive Parliaments have discussed the problem of the importation into this country of early vegetables like potatoes, and of early fruit and other garden products, and the House has generally admitted in the past that circumstances of great hardship were imposed upon our producers by their having to compete with the very early products of a purely luxury nature like the potatoes that come from the south, right outside the bounds of this country, from the Canary Islands, from North Africa and the like.
These early luxury vegetables cannot in any sense be described as the food of the people. They are things for which very high prices are paid. It may be that some hostess competing with another may desire to have something on her table that somebody else has not got, but these are things which I have no hesitation in saying this country would do well to shut out. That they fetch extravagant prices, and that they involve no hardship on the ordinary poor and middle-class consumer, is clearly established. The scheme which I venture to put before the Committee deals in the main with fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables such as asparagus, peas, broccoli, cauliflowers, and tomatoes. It also deals with cut flowers, and with bulbs, which are closely allied to them.
The Committee may ask me whether it is worth while touching this side of the industry. I venture to think that it is. Whatever differences of opinion there may be as to increasing or maintaining the cereal production of this country, it is a matter beyond dispute that by the use of glasshouses and intensive cultivation by market gardeners, smallholders and allotment holders—a class of people that this House would do well to sustain and encourage—we can materially encourage an increase in the production of the necessary food of this country. It is estimated that the total value of imports for 1930 of the articles mentioned in this list amounted to over £13,000,000.
Of the purely early section of these goods it is difficult to speak with certainty because the figures vary from time to time, but I estimate that the early section would represent a figure of somewhere between £7,000,000 and £8,000,000 worth of produce. I am not claiming that this Measure is the whole of our agricultural policy, but it does provide and establish security for many people to develop the production of this kind of goods. Let me refer for a moment to the question of tomatoes. A considerable proportion of these no doubt come from abroad. In Scotland we have a considerable industry for the production of tomatoes under glass. I have heard it said by some of my friends that, in dealing with this problem, I have not altogether considered the claims of Scotland. I do not think that that is so, and I believe not only that we can encourage a wider production of things like tomatoes, but that undoubtedly there is a prospect of getting from within our own colonies an increased import of tomatoes into our markets.
Flowers, bulbs and rose trees come into a different category, and that is the main reason why there has had to he this alteration in the Resolution. It will be observed that the maximum duty which it will be possible to impose under this Resolution is the same as in the case of the Abnormal Importations (Customs Duties) Act introduced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, that is, 100 per cent. of the value. This Resolution, however, differs in one important respect from that Act. Under the Act there is only one method of fixing the duty, namely, ad valorem, that is, a percentage of the value of each particular consignment at the moment of importation. This method of ad valorem duty would not be applicable to some of the agricultural commodities which it is proposed to deal with under this Resolution. They arrive in this country frequently on consignment and depend upon the value ruling in Covent Garden, Leeds, or some other market, where for the moment they are for sale. Therefore, it would be improper to fix the value at entrance. In these circumstances, we propose to ask Parliament to charge specific duties by reference to either weight, measurement or number. In cases where this method is followed, the Government propose that the overriding maximum of 100 per cent. of value shall be generally applicable. It was to meet this particular point that it was found necessary to make the slight verbal alteration in the terms of the Resolution.
Speaking generally, the specific duties will be laid down in the Orders as so much per cwt. or so much per lb., but the Minister, in making such Orders, will be required to satisfy himself that on the average such duty will not exceed 100 per cent. of the value of normal consignments during the period when it is operating. I hope that that will make it clear how we propose to deal with that aspect of the problem. I am aware that, of course, Members from different parts of the country may think that this list does not include some of those things in which they or their constituents are peculiarly interested. The experiment which I propose to make is, however, one which we feel we are justified in making because of the interests of our home producers, and because of the circumstances, such as the depression in the pound, the exchange, the balance of trade and certain other factors, which we see operating across the very narrow seas which separate us from the Continent.
I have only to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that in the flower trade, which is no inconsiderable trade in this country, we have seen within the last few weeks certain restrictive measures being taken by the German Government against the Dutch who produce flowers, grapes, and bulbs in large quantities. In the past we have bought from these Dutch growers some of the finest bulbs which this country has ever had. In dealing with this problem, I am not saying for a moment that we shall attempt deliberately to shut out all these bulbs, but we are justified in recognising that as restrictive measures have been made against the Dutch, they must obviously find a market for their produce. Where is that market to be found? Clearly in these islands; and, when I look at the new and flourishing industry of bulb-raising in the Fens of South Lincolnshire, the South of England, the Scilly Isles, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man, and when I think of the people who are trying to make an honest, decent and fair living in this way, I say without hesitation that they can reasonably expect this National Government, whatever else they may think of it, to be determined to pay regard even to the smaller aspects of this problem as well as its major aspect, and, while dealing with the larger manufacturing side of the problem, not to forget the agricultural side. I shall be ready to answer any questions which hon. Members may wish to raise on this matter.
The Orders which will be made will be submitted to the House, and the House will either confirm or reject them. I cannot tell the Committee now in detail how I propose to deal with the Orders. Obviously, we must have a variety of methods of dealing with the different aspects of this problem. In some cases it may be by the highest duty for a considerable period, and in others the highest duty for a short period with a gradually decreasing duty. In other cases, it may be solely confined to particular periods of the year, but in the main, as I envisage the problem, the object of the Orders will be to ensure, first of all, that purely luxury things which are non-essential shall be shut out in the early stage when they cannot be produced in this country at all, and that when those periods come in which our early producers have a right to have at least a reasonable chance of access to our market, they shall be given that chance; the duty will then remain on long enough to overlap until the period of the main crop is reached. These are the principles on which I propose to operate these duties. I would like to make it clear that the produce from the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the Scilly Isles, and certain Dominion and Colonial produce will not be affected. These duties will pertain only to goods from outside those specific places.
I hope the House will give me leave to take this first step in dealing with the problem, because it will be an encouragement to the smaller agricultural producers. Small it may be as regards the type of goods affected, but it is not small in its importance to the country, and not small, either, if we realise that this encouragement will bring about an expanding production of these things. It may well be that this aspect of our agricultural production will become increasingly important in this country. Before I sit down, may I add this? The House will recall the memory of an old Member, Mr. Ernest Pretyman, who in his lifetime took a great part in its proceedings. Only a short time ago he was discussing with me the whole agricultural problem, in which he was intensely interested, and it is with great regret that one feels that he has gone from us before he could see the realisation of a great part of the hopes which he entertained for the furtherance of agricultural production in this country. Be that as it may, those of us who were his friends in this House must feel great satisfaction at seeing this Measure, which we trust will be the first step in assisting agricultural production here.
I almost feel like supporting the right hon. Gentleman's apology for the Motion which he has just moved. He told us that the Government have given very careful consideration to all phases of the agricultural situation, but that this Motion is intended to deal with one small aspect of it only. In almost every other sentence there was some expression of apology for the infinitesimal size of this aspect of the problem. We might very well say that the mountain has been in labour and that a very small mouse has emerged. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has made up his mind whether these duties are intended as anti-dumping ditties or are to be imposed for the purpose of keeping luxury articles beyond these shores? Listening very carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, it seemed to me that he had not yet made up his mind whether, as the Prime Minister stated last Thursday, these articles are non-essentials or whether the intention is to restrict imports in order to protect the home industry. In my nine years' experience I do not think I ever heard a Minister introduce such a highly important and controversial Motion with so few reasons and so little justification as were forthcoming from the right hon. Gentleman. I almost felt a tear come into my eyes when I thought about the danger of imported asparagus, the undermining influences of imported broccoli or the catastrophic evil of imported green peas.
One must agree with the right hon. Gentleman that he is dealing with only a very small aspect of the agricultural problem, but at least I think I can say for the hon. Members who sit on these benches that we are not content to regard this Motion merely from the point of view of its effect upon asparagus, broccoli or green peas. We regard it as the first step in what will ultimately lead to a full-blooded policy of food taxation. The Order Paper to-day shows that hon. and right hon. Members opposite are seeking not only to keep out asparagus and broccoli, but to impose taxation upon imported wheat, oats, barley, dairy produce, pig foods and every other conceivable variety of agricultural produce. This may be a first step, but it will lead ultimately to full-blooded food taxation—if the right hon. Gentleman is left in charge too long.
Despite the loud professions of the leaders of all the political parties now represented in the National Government that, come what may, there would be no taxation upon food, we are convinced that this Motion indicates that the last election was the most fraudulent election in the history of this country. I shall be able to show that the leaders of all political parties gave definite promises to the electorate that the most they would do on this particular matter would be to examine all the needs of the case for the purpose of securing a favourable balance of trade and safeguarding the finances of the country. [Interruption.] If the Noble Lord will contain himself, I think I shall be able to satisfy him that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Prime Minister, nor the Cabinet as a whole, have given consideration to any one of the articles mentioned in this Motion. So far from the articles embraced by this Motion being regarded by farmers as of any importance, it will not be long before they describe this proposal as an absolute farce. It will satisfy no section of the community. May I refer to statements made by the leaders of political parties on what they were prepared to do if the National Government were returned to office? The Prime Minister, speaking at Tamworth on 22nd October, said:
The election does not give instructions to apply, but it does give instructions to examine, in relation to trade problems, as to how and if we can consider tariffs advantageously.
I think I shall be able to show that there has been no such examination, but that the pressure from Committee Room No. 14 had much more to do with dictating this policy than cool and careful calculation in No. 10, Downing Street. The right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr.
Baldwin), speaking in Leeds on 20th October, said:
Before this crisis arose I asked for a permanent non-political commission to examine this question.
That is, tariffs:
I stand by that, and I think it will help many of my Liberal friends and encourage them to vote for the National Government.
In all probability, tens of thousands of Liberals took the right hon. Gentleman at his word when he suggested, by implication, that they would not apply a tariff policy, but that all they would do would be to set up a special committee to examine that policy. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the committee has been set up, and, if so, what has been the result of their deliberations Will he tell us whether the committee referred to by the Tory ex-Prime Minister is the committee that frequently meets in Committee Room No. 14? We are entitled to know what has been the basis of this proposal, since we know of no committee which has been set up to examine the proposals and we are quite satisfied, from the figures I shall be able to quote, that the right hon. Gentleman has given no consideration to them at all. In this connection may I quote from a speech of the present Prime Minister on 17th May, 1929? He said:
Let us use plain language. Mr. Bald-win, a Protectionist, believing still in Protection, knowing the country opposes Protection, afraid to bring his tariff principles on to the platform in this election, wants the country to be simple-minded enough to give him power to revolutionise the tariff policy without the sanction of the electorate.
That is exactly what the present Prime Minister has got the electorate to do in this instance. By false pretences he has secured a vast majority for a policy totally different from the policy that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture is now putting forward. The Prime Minister went on to say in that speech:
It is absurd for the Prime Minister to contend that in this matter of duties raising prices there are differences between agricultural products and manufactured articles.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would still maintain, as many supporters of his tariff policy have
stated time and time again, that the object of these duties is not to increase the price of the commodities? The right hon. Gentleman said that if only we could keep out imported produce, if only we could increase home production at a higher price, we should be able to find work for our people, and so forth. That is the old Protectionist argument. The present Prime Minister, speaking on 28th May, 1931, said:
Our own backs and stomachs are the most neglected and yet the most profitable of all our markets.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Prime Minister has changed his mind or not? Does he not agree that these statements had some effect on the mind of the electorate in October this year? Surely they understood from the words of the Prime Minister that there would be no taxation of any kind on food, and yet within three or four weeks we find the Government, a little bit at a time, making a start in the wrong direction. [An HON. MEMBER: "A free hand was asked for!"] Yes, it was a free hand, but only to do certain things within the meaning of the statements of the right hon. Member for Bewdley and the present Prime Minister, and this is clearly outside their statements. Viscount Snowden, speaking on 20th October, 1930, said:
A quite unfounded rumour appeared in the Press a few weeks ago to the effect that the Government were considering the imposition of an all-round 10 per cent, import duty for revenue purposes. Well, no Government in which I am in charge of the national finances will ever give serious consideration to a proposal like that.
The right hon. Gentleman is no longer in charge of the finances of the country, but he is in charge of some sort of sinecure office, and his influence in the Cabinet has been considerably reduced.
Viscount Snowden, in the same speech, said:
I speak now upon a matter of which I have the most painful experience: That the introduction of a tariff system in this country would strike at the purity of the political life of this country. Parliament would become a sink of corruption. Members of Parliament would go there not to represent national interests but pledged to support the selfish interests of particular industries. If you guarantee prices for wheat, can you refuse to guarantee prices for other agricultural produce? You would
have to extend the tariffs to fruit and vegetables.
It seems to me that since the right hon. Gentleman has decided to abdicate his Free Trade principles in the case of food and vegetables and having supported tariffs in that way, obviously he must go on to the taxation of wheat, oats, barley, and the rest. It seems to me that there is no possibility of the right hon. Gentleman turning back. We not only regard this very small portion of the protective policy of the Government as one which will have no immediate value to the farmers, but we believe that it is of vital importance as a starting point which will ultimately lead to a general taxation of food. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) said in March, 1931:
I shudder to think what would have happened to this country had the Tory party been in office with its cry of economy and tariffs.
Continuing, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby said:
When Mr. Baldwin speaks of the necessity of reducing taxation he has in mind something beyond cuts in expenditure. What the Conservative party are after is the reduction of direct taxation and a big transfer to the domestic budgets of the workers by means of the tariff and food tax policy.
That is what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby said in October, 1931, and now, in November, 1931, apparently, he is supporting taxes upon food. [Interruption.] I do not know whether or not the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) agrees with a policy of that kind which will place burdens on the working-classes.
The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham has a lot to learn about the miners, and what he has learned I am sure that he can well afford to forget, and be none the worse. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham Harbour (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) have led thousands of people to believe that
there would be no taxation upon food—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—and the policy produced to-day by the Minister of Agriculture seems to me to be part of the policy that the consumer will have to pay for the fraudulent efforts made by the National Government. I will now quote what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in May, 1929:
He would be quite frank, and say that the protection of foodstuffs in this country was quite impossible. The moment prices went up through Protection, there would be such a storm of protest against the agricultural industry that the Act would have to be repealed after they had gone to great expense.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping has received support in some parts of this country from people who believed that the policy advocated by the right hon. Gentleman would be that there would be no taxation upon food, and it is more than likely that hundreds of thousands of people were led into a political trap by the statements which were made by the right hon. Gentleman on this subject. I will now quote the opinion of the President of the Board of Trade, who has had a great influence on the political life of this country, and who ought to have a great influence in the National Government. On 13th November, 1930, the President of the Board of Trade said:
No matter what the trade is, there will always be a large number of short-sighted people who will be in favour of a tariff. Those who by a side wind (introduction of tariffs) are trying to reduce the value of real wages do not deserve our respect.
I wonder if the Minister of Agriculture still believes that statement worthy of consideration, or does he feel that those principles are no longer worthy of respect? Those were words spoken by a very influential and responsible Member of the Opposition at that time, and they ought to carry some weight. The President of the Board of Trade further stated:
I cannot believe that food taxes will come into the range of practical politics.
The President of the Board of Trade has already told us what he is going to do in November, and I wish to ask those Liberal Members who were ensnared into joining the Conservatives what they think about this policy. The same right hon. Gentleman said:
If there were no other reason in the world for believing in Free Trade as a wholesome political system, it is the preservation of the purity of our Parliamentary life.
I suggest that one glance at the Order Paper to-day will satisfy the most fastidious that there never was such a policy presented to Parliament more calculated to further the welfare of separate interests, as distinct from the benefit of the nation as a whole. I want to suggest that in this particular, not only is the purity of politics at stake, but the policy that has been striven for for so long by the Conservative party is now put forward dictated by the employers of this country, and it is one which is intended, directly or indirectly, to reduce the wages of the workers. A writer in the "Times" stated that he was always at a loss to understand why so many Liberals were turning Conservative, and the only reason he could give was that by remaining Liberal they could no longer make a frontal attack on the workers, and they were going over to a policy of tariffs because by Protection they would secure a reduction in the wages of the working classes. If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is going to reply to this Debate, I would like to ask him if it is true that the reason why so many Liberals have joined the Conservatives is that, by this indirect means, they hope to be able to reduce the wages of the workers of this country?
I do not intend to review the whole of the articles dealt with in the Schedule. We are dealing only with fruit, vegetables and flowers to-day, but to-morrow we may be dealing with wheat, barley, oats, dairy produce, and the rest. I have never heard, on any previous occasion, a right hon. Gentleman in this House introduce such an important Motion with so little justification. There is the question of gooseberries, and that is a very important part of these proposals. The suggestion of the Minister is that permission be granted to him to determine the price of gooseberries during some part of the previous year, and, having done that, he is asking for power to impose a 10, 20, 50 or 100 per cent. tariff on that particular item. The Minister of Agriculture is the last person in the world I should think of giving power to impose any duties at all, having seen him at work in Parliament for the last nine years.
What justification can the Minister produce for the inclusion of gooseberries in the Schedule? I observe that in 1923, 1924 and 1925 the average production of home-grown gooseberries was 600,000 cwts., and the imports during the same period amounted to 60,000 cwts. In 1930 the total amount of home-grown gooseberries was 852,000 cwts., and the imports had fallen from 60,000 cwts. to 29,000 cwts. Is the point made by the Minister that duties must be imposed upon gooseberries to stabilise the price for the home producer, or is it that the imports of gooseberries are a danger to the producers of food in this country? Will the Minister say why gooseberries, the importation of which has been steadily declining for a number of years, and which has almost reached the vanishing point, should have been included in the Schedule at all?
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will also give us some information on the question of strawberries, and I shall be pleased to listen to all he can tell us upon that subject. I represent part of an area where this delicious fruit is grown. Presumably the right hon. Gentleman has not satisfied himself whether duties are to be imposed because they were competing with home-grown produce, or whether this fruit is regarded as a luxury. In either case, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us something more about strawberries. The home-grown quantities in 1923–25 were 800,000 cwts. per annum, and the imports were 50,000 cwts. per annum. In 1930. the home-grown quantity was 379,000 cwts., or a decrease of 400,000 cwts., and, while the imports in 1923–25 averaged 50,000 cwts., by 1930 they had increased to 68,000 cwts. The point that I want to make is that the total available supplies in 1930 were approximately only 50 per cent. of the total available supplies in 1923–25. Will the right hon. Gentle-man tell us whether the mere keeping out of this country of 68,000 cwts. is going to help the strawberry producers; and, if so, will he tell us why the strawberry producers in this country have allowed their output to decrease, over the last five years, by 50 per cent.? It was not merely because of imports from foreign countries, since the imports have shown scarcely any increase; they are practically the same to-day as they were five years ago; and yet the right hon. Gentleman includes strawberries in this category. May I ask him if the imposition of a duty upon imported strawberries is likely to improve the strawberry side of the horticultural or fruit growing industry?
It is clear to me that the right hon. Gentleman cannot have examined this problem at all, for, had he cared to look at the average prices of strawberries from 1911 to 1913 and for the last four years, he would have discovered that the average price in 1911–13 was 3¼d. per lb., while in the last four years, despite all the industrial depression, the prices have been 7½d., 7d., 8d. and 6¼d., or anything up to 150 per cent. above pre-War prices. Is it necessary to impose a duty to stabilise the price of strawberries? It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has not only not considered this question item by item of this Schedule, but that he has forgotten altogether that there is a canning industry growing up in this country, and that the mere process of keeping out any one of these fruits is capable of aiming a deadly blow at this new industry. It is common knowledge that, as a result of rationalisation and so on, new industries have not grown up sufficiently quickly to re-absorb displaced workmen. Here is a healthy young industry, wholly dependent, upon fruit, whether imported or home-grown, and the right hon. Gentleman is now introducing a Resolution calculated to aim a deadly blow at that new industry, which has re-absorbed some unemployed men who have been displaced from other industries.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the question of currants, because each one of these items is extremely important. Black and red currants, presumably, are intended to be included in this Schedule, although the right hon. Gentleman gives us no information on that point; he merely refers to currants—it may be black and red, blue or green, dried or wet, or whatever they may be. Home-grown currants, in 1923–25, averaged about 300,000 cwts., and the imports 120,000 cwts. The homegrown quantity in 1930 was 349,000 cwts., or an increase of 49,000 cwts. over 1923–25, while the imports remained the same. Is it essential, therefore, to keep out imported currants, black or red, or black and red, or both, for the purpose of stabilising the price for the home producer It seems to me that the quantities available last year would barely meet the ordinary demand, and that no case can be made out for imposing a duty on this particular commodity.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman also, in the months that lie ahead, while he is dealing with the bigger problem, to spare a few moments to examine the question of cherries, for he does not seem to have examined a single figure or fact relating to this particular fruit. The home-grown quantity of cherries in 1923–25 averaged about 240,000 cwts., while we imported 200,000 cwts. per annum. In 1930, the output had increased to 405,000 cwts., while the imports had decreased to 60,000 cwts. Therefore, our home production increased by nearly 100 per cent., while imports were reduced by about 66 per cent. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that there is any necessity for the imposition of a duty upon cherries? Is there any argument that he can advance as a serious justification in favour of it? In point of fact, the imports of cherries since 1926 have been a diminishing quantity, and it only remained for right hon. Gentlemen to have kept out of office for another two or three years for imports of cherries to vanish altogether.
The question of plums, which is perhaps the largest category in the fruit line, offers an equally good illustration that, despite the careful and meticulous examination that appears to have been made, the Government have looked everywhere except at the relevant facts and figures, or they could not have included plums in this Schedule. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in passing, whether plums include greengages or not, and whether they include damsons or not? The only information given to us so far is that plums must be taxed in order to make things right in this country for the fruit growers. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether a damson or a greengage is a plum or not. It seems to me that he has a good deal to learn about the articles which are included in the Schedule, In 1923–25, we produced 630,000 cwts. of plums, and we imported 630,000 cwts. In 1930, our output of plums increased to 2,427,000 cwts., or double the annual volume available in 1923–25, while the imports decreased to 389,000 cwts. Does it require an import duty, in such circumstances, to deal with the plum industry? The right hon. Gentleman may tell the Committee, when he comes to reply, that the terrific fall in prices paid for plums during 1930 was such that the producers received approximately half the price that they received in 1929. That statement would be perfectly true, and, what is more, we find that because the output of plums in 1930 was double what it was in 1929, And, because of the absence of any method of dealing with the surplus—because of the absence of any marketing methods at all—plum producers actually received in 1930, for double the quantity of plums, what they received for half the quantity in 1929. Does not the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, think that, if he would spend more time in trying to make the Labour Government's Marketing Bill effectual, and less time in piffling with these small commodities, it would be better for this House and better for the nation as a whole?
May I recall to the right hon. Gentleman—and this seems to me to be important—the fact that the real "snag" that Members on these benches have against the present Government is this? We have often argued that Protection is the laziest method of making the inefficient employer rich; it obviates the necessity for thought. We suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is pursuing that policy to-day. The right hon. Gentleman, on Thursday last, was asked two questions in the House. In reply to the first, he said, among other things, referring to the problems of agriculture:
The problems to be solved are many and complex, and time will be required for the full development of a comprehensive policy, the success of which must depend in a great measure on the extent to which agriculturists themselves are prepared to develop the most efficient methods of production and marketing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1931; col. 493, Vol. 260.]
Another question was put to the Minister by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), who asked:
Whether any active steps are being taken by the Government to make the Agricultural Marketing Act effective?
The reply of the right hon. Gentleman was:
No, Sir.…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1931; cols. 539–540, Vol. 260.]
He is not prepared to do a thing to make the Agricultural Marketing Act effective, although he can see that as regards plums—and this applies to many other articles in the schedule—efficient marketing would be the only possible means whereby the producers could have any stabilised price, or any guarantee against a surplus, or any guarantee against a colossal fall in prices such as took place in 1930. Therefore, I suggest that, while the price of plums last year was small, that was due to an increase of 100 per cent. in the output in this country and to the fact of there being no means for disposing of and marketing the excess of produce, as there might have been if a really decent marketing scheme had been in existence. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, also, that, if he is thinking of plums in terms of 1930 prices, it might be worth while to look at the prices in 1927, 1928 and 1929. It will be found that, taking the 1911–13 price as 100, the prices received by the plum growers in 1927, 1928 and 1929 were respectively 242, 210 and 187, or from 87 to 142 per cent. over pre-War prices. That was when there was a shortage of the article and it was in strong demand, and it seems to me that, while the growers could do well out of short supplies, it is not fair to call upon the consumers in this country to pay higher prices because the producers themselves refuse to market their plums on scientific lines.
Then there is the question of vegetables. I should imagine that turnips will be very proud of being placed in the vegetable category. I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether turnips are to be regarded as a luxury or not. Although no figures are available, I understand that the number or weight of turnips imported is so infinitesimal that one wonders why the right hon. Gentleman has included them in this schedule at all. I do remember that, when I was working in the mine as a boy of 13 or 14, turnips were a real luxury when we were far away from home in the pit at about six in the morning, but since that time I have never con- sidered that turnips could he characterised as a luxury. Tomatoes, however, are neither a luxury nor a non-essential, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that here the writing of food taxation is clearly on the wall. While £4,545,000 worth of tomatoes were imported last year, this article is not a non-essential, but as an absolutely essential part of the food of workers in all parts of the country. In fact, we have been informed, by those best in a position to know, that the tomato is the only vegetable that contains the whole of the vitamines that are required for the building of health, and to tax the one vegetable which contains the whole of these vitamins is clearly to tax the health of the people of this country. I suggest that tomatoes are not only a staple food of the workers of this country, but that if, by the imposition of a tax of anywhere round about 100 per cent. upon imported tomatoes from Holland or elsewhere, the workers are going to see the price increased to a point at which they are no longer in a position to purchase tomatoes, they will have a good deal to thank the National Government for, and they will not hesitate to express their thanks when the opportunity is presented to them.
Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that any section of the community buys foreign articles for choice? Did he ever hear any workman, or workman's wife, go to a grocer's shop and ask for imported eggs who had the money with which to purchase fresh eggs? Is it not the case that almost invariably the housewife is obliged to spend her money in the best market, and, since only certain imported foods can be purchased by her, to deny her the right of purchasing them denies her and her family the right of enjoying the commodity at all? You might find 10,000, or 10,000,000 people who can afford to buy tomatoes at 4d. or 6d. a lb. to replace the fresh eggs that they cannot afford, but compel them to pay 1s. a lb. for English-grown tomatoes and they will no longer be able to purchase them. You will not help the British farmer, but you will deny the British housewife the opportunity of enjoying that particular food. The taxation of tomatoes is taxation of food with a vengeance. Cauliflowers are in another category and I need scarcely deal with them, and I will leave the right hon. Gentleman in peace in the matter of carrots, too.
I want to ask one or two questions about new potatoes. Will he tell us what is a new potato, and when a new potato is not a new potato? In which months of the year will the new potato be taxed, and when will it be left untaxed? I want to ask him, further, whether, in view of the known shortage of supplies this year, it is his intention to place a tax upon potential Spanish imports in the early months of next year and, if so, has he considered the cost to the house wife? The shortage is such that, were it not for the imports from Germany supplementing our home supplies, the price would be beyond the ordinary housewife. Thousands of families will be without potatoes at all and, unless imports are forthcoming from Spain or elsewhere in the early months of next year, it is quite conceivable that millions of people with meagre incomes will not be able to buy potatoes at all. I ask the right hon. Gentleman what he expects to secure from import duties upon new potatoes. I should like to draw his attention to one of the famous orange books which have been so prolific in his Department. This is what an expert states, and I am prepared to take the word of the expert in his Department before that of the right hon. Gentleman himself.
It seems necessary to point out that Imports and exports have practically no bearing upon the problem of surplus.
He continues on the next page:
The difficulty in existing circumstances is to put any effective scheme into operation. Each grower, actually growing what he supposes to be in his own interest, is inclined to prose his crop on the market until ultimately the average price of the whole may he less than its price as feeding stuff for his stock.
If the right hon. Gentleman had had his attention drawn to this valuable document produced in his own Department, he would have seen clearly that there is no solution of the potato problem by the mere imposition of a tariff upon either new or old potatoes. His expert tells us—I am sure the expert knows what he is speaking about—that the potato market is fairly constant, that there are few potatoes to export or to import, and that practically only one country, the Nether-lands, has an annual surplus, which is in-
finitesimal in comparison with the aggregate output of the main crop of this country, and that the only problem; that affects producers of potatoes in this country is lack of ability to deal with periodic surpluses. They know that the ordinary crop will sell itself at reasonable prices. They know that a shortage in supply will provide them with even better prices. But, when we have a periodic increase, owing to the blessings of nature in the absence of organisation to deal with the surplus, as the marketing officer states, each farmer, acting in what he conceives to be the interest of himself, sends his potatoes to market, breaks the price, and ultimately they get for a bumper harvest infinitely less than they get when there is a definite supply. If the right hon. Gentleman would pay more attention to marketing, and less to tariffs he would serve the farmers and the nation, and, would help to balance the Budget and secure a favourable balance of trade much more quickly than the policy he is now pursuing.
The imposition of these duties has already had a reaction in various countries. Hon. Members may boast that other countries have been brought into negotiation. It is rather too early for any Member to be patting himself on the back. Those who are attached to the mining industry have already seen the effect in that industry. Mr. J. L. Garvin, in the "Observer," boasts of the wonderful start that the Government have made with Protection. He says that severe reprisals are already inflicted on our coal and other commodities but that we can take it in good humour. Mr. Garvin, sitting in his office, will be able to take it in good humour, but those 10,000 miners who are thrown out of work and: who, a few weeks hence Mr. Garvin will be telling the world, ought to have their unemployment benefit taken away because they are not in search of work, cannot take this with humour. It is a very grim humour for the miners who have been denied work as the first fruits of the return of this Government.
The whole schedule and every article contained in it indicate beyond a peradventure that the right hon. Gentleman had something to satisfy Committee Room 14. He had to do something to satisfy the pressure that is coming from behind. Instead of clearing the way and providing a very happy off-season while Parliament is not sitting, he has the producers of oats, barley, wheat and pig foods to contend with. It seems to me, that little or nothing of any real value will be given to the farmers as the result of this Resolution. If the 11 or 12 alleged Socialists behind the Government, continue to support this policy, they will be fit for a museum, and, if the ex-Liberal Members, who came to support the Government to balance the Budget and secure a favourable balance of trade, retain any of their Free Trade principles, they cannot enter into the same Lobby with the Government.
In regard to flowers, it is a very curious thing that in 1931, having erected 1,500,000 houses since the War, providing each house with its own garden, instructing and advising people to cultivate their little plots and to develop and improve their social life, and particularly that of the children, even these gardens have now to be made an excuse for further exploitation of the workers. When did it become a crime for the wife of a worker to buy a threepenny bunch of flowers, and when did it become patriotic for the Prime Minister and three or four others, as they did recently, to sit down to a dinner at a cost of £1 per head? It is impossible for workers with very small incomes to fill their gardens with flowers unless they can get the seed and the bulbs at a fair and reasonable price. Not only is this question of cut flowers an attack on the general social life of the people, intended to make it more difficult for them to buy seed, bulbs and so forth, but the first to feel the effect of this taxation will be the hospitals and people who purchase flowers for funerals and so forth. The right hon. Gentleman, merely to satisfy the rabble of Room 14, merely to satisfy the demand of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), is prepared to tax the hospitals and anyone and everyone who contributes to their funds. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have owned the land for centuries, and they own mines and factories. They will have full control of the financial machine. They have failed to produce stability, and now they propose to tax the people's food. We shall oppose these proposals, and ultimately we shall win.
It has always been a matter of regret to me that the agricultural industry could not be concentrated, as the coalmining industry is. Then we should get much more attention. The hon. Member has been really rather severe. Of course, the coal industry is perfectly prosperous. Everything is well with the coal industry. [Interruption.] An Act was passed two years ago dealing with it. [An Hoff. MEMBER: "It has not been worked!"] I am sorry, but the same Government that passed it could have worked it. When the hon. Member talks about agriculture and of the action of the Government being due to the rabble of Room 14, it is not quite respectful to those who endeavour to represent their constituents. I was one of the rabble, and I do not for a moment apologise, because I assure him and I assure the Opposition that agriculture is in a very distressful state to-day. Let nobody make any mistake about it. If this were the permanent policy of the Government, I should say that it would be a deliberate insult to the greatest industry in the country. This is a very small matter indeed. I want my hon. Friends to realise, when they talk of a reduction of wages, that in the last 10 years 150,000 agricultural labourers have left the land, and that in the last two years when the late Government were in office, 53,000 left the land.
If my right hon. and gallant Friend will allow me to say so, he may have as much land as be likes in Devonshire, and I am sure that he would cultivate it with as great assiduity as he attends to his Parliamentary duties. I am afraid that the Opposition have not learnt anything in the last few months. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, whom I have always respected, saying that at any rate foreign financiers would not allow the pound to go. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) really has been talking as if nothing had happened in the last year and a half. When one heard him quote the speeches of the Prime Minister and Viscount Snowden and others, one would have imagined that nothing at all had happened. I remember well, on the 30th July, speaking from the bench opposite, being told by an hon. Member behind me to cheer up. Within a fortnight the Labour Government had collapsed. Do my hon. Friends opposite really believe that the Government collapsed for nothing at all? I assure them that not only agriculture but the country generally is in an extremely serious state and, in fact, more serious than I care to contemplate. And here I would say to the Government, that I honestly do not think that their proposals go nearly far enough to meet the emergency. The pound has dropped, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture stated that these proposals were destined to rectify the exchange. £13,000,000! I do not think that that will do much to restore the pound. But the pound has dropped from 20s.—and I want hon. Gentlemen opposite to understand this—to 14s. 6d.
I want to know where it is going. My right hon. and gallant Friend must realise that unless we know whether the pound is to be stabilised it will be disastrous. No one can say where it may stop. We could make large fortunes if we could foresee the future for a month. Therefore, in my judgment the Government are not going nearly far enough in restricting imports. I say it quite frankly, though I dislike this Resolution very much indeed. I am an old Free Trader, and nothing is more obnoxious to a man like myself than to bring in all these restrictions. But is it not necessary I Does not the Committee see that it is necessary when the pound has dropped from 20s. to 14s. 6d.? Is not that something quite unusual? Have we ever had anything like it at any time in the past? I really think that the Government at the present moment have not got a grip of the situation. I am apprehensive. We are dependent to a larger degree than any other country in the world upon foreign food supplies. Are we sure we shall be able to go on paying for those foreign food supplies? It is a question which may well occupy the minds of hon. Gentlemen who sit for industrial constituencies.
The question of the imports of new potatoes, asparagus, or cut flowers does not matter to the country very much, though it does matter to the growers of them, but the real point which, I think, this House will have to face in the next few months is as to whether we shall be able to pay for the essential articles of food—bread, meat, cheese and butter. It is not a question of free imports; it is a question of any imports at all. I am seriously alarmed and apprehensive. We know full well that these matters come upon us suddenly. No one had any idea when we adjourned on 31st July last that there would be a collapse of the then Government and that a new National Government would be formed.
My hon. Friend knows more than I do; I had no information of it. I will give him credit for having a greater capacity than I have. After the National Government were formed, there suddenly came the fall from the Gold Standard. The pound went from 20s. to 16s., and now it has gone down to 14s. 6d. Therefore, I feel that we shall have great difficulty, and when this comes to be realised and when the present stocks of food are exhausted, I am afraid that we may have a very steep rise in prices. Unless you take steps to protect the pound you will have difficulty in paying for food at all. That is the real point. Do not let hon. Gentlemen believe that the whole of the world is waiting to provide us with food. Do not let them believe for one moment that food will come into this country in abundance without any exports to pay for it. I have been taught, as has, I understand, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris), who is a Free Trader, that every import is paid for by an export.
There are 2,600,000 unemployed in this country. They are all consuming imported produce. What exports do the unemployed produce to pay for the imported commodities which they consume?
They are not—and that is why the pound has been driven down to 14s. 6d. It is because we have a very large inactive class in the country. That is the position. I want to warn the Committee how serious it is. Within the last few months we have borrowed £130,000,000 abroad to pay for food and commodities. We have an adverse trade balance, according to Professor Clay, of £100,000,000. It was in order to help restore the trade balance that we had a second Budget. We voted for it. I voted for it with very great reluctance. It was a very oppressive and a very brutal Budget. It imposed taxes. I doubt very much today whether that Budget is going to balance on the 31st March next. That all means that the pound will drop still further. Therefore, I say to the Government that they are not gripping the situation. They ought to grip it very much more energetically. In this matter the country wants guidance. It wants to be told the truth.
Quite right, and I want to tell it. I want to tell it how grave is the position. I do not want speeches to be made by hon. Gentlemen as if nothing had happened. The speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley might have been made two or three years ago. I am a representative of the workers as well as hon. Gentlemen opposite. I could not have been elected here without the workers having voted for me, and I assure the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that this is a workers' question. Unless the pound is protected, it will be the workers who will be the first to suffer. I will not go further into this matter, though I could say a good deal more, but I suggest to the Government that they should go into the matter of the pound a little more closely. I advise them sincerely that they should call in other gentlemen than the Governor of the Bank of England to advise them. I suggest that they should ask a gentleman like Mr. Reginald McKenna, the Chairman of the Midland Bank, to advise them, because if you are going to deal with the balance of trade—and it is a question of the balance of trade— you must have the best advice. The Government may pass this Bill, but I ask them to regard the position to-day, as the Prime Minister stated in one of his speeches, as a war. I would have a War Cabinet examining the question of imports, because unless we check imports into this country, our trade balance must go, and if our trade balance goes, then the pound goes, and, in a country which is so dependent upon foreign food as is this country, if the pound goes, there will be ruin for millions of our fellow-countrymen.
It is with the utmost diffidence that I rise to crave the indulgence which is given to a Member who speaks for the first time. I am bound to make mistakes. I hope that they may be forgiven. My sole justification for intervening in this Debate is to register my appreciation of this Resolution as the wife of a tenant farmer. The Resolution, I contend, is the first step on the road to prosperity for the countryside. We all are agreed that it is not the be-all and the end-all, but that it is the first step. It is at last the realisation of the Government that agriculture must play a very prominent part in the life of the nation. We notice that luxury articles only are included in the list. I am perfectly certain that there is no hon. Member of any party in the House who really believes that the taxation of those luxury imports can possibly bring any destitution or poverty to the poorest section of the community. They are things which when taxed will be paid for by the people who can best afford to pay the tax.
What will be the result of these duties on foreign luxuries? It will mean the employment of many men and women who are at this moment unemployed. In this House in July we were told that there were 55,000 agricultural workers unemployed. I believe that to-day the figure is nearer 100,000. If we pass the Resolution, and if it is carried into effect, if it does nothing, else but provide employment for some of these agricultural workers, who have no visible means of subsistence—they have no unemployment benefit and they have nothing facing them but the workhouse or the public assistance committees—it will have achieved its object. The welfare of agriculture is not a question merely of food or of economics. It is a question of
the physical well-being of the nation, and it should be looked at, as Disraeli told this House many years ago:
With wide, with broad, with social and with international considerations.
Elizabethan statesmen always kept it in their minds that to build and continue a fine race of Englishmen was the first essential duty of the State. It is written in the Statute Books of the Stuart and Elizabethan periods that you must breed a race of men who could man the ships in war-time and follow the plough in peace-time. To-day, we do not think along lines of war, because we feel that that is not necessary, but it is just as essential to breed a race of Englishmen strong and sturdy in body and in limb, and healthy in mind. Those men can only be bred in the countryside, amid green fields, clear waters and fresh air.
I wish this House, in considering the great question of agriculture, would look at it not merely from the standpoint of food and economics, but from the standpoint of the physical well-being of the race, which depends upon maintaining a prosperous countryside and an ever-increasing rural population. The de-population of the countryside has gone on since 1847. The urban population has increased and the rural population has decreased. We find ourselves now with an unbalanced population, with an ever-increasing town population and an ever-decreasing rural population. That is a question of which no hon. Member of any party can afford to be either indifferent or ignorant. However wise the merchants of a country, however skilled its artisans, however rich its minerals, however great and wide its Empire, we cannot indefinitely continue to neglect the production of an ever-growing population on the countryside to maintain and feed the population of the towns. Unemployment exists in the agricultural industry, and I say with all conviction that this Measure is the first step, not the last step—hon. Members of the Opposition say that it will not be the last step—because, at last, a Government has realised that it cannot neglect this oldest industry, the industry of agriculture.
The glasshouse section and the market gardening section of the agricultural industry provide a great deal of employment. It is a side of the industry that will absorb many of the unemployed agricultural workers. We cannot go on indefinitely ignoring the status of the agricultural workers. They are among the most skilled of the country's artisans, and they are the worst paid. They have no unemployment insurance. Surely, if anyone must be helped, we must start with the lower-paid workers of the country. When agriculture gets on its feet—and we hope and trust that before very long we shall see signs of it getting on its feet—we shall watch with care to see that the agricultural worker has a share in the well-being of the industry. I shall look forward with great interest to see that any improvement in the condition of agriculture is reflected in the improved status of the agricultural worker.
Since I have sat in this House I have heard many epithets about the inefficiency of the farmers and the cruelty of the landlords. I can speak on both these matters from practical experience. It is my firm opinion that one of the greatest troubles in agriculture to-day is the dearth of really good landlords; the dearth of men with the capital necessary to feed the land, to put manure on the land and to renovate the farm buildings when they become delapidated. I should like to see the question of Death Duties gone into, because it robs the country of its capital assets when big estates have to be sold in order to pay Death Duties. Farming is not the one section of industry where inefficiency is to be found. You find inefficiency in every branch of industry. I do not deny that there is inefficiency among farmers, but there are very few inefficient farmers who have weathered the storm during the last 10 years. Those who are left standing, you can take it from me, are not inefficient farmers. They are very efficient farmers, with hearts of iron, to have stood up to the strain and the terrible foreign competition with which we have had to contend during the last 10 years.
Do hon. Members suppose that it is any joy to a farmer to see his land needing fertilisers, to see himself needing new implements and to know that he has not the capital resources to provide those things It is no joy to the farmer to see himself not able to produce as much to the acre as he could if he could afford the fertilisers. Much of the inefficient farming to-day is due to lack of capital.
Wherever you go, from the north of England to the south, you must be convinced, if you understand agriculture, as you look upon the green fields and upon the crops, that the ground is crying out for fertilisers and for lime. If prosperity could come to agriculture, I believe that it would create a great deal of employment, indirectly. The land is needing lime. No one will gainsay that. If the farmers could afford to buy the lime, it would provide employment not only for the limestone workers but for the miners who produce the coal with which to burn the limestone. Coupled with my agricultural interests, I am very anxious that everything should be done to help to provide more employment for the British miners. I believe that the British miner and the British agriculturist are the worst paid workers in the country, and any help that comes to them will be of very material assistance. I register my appreciation of this Resolution as the first step on the road to the prosperity of the countryside, and I see in it a realisation of what Disraeli saw when he quoted in this House, many years ago, the words of the Doge of Venice who, looking out on the Adriatic, said:
This Venice, without terra firma, is an eagle with one wing.
The Committee will wish me to say with what great pleasure we have listened to the very charming and eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Cannock (Mrs. Ward). We shall hope very often to have the pleasure of her intervention in our Debates, particularly on the subject of agriculture, of which she has practical and personal knowledge. The Opposition and His Majesty's Government have had a number of pontifical admonitions from the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). Notwithstanding those admonitions, I gather that he is going to vote for the Resolution. The curious fact to me was that he asked whether the Opposition had quite appreciated the real change that had taken place. We have appreciated the change that has taken place in the right hon. Gentleman and some—not all—of his Friends. They have turned, within the last few months, a complete somersault. They are now not bigoted Free Traders, as some of them told us they were, but unrepentant and whole-hogger Protectionists. The right hon. Member for South Molton asked bow we could pay for the things that it is necessary for us to import in order to live. How the right hon. Gentleman could ask that question, knowing that the duties which it is proposed to put on certain articles of agriculture will make our difficulty in paying even greater, seeing that the price of those articles will be higher, and then go into the Lobby to-night and vote in favour of the Resolution, passes the comprehension of myself and many hon. Members.
The right hon. Gentleman said that a large number of people are, unfortunately, unemployed in this country, and yet he is going into the Lobby to support a Government and a right hon. Gentleman who have gone out of their way to deprive something like 64,000 men of pleasurable and valuable work on allotments, which they carried on for a mere song, and which was of very great value to the country and to the men themselves. This so-called National Government are by this measure of economy in process of turning these 64,000 men off their tiny allotments, which would have provided much food for themselves and their families. During the year that the scheme has been in operation those allotments have provided something like £500,000 worth of food. The change which we have seen on the part of some Members of the Liberal party is very remarkable, and the change which we are witnessing to-day, with little apparent excitement, is also a very remarkable one.
For something like 80 years this country has been a Free Trade country, yet to-day we have tariffs not only on manufactured articles but on food as well. Whenever that proposition has been put: plainly before the electorate it has been overwhelmingly defeated. My hon. Friend the Member for the hon Valley (Mr. T. Williams) was right when he said that the National Government have been guilty of false pretences. I say that they have been guilty of a distinct breach of faith, because, without taking the preliminary steps which they promised to take, they have put before the Committee this Resolution imposing duties on a substantial
number of articles of food. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council speaking at Leeds on 20th October, said:
Before this crisis arose I asked for a permanent non-political commission to examine this question of tariffs. I stand by that, and I hope it will help many of my Liberal friends and encourage theta to vote for the National Government.
Where is that non-political commission? The whole matter seems to have been decided on political grounds, and because of the pressure that has been brought to bear by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) and his friends to compel the Government to do something, however small, to give agriculturists the impression that they are later, in the fulness of time, going to do something substantial for them. They come before us to-day unblushingly and without any real arguments or proof for the step they propose. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture in his few remarks did not suggest that there was any abnormal importation of the articles he proposes to tax. He also said that there is no question of forestalling; and the action of the Government cannot be taken in defence of the pound, because the amount involved in the case of these articles is so very small. The same observation applies to the question of redressing the trade balance. This procedure is being taken because of a desire to do something of a Protectionist nature. It is Protection for the sake of Protection, not because it has any particular virtue in the case of these particular fruits and vegetables and flowers.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Don Valley asked whether there had been any inquiry into this matter. We on these benches imagine that there has been no inquiry. The Government think that a little by way of tariffs will "soothe the savage beast" who has been causing all the trouble since the Government came into office—the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth. Hence these proposals to-day. At the present time there is something like £450,000,000 worth of imports which partake of the nature of food and drink; these proposals affect but one-fortieth of these imports. It is a mere drop in the ocean. It is a mere cocktail to whet the appetite of those hon. Members who are in favour of whole-hogged Protection and tariffs. The Minister of Agriculture is doing his work piecemeal; and the President of the Board of Trade comes to the House day by day with fresh proposals. I understand that he is to come forward with a further Order in the course of a day or two. This is piecemeal legislation, and in a matter of this sort, which is changing the whole fiscal policy of this country, it is a most unsatisfactory form of procedure. There is already great dissatisfaction in every section of the agricultural community at the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made on Thursday last, in a somewhat nebulous form, regarding the quota; and hon. Members will no doubt have read that one of the largest agriculturists in the country, Sir Frederick Hiam, said that he would at once have to give notice to 100 men on his farm. That means that without any unemployment insurance these men will shortly he applying to the public assistance committee.
The only reason for these proposals must be that the Government imagine that they will be of some use to agriculture. It is a remarkable fact that when the amount of imports has been smaller and the home crop larger the prices obtained by the home producer have been smaller. In 1929 we imported 144,000 cwts. of cherries. In 1930 this amount was reduced to less than half—to 60,000 cwts.— yet the price of cherries in this country fell by between 10 and 15 per cent. below what they were in 1929. It is the same in regard to strawberries. In 1930 the home crop went up 39,500 cwts. and the imports down 12,500 cwts., hut the price of first quality strawberries, notwithstanding that the imports were down, fell from 11d. to 9¾d. per lb., and in the case of second quality strawberries from 71d. to 01d. per lb. In 1930 the import of plums fell by 116,000 cwts., and the home-grown crop was doubled, yet the price fell by 50 per cent. below what it had been the previous year. Everyone will agree that price is the factor in agriculture which makes for failure or for prosperity, and in cherries, strawberries, plums, and other articles it is clear that the volume of imports has nothing whatever to do with low prices, because in years when imports were fewest prices were lowest. As regards potatoes, in 1930 we imported 290,000 tons as against an average of 378,000 tons for the previous five years. In the first four months of the year, the period to which, presumably, the right hon. Gentleman's Order will apply to early potatoes, we imported only one-fifth of the average imported during the previous five years.
The real truth is that if those engaged in agriculture by organisation can control the supply, they can control the price. In 1930 we produced in this country 86 per cent. of our requirements in potatoes, in strawberries five-sixths, in plums five-sixths, in currants three-quarters, and in gooseberries twenty-nine-thirtieths. Taking all small fruits into consideration, we produce in this country nine-tenths of all that are used. Is it not clear that it is a case not for dealing with imports in order to keep up prices, but a case for organising the home crop and the home producer The National Government, we are told, have been elected to deal with a great national and international crisis, and yet the British Cabinet has to sit around a table discussing whether a tariff shall be put on cucumbers, on asparagus or on turnips. The whole thing is an absolute absurdity in the present emergency. World trade is being strangled by the barriers which are being put up, and the best this National Government can do is to add to those barriers, and to include foodstuffs among the articles that are to be restricted.
Clearly the prices of all foodstuffs dealt with in these proposed orders must go up. Many of them are not luxuries and non-essentials. My hon. Friend has already explained that tomatoes in the East End of London are something in the nature of a necessity. They are sold at low prices, are a most valuable food and are recommended by the medical profession because of the large amount of vitamins they contain. They are a necessary food for a great number of people in the East End of London and in such cities as Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester. This proposal will make not only the early imports dear but will also make the main crop dear. I should have some sympathy with a proposal which gave an increased price to the home producer, but this benefit will not go to the home producer—it will go to the middle-man. The Linlithgow Committee in 1923 told us that most of these articles went through two to 20 intermediaries, each taking some profit out of the article, and I presume that under these proposals that state of affairs will continue; these intermediaries will still exist and be able to take their pound of flesh Covent Garden will continue, and all this without any improvement in regard to grading and transport. The work of this House in the Agricultural Marketing Act is, apparently, to vanish into desert air. One gathers from the answers of the right hon. Gentleman that he is making no effort to work that Act. If the right hon. Gentleman were to do that, he would confer a much greater benefit on agriculture than he is likely to confer by the piecemeal proposal that he is putting forward to-day.
I see that the Noble Lord the Member for Eastern Norfolk (Viscount Elmley) is present. I remember that in a Debate a year ago he gave us particulars regarding prices. He told us that he had seen currants which had been bought from the grower at 2½d. a lb., sold in neighbouring markets or shops at 1s. a lb. I ask, what protection does the Minister propose to give the consumer in regard to all these articles that he is taxing? Has he thought out that matter at all? Has he decided to bring in a Consumers' Council Bill in regard to these commodities, or to form a board under the Marketing Act and to take advantage of the permissive powers in that Act? If not I suggest to the Noble Lord and his Friend the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild), who spoke on the same occasion, that their constituents are not going to be in any way better off by reason of the duties that the Minister now proposes. On the contrary, they are simply to be at the mercy of the middlemen; the producers will not get any benefit from the duties.
In that same Debate the present First Lord of the Admiralty told us of plums which were being sold in Evesham at from 6d. to is. 6d. per pot of 72 lbs., but were being resold in Birmingham, a few miles away, at 2d. and 3d. and more per lb. That was not in any way due to the imports during that year, for the imports of plums in the year 1930 were down by 116,000 cwts. Clearly the proper action to take in regard to plums or any of the commodities included in this Reso- lution is to have a marketing board for each of them and for the Minister of Agriculture to take definite steps in prevailing upon the producers to apply for such a board and for the setting up of reorganisation commissions, and not for the right hon. Gentleman merely to sit in his office in Whitehall and expect the producers and growers to come to him. If producers of all these commodities had such a board they could arrange long-term contracts, they could go in for advertising, they could push their products, they could market their goods in bulk instead of in detail, and they could make provision for surpluses.
It is a remarkable fact that this Resolution leaves the field open for imports of any quantity of fruit pulp, of dried fruits or vegetables, or bottled or tin stuffs. Most of these articles, cherries, strawberries, currants, can be sent into this country in pulp form, free of any duty, and we know that many thousands of tons of pulped fruit are sent into this country at the present time. What step does the Minister propose to take with regard to fruit pulp? Does he propose to bring in another Order for them, or has he forgotten their existence altogether What possible protection can an Order be for putting a duty of 100 per cent. on strawberries if pulp is to come into the country free of duty? There can be no advantage to the producer clearly.
The right hon. Gentleman and his friends, throughout the time that the National Government have been in office, have not taken one step to protect, or apparently given one single thought to the worker in the agricultural industry. There is no provision here, no suggestion that the agricultural workers' wages will be safeguarded. Three or four days ago, in reply to a question of mine as to whether, in regard to the wheat quota proposals, there would be any steps taken to safeguard the wages of agricultural workers, the right hon. Gentleman said that agricultural wages boards are already set up. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the wages of agricultural workers have been reduced by almost every wages board in the country, and that neither he nor the Central Wages Board has any real power to alter that state of affairs. If the right hon. Gentleman had introduced a Bill or taken some steps to strengthen the Central Wages Board some of us here might have had a great deal more sympathy with him and his proposals than we have to-day.
The Noble Lord asks why we did not do it? He knows how he damned most of our agricultural proposals with faint praise, although in his heart I believe he thinks that the Agricultural Marketing Act—whatever he thinks of the Land Utilisation proposals —is a Measure which, if properly utilised, could confer very great benefit. on the agricultural industry.
The Minister of Agriculture has adopted the wrong method altogether. Personally—I say this in the presence of the Leader of the Opposition—I have no objection in principle to a scientific regulation of imports into this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to hear that my hon. Friends also agree with that view. But we have the strongest possible objection to the imposition of tariffs, which are the crudest possible way of dealing with imports. If, in addition, to the operation of the Marketing Act, the right hon. Gentleman had set up a fruit import board, we might have given some favourable consideration to the proposal. As to the hot-house grapes and luxury articles which he proposes to tax, we are not very greatly concerned as to the price they may reach, though it is right to consider that invalids in many hospitals often require grapes and articles of that sort, and that if their price is excessive considerable hardship might be caused to invalids and their relatives.
There is a further point in the Resolution. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman proposes that the powers under this Resolution shall continue for 12 months only. How does he imagine that those who grow under glass or have to take steps to prepare land for the growing of these various commodities —sonic of them take more than one year to grow—can invest money in the undertaking when the Act is to last only for a year? I Glasshouses are very expensive to construct. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman knows that the scheme will be extended at the end of 12 months. But does he think that any grower under glass of such things as cucumbers or tomatoes is going to spend large sums of money until he has some greater assurance from the Government that this so-called protection is to continue? The right hon. Gentleman is leading both the growers of these commodities and the greater number of Members of this House, and certainly he is leading the Liberals, up the garden in this matter, and is doing so both literally and metaphorically.
I shall be interested to see what the Noble Lord the Member for Eastern Norfolk and the ex-Liberal Member for the Isle of Ely will do regarding these proposals. Less than a year ago they told us that in no circumstances would they have tariffs. There were suggestions, not by the Noble Lord but by others, about licences and prohibition, but I think I am right in saying that there was no mention of tariffs in that Debate. Certainly the Noble Lord gave no encouragement to any suggestion that steps should be taken which might conceivably restrict supplies or put up the price of any of the commodities included in the Government's proposal.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider these proposals. I do not think that it is in the least likely that he will do so, but I. cannot help feeling that if, instead of tackling a small matter of this sort and bringing the thin end of the wedge into play to deal with something like £10,000,000 worth of imports—if the right hon. Gentleman would do something big in agriculture, if he would follow the excellent lead given by his predecessor and tackle the question of access to the land or the problem of marketing, or even if he took out of the pigeon-holes of his Department some of the schemes worked out by the late Minister, if he would prevail upon his colleagues to introduce Unemployment Insurance for agricultural workers, or deal with tied cottages, we might support him. But we cannot support him in proposals, the first in this country, to tax food, and to do it at short notice without inquiry or consideration of any kind, and we hope that the Committee will turn down the right hon. Gentleman's proposals when a Vote is taken.
I have seldom heard a more muddled speech than that to which we have just listened. I do not want to waste the time of the Committee by replying to it at length, because there are more important things to be considered. But as showing the exceedingly muddled state of mind in which the hon. and gallant Member approached this question, let me recall that, having objected altogether to the principle of tariffs, the hon. and gallant Member went on to say that he was in favour of a restriction of imports.
The only effect could be the restriction of imports. The Opposition have really to make up their minds what they are going to tell the people of the country. Are they or are they not in favour of restricting imports, including foodstuffs, into this country? Not a single one of them has attempted to deal with that point. I apologise for using the word "muddled," and I will use the word "confused." To show the confused state of the hon. and gallant Member's mind I will recall another phrase that he used. He said that the growers and the agriculturists of this country have the matter in their own hands, for if they control the supply they can control the price. How can they control the supply without Duties on the produce that is coming from abroad?
I pointed out how, in fact, if properly organised they would control the supply, because they produced from five-sixths upwards of the supplies already used in this country.
Let the hon. and gallant Gentleman go to any agricultural audience anywhere and tell them that when they control the supply they can control the price. The answer he will get from 100 per cent, of the audiences will be, "How can we possibly control the price when there are absolutely free foreign imports?" If you do control the price what happens to the consumers of these articles—the consumers to whom a speaker from the Front Bench opposite referred, the consumers who eat early asparagus? Would the Opposition put up the price to them? The hon. Member is an old Member of this House, and I suggest that he should give some advice to the Opposition on this matter, by telling them, "You can be either Free Trade or Protectionist, but you cannot be both in the same speech." The Opposition will have to face this fact at every by-election. Until they have an agricultural policy they will never have a genuine agricultural Member in this House, though they may perhaps get in a Member or two who apparently sits for an agricultural division, but who is really supported by the mining vote. They know themselves that this is the case. At their conferences, long before the crisis, they were told by speaker after speaker that Socialist candidates in agricultural constituencies did not know what was the policy of the Socialist party on agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture has been subjected, I think, to two rather unfair criticisms. In the first place it has been charged against him that he made a very short speech. Having listened patiently to the other speeches in this Debate, I think that is a very great merit and a point in his favour. I never heard a Debate in which so few people took so long to say so little with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Minister. I hope that it is not going to be brought as a charge against Ministers that they occupy only a short time in their speeches. I hope it is not going to be suggested that it is wrong on their part to do so. For myself I prefer the advice given to the House by Mr. Speaker, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister dealt admirably with the situation in his concise statement.
The other charge against the Minister —though in this case perhaps "charge" is not the word, and I should rather say "criticism"—was brought by one who is a great friend to many of us and a very old friend of my own, namely, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). I admit that his criticism was mild, but he seemed to suggest that the Government ought to produce, in the course of this Debate, the whole of their agricultural policy. I do not think that they could have done so. I think if they had attempted to do so, they would indeed have been open to the charge attempted, rather feebly, to be brought against them by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that they had prepared a policy without due consideration. I think that the Government have dealt as well as they could deal, in the circumstances, with a very important branch of the great industry of production from the soil. I think I can claim to be the first to speak in this Debate, with the exception of the Minister himself, who has some knowledge of that branch of the industry. I was the first President of an organisation called the Federation of British Growers which is now merged in the National Farmers Union. I have listened patiently to all sorts of accusations against British farmers. We have heard to-day the usual accusations which come from urban Members and urban parties, such as the party opposite pretends to be, about lack of organisation and all the rest of it. I do not believe that there is any industry in this or any other country better organised than the growers industry, in reference to the production of fruit and vegetables from the soil. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad that the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) agrees with me, but, in that case, the argument which was used by the hon. Member behind him to the effect that if only the industry would organise itself everything would be all right, is contradicted by him.
I wish to give the Committee some facts and figures about this industry. It exists in many parts of England. It exists at its height in the Division which is represented by the First Lord of the Admiralty. It exists in the Lea Valley and also in my own constituency, in the Worthing district, where they have one of the most extensive branches of the growers industry and where they produce early luxury fruit, flowers and vegetables, both under glass and in the open. This industry started in a very small way in the 'sixties and seventies of the last century and at that time it employed only a few men. To-day, it is computed by the best authorities that it can produce, in some cases, £2,000 worth of produce per acre per year and employ from five to six men per acre. In my constituency alone the industry has grown and flourished until a few years ago since, when, for reasons which I shall give, there, has been an altera- tion. It has grown from an industry employing a few men, to an industry employing several thousands and I am credibly informed that the amount of money invested in it, in my constituency alone, goes well into six figures of sterling. That is an important industry and an industry which is entitled to be treated seriously in this Committee and not to be treated with the gibes and jeers with which the hon. Member for Don Valley has treated it, making all sorts of jokes about these vegetables.
Surely the Noble Lord is bound to withdraw that statement. Clearly he misunderstood what I said. I never reflected upon the producer as a producer. What I did say was that, as the result of the imposition of a duty upon imported tomatoes, the price would be raised to a point at which millions of people would be unable to buy them, but that is no reflection on the producer.
It is perfectly true that that was another part of the hon. Member's argument. I did not say that he jeered at the producers themselves. But he jeered at the industry, and the object of his speech was to make fun of the whole thing and to ridicule the production of asparagus and broccoli and all that sort of thing. Of course it is comparatively small, I admit, and if I thought for one moment that it was going to make it more difficult to carry on an industry like mining, I would not support any proposal for giving protection to this industry. But, in fact, exactly the opposite is the case, and I have received many letters and telegrams on the subject which bear out that view. One letter points out that the extension of the industry which would be Possible under a proper system of protection, and I know perfectly well that it is protection for which we are asking—would mean increased consumption for British coal, because quite a, large amount of coal is used in the furnaces in connection with this industry.
I am certain that if the hon. Member for Don Valley will give this subject the attention which it deserves, and which his qualities enable him to give it, he will see that it is more important to the
mining industry to be able to sell more coal in order to produce these things here, than that the rich should have to pay less for their early asparagus. For some reason the hon. Member seemed to fasten on me, although I never interrupted him, and I noticed that when I twitted him on the subject of miners and early asparagus he did not reply directly, but told me that I had a lot to learn about the mining industry. That may indeed be true, but I think the hon. Member's speech proved that he has a lot to learn about the agricultural industry, and even more to learn about the horticultural industry. If, in point of fact, miners, when they are very flush of money, do sometimes buy early asparagus, I hope that the hon. Member for Don Valley will tell his mining constituents that it is more important that my constituents should be allowed to work their industry than that his mining constituents, when they are in a position to afford it, should he able to buy early asparagus at the former price. I am sure he will find, if he does so that the miners who are very fair and very generous people, would not grudge to my constituents the employment which they can derive from these proposals if they are put into operation. I would like to quote one letter:
I am the largest grower of grapes in the South of England, having 25 houses producing this fruit. It is difficult to carry on business and if I could he assured of a price covering expenses of British labour, fuel at British home supply rates and security of home markets, I could enlarge my business, employ more men and ultimately produce at a lower rate owing to greater production.…I am rearing 125,000 chrysanthemums (cut blooms).…I have had to give up forcing bulbs, because I cannot compete with the prices from the Netherlands.
I am too old a Member to seek to bore the Committee by quoting from all the other letters which I have received on this subject, but I ask the Committee to accept my word that in every one of these letters there is the statement that those concerned with this industry could employ more labour if these proposals were put into operation, and that the industry is capable of expansion. Further —and I ask the Opposition to note this—they state that they have gone to the utmost limits in the matter of organisation, to cut overhead expenses and that
what is curtailing the industry is the importation of the luxuries which it is proposed to deal with in this Measure. We happen to have in the place in my constituency, to which I have referred, a soil and climate admirably suited for the production of these particular types of vegetables and fruit both under glass and in the open. It is situated between the Downs and the sea and the industry there, which is typical of the industry in many other parts of England, could be, I do not say indefinitely, but very largely expanded.
For that reason, I am very glad that the Government have brought in these proposals. Not all the feeble irony of the hon. Member for Don Valley will conceal the fact that the Opposition in this Debate are supporting those who wish to buy luxuries, like early vegetables and fruit, at prices at which the British grower cannot produce them. We shall take care to see that in the agricultural constituencies the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley and the speech of the hon. Member who spoke behind him are made known. I will tell the hon. Member that one of the reasons why his party occupy such an attenuated space in this House of Commons is because for years past they have been doing their best to injure British industry in every possible way. They have sneered at those who control it, they have jeered at the people who produce things and injured them and reflected upon them in every possible way. Obviously, they have not learned their lesson. Once again they are doing a bad day's work for their party by laughing at the British producer and opposing proposals which mean more employment for British labour.
I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition is not in his place at the moment, but I see present my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), who occupies an important position in the Socialist party, and I make this suggestion to him. I hope that in the interests of the National Government and of the Conservative party he will put up the hon. Member for Don Valley to lead his party in every agricultural Debate. I cannot imagine a speech more calculated to help the Government and damage the Socialist party in every agricultural constituency than the speech which we heard this evening from the hon. Member.
I should like the Minister of Agriculture on behalf of the Government to appreciate my desire in intervening in this Debate not to retard the Government in any way in their wish to assist this particular industry or to help in dealing with unemployment generally. I am just as desirous as anyone of getting people back to the countryside from the towns and creating employment generally in the country. If this Measure means taking people out of the towns and putting them into the countryside and adding to employment, there is a great deal to be said for it, provided that it does not increase materially the price of the food of the people as a whole. As I understand it, the Measure is mainly intended to tax or to keep out luxury articles. A far-reaching Measure of this kind cannot be made an Act of Parliament without some other branch of industry suffering, and as representing, with my colleague, the great seaport town of Southampton where steamers come in from all the Continental ports and interested as I am in the vessels coming from Continental parts to Harwich and other ports on the East Coast, I appreciate this fact and I would like the Minister to appreciate it—that this Measure will riot create employment, but will create further unemployment.
I have said that my desire is to support the Government in any Measure which they may bring in to create employment, and if this Measure in the main brings people back to the land and therefore creates employment there, it will be a good thing, but at the same time we must appreciate the fact that usually we cannot help one industry without affecting another. I have taken out some figures, and as shipping is my main business, I make an apology, if one is necessary, for intervening in an agricultural Debate. In the six months from January to June there were brought into this country something like 250,000 tons of produce of the particular kind with which this Measure is to deal. The freights and charges on those 250,000 tons would work out at something like £750,000, all of which will be lost to the shipping industry, mainly the large railway companies which have the connecting steamers to the Continent. In addition, there will be at least £125,000 to £150,000 lost in wages to the seamen, the workers, the porters, and other people like that in the ports of Southampton, Harwich, Hull, and so on; and we might quite easily add another £120,000 or so for dues on ships, dues on cargo, etc. so that we get a figure of something like £1,000,000 which will be lost to the shipping industry of this country and in wages to the workers as a result of this Measure.
If, on the other hand, there is £1,000,000 or £2,000,000 to be gained to the workers of the country by getting them back to the land, that in some measure will relieve my anxiety, but I think the Minister ought to know that, while he is bringing in this Measure to help one particular industry, he ought to consult with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and see how he feels about attacking the shipping industry, which in the main will lose, through this Measure, a vast sum of money.
I think I said freights and charges. In the shipping industry, that is, long-voyage freights, it is possible that in carrying raw materials instead of manufactured goods the shipowner will be able to make this up to a certain extent, but in the cross-channel services that is not so, and the result will be that this very large sum of money will be totally lost to the shipping industry.
I should say that 90 per cent. of them are. Clearly this is a case where, one industry being helped, another has to suffer, and while I wish to support this Measure in the hope that it is generally going to create employment in the country and keep out possibly a quite unnecessary lot of luxury articles, the broad fact remains that while it may create extra employment in Devon, Essex, and other counties where these articles are grown, there will be sailors and workers put out of employment at Southampton, Harwich, and all round the coast; and in the end I believe that what may he gathered in from taxes on these articles that are imported will be lost in wages to the workers at these ports. I hope in the main that the Measure will be a success and that it will produce what is expected from it, but I thought it only right to intervene in order to show how that, if one industry is helped in this way, another possibly may suffer.
An agricultural Debate always gives us the opportunity of listening to an amazing selection of speeches. I think that for sheer muddle headedness, the agricultural Member invariably takes the cake. We have the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). That speech of his would indeed be difficult to beat, and the rest of the Liberal party have my sympathy in the fact that they must have endured that speech for the last few years in silence. The right hon. Gentleman said that we on these benches must be completely unaware that anything had happened in England. It seems to me that the person who was unaware that anything had happened was the right hon. Gentleman himself. The pound has dropped, but he seems completely ignorant of the effect that the fall in the pound has had on imports. The fall in the value of the pound naturally balances our trade; it stops these imports coming in; it increases the exports of this country. What is he complaining about? He wants a balanced trade, and he bewails the very event that is doing its best to produce that balanced trade. He tells us that he still believes that exports pay for imports and imports for exports, and he couples with that a protest that we ought to stop all imports coming into the country, so that we cannot pay for exports and cannot export either. That sort of argument may do very well for Devonshire and South Molton, but really it will not do even in this House of Commons.
Then we have the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton)—another figure from the past. Does the Committee remember a play by Bernard Shaw called "St. Joan," in which the unfortunate Dauphin, badgered on all sides, replies invariably "Another lecture"? Well, we have had another lecture from the Noble Lord, a lecture to the Labour party on what they ought to say in Opposition, on the dangers of the course they pursue in putting up any opposition to these futile taxes.
They have quite made up their mind what their policy is. The Labour party, unlike some hon. Members opposite, have the same policy when they are in Opposition as when they are in the Government. They have always been Free Traders. They have never registered a vote sometimes for Protection and sometimes for Free Trade, as have hon. Members opposite, and even the Noble Lord. I have never realised before what a fanatical Protectionist, Tariff Reformer, follower of Bournemouth, the Noble Lord was. Now we know. He welcomes this Measure as the first fruits of the National Government, the first step in the direction of providing work for the people of this country, by stopping imports coming into the country. That indeed is a conversion.
It is not a conversion, because I was the first Protectionist Member ever returned to this House, in 1904, as a supporter of Chamberlain, and I have been one ever since.
The Noble Lord has been singularly lukewarm on the subject ever since, and he was a singularly good supporter of the last but one Conservative Government, which did not do anything. He is now going to visit the constituencies of my hon. and right hon. Friends on these benches. He is going to explain to the deluded remnant that voted Labour at the last election that the Labour party are anxious to prevent tariffs being put upon luxury vegetables eaten only by the rich. I do not think he can have studied this thing. I do not think he can have listened to the speech of the Minister of Agriculture, who preserved the reputation of the National Government and concealed completely the objects and intentions of the Measure which he was introducing. His speech was devoted to keeping out these early vegetables, to preventing the acquisition of flowers for weddings and those early peas and vegetables grown in the purlieus of Paris, but he forgot to mention that the powers for which he is asking in this Resolution go far wider than the imposition of tariffs on luxuries.
These powers deal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) said, with early potatoes, but he never defined what an early potato was or when an early potato became a late potato, or rather when a new potato became rather too old. That is left to the Department, and "early," after all, is merely a relative term. Potatoes are at the present time, as the Noble Lord, who represents agriculture, knows, rising in price very comfortably—comfortably, that is, for the agriculturists. If there is one essential to the food of the people of this country, it is potatoes. Hon. Members opposite talk a great deal about protecting the agricultural labourer, but the agricultural labourer is a man who is more interested in cheap potatoes, cheap tomatoes, and cheap turnips than he is in the opportunities he is going to get under this Measure of growing more of them.
Hon. Members opposite, who are now in the first flush of Protectionist enthusiasm, had better look at the other side of the picture. They might remember that the electors of this country are going to pay more for their food. They might remember that the drop in the value of the pound is already increasing the price of their food. They might remember that bread has gone up—a very convenient thing to forget when you want to put a quota on wheat and to take £2,250,000 more from the consumers. It is the people of this country who are going to pay, and while we hear so much about shutting out these articles from abroad, do let us remember that the principal argument in favour of this Measure is not the exclusion of the foreigner, but enabling the home producer to get a bigger price from the consumer in this country. Do hon. Members opposite think they would get a cheer for a bigger price? The hope of a bigger price has brought the hordes down from the Committee Rooms upstairs to the Government Lobbies. A better price before everything else, but who pays the price? It is not the foreigner; it is the Englishman who pays the price, a, fact which hon. Members opposite seem conveniently to forget when they advocate Protection of foodstuffs.
There is only one other point that I wish to make. The maiden speeches that we have heard to-day and speeches by other hon. Members have all pointed out that if we could stop these supplies coming in from France, from Holland, and from Denmark, if we could really exclude these goods, there would then be a chance to establish an honest, self-supporting peasantry in this country, prosperous, building up an A 1 nation. What a lovely picture! How is it to take place? Will you let them use the land, even if they want to use it? The first demand of the National Government was that that iniquitous Measure, the taxation of land values, should be done away with. [Interruptian.] Cheers from all the landlord benches! That iniquitous Measure might have forced the hands of the landlords in this country to part with their land. At any rate, the landlords thought it might, and that was bad enough. Anything which would make it easier for these unfortunate agricultural labourers to buy land or to make it possible to rent land—
That is your opinion, Captain Bourne, but so far from there being that divorce between the opportunities of getting land and the possibilities of building up a peasant population cultivating their own smallholdings, and allotments, they seem to me to he very close indeed. The Government are providing opportunities for growing early vegetables and tomatoes in greenhouses. I only wonder that they have not gone further and taken powers under this Resolution to prevent oranges and bananas coming into this country. Then we might have grown British bananas in British built greenhouses fired—I would point out to the hon. Member for Don Valley—with British coal. We might have employed 50,000 people in growing bananas and oranges, in building greenhouses and paying rents; we might have employed them in the useful productive work of producing food in this country, if only the Government would be strong-minded enough to exclude bananas and oranges just as they have excluded tomatoes, turnips and new potatoes. The only difficulty is the question of price, but that is a mere question of detail. What will people pay for bananas? If they can be induced to pay half a crown for a banana, there is a chance for British agriculture and British industry. Of course, if they have not got the money to pay for bananas, oranges, tomatoes full of vitamines, potatoes or turnips, where is the benefit to British agriculture coming from?
We passed last week a beautiful Measure to stop luxury goods coming into this country. Immediately it was passed there was a howl, not only in the ports but in the City of London, because is was discovered that nearly all these goods, which we were barring from coming in by imposing a 50 per cent. duty, were the raw materials of some other industry in this country. There was the case of cardboard boxes. We put an import duty on cardboard coming into this country, and consequently the cardboard box factories of this country are having to close down. Instead of making work for British hands, you have here exactly the opposite. Under these Resolutions currants and plums are not to come in, but they are the raw materials of the jam industry in this country as well as the food of the people. Although you might, by permission of the landlords, employ a few more people on the land in producing the articles you are keeping out, it is inevitable that you will throw out other people in the shops, the factories, the docks and railways, by stopping the normal exchange of trade. Here you are keeping out fruit, the raw material of the jam industry, but I would point out to hon. Members opposite that they are allowing in fruit pulp free. Only fresh fruit is barred. The result will be that the process of pulping fruit will take place abroad and that they will send it in pulped and free instead of sending it into this country to be pulped in our jam factories. That is another blunder on the part of the National Government.
It deserves to be pointed out to hon. Members on the Front Bench, good Free Traders and honest men, that what they have heard in the Cabinet and from their Ministers is a travesty of the legislation which they are imposing upon the people of this country. They told them in the Cabinet that they are only putting taxes on luxury articles, that they are a mere trifle, that they are a mere sop to keep those hordes quiet, that there is nothing in it and they need not worry. Then they take the powers, and hon. Members opposite give them these powers, because they believe it is going to do something to keep Bournemouth quiet. Then, when they get the powers, and not till then, will hon. Members opposite and the Free Traders on the Government Bench discover what they mean. The Minister for Agriculture dealt in his speech only with the idea of stopping early vegetables and luxury flowers, and things of that sort. As his speech proceeded, we became aware of the fact that that was only for Liberal consumption, and that what he was intending was to put a tax on rose trees not merely out of season but in season—let us pardon rose trees—and also on bulbs, early as well as late, and, above all, a tax on fruit. Currants must not come here. In the interests of British farming currants must be protected. We have all got to pay more for currants, plums, potatoes, tomatoes and turnips. This tax, which started in the secrecy of the Cabinet and the Liberal party meetings by being advocated as a heavy tax on a very small selected body of articles, will, before the Ministry and the hordes from upstairs have done with it, cover a period not of 28 days but for ever and ever Amen, until the people of this country begin to realise that a National Government means national expenditure and national tax upon everything they eat, and that, in addition to a 33 per cent. and now 40 per cent. tax on imports coming in, they are going to have 100 per cent, extra in order to encourage these people to stick us with bigger prices for plums, turnips, potatoes and tomatoes.
We have listened this afternoon to a remarkable variety of mutually inconsistent arguments in the three speeches delivered from the benches opposite. The right hon. Gentleman, who has just finished his speech, opened his objections to these Resolutions by arguing that they interfered with the beneficent process by which a depreciated pound automatically protected agriculture and every other industry in this country. It is quite true that it does afford Protection, but a form of Protection of which, unlike tariff Protection, you can predicate with absolute certainty that it increases the cost not only of the articles protected but of all articles, including those we cannot produce in this country. He displayed a remarkable solicitude for the poor man's orange and the poor man's banana. In the present state of our exchange there is no other way of preventing the price of oranges and bananas, things we cannot grow in this country, from rising than by keeping out those articles which we either need not consume or can produce ourselves.
On the other hand, the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) poured contempt on these Resolutions as a mere drop in the ocean. In point of time they were inadequate. They would not last long enough to give any real confidence to our small cultivators. In point of range they were inadequate. They failed to exclude either canned or pulped fruit. From his point of view these are contemptible and inadequate proposals. He again differed very widely from the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) who, for a solid hour of inspissated gloom, made us realise the appalling consequences that would follow from this Resolution, and wound up by reminding us of the sad reflection that our funeral wreaths will cost us more.
The hon. Member spoke of the appalling era of bribery and corruption which will follow in this House—bribed by broccoli, corrupted by cauliflower! All these benches crowded with Members put in here by the mushroom interest! The Lobbies thronged by the agitated advocates of the asparagus industry! The purity of our financial policy stained with black-currant juice; our political life embittered by chicanery over chicory! I cannot share these alarms. If I am alarmed at all I am alarmed, as was my hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), at what these Resolutions do not contain, at the curious picture which they present of the Government's attitude towards this tremendous problem of agriculture. Here we are after a great election. We have equipped the Government with a fine vessel in which to sail o'er the seas and
bring back a cargo of whales. After a month's reflection, they come here and ask us to spend several days inspecting this tiddler. If I am to be asked what we are to gather of the Government's agricultural policy from these Resolutions, if I were irreverent, I should be inclined to say that the answer was a gooseberry. It might be more appropriate, in Gilbert's words, to say that their ardent passion for agriculture as a whole amounts to little more than
an affection à la Plato for a bashful young potato
Or a not too French french bean.
While I am on that point, perhaps my right hon. Friend will assure me that a french bean from Jersey will not be considered too French to come in free under this Resolution.
I understand that the french bean from Jersey is considered British enough to come in free. It is really rather difficult to know exactly what this Resolution portends, or, indeed, from what point of view or why it has been introduced. As far as I can make out, there is nothing in it that could not, with perhaps a slight change of wording, have been covered by the Resolution introduced by the President of the Board of Trade a fortnight ago. We pressed for that inclusion then, tin, successfully. When we look at the change of view now adopted by the Government, it is enough to make us wonder what their continued and seriously intended policy with regard to agriculture is. Even now this Resolution is so narrowly worded as to leave out the urgent question of fruit pulp, canned and bottled fruit and vegetables, a question vitally affecting next year's crop of the small grower and cultivator.
Are we going to have next week another afterthought on this matter? It is really time that we knew what the policy of the Government was. What precisely is the object of this Resolution? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture in introducing it referred to the balance of trade in a manner that might lead one to think that the balance of trade could be affected by the Resolution. The Resolution deals at most with some £10,000,000 worth of produce that is likely to came in during the next 8 or 12 months. That is 2 per cent. of our imports of foodstuffs, and 1 per cent. of our total imports. How can that affect the balance of trade or the value of the pound? If there was one issue the Government and all of us brought before the country at the election, it was that there was a grave crisis arising in connection with the position of sterling. We all dwelt, upon the terrible result in every home if the pound fell to a low figure. The Prime Minister produced here German postage stamps for 40,000,000 marks to show the kind of thing that might happen.
The question which I am bound to ask is whether in this Resolution, or in any other Resolution we have yet had, the slightest attempt has been made in the month which has passed to do anything which will deal with the crisis—a crisis that has not been passed as a result of the election, but a crisis which is going on and a crisis the result of which has been to bring down the pound another shilling in the last fortnight.
I do not want to sec it go so low as to affect the whole cost of living in this country and wreck the Budget for next year. If it goes down many more shillings it will have that effect. There is nothing in this Resolution, or in any action that the Government has taken under consideration or adumbrated to the House, which can prevent the pound falling seriously during the next two months. What other object can the Resolution have? It certainly cannot do much for agriculture as a whole. The little, such as it is, is worth doing, and we welcome it as, at any rate, an instalment; but what an instalment after all this time and with so grave a problem before us! It really does become a matter of urgency that we should know what the Government's agricultural policy is. I sincerely trust that the House will not agree to rise before, at any rate, it has had a day upon which that policy can be discussed and when we can hear what the quota proposals are, in outline at any rate, because as long as they are in the air I doubt whether any farmer will be prepared to put his land under the plough in confident reliance upon that; when we can hear, also, the Government's general policy for the rest of the field of agriculture.
Surely in these matters the vital issue is whether the Government have a policy or not. If they have, then they can consider the extent to which they apply it, whether they apply their principles very boldly or far-reachingly or only moderately; but until they have a principle, they do not know where they ore and we do not know where we are, nor can anybody else know. What is the good of France or Germany or any other country even attempting to open discussions with us, discussions that might very well be fruitful for our trade, if we are not in a position to say what our general policy for industry and agriculture is to be? What is the use of negotiations with the Dominions? Whether the Secretary of State tours abroad or stays at home, if he has no policy he cannot discuss anything with he Dominions. Therefore I submit that, while we welcome this tiddler for what it is worth, as showing that there is a slight interest in fishing being taken on the Government benches, what we really want to know, and what we ought to know before the House rises, is what is the Government's policy, what is the principle on which they are going to work, and what is the line on which they are going to lead this House and the country as both the House and the country expect and deserve to be led.
This Debate has been of great interest to those who sit, on these benches. We have been twitted with having no policy at all on agriculture, and the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) twitted us too with knowing nothing about the subject. I want in the first place to draw the attention of the Committee to a document which was presented by a joint committee on agricultural policy by the Central Chamber of Agriculture. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) intervened in this Debate, because the Resolution which we are discussing is, in part, his own proposal made elsewhere. It is curious that the Central Chamber of Agriculture, when inquiring into the problem of agriculture, should find that the only people who know anything about the subject are members of the Tory party. The committee appointed by that Chamber selected a sub-committee which later recommended to the present Government its policy on agriculture. I find that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook was the leading member, and an ex-Member of the House and a prominent tariffist, Mr. H. G. Williams, was also a member. It is therefore clear that the Government are being instigated to a whole-hearted policy of tariffs on every item of agricultural produce that can be imported into this country.
I have listened to many Debates in this House on many subjects, and I do not think that I have ever heard such a variety of speeches from the Government benches as we have heard on agriculture on this occasion. I heard an hon. Member belonging to one section of the Liberal party saying that the Government were going too far in connection with tariffs and that the pace was too swift for him. I heard another Liberal Member of another section saying that the Government were not travelling fast enough; and now a leading member of the Tory party, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, has declared that the Government ought to travel very mach faster.
It is only right that those of us who sit on these benches should put the case against these duties as we see it. I am not without a little knowledge of agriculture, though I represent a mining Division. I am rather offended at Noble Lords and members of the Tory party who always infer that because we represent industrial areas we know nothing about this subject. I spent the first few years of my life as a farm servant and my father was a market gardener, so I ought to know just a little about the subject. I must confess, of course, that the industry has changed considerably since those years. I do not know, however, that Noble Lords opposite know very much more than I do on the subject.
Hon. Gentlemen are quite entitled to represent the points of view of their agricultural constituents. May I give the point of view of the consumer in an industrial area and those people who will have to handle this produce in the markets? I live in Manchester, which is the second largest distributing centre for agricultural produce in the land. I should like to put one or two technical points to the right hon. Gentleman on which I should like a reply. Before doing so, however, may I say on the general political issue that it is astonishing to witness that the centre of the greatest Empire in the world d is attempting to balance its imports and exports by prohibiting, among other things, the humble mushroom. There is, of course, something very much akin to the mushroom in this Government. It came into being in the darkness of the night and when the light of day shines upon it, it will disappear like the mushroom. It is an extraordinary spectacle as I said for this wealthy country, the greatest exporting country in the world in relation to its population to try and balance its trade on such trivialities. In dealing with trade, the tariffist says, in effect, that Free Trade is an old shibboleth that ought to be discarded because it is ancient. As a matter of fact, if hon. Members will go to the Library, they will find reports of Royal Commissions which show that this country for a large number of years was encircled with tariff walls. There were tariffs in this country for many years as high and as effective as in any country in the world. Royal Commissions and Select Committees composed of Liberals and Conservatives were appointed by this House, to consider tariffs and I may summarise their conclusions by saying that they decided that tariffs failed on two counts, that they corrupted public life in this country—as they have in every other country by the way—and that they raised the prices of commodities beyond the reach of the poorest people. Hon. Gentlemen opposite insist that these duties will not, of necessity, raise prices. I remember the late Lord Melchett, of whom it can be said that he knew commerce and industry as well as most men, chiding Members of the Conservative party years ago when they argued on the Floor of the House that tariffs did not raise prices. His answer to them was: "Of course they will raise prices. Tariffs would be of no use whatever unless they did raise prices."
I will come to another point which I wish the right hon. Gentleman to note when he comes to reply. I understand from those connected with the trade that the importation of foreign cherries is, in fact, almost prohibited now, without any duty at all, under what is called the "cherry maggot Order." Those who know the trade better than I do, and better, perhaps, than most hon. Members, say that if a duty is imposed upon cherries there will be such a reduction in the quantity coming into this country that, in view of the fact that our own cherries are only produced in the south of England, the people of the north of England will never see a cherry at all. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but, that information comes from a person who knows more about these things than they do. I do not speak with personal knowledge at, all, but on information received from an expert. There are one or two other things the House ought to know about the fruit trade. The medical profession are in a great measure responsible for inducing people to consume more fresh fruit and vegetables, and we ought to welcome that. I am informed that the sale of fresh fruit and vegetables has increased enormously in this country during the fast few years. As an illustration I have been told that 25 years ago the fruiterers in Manchester, supplying a population in and around that city of about 13,000,000 people, required for sale only about 2,000 dozen lettuces a week, but that the consumption of lettuces now runs into millions of dozens a week. The propaganda of the trade itself has also accounted for a great increase in sales, arid I feel sure that members of every political party will welcome the splendid result of that propaganda. There has also been considerable propaganda by vegetarians, and that, too, accounts in a great measure for the increased consumption of fruit and vegetables. I submit to the Committee that this increased consumption of fruit and vegetables, both those from abroad and those produced in this country, ought not at this stage to be checked by the imposition of duties.
It is complained that our own growers do not pack their produce as well as the foreigners, and that the competition of produce from abroad will always tell against them until they learn to pack and grade as well as the foreigner does. I understand that the Empire Marketing Board have done a great deal in training our growers in the better packing and grading of their produce. It is therefore the duty of our own producers to come up to the standards of the foreigner in packing and grading. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the wages abroad?"] If the commodities dealt with in this Motion are precluded from corning to this country by the imposition of duties up to 100 per cent., the poor people of this country, who are now able to buy, say, cheap tomatoes, will not be able to get them in future. The home producer of tomatoes will in consequence of these duties be able to increase his price. If hon. Members opposite were frank enough to say so, that is exactly what they want, but they will never admit it before the electorate.
The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham said we were not willing to call ourselves Free Traders at election time. I stand as a Free Trader, without qualification, and I am happy to say that I have won my seat in Parliament six times in succession as a Free Trader, an internationalist and a Socialist. I have no hesitation in preaching the gospel of Free Trade, because I have no doubt from what I have seen in my travels abroad that graft in politics comes in the main from tariffs. Hon. Members sometimes deride politics in America. I have seen that country twice, and have a very fair notion of what happens in the politics of tariff ridden America. I think politics in this country can always he cleaner than in some other countries, but I have a definite fear that lobbying in connection with tariffs may prove to be a very grave danger to our own Parliamentary institutions, so for that reason also I am a strong Free Trader.
The Minister of Agriculture threw a thunderbolt into the Committee by introducing a very important Amendment into his Motion. I do not claim to be an expert, but I have given a little study to this problem since he produced his Motion on Friday last, and I would like him to tell us how he is going to impose a duty upon articles that are sent here on consignment. I do not think I shall be doing wrong in coming down to details for a moment. In the end details will determine whether the Orders issued are effective or not. I am told that a merchant in London or Manchester will send an order to France, Spain or Italy for any one of these commodities, and they will reach this country without any price having been fixed for them beforehand. The price is determined by the sum that the merchant in this country is able to get for the commodities. It seems to me that it will be very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to find a means of imposing a duty at the part in cases of that kind, and I think it was to meet that difficulty that the Amendment was introduced this afternoon.
I understand that on occasions huge profits are made on consignments, but that on other occasions very serious losses are suffered. It would he interesting to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what would happen in a case like this. Supposing he imposes a duty on a, given article, and that a consignment of that article comes to this country and is sold at a loss to the British merchant and a loss also to the producer in France or in Italy. Would the duty be applied in that case? I would like to know, because it is a technical point and one upon which we ought to be enlightened.
I will quote another instance which shows how complicated this business can be. I am told that Spanish potato growers have just paid £66,000 for seed potatoes purchased in Norfolk, and that the last shipment of those seed potatoes has already been sent to Spain. They have been bought with the object of growing early potatoes for the British market next year. It seems to me to be a very strange proceeding if Spanish growers pay £4 10s. a ton for seed potatoes in England, grow these potatoes in Spanish soil, and then, when they bring those new potatoes to our ports next year, find themselves confronted with a duty of, perhaps, 100 per cent.
An hon. Member asked me whether I am sorry for the Spanish people. I am sorry for those English people, who will not sell £66,000 worth of seed potatoes next year. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. As I have said before, supporters of tariffs can sec only one side of the tariff wall. I will repeat the argument again. In the course of the last two or three months Spanish growers have bought seed potatoes to the value of £66,000 in this country. When the potatoes which they grow from that seed come to this country next year they will find a prohibitive duty against them. Will the Spaniards, I wonder, spend £66,000 on seed potatoes in this country next year?
why have they not done so this year? This list is very interesting and the articles in it are stated to be luxuries like cherries, currants, gooseberries, grapes and plums. The strange thing is that the tariffist never takes account of the fact that nature provides these commodities in the South of France five or six weeks earlier than we can produce them in this country. The argument of the tariff reformer is that in order to give a preference to our own crops we must keep those commodities out and the foreigner must not be allowed to import them early in order that our own producers may have a better chance later. The argument of the merchants, however, who deal in these commodities is that cherries and grapes come from foreign countries about a month earlier than we can produce them, and that that whets the appetite of our own consumers. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] I know I am addressing at the present moment what is tantamount to a branch of the Farmers' Union, and consequently I cannot make any headway in convincing them.
I regret that I forgot for the moment that the hon. and learned Gentleman had been rejected by an industrial constituency. Those are a few points upon which the right hon. Gentleman might enlighten us. Let me ask again how is the right hon. Gentleman going to enforce a duty of 10, 15 or 20 per cent. on goods consigned to this country when those commodities are sold without any bargain as to price abroad and merely sold at current prices in this country? Will the right hon. Gentleman say if these duties will prohibit the importation of some articles which can only be grown in the south of England, and how is he going to supply the north of England with such commodities when they will hardly meet the requirements of the population on the spot as it were? Those are pertinent questions, arid I think I have now said enough to show the reasons why we are opposing these proposals.
Duchess of ATHOLL:
I think the speech of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) shows once more how little practical acquaintance with the difficulties of agriculture is possessed by some hon. Members opposite, for the reason that none of them represent an agricultural constituency. There has been such a tremendous change in agriculture in the last generation that it really does not help very much for the hon. Member for Westhoughton to relate the experience of his father's days when he was a market gardener. Agricultural Members cannot fail to realise how particularly serious the position of agriculture has become during the last few years, and it is no answer to say to the Members of a previous Conservative Government, "You did not do this or that for agriculture when the Conservative party was in power," because the position then was entirely different. Anyone who has had any connection with agriculture must realise what peculiarly devastating competition there has been in agriculture during the last year or two. When the hon. Member for Westhoughton talks about the transactions of Spanish potato producers, he should not forget the tremendous advantage that Spanish producers enjoy in regard to the very low wages paid to agricultural workers in Spain. The wages paid to agricultural workers in this country are not high, but I believe that in Spain they are lower still, and I do not think that the hon. Member wishes to see the agricultural producers in this country indefinitely exposed to competition with countries where the standard of wages is much lower than it is in this country. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) asked whether it was possible to distinguish between new potatoes and old ones in ordinary season, and I have no difficulty in answering that question. Two years ago British potato producers suffered greatly from a severe fall in price, and during the whole of that time I excluded all new potatoes from my house. I do not think either producers or housewives will find any difficulty in distinguishing between the foreign new potato and the home-grown potato.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) spoke in a tone of disappointment in regard to the Measure we are now discussing, and he stressed the point that this was a very small instalment of a policy for dealing with a very big and complicated subject. The Minister of Agriculture must realise, if that is true as applied to this country, that it is still more true in Scotland, because he knows, as a Scottish representative, and as a Scottish agriculturist, that there is not as much in the proposals which he has announced for Scottish agriculture as there is for agriculture further south. Scottish agriculturists are very grateful to the Minister for the proposed power to levy a tariff on foreign new potatoes, and that is a message of real hope for the growers of an important crop in Scotland, to which more than usual importance attaches this autumn because the prospects of other crops are not very good.
The Minister, however, knows that wheat is not of as great importance in Scotland as in England, although I agree that Scottish agriculturists ought to benefit indirectly if the land capable of growing good wheat is kept under that crop. The Minister knows that there are other cereal crops grown in much greater quantities in Scotland, and which, like wheat, have suffered from dumping. Scottish agriculturists will anxiously wait to hear what policy the Minister is going to propose to assist them. One has to make allowance for the fact that the Minister of Agriculture is a Member of the National Government, and consequently he may have to bring facts and figures before his Liberal colleagues which perhaps are new to them, and we must not be surprised if we are unable to get the announcement immediately of a comprehensive policy, but I ask the Minister to remember that, in season and out of season, it is all-important to see what can be done for oats, and that is a crop which he did not mention. I hope it will be possible for the Minister of Agriculture to make a further announcement of the policy of the Government before Parliament adjourns, but, if that is not possible, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take the earliest possible opportunity of indicating, before Parliament meets, further Measures which he will bring forward in order to benefit agriculture. Many farmers will be in a position of great uncertainty if they have to wait until February to know what policy the Government have in mind, and before they are made acquainted with what special help is going to be given in regard to the distinctive Scottish cereals.
With regard to the prospects of fruit growers in Scotland, the fruit in which many are interested—the raspberry is not included in the list which the Minister has announced. The Minister knows that the particular fruit to which I allude is indigenous in a great part of Scotland and is prolific and of good quality. In the last 30 or 40 years it was a steadily growing industry until 1930. That was a very bad year for other soft fruits mentioned in the list, and the price of strawberries and black-currants fell to about half what the average had been in the five years between 1925–1929, owing to severe foreign competition. In the case of raspberries the loss was even greater because the price fell to about one-third of what it had been for the five previous years. That was due, not so much to competition of imported fruits, as to the fact that more raspberries were brought in as raspberry fruit pulp. I was very interested to hear the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme speak as if he realised that foreign fruit pulp imports might be a very serious omen to fruit growers in this country, and I am sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman realises the devastating effect of imports of foreign fruit pulp from Holland and Russia.
In the 1930 season in Scotland the employment of casual workers in the production of raspberries fell to about half. Those workers are usually employed for about six weeks in the summer. Last season many could only obtain work for some three weeks, and many raspberries were left rotting on the canes. The consequence has been that many owners have been afraid to plant more raspberries. As these plants take two or three years to grow to maturity, I ask the Minister to give the points I have mentioned his most serious and early consideration, and bring before his colleagues the very serious position of this industry and the great anxiety felt by those concerned, in order that he may be able to relieve that anxiety, and give agriculture more protection, especially against the importation of fruit pulp.
I wish to echo the plea which has been put forward by the Noble Lady the Member for Perth (Duchess of Atholl) in regard to the agricultural policy of the Government. With all due deference to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) has said, I do not think it is reasonable to ask the Minister to give details of his proposals at this juncture, because we must remember that the present Government had only been in office a few weeks. I think, however, that before the House rises, we ought to have a full debate on agricultural policy in order to learn from the Government the principles on which that policy is going to be framed. Unless those principles are laid down and accepted by the Government and the House, we shall not know what the future of the agricultural industry is likely to be. If the Government say that there is not sufficient time, I would suggest that the Debates on this Bill be shortened from four days to three days, and that the fourth day should be devoted to a Debate on agricultural policy. I think the House will find the greatest possible difficulty in spending four days discussing this very limited Measure, which only deals with about £10,000,000 worth of imports. If the Opposition would join with us in requesting the Government to shorten the proceedings on this Bill by one day, and give us the extra day for a full agricultural Debate, I believe that that would be a wise economy of time, and that the House as a whole would appreciate it very much. We have heard in this Debate the attitude of the Labour party with regard to the question whether farming should be made to pay or not. One hon. Member who spoke from the Labour Benches told us that price is the factor which makes the difference between success and failure in farming, and yet the whole of their speeches to-day have been devoted to trying to prevent British farmers, smallholders and market gardeners from getting a better price even for things like early asparagus. The last speaker from the Labour Benches lamented the fact that he would have to wait three weeks more for his early strawberries or his early potatoes, and he grudged that small sacrifice of convenience. That shows the extent to which hon. Members opposite are prepared to help the British farmer.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), on this very modest proposal to deal with luxury imports, bring out the whole artillery of food tax cries in his long speech to the Committee. We had an hour of arguments which might have been appropriate if the proposal had been one to put a tax of 10s. a quarter on foreign wheat, and I reflected that such a monument of industry could not have been produced entirely by the hon. Member for the Don Valley himself. We have learned that the late Minister of Health, Mr. Greenwood, has returned to the Labour Research Bureau, and, when the hon. Member for the Don Valley took to telling us how many vitamines there were in tomatoes and turnips, I thought I traced the source of a good deal of the information and statistics that he gave us this afternoon. If I may say so to him with all respect, if those are the only quotations from the last General Election that he can get in connection with the anti-food tax agitation that he will be conducting during the next few months, I am bound to say that my Leaders have been a great deal more discreet than they have been on previous occasions, because a more rotten set of quotations, from his point of view, I have never heard. It is quite clear that all our Leaders have been very discreet in keeping a perfectly free hand for themselves in this Parliament.
While I agree with my Noble Friend who has just spoken, and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook, that this Resolution does not go by any means as far as we should like, I should like to thank the Minister for having dealt with some of the most urgent of all the problems that are affecting agriculture at this moment. The trade in cut flowers and the glass-house trade are affected by importations such as are bound to take place before the House can reassemble after the Christmas Recess, so that that matter is one of extreme urgency, and I am delighted that the Minister, having introduced this Measure, will be in a position to deal with it before the House reassembles. I am bound to say, however, that I do not quite see the principle on which his schedule of imports has been drawn up, and I should be very grateful if he could give us a little information on one or two points when he replies to-night.
If he is dealing, as I understood he was, with luxury or non-essential imports, why has poultry been omitted? Surely, poultry is an import of a luxury nature? Over £2,250,000 worth of foreign poultry was imported into this country last year, and the poultry industry is certainly one that can be very much expanded in this country. It is an industry which is particularly suitable to small holders, and can be practised in Scotland as much as in England, and I do not quite understand why my right hon. Friend has excluded poultry from his list. Also, I cannot conceive why he has excluded raspberries, of which my Noble Friend has already spoken. There must be some good reason, which no doubt my right hon. Friend will explain to us. It seems to me that the line between a strawberry and a, raspberry is a very fine one indeed. Personally, I regret that my right hon. Friend has not been able to deal with fruit pulp and with tinned fruit. I should be inclined to say to him that it is impossible to deal with this fruit problem piecemeal. When you are dealing with fruit, you have to deal with fresh fruit, tinned fruit, and fruit pulp. They are all forms of the same food, and, if you try to close one door without closing all other doors, you will only get floods through the doors which have been left open. I hope my right hon. Friend will say that when such floods occur, or when there is any imminent danger of their occurring, he will not hesitate to ask the House for powers to deal with that problem.
There is one thing that I should like to say to the Opposition. We have heard several speeches against this Resolution, but not many of them went into the details of agriculture, most of them having been concerned with the woes of the consumers of early asparagus, which is apparently a great concern of the Labour party; while the last speaker from those benches told us that he was speaking on behalf of the interests of middlemen, which also was rather an interesting admission. Several speakers have, however, told us that one of their objections to Tariff Reform in any shape is the terrible corruption that it introduces into public life. They appear to regard it as a very shocking thing that Members on this side of the House should try to put forward the interests of industries which are situated in their constituencies. We have had three lectures this afternoon on that subject. Two of them came from Members of the Miners' Federation, and I thought that that was particularly good, because all except the new Members of the House will recollect the many weary, not only hours or days, but weeks, for which we sat in this Chamber listening to representatives of the Miners' Federation trying to get the best for their industry out of the House. I do not blame the miners' Members. We have never said that they were acting in a corrupt fashion when they put forward the interests of their constituents, and I see nothing wrong at all in Members of the House of Commons voting for policies which are going to help industries in their constituencies. That is what they have been sent here for. It can he done perfectly honourably and openly, and we intend to press for it, because we believe that, in benefiting the industries in our own constituencies, we shall be benefiting the industries of the country as a whole.
I have only one thing more to say with regard to the criticisms of hon. Members opposite. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East. Leeds (Major Milner) asked us this question "What are you doing in this Resolution to help the agricultural worker?" I say to him that we are doing what his party never did, and that was to find him employment. The result of two years of Labour Government, was that 55,000 fewer agricultural labourers were at work when they laid down office than when they took it up; that was admitted by their own Minister across the Floor of the House of Commons. Not a single Act that they passed, not a single thing that they did during the whole time they were in office, gave an hour's work more to any agricultural labourer in this country. We are going to give the agricultural labourers of this country increased employment, and we are going to do it by keeping out of this country every foreign article we can that can be efficiently produced in this country. Those articles are going to be produced by the labour and by the capital of the people of England instead of by foreigners.
The hon. Member who spoke last from the Labour benches told a pathetic story about Spaniards who had bought £66,000 worth of seed potatoes from Lincolnshire this year. Of course, the Spaniards will always have to get their seed potatoes from England or Scotland, because they cannot grow them themselves. The hon. Member asked what is going to happen next year. Next year, I hope, that £66,000 worth of seed potatoes will be sold to English farmers, to employ Englishmen or Scotsmen in growing potatoes for the people of this country. Although hon. Members opposite may have to wait three weeks, or even a month, before they taste their early potatoes, that will help the employment figures in this country, and it will help their own figures, too, if they eat fewer foreign potatoes.
For the purpose of my remarks, it will not be necessary for me to add to the details which have been given from these benches in regard to the imports of agricultural produce into this country, and which, probably, will be added to as the Debate goes on. Nor will it be necessary for me to declare whether I am an ardent Free Trader or not. Sufficient be it to say that, taking the answers to the questions put to the Tory Members who were returned from the City of Glasgow, they were as much Free Traders as I am so far as these items are concerned.
As to the question of lobbying and corruption, I would like to point out that not only are our minds being exercised by fears on that question, but that, in a recent article in a magazine issued by Lloyds Bank, the specialist writer laid it down there that one of the chief things that we had to guard against was the corruption that would creep in through the medium of lobbying. In paragraph (c) of the Resolution you have a beautiful field for the interests concerned lobbying in the House of Commons, and I think that fact justifies the case which I have referred to in Lloyds Bank Magazine. My memory goes back to the reply given to the Leader of the Opposition by the Prime Minister when he indicated that time was going to be allocated to discuss the imposition of duties on luxury fruits and vegetables, and I wondered why his voice sank so low.
I also allow my mind to go back to the pronouncement made by the President of the Board of Trade from below the Gangway that he was in favour of a duty that would keep out luxuries. I wonder if he and his Liberal friends had any idea then that some of the articles enumerated in the Resolution would be brought within the category of luxuries. I am rather inclined to think he did not contemplate them at all. Here we have the right hon. Gentleman who expressed a desire to keep out luxuries actually creating a type of luxury that escaped from that designation many years ago. Friends of my own tell me they remember quite well when tomatoes rarely entered the homes of the working-classes, and now that they have extended their dietary to include them I am not going silently to see that taken away from them by the expedient of it being termed a luxury commodity. Notwithstanding the imports which have been referred to, I think the Minister of Agriculture will admit that the glass houses that are going up in Lanarkshire are a sufficient answer to the statement that the growing of tomatoes is being hard pressed from outside. Those glass houses are increasing in number year by year in the Valley of the Clyde, and it is not indicative of any great hardship being imposed upon them through the medium of the imports which have been referred to.
In passing my eye over the details which are considered luxuries, I am astonished to see the inclusion of green beans, lettuce, green peas, tomatoes and turnips. I am perturbed at the inclusion of lettuce, because we have it on the authority of medical officers of health of various cities, and especially of the city from which the right hon. Gentleman comes, that green vegetables are essential, especially to great industrial towns. I am not prepared to accept without protest the inclusion of lettuce as a non essential for the working-class. I think that light vegetables are absolutely essential in the lives that people have to live. We are told that the working-class will not pay these taxes as the articles are not deemed to be suitable commodities for the working-class to consume.
I have risen to protest at this concept of what is right and what is wrong for the working-class. I do not understand why there should be a smile about any- one suggesting that asparagus, early or late—I have not tasted it, and I do not know whether there is any difference— should be eaten by the working-class. Why should not the working-class eat it? They are as much entitled to eat it as anyone else. I also dislike the attitude adopted by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), who said it would be an experiment in the working- class dietary. The experiments have been going on far too long, and we have the results of them. The Medical Officer of Health of Glasgow admitted that the pasteurisation of milk took away certain elements which should be retained, and he said that in their place there should be eaten more vegetables, especially of the raw type, such as lettuce. The only articles we can substitute for what is taken away are to be treated as luxuries, and I am not prepared to accept that at all. We want to have a fine race of Britishers. If we had had that in mind before the War, we should not have had our medical officers of health reporting that we were a C3 nation. We wanted an Al nation then and we should fight tooth and nail to get an A1 nation now when we are pursuing the purposes of peace. The countryside has been de-populated, but the depopulation has not taken place through one medium only. We will put people on the land if you will give us the land to put them on. If that is denied to us, it might be taken back in the same way that the present owners took it. When our forefathers were fighting for you against Napoleon you put the Enclosure Acts into operation and stole millions of acres of common land. We might take that back in order to ensure a virile race in the future.
There is only one final point. I think there is no utility in the Resolution. In my opinion, it is just a test how far the Liberals, and those who have left this party, will go with the Government. The Noble Lord who spoke last pressed for a further statement. He wants to know how far you are prepared to go, and you cannot tell him until you see first of all how this will be swallowed. I am inclined to think that that is the only value of the Resolution.
I should like to express my very sincere thanks to the Minister of Agriculture and to congratulate him upon the luxury measures that he has introduced, as well as the promise he made last week that the wheat quota would be introduced as soon after the Christmas Recess as possible. Many of us, naturally, do not feel that as much progress in this direction as possible has been made up to date, but certain it is that it is a beginning in the right direction, and we are very happy to feel that something definite for agriculture has been done and put into execution before Christmas. We all realise that Rome was not built in a day, but we hope that this is the first stone in the building of a great policy which will, as it is developed, prove of very great use to agriculture, and will help to bring the people of this country back to the land. I hope, therefore, that the Government will not forget that they have an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons prepared to give them all the help in their power to put through whatever measures may be necessary for the restoration of our balance of trade and for the re-establishment of our industrial life.
If there was one thing to be remembered out of the past General Election, it was the outstanding mandate from the people which was given to the Government, namely, that they were to get on with their job, that they were to apply business methods to business affairs, and that they were neither to dilly nor to dally with the work which was before them. If I may be allowed, to do so—and I do it with very great respect—I should like to cross swords with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who is not in his place at the moment, but who, as far as I could make out, is profoundly unsound in his economics. If I interpret his speech this afternoon aright, he seemed to think that economically you could get it both ways in life. That is impossible. Our economists to-day tell us that the root evil of the world depression and of the world dislocation of trade is the problem of commodity prices, which are far too low at the present time, and that if those commodity prices were upon a fairer basis and were stabilised; the economic position of everyone would be infinitely better than it is to-day. It seems to follow logically that unless the producers of raw material, including food, are able to produce profitably, they are unable to purchase the products which are produced by the manufacturing countries. It will be like a vicious circle, and not until those commodity prices, which appear to be too low to-day, have been raised, can we expect to get a period of world prosperity again.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture knows that I do not believe in destructive criticism, but I know that he will appreciate my intention if I venture for a moment to indulge in a little constructive criticism as far as agriculture is concerned. As I said a moment ago, there are many of us who regret that he was not able to go further than he has done to-day in regard to the development of his agricultural policy, and I feel sorry that there were not; more products regarded as luxury products which could have been brought within the limits of the Resolution which is before the Committee. My Noble Friend the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Viscount0 Wolmer) has already drawn attention to the poultry industry. New laid eggs, I think, can be regarded as a luxury, but new laid eggs require parents, and those parents cannot be expected to flourish unless they are to some extent looked after by the wise policy of the parental Government, Milk, too, is a, matter which requires the attention of the Ministry, and the industry of pigs is one which should be looked into in the near future. I have in my hand a letter from a farmer telling me that it costs him 12s. 8d. a score to fatten pigs for the market, and that the best price he can get in the London market to-day is only Gs. 8d., as a result of the very heavy importations of Danish bacon and importations from Holland.
This afternoon I addressed a question to the Minister in regard to buying British, and it seems to me that the Government could set an excellent example to the country in this respect by seeing that their spending Departments, particularly the Departments of the Navy and the Army, should purchase large quantities of English produce, including home-killed meat for the forces under the Crown.
I beg your pardon, Sir Dennis. I should like to turn to a point which has not been touched upon to-day, and that is the relation of English agriculture to the problem of Empire economic unity, which we all hope will be thrashed out and discussed at the Imperial Conference next year. What do we mean by Empire economic unity? Surely it means that we should endeavour to develop a system of sheltered markets for the mutual advantage of the home country and the Dominions and Colonies overseas. It seems logical that we cannot expect an expansion of the sheltered markets which our goods to-day enjoy, and have enjoyed for the past 30 years, in the overseas Dominions and Colonies unless we are prepared to give in exchange substantial sheltered markets to the goods which they produce which are so largely raw materials and foodstuffs. If we are prepared to develop this theme and to carry it through to a comprehensive and logical conclusion, it must of necessity include import duties on foreign foods. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite will probably take exception to the suggestion I have made, but I want them to remember that we within our Empire are capable of producing all the food that we require, and that it is only by the development of the system of sheltered markets, which has been explained to this House on many occasions in the past, that we can ever expect to move towards freer trade within the Empire, and the development of the markets for the advantage of our export trade and the balancing of our Budget.
I am no blind Protectionist and I never have been, but it seems to me that the instrument of a tariff scientifically used is the best instrument of which the Government of the day can make use, for the reason that it has been a long-established practice in other countries and is well understood by practically every other country of the world to-day and will, therefore, be a great bargaining power in the hands of the Government for negotiations on scientific tariffs and trade problems for the development of our export trade. In so far as tariffs are concerned, I should like—
I was only endeavouring to point out that the development of a comprehensive Empire scheme would probably involve an import duty upon foreign food, and I was anxious to draw the attention of the Committee to the effect that that policy would have upon English agriculture. As I am not at liberty to develop my theme any further, I must give place to the next hon. Member who is about to address the Committee.
This is the first opportunity that I have had of addressing the new House of Commons, and it is a matter of very great interest to me, speaking from this side of the House, and at the moment rather lonely, to express my views with regard to the proposals now before the Committee. I should like to preface my remarks with a reference to what took place before the General Election, while the first National Government was in office, perhaps the only National Government that has ever held office in this country. It will be recollected that, while Parliament sat, a great deal of the time of the Ministry was wasted in endeavouring to, arrive at a formula on the question of Protection which would satisfy not only the Protectionists in the Government but also its Liberal members. It was found that all such attempts were futile, and it became obvious that lifelong Protectionists and life-long Free Traders would never change their views. The Prime Minister realised that it was essential that Liberals with Free Trade views should continue their alliance with the Conservatives in the appeal of the National Government to the country; consequently, a patched-up formula was arrived at, a formula which was intended merely for the purposes of the General Election, as is now only too evident.
The appeal to the country was made on the understanding that Protection was an open question. We were promised, the electorate were promised, that a careful, unbiassed, scientific inquiry into the merits of Protection by a national nonparty Cabinet would take place, that on the inquiry the Government would call in competent experts and that they would weigh the evidence, and be guided in their actions by the results of the examination. That was the understanding, and those were the grounds. The Lord President of the Council, on several occasions, stated publicly that Protective tariffs were not an issue in the election. The Home Secretary stated the same fact time and again. The General Election was not, according to them, to be fought on the question of Protection. Some of us, however, had the temerity to suggest that this formula, this understanding, was merely a piece of electoral strategy and humbug, to serve only to secure an overwhelming majority in this House for the Protectionists. Our forebodings have been more than realised. The Prime Minister obtained an overwhelming victory, but I feel certain that he already has begun to realise that his victory was a pyrrhic victory.
It is obvious to all by this time that this Government, this so-called National Government, is not a National Government in any sense of the word. Only last week, the Lord President of the Council, speaking in the Debate on the Statute of Westminster, and chiding his fellow Tories, told the House that this is a Tory Parliament. We all know what a Tory Parliament means. It is only another name for a Protectionist Parliament. We have to-day, not a National Government, but a full-blooded Protectionist administration. Every Measure that it has introduced, and every argument that it has used in support of such Measures are easily recognisable as the stock arguments and the stock Measure of the Protectionist, Measures and arguments which have been demolished again and again completely and absolutely by certain Liberal members of the present Cabinet.
What is the position to-day? The President of the Board of Trade introduced duties on abnormal importations a week or so ago. Those duties are entirely valueless except on the assumption that ordinary manufactured goods must be kept out until a tariff system proper is in operation. There is no camouflage at the present moment. The statement made by the Minister of Agriculture last Thursday on the protection of agriculture is Protection pure, undiluted and unadulterated. There are no other words in which to describe it. I am not aware nor is anyone else in this Committee aware, that any preliminary inquiry of a careful, unbiassed, scientific character was made before either of the two right hon. Gentlemen made his statement. The formula has been cast aside. The understanding of the electorate has been ignored, and another is added to the long list of broken election pledges. All that matters to the Government is that the voracious appetite of the hungry Protectionist hordes shall be satisfied. That is all they care about. A threat from one form or another form of this numerous army is enough to send the Government at once to seek to satisfy them. This Government was born in a stampede and it has been working in a stampede ever since.
We live in a topsy-turvy world. Sometimes when I am contemplating right hon. Gentlemen like the Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade, who, as recently as last June, were delivering forceful, powerful and unanswerable addresses in support of Free Trade, and I see those gentlemen now actively supporting colossally high Protective tariffs, I am inclined to ask myself, may it not be that they are serving the best interests of Free Trade and the community? I was talking to a pronounced Protectionist the other day, a well-known city financier, a man of considerable ability and knowledge; and in discussing this question he said that he and all well-initiated Protectionists stood only for tariffs for certain selected industries. If the Government, he said, pass a general measure of tariffs for revenue purposes, or for any other purposes, that would give most effective Protection. I am inclined to think that the Home Secretary is only too anxious to have a full-blooded Protectionist policy adopted by this House knowing that that is the surest way of killing Protection.
This Resolution, I take it, is a certain indication that that is the policy to be pursued by the Government, and with all due deference I think I am entirely in order in drawing that deduction from what has already been introduced into the House.
I have been listening to the hon. and gallant Member very intently for some time. He is one of those people whom it is not easy to interrupt, but the relation between his argument generally and the Resolution is, I am afraid, rather thin, and I must ask him to keep a little closer to the question before the Committee.
I was on the point of coming to the Resolution. In his statement on Thursday last the Minister of Agriculture said that the duties which he is now proposing were on certain nonessential agricultural and horticultural products. The duties affect three groups: fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and flowers. I have before me the figures for the total imports of these groups for the year 1930. The imports of fresh fruits amounted to £3,239,262, and that includes the figures not only for hothouse grapes but also for what may be called, for the lack of a better term, summer grapes as well. The amount, so far As fruits are concerned, is therefore little over £3,000,000. In fresh vegetables, potatoes, the amount was £2,682,811, which includes not only the early but the late potatoes as well. In tomatoes the amount is very big; £4,545,327; and other vegetables, which include the vegetables mentioned in the Schedule of this Resolution, the amount was £1,713,136. The total altogether was £8,941,278.
The total for tomatoes was £4,545,327 and for other vegetables £1,713,136. It is difficult to give the amount of flowers, but in regard to fresh flowers the sum was £765,599. The total amount of imports therefore affected is about £13,000,000. The figures for the production of the same classes of articles in Great Britain are not available for the corresponding year, but in the year 1925, when we had the last agricultural census, the production in these articles was £40,160,000. One must realise that by no means are all the British products which are suffering from foreign competition included in the classes of produce to which the present Resolution refers. For example, apples and pears, which total nearly seven-eighths of the orchard fruit produced in this country, are not to be protected. Parsnips are not included; nor cabbages, nor brussels sprouts. Why they are excluded, I do not know. Are they more plebian than the aristocratic asparagus or the turnip or the broccoli?
What is the objection to these duties? They are not in themselves of any great value. They are only about one-fifth of what we produce in this country. What then is the real objection to them? They are objectionable because they are the first definite departure from the principle that no barriers should be set up to hinder the free access to our shores of the foods of the people. That is the real seriousness of this Resolution. Once that principle is publicly and conspicuously abandoned, as it is by these duties, the door will be flung open for all kinds of rash and imprudent experiments and gambles; gambles with the food supplies of the nation. I have been struck by the description of these articles of food as non-essential luxury articles. It has been my lot to live for a great part of my life in London and I have had to go through all parts of the City, through the poorest parts as well as the richest parts. It is a familiar sight to every hon. Member to see the coster's barrow, the street trader's barrow, from which he is selling strawberries and cherries and vegetables and tomatoes, and selling all these things at a price within the means of the poorest working man in London. What are the Government going to do? What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do by these pro- posals? We do not produce early potatoes in this country until June. Why should the working-man as a result of this Resolution be prevented from getting his early potatoes until June, or later on, unless he pays a higher price for them. Hundreds of times I have seen barrows laden with strawberries which were being sold at 3d. and 4d. a half pound in the streets of London three and four weeks before the main crop of British strawberries appeared. Why should the Government deprive the working-man for three or four weeks of the opportunity of getting the fresh fruit which is essential to his health and well-being?
Probably the hon. and gallant Member has not been in those parts of London where I have seen them, but this spring and early summer I could have pointed out to him barrows with such strawberries at the corner of Northumberland Avenue, and they were being sold at that price. It is an undoubted fact. Such fruits as cherries and currants, and vegetables like cauliflower and carrots, can by no means be described as luxuries. The value to a city-dwelling people of such fruits in winter, when our own home-grown supplies are unavailable, or in summer when our supplies are insufficient, cannot be over-estimated from a health point of view. Then take the case of potatoes. The present time at any rate is a most inappropriate moment at which to impose restrictions on the import of new potatoes. According to official reports of the Ministry of Agriculture our home crop this year is short, blighted and of very poor quality. I am told that we are 380,000 tons short compared with last year. By next spring there will apparently be only an inadequate supply of inferior potatoes to be had from home sources, and our only hope will be in the imported early new potatoes, which are now to be cut off.
What is the real position in this matter? The Government are trying to interfere with what are, after all, the methods of nature in producing articles for human consumption. What section of the agricultural community is going to get any benefit? The south of England and the south-east of England. But what about the farmers of the west, the farmers of Wales, and the farmers of Scotland? How many of those farmers are going to benefit in any kind of way by these restrictions? Not a, single one. Does the Minister intend some day, because strawberries ripen earlier in the south of England, to bring in a tariff to protect the grower of strawberries in the north and in the west? They deserve help quite as much as the grower in the south of England. But nothing of the kind is to be done. As a help for agriculture regard these duties as a mere mockery. A large proportion of the produce they will shut out consists of goods which our own producers cannot supply at the time. The main departments of British agriculture, livestock and dairy produce and their ancillary supplies, which cover three-quarters of agricultural production, are offered nothing at all. It is again an example of what this Government does. It was, as I have said, born in a stampede, and its legislation has the marks of stampede on it in every direction.
I noted that when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) spoke, he said in his wisdom that all Members who represented agricultural constituencies were muddle-headed. I do not think that those of us who have the honour of representing agricultural constituencies need worry very much about his description of us. I would rather depend on the wisdom of the electors who always seem to make sure that none of the agricultural constituencies is represented by a Member of the Opposition party. From hon. Members opposite we have today heard a good deal of criticism, but I have not been able to detect one word of constructive criticism during the whole Debate. If the agricultural districts follow the reports of to-day's proceedings those of us who represent agricultural constituencies need have very little fear.
I rose because I wished, on behalf of many of my constituents as well as my- self, to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture for bringing forward these proposals. I am quite canvinced that the proposals will result in very considerable benefit to an appreciable section of the agricultural community. In Devonshire, where we are favoured with a mild climate, particularly round our sea coast, and where we are favoured with land that is suitable for growing early potatoes, vegetables and cut flowers, we are grateful to my right hon. Friend for his proposals. In years gone by there was a very considerable cultivation of early potatoes around the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. You would find plots of land right down amongst the cliffs, sheltered from the wind and with the full benefit of the sun, where early potatoes of the best quality and flavour were grown. Unfortunately in recent years, owing to the importation of these vegetables from France and Spain and the Canary Islands, much of this land, which was giving employment to a skilled and hardworking people, has gone almost completely out of cultivation. Another reason for the change is that these potatoes and other vegetables that are imported into this country arrive at an earlier date than that at which we are able to produce them. If the public wish to buy potatoes or other vegetables out of season, they must expect to pay a price for them, and if they are going to pay a price for them all we ask is that they should pay that price to British farmers rather than to foreigners.
That is the only thing for which we are asking. Whether as farmers or as market gardeners, we do not ask for, or expect any favours. All we ask is fair play, and, if we can be given a fair chance in the market, on equal terms, I am certain that we can beat the foreigner. We are perfectly capable of supplying and willing to supply our full share of the home market if we are given an equal chance to do so. In all parts of this Committee there are Members who are interested in smallholdings. Since the War there has been a considerable amount of legislation dealing with smallholdings. It is generally agreed that that legislation, in the main, has not been a great success because our smallholders have not been able to cultivate their holdings at a profit. I quarrel with the Opposition in this that they constantly say that we of the Conservative party are preventing men getting access to the land. That statement is completely untrue, but, if it were not untrue, it is unfair to hold out to unemployed men any hope of being settled on the land as smallholders, until such time as own own skilled agriculturists who have a knowledge of the land, are able themselves to make a profit out of smallholdings. It is wicked to hold out to unemployed miners or to unemployed men in other industries, the hope that they can earn a living on smallholdings under existing conditions.
I believe that the proposals embodied in the Resolution when they become law, will go a considerable way towards assisting our present population of smallholders, and will provide a chance for a much larger population to be employed on the land tilling their own smallholdings. I ask hon. Members not to look at these proposals solely from the point of view of the number of men employed in raising these vegetables and flowers at present, or from the point of view of the total production of these commodities. I ask them to look at the matter from the point of view of how much this industry can expand if given a fair chance. If we are given a fair chance in the British market, I am certain we could increase the employment of British men and women considerably in raising early potatoes and vegetables, cut flowers and other horticultural products which come within the scope of these duties. I am not able to speak for the large bulb-producing areas—in the West we are more interested in the raising of early vegetables, flowers and fruit—but I noticed that one hon. Member opposite, I think it was the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), made some fun about the total import of some of these products being so small. He did not make any reference, however, to the importation of cut flowers. In 1926 the importation of Dutch cut flowers alone was £89,000 and in 1930 that had risen to £358,000—a very considerable figure. There is no magic about the climate in Holland and if we are given a fair chance in our market here I am satisfied that we shall be capable of supplying the demand for cut flowers in this country just as we could go a long way towards supplying the market for early vegetables.
In conclusion, I tell my right hon. Friend that we are extremely grateful for these proposals. We look upon them as a first step in the right direction. Certain other things have been suggested to him to-day. I ask him to give his most favourable consideration to the question of controlling the importation of condensed milk and other products which are affecting our markets very badly and I also ask him to consider the question of cider apples. This, I believe, is not entirely a luxury trade. We have improved our cider orchards in Devonshire greatly during the last few years, yet we allow fresh apples to come into this country at the time when we are harvesting our own crop and, very often, that importation upsets the market for British cider apples. If we can be assured that this is a first step and that we are going to get further instalments I think the agricultural community will be the first to acknowledge, gratefully, that the right hon. Gentleman has made a very good start indeed as Minister of Agriculture in the National Government.
We have had a very interesting discussion covering a very wide field on the Financial Resolution, The Resolution has been welcomed with enthusiasm by representatives of agricultural constituencies and the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Drewe) is evidence of that enthusiasm. But when the ordinary Member who is seeking for guidance turns to this Resolution he sees that it is not brought forward as any great constructive proposal for dealing with agriculture. To use the words of the Resolution itself, these duties are proposed as "Emergency Customs Duties." The last Measure of this character which we considered was one to deal with abnormal imports. We were told that that Measure was to deal not with ordinary imports but with imports in abnormal quantities. These new powers also are intended to deal with an emergency position.
Perhaps the Minister, either to-day or to-morrow, will enlighten all of us, from whatever point of view we approach this subject, as to how these emergency powers are to be used. Are they to be treated merely as powers for dealing with the balance of trade and the serious financial position. If that be so, it gives an entirely different complexion to these proposals. That we are in a serious financial position everybody knows. That we may be faced with a serious financial crisis due to world-wide causes which will affect, not only the pound but the whole financial stability of the world is, I will not say, probable but possible, during the next few weeks. We know that there are serious movements abroad, especially in Germany, which may bring down with a crash, the whole financial fabric of the world. It has been suggested that these proposals were inadequate. They obviously are. If they are to deal with a real emergency, it is really like taking a pill to cure an earthquake —quite inadequate and quite absurd. But obviously, although these proposals are very innocent in themselves, they are put forward in order to placate the agriculturists.
I was very interested in the alteration in the Motion read from the Chair. I did not quite appreciate the procedure, and I asked the Chairman to let us know the wording. It was difficult to follow. He read it from the Chair with extraordinary skill and clearness, but I was not able to take down the words, and it was rather unfortunate that we had not a copy of the new words in our hands, because, after all, we are considering important financial proposals. When I noticed the original Motion, I was rather impressed that the Government were going to introduce a novel proposal to levy duties by
value, weight, measurement, or quantity, as may be provided in the order.
I do not think we could have a more benevolent Minister than the right hon. Gentleman. I do not suppose there was ever a milder man charged with the duty of scuttling a ship or of destroying constitutional practice. This is a departure from constitutional practice. I may be a stickler, as an old Member, for the traditions of Parliament, but when we propose to levy a tax, this House has for centuries been jealous to protect its proceedings, to see that the tax was defined, to give Parliament the right to scrutinise the form of the tax, and to know exactly on whom it would impose a burden. It is now left to the right hon. Gentleman, entirely in his own discretion, sitting in his office, to decide whether a tax shall
by measurement, weight, value, or quantity. I now have, thanks to an hon. Friend, the actual words which have been added to the Motion. They are certainly interesting and worth repeating. They are:
Provided that in the case of articles to be charged to duty otherwise than by reference to value "—
which is, of course, the general practice throughout the world—
the value thereof for the purpose of the foregoing limitation shall he taken to be the wholesale price, as determined by the Minister,"—
as determined by the right hon. Gentleman himself—
of articles of that description prevailing at the corresponding period in the preceding year.
I suggest to some of my Conservative friends, who believe that taxation must be imposed in a businesslike way, that this is a very undesirable way of levying a tax. It is to be left entirely to the right hon. Gentleman's discretion to say whether a rose tree shall be taxed by weight, value, measurement, or by any other way. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he ought to have his legal advisers here, because this is an unsatisfactory way in which to vote for a tax, and it can only be justified if there is a real emergency, but no one can say that keeping out rose trees or bulbs is so important to restore the balance of trade that he must have the autocratic power, in his own discretion, to decide how a tax is to be levied, whether by weight, measurement, or value. Of course, he is trying to do something extremely difficult, and he has to justify it in some form or other.
When we come to the other taxes, what I call the food taxes for want of any better word, we are given to understand that the power to tax is largely qualified by the word "early." The right hon. Gentleman waxed eloquent, in introducing these proposals, on the importance of protecting the farmer from the importation of different varieties of early vegetables and early fruits in various forms and qualities. First came the early potatoes. An hon. Member opposite spoke about early potatoes. I want the right hon. Gentleman, with these new powers, this new Mussolini, who is going to rule over our agriculture and decide what we shall import and protect, to define to the Committee and to the agricultural industry when a potato ceases to be early, when it ceases to be new, at exactly what stage in its life it reaches the ancient stage, when it ceases to be a child and becomes a full-grown adult.
I see on the Treasury Bench my hon. Friend the Member for Holland-with Boston (Mr. Blindell). I believe he is unpaid, but I congratulate him on his post. He is the champion of the potato growers, a recognised authority. He addressed great demonstrations of potato growers two years ago in order to see that justice should be done to them. I can visualise him giving up his high office to champion again the rights and the grievances of the potato growers because the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has declared that the potato has become early or new too late in its life, that thousands of potato growers are being ruined, that the right hon. Gentleman has allowed tons of potatoes to come in from abroad winch are really new, but that the right hon. Gentleman has decided that they are no longer new, but old. I suggest that, before we pass this Resolution or when we get to the Bill, we should have some more close definition of the meaning and interpretation of new potatoes. I want to know exactly what they are, when they cease to be new and when they become old, and when they go outside the tender mercies of the right hon. Gentleman.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), who is sitting below me, represents an agricultural constituency which I believe exports quantities of potatoes abroad, and I hope he will have something to say on this question, because I am informed that in Scotland tons and tons of potatoes in their early stages, seed potatoes, are exported to Spain, to come back here as new potatoes. If we are to go by what happened recently in France, there is a real danger of the Spanish Government retaliating on our policy by imposing a duty on Scottish seed potatoes, and I think my right hon. and learned Friend, who is a great champion of Scottish interests, might be very critical of these new proposals.
When I come to the other so-called luxuries, I must confess that I do not feel any very great emotion with regard to the proposal to tax asparagus. Asparagus is a luxury that, at any rate, my constituents do not often enjoy, and I doubt whether many of them even know how to cook it. Asparagus has provided the right hon. Gentleman the Minister with a very convenient camouflage for these new food proposals. Asparagus is going to be the cover for a great many sins. It is going to enable the right hon. Gentleman to introduce a good many taxes. As a matter of fact, down in the part which I represent there has been a great campaign in recent days to "Eat more fruit." We are told that the Englishman suffers from an insufficient variety of diet, and all over the various fruiterers' shops the phrase "Eat more fruit" is displayed. Unfortunately, great quantities of this fruit are far beyond the means of the ordinary working-class home, whose average wage has come down to £2 10s. a week,, and when rent and rates are paid there is very little left for the household.
An hon. Member opposite referred to, the low price of strawberries in London. It is true that there is a very considerable industry carried on by costers, who are very numerous in my part of London, and who take advantage of a glut of fruit at certain times in the year in order to bring fruit like strawberries, cherries, and gooseberries within reach of the pockets of the ordinary working-class home. These gluts are their only opportunity, for when strawberries are expensive and there is a scarcity then there is no chance for these street traders. I want to know from my right hon. Friend, to whom we are giving these autocratic powers, when these gluts come along, and there are these abnormal imports, will he be using his emergency powers to keep this glut of cheap fruit out of the markets in order to protect the strawberry growers in various parts of the country? I want an assurance from him on that point. It is not a case of early fruit but of gluts of fruit brought on to the market because there happens to be a very good season.
That applies also to potatoes. I am credibly informed that we are likely to be faced with something like a potato famine in the coming winter. There has been a, very bad crop, the worst for many years, and, if imports of potatoes are stopped now and in the early spring, there will be a complete potato famine in the country. It means, if we are forced to depend entirely on the home crop, that there will be a scarcity and increase in price. I am sure my right hon. Friend's intentions are good. He means well, but before we vest him with these powers, I want, to know what his aims are. Are they to protect the English agriculturist and to give him a steady market at increased prices, or are they merely emergency powers to restore the balance of trade. The balance of trade is being used to cover a great many sins. Protection has been advocated in many guises. I remember it as fair trade, Tariff Reform, Imperial Preference and safeguarding. Now it appears in a new form as the balance of trade.
I want to know whether under the pretence of the balance of trade we are to be brought into a, new form of taxing the fruit and vegetables of the common people? If it is only an emergency power to prevent the use of luxuries in the West End of London—early potatoes, asparagus and strawberries—nobody is going to object, though it will keep out very little, because the very high prices that these particular articles fetch in the West End hotels and shops are largely the charm that induces their purchase. I am credibly informed that their expensiveness stimulates the jaded appetites of a, certain section of society, and I doubt whether you will keep anything out. If it is only that, I agree these powers are harmless, but I think we have the right, before we depart from the constitutional practice and give these very large powers of imposing taxes to any Minister, whether he be the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister of Agriculture, to have a very much clearer definition of what these powers mean.
I do not want to strike a note of discord in this Debate, but I for one am profoundly disappointed with the proposals of the Minister of Agriculture. I thought some weeks ago when he took charge of this important Department that he would have applied the whole efforts of his Department to doing something substantial and great for this very depressed industry. Here we are, 12 years after the War, with promises to the farmers which have been violated by every Parliament which has existed since the War, still with the same neglectful attitude to their needs; and the industry to-day is languishing beyond anything which has even been seen. In my own constituency—one of the largest agricultural constituencies in Great Britain—there are very few solvent farms. I say without hesitation that 75 per cent. of the best arable farms are to-day insolvent owing to the gross neglect of politicians since the War. We were asked during the War to get these people to do something substantial towards encouraging the production of food, and they responded splendidly, but since that time legislation has been brought along—the Corn Production Act came first, and very great numbers were induced to buy their farms at very high cost—and then the Act was scrapped and they were left to struggle along as best they could. Now we have seen an absolute glut of food all over the world poured into this country to the detriment of our own people. To-day, when the pound has fallen to 14s. 6d., or 14s. to-night, there are 55,000 skilled agricultural labourers walking the roads of the countryside without jobs—men who are the finest agricultural material in the whole world—and what are we asked to do? Parliament is shortly breaking up, and the Measure presented to us simply deals with a small fraction of this very great industry. Last month 120,000 tons of barley were brought into this country and sold while British people could not sell their barley. I can give an example of what happened in Driffield Market only last week. One of my farmers had grown this year one of the best crops of malting barley ever seen in our district. He took it into Driffield market-place and offered it to a maltster, who replied "We are not buying barley at this moment. The consumption of beer has gone down, and we cannot give you a price for it." The man went away rather disheartened and came to another man who was a merchant and said to him: "I have this sample of malting barley; can you sell it for me." The merchant replied, "Yes. Tip it out of your bag and put the sample into my bag." He then took the bag to the maltster, who had said the best price he could offer was 27s., and that same maltster bought that barley from the merchant for 41s.
That is a sample of what is going on in British agriculture to-day and these are things which the Minister must tackle. Last month there were 49,000 tons of bacon from Denmark and yet in a Yorkshire bacon factory supported by about 1,500 farmers, they could not sell the produce of 250 pigs. That industry is being allowed to be driven out. Where is the balance of trade being helped there? I asked the Minister in the last Parliament to give me some comparable figures of agricultural imports before the War and to-day. He told me that in 1913 we imported, when food was higher than it is to-day, £250,000,000 worth of food per annum. Last year our imports of food, when food was at lower prices, amounted to £495,000,000. A million acres of arable land have gone out of cultivation since the War. I have mentioned the number of agricultural workers who are waiting for jobs when some Government frames its agricultural policy. Under this Resolution we shall never get prosperity. We cannot afford to have agriculture neglected any longer in any circumstances, and something must definitely be done.
Do the Government want the people of this country to produce their own food or not? If there is one way of doing it, it is by the way of tariffs. I believe in the taxation of food, and, because I believe in that, I am prepared to support this Measure, small though it be. You must, however, treat the agricultural industry just as you treat any other industry. Where it is face to face with unfair foreign competition, agriculture has the same right of protection as any other industry. It is no excuse to say that these measures take a long time to consider. They do not. This is an old subject, and everybody who supported the National Government at the last election knew full well that they would have a free hand to put this industry on a proper sound economic basis now and not in the course of several months' time. This industry affords the best example of a direction in which you can help the balance of trade of any industry.
I am a profoundly disappointed person to find that the Government, when we are going off for a long holiday, have only this sort of thing to offer us. We have been offered a corn quota. In 1926 I got a First Reading for a Private Member's Bill to provide for a corn quota, but I was told by our own Minister of Agriculture that it was not worth the paper on which it was written. Five years afterwards we find this Measure being introduced by the Government. I have not yet heard from the Minister, however, how the quota is to be applied. The Minister of Agriculture can rely upon the wholehearted support of everybody in the House of he brings in agricultural legislation that will give prosperity to the industry. We know that we can produce as good as the land of any country can produce if we are given the opportunity, but we cannot compete with longer hours and lower wages, and the people who ought to understand that are the Members of the Labour party.
The landlord to-day is probably the person worst off in the whole country. I say, after long experience of farmers, that those who are working under landlords are the most satisfied farmers in the country. Those who have bought their own farms are finding that they are in terrible difficulties, but those who have good landlords, who are able to do some work for them and to help them along, are the most fortunate among farmers. I do hope that the Minister of Agriculture will make some sort of announcement on the general situation of this industry. The offer that he has made to-night is very welcome, and I do not want him to assume from anything that I have said that we do not appreciate what he has done; it is the most practical step that has been taken by any Minister of Agriculture for a long time; but I want to ask him, in fairness to those people who are not affected by this particular class of legislation—the ordinary mixed farmer—to say what he is going to do for them. Are the Government going to leave the mixed farmer in the economic draught in which he has been for so many years, or are they going to give him a helping hand? If they are, they should not leave him in suspense any longer. His credit is gone and he has no more funds with which to carry on. Thousands of farmers will go out of business unless a definite announcement is made by the Government at an early date.
I hoped when the Minister made his statement that he would have covered the more general aspect of farming. I appeal to him to realise that these people are deserving of help, and that the whole House will stand behind him in any efforts that he makes. If he will give us a general announcement in broad outline of what the Government policy is to be, and say to the farmers, "If you will produce, we will give you safeguards"—which is what they want—then the farming industry will apply itself to its task and will not let the country down.
I want to say a word about the potato famine. I am grateful for this small Measure of legislation, for we ought never to have a repetition of what we had fast year. We have a shortage of potatoes this year, very largely because of the experience of last year. In my constituency there were hundreds of tons of potatoes which it did not pay the growers to cart to the station to send away. The farmers cannot go on doing that sort of thing; there comes a time when they cannot afford to do it. This year, therefore, we are faced with a shortage. We want a definite stabilisation of prices of these primary products of agriculture at an economic level so that the farmers can make a reasonable profit and pay his workers a decent wage. By this Resolution we shall do something towards putting the potato crop on a proper basis, and we are grateful to the Minister, but I ask him before it is too late, before the whole structure of agriculture collapses, to put some reasonable props under it to keep it up. He can do so by making a definite announcement of the general lines of the Government's agricultural policy. That would be of great benefit to the farmers and would do more to restore the balance of trade than help to any other industry could do.
Many of us on this side of the House do not object to taxing articles of purely luxury consumption. Indeed, some of us will not mind if one of the results of this taxation is to exclude those articles, but we do object very strongly to making dearer the essential articles of consumption of the working people. During the last 15 or 20 years there has been a remarkable decrease in the consumption of bread. I know something about this matter because I control an undertaking which supplies the daily bread of over 6,000 people. Before the War, the average consumption of bread of those people was 5 lbs. per head per week, taking into account men, women and children. During the War the Government imposed ration arrangements, whereby 4 1bs. of bread per head per week was permitted. Since the War the consumption has been steadily decreasing until, the year before last, it was down to 3¾ 1bs. and then to 3½ 1bs. At present. it is going up again, and it is now about 3¾ lbs. or 4 1bs. per head per week.
What do those striking fluctuations signify? Bread is still the cheapest form of food, and although an individual cannot subsist entirely upon bread yet he can manage to get along for many months, indeed for some years, though in a low state of vitality, on practically nothing but bread. The consumption decreased after the War because of the rise in the standards of living of the working people, due to their improved wages. They were then, as never before, able to obtain a greater variety in their diet, and this was particularly noteworthy in their increased purchases of fruit and vegetables. There has been an increase in the consumption of fruit, fish and vegetables by working people, and that has been accompanied by an improved standard of health, a lower death rate, and so on. Directly the drop in wages became marked there was a corresponding fall in the consumption of these other articles of diet and an increase in bread. Bread consumption has been rising steadily month by month ever since wages have been falling. There is no doubt that even now a great majority of the working people in the poorer districts do not succeed in getting sufficient fruit and vegetables to keep them up to a standard of first-class vitality, or up to the standard of the better-paid classes.
Among the fruits which they have been eating in large quantities in recent years I should put tomatoes first, I think. English working people, certainly in the poorer quarters of London, never eat English-grown tomatoes, because they cannot afford them, but they do eat cheap foreign tomatoes. If they cannot get the cheap foreign tomatoes they will get no tomatoes at all. There are a considerable number of street markets throughout South London, and I have taken the trouble to make extensive inquiries among the traders to ascertain whether they ever sell English tomatoes. The mere question provokes a laugh on their part. They have never handled English tomatoes in the whole course of their lives. During the past Summer, in my own district, Dutch tomatoes have been on sale in the streets and in the smaller shops at. 3d. and 4d. per 1b., and nowhere, so far as I was able to ascertain were English tomatoes purchasable under 8d., and generally it was is per 1b. The lowest figure at which they have been sold in the district which I happen to represent and where I have made inquiries is 8d. per 1b. That means that imported tomatoes are the only ones which the poorer classes can get, and if these are to be taxed and their price increased in that way it will rule tomatoes out of their diet altogether. That is the long and short of it, that is the whole story.
I need not dwell on the physiological value of fruit and vegetables in a general diet. It has ailready been mentioned that tomatoes, particularly, contain all the essential vitamins. As a doctor who has practised for 30 years in an industrial neighbourhood, I have personally observed the steady improvement in health and in vigour—mental and physical vigour—of the people as they learned to, and were able to, improve the range of their dietary and to include more fruit and vegetables. I look with the gravest possible alarm on any Measure which will have the effect of restricting their diet and reducing the quantity of fruit and vegetables obtainable by them, and that is what will happen if fruit and vegetables are made dearer.
Take the case of cherries. Pre War, and in the height of the season, cherries were obtainable in my own part of the world at 2d. or 3d. per 1b. retail. Many a time before the War I have seen half-pound bags of cherries sold for one penny. This year English cherries were not purchasable under 6d. or 8d. per lb. in the part of South London from which I come, and those were described almost invariably as "seconds," that is, of second rate quality. In the poorer districts of London first-rate quality fruits of any kind are never on sale at all. This year we were able to obtain foreign cherries at 4d. per 1b., but, even so there was a marked shortage, and there were many people who could not obtain fresh cherries at all even in what would normally be the height of the season. If this taxation sends up prices, as inevitably it must, to any extent, it simply means that fruits of this kind kill be at a prohibitive price to the people I represent and to practically all the inhabitants of the closely-packed industrial districts in Central London. I understand that in the North of England and the North Midlands English cherries are scarcely ever on sale at all at any time.
I happen to know it is true—in some places. English cherries are grown almost entirely in the South, and, were it not for imports of foreign cherries no cherries would be available at, all in many towns in the North of England—certainly in the working-class towns. No cherries, except foreign cherries, are on sale there.
I want to say quite definitely that there is really a permanent shortage of soft fruits on sale in the industrial areas at any reasonable price. That, I think, is partly due to bad and disorganised marketing arrangements. It is also due to the increase in jam making, the manufacture of fruit jelly, and increased canning and bottling. In the district I represent English fruits are not obtainable in the height of the season, and, if you tax those articles you are going to put them outside the reach of working people altogether. I have been given to understand by people connected with the Southern Railway that if these taxes are made effective it means that that railway will be compelled to discharge between 1,000 and 1,500 men who are engaged at the present time in transporting considerable quantities of foreign fruit and vegetables imported from France and other foreign countries, which reach London by way of Newhaven, Folkestone and Dover. Those men are employed as goods porters, and so on, in the goods department, and their services will no longer be required. In addition to that, I gather from the officers of the Port of London Authority that between 2,000 and 2,500 waterside men now employed in the port will I not be required, and many other kinds of labourers will be displaced. Speaking as a representative of a waterside dock constituency, we are very much interested in the transport industry, and we shall feel it very severely indeed if these proposals have, as they are intended to have, a restrictive effect on the importation of foreign goods in those areas.
Some hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate have referred to the effect which this Measure is likely to have on the working-classes, It is difficult to understand if, us is alleged, this Measure is such a small one, how it can have such an effect upon the health of the people. Even from the health point of view, I believe that an unemployed man would prefer to go without his daily vitamin ration of foreign tomatoes if he could find work producing tomatoes in this country. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) spoke about the Minister of Agriculture scuttling the ship. I am not so certain about that; my opinion is that the Minister of Agriculture and the President of the Board of Trade are really manning the pumps in a moment of crisis. Small as this particular Measure is, it is the first instalment of something that has been wanted for a long time, and we are glad to see that at last something is to be done.
As regards the details of this Bill, I should have preferred to have seen cut flowers, which have caused a certain amount of crocodile tears, prohibited altogether. I ask the Minister to put forward his scale of duties as soon as he possibly can, because it has been a particularly bad season for chrysanthemums and they are very late, and until the growers who produce them in glasshouses know where they stand they will not know whether to force their growth or spread the growth over later months. I am glad the Minister has decided to deal with fresh fruits, but I do not think these Regulations will meet the need effectively, because the whole system must include the marketing and the canning industry. There are no fruits of the ordinary sort that we are not capable of growing in this country, but the growers will not know where they are until they are assured that this Bill gives them protection, and they will require time to organise their own markets, with the certainty that they will not be undercut by the foreigner at the time when they are beginning to extend their business. I welcome the provision dealing with tomatoes, because that is one of the largest of the items dealt with in the list. An hon. Member opposite seems to detect in these proposals the cloven hoof, but those of us who have been so long waiting for relief rather see in them the footsteps of Man Friday. At this moment, we are in danger, because events are moving rapidly; the pound is beginning to slip from us. There is a danger of real starvation and for this reason we dare not go slowly. At this moment it is better to govern in haste and adjust at leisure, and unless we take the bull by the horns and realise that the crisis may overtake us, we shall find that all schemes of reorganisation, whether they are required for industry or agriculture, will be rendered completely useless, because our capital will have been wiped out by the fall in the pound, and there will be no money left to organise either agriculture or industry. We have had to-day another fivepenny nick in the golden sovereign, and we must reorganise before it is too late. It will be too late if we are not careful to do anything except tighten our belts and get what we deserve.
I agree with the Noble Lord so far as scientific farming is concerned, but not so far as tariffs, and tariffs in this form especially, are concerned. This Resolution makes one uncertain whether one should take it seriously or not. One may do as many of the speakers on the Conservative benches have done, and take it as a joke, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) took it; or one may regard it as the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) regarded it, as a very dangerous precedent, as the first step along the path of Protection, leading to the protection of foodstuffs. It is difficult to know exactly what the Minister of Agriculture has in mind in putting forward this Resolution. There is a popular idea abroad that it is only to deal with very early foodstuffs that come before the ordinary main crop. The "Observer" of yesterday puts it in these words:
On anti-dumping and anti-luxury lines, the importation of foreign 'early produce' —vegetables, new potatoes, fruit, flowers— will be severely restrained. These distinguished eatables and ornaments are no more necessary than plovers' eggs. They have been symbols of an expensive society living beyond its means.
I can imagine the pride with which the turnip will rustle its leaves when it hears itself described in those terms. The article goes on to say:
This encouragement of British market gardeners and other growers typifies in its way a sounder national spirit. If there are people amongst us far whom British vegetables, fruit and flowers are not good enough to be worth a few weeks' waiting, those people are not good enough for England.
As far as I can gather from the right hon. Gentleman, it is his own friends who have been accustomed to consume these dainties. I do not think that even lie has yet accused the working class of consuming the early mushroom. Appar-
ently the "Observer" would think that the right hon. Gentleman's friends are not good enough for England, and some of us, perhaps, would agree with it in certain cases. The right hon. Gentleman has said, in introducing this Resolution, that its object is to balance trade. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that anybody is deceived by that statement? If he really wanted to balance trade, there is a vast number of other imports upon which he might have put a tax. Why not on apples and pears from the United States, which amount to a far larger sum in the course of a year than any of the commodities which will be hit by the present Resolution? These importations, if you omit from them importations which come from the Channel Islands, and if you allow for those which will be able to get past the barrier—as they will, because certain people who eat very early potatoes do not mind whether they cost 1s. or 2s.—if you omit all these, the amount that will be stopped by these import duties cannot be more than £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 worth at the utmost. If the right hon. Gentleman really believes that the stopping of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 worth of these vegetables and fruits is going to affect the balance of trade, I think he will find himself very severely disappointed by the end of the year.
Apart from that, in considering the balance of trade, has he considered the other side of the balance—the exports which are sent from this country to those countries which send us these goods? We have already had a sufficient experience, as regards coal, of what happens when trade is made to balance by import duties. Already 1,000,000 tons of coal have been knocked off our quota into France, and, if the same thing is to happen as regards other countries from which we buy these early vegetables and ordinary crop vegetables and fruit, one must at least take into account, in arriving at the balance, the possibility that there will be a debit item as well as a credit item. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make it quite clear whether it is intended to apply these duties only to early crops, or whether they are to he applied to main crops as well. Take, for instance, such a crop as plums. Is it only intended to apply the duty to the very early crops of plums which come in before our own plum crops; or is it intended to apply it to all imported plum crops? Are new potatoes, whether of the late variety or of the early variety, to he included, or is it only the new potato of the early variety that is to be included? It will make a vast difference, in regard to what these duties cover, whether they are only to cover the early new potatoes or whether they are to cover new potatoes of any sort whatsoever.
It would seem that this suggestion, really, is nothing but a feint, to test the striking power of the Protectionists, to see just how far the right hon. Gentleman can take his colleagues along the road to Protection before they jib and stop him going any further. It is merely an attempt to fob off the time when a definite decision has to be come to as to whether the Government intend to pursue a policy of food taxes or not. I certainly sympathise entirely with the view of the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) when he says he thinks it will be an excellent idea to have a full Debate on the agricultural policy of the Government before we go away for the Christmas Recess, And we should certainly welcome a cutting down of the time on the Bill which will follow this Resolution, in order that we may have the opportunity of having that Debate, because we are just as anxious as everyone else to know whether the Government have got a policy or not. We shall certainly give the Noble Lord any support that we can, although we appreciate that the pressure which we can put on the Government is slight compared with that which can be put on from other quarters.
The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) apparently accused us of having no policy whatever. I may point out to him that it is not the duty of the Opposition to provide the Government with a policy, and I think that he and his colleagues have often enough made that remark from these benches. But I am sure the Noble Lord knows quite well that we have a perfectly definite policy for agriculture. We have a policy which we believe is a better cure, as has been already said, than this system, if it can be called a system, which the marriage between Liberal and Conservative is so slowly producing. It may be that at some time the production will be increased in speed, but the first thing that we may regard as necessary in order to put any agricultural policy into operation is to take a view of the whole problem, and to deal with it as a whole problem. I think the Noble Lord the Member for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington) will agree with us in thinking that this dealing with the problem piecemeal, with cucumbers one day, tomatoes another, and something else on the third day, is not a satisfactory way of approaching so serious a problem as that of British agriculture.
We believe that at the root of the problem lie the questions of marketing and transport, and until those two matters have been properly attended to and put right it will be quite useless to attempt any such measures as these for protecting agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman is aware, I am sure, so far as he has had any opportunity to look into the question at all, which seems rather doubtful—he has been so busy with other things—that in all these articles which are dealt with in the Resolution the catastrophic fall in price which occurs from time to time is entirely caused by internal and not by external competition. [interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Will he give me a single instance in the last three years where, in any of the articles mentioned in these schedules—not the main crop of potatoes, because they are not mentioned—there has been a considerable fall of price where it has not been due to a large internal crop and insufficient means of marketing it when it came to market? As he knows, the strawberry crop this year was an excellent example of what can be done. There are proper means organised for taking the surplus off the market, This year there was a very large strawberry crop, but the price was maintained because there was a proper arrangement for taking the strawberries into the canning factories, which prevented any glut in the market, at least in a large part of the country, especially round the Evesham district.
There was never a glut, so far as I know, in the early strawberry market. Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman another question. What is the emergency here which necessitates this entirely unconstitutional method of procedure? Is it becoming the ordinary stock-in-trade of the National Government to adopt this method of legislation? We had the extreme emergency of the National Economy Bill. We then had the rather less emergency of the Abnormal Importations Bill. Now we have an obvious lack of emergency as regards the present Bill. If this legislation is necessary, why cannot the right hon. Gentleman say now what he is going to tax, how he is going to tax it, and how much he is going to tax it? Surely the House is perfectly competent, when you have a very small list of articles like this, to decide whether cucumbers or strawberries shall be taxed so much. Why is it that the House must be deprived of the opportunity of discussing the particular taxes? Why is it that this extraordinary power, a power admittedly which has never been given to any Government except this, must be taken by the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion? The hon. Member for South-West Bethnall Green made some protest about it, but I think he was a little late. He has already supported the method of doing it twice? [Interruption.] He will forgive me if I have made a mistake. I knew he was not in our Lobby, but I thought he had the courage to go into one of them. [Interruption.j I accept his statement that he did not go into the other one either.
Is the only reason why the right hon. Gentleman wants to do this because he still wants a loophole left that he may not tax, or tax, what hereafter is to be decided by the Cabinet, or has it already been decided that these articles are to be taxed, and, if it has already been decided, will not he let the House know, because, after all, all that he is doing here is taking the power. It does not mean that he is going to use it. If he is, I suggest that he might at least let the House know and not do as the President of the Board of Trade did. When he spoke on the Third Reading of the last Bill, he refused to say what was going into it, although clearly the Order must have been in print when he was speaking. It was issued that same night after he had spoken. I am delighted that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) cheers, because we shall equally be glad perhaps in a future case, when some other party has to issue emergency orders, to hear his cheers.
There is a further point about these crops which it is proposed to protect under this Order which, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman has not observed, and that is, that a large number of them are wholly non-competitive with any crops grown in this country. If he will examine the figures for the imports of the different months he will find that to a large extent, for instance crops such as plum crops and cherry crops, are not competitive in the least with crops grown in this country to a large extent. I think that, perhaps, he has not considered that point yet. If he will do so, he will find, I think, that I am accurate in what I have said. After all, many of these crops come from places where climatically they can be grown at times of the year when we do not grow them here. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that we grow any tomatoes here in January and February? [An HON. MEMBER: "That is the whole point."] The whole point is that if you want to buy English tomatoes in March, you pay 40s. for 12 1bs., but if you want to buy tomatoes from the Canary Islands in February you pay 4s. 7d. The luxury tomato at such a high price is the English tomato and not the Canary tomato at all. That which the hon. Member buys at the Ritz is the English one at 40s. and the one in the East End comes from the Canary Islands. If he will look at the figures in the agricultural marketing returns as regards the price of tomatoes, he will see that this is a fact.
When the right hon. Gentleman said that he wants to tax early cucumbers, does he mean cucumbers produced at a time when they are not generally produced in this country? Is that what he has in mind? If he has, exactly the same remarks apply. If you take the early price of cucumbers in this country for English grown, in January and February, they are 2s. 10d. and 1s. 11d3. each respectively. If you take cucumbers which are imported into this country, there are not any in those months at all. There is no import of cucumbers from Holland. The result is that if he wants to tax the early cucumber, which is the luxury, he can only do it by taxing the English cucumber, because it is the only one available as a luxury. These are from his own figures in his returns from the Ministry of Agriculture. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that anybody who informed him that the higher priced early-produced article was the foreign article, in most cases was wrong, because the high priced article is the article produced in glass-houses in this country. If what he is aiming at is the stopping of people from buying those rare articles in an expensive hotel in the early part of the year, he will have to do it, if he wants to do it at all, by taxing the English articles, because there are no foreign articles.
I will turn for a moment to the question of new potatoes, because it seems to be generally assumed by hon. Members in this House that new potatoes are articles which never come within the purview of the working classes, and therefore they will not suffer by this proposal. New potatoes in the year 1930, for which the last return is issued, in, the months of January to April, averaged 2¼d. a lb. which, as the right hon. Gentleman will see, is not very far from the ordinary price of main crop potatoes in an average year. These were from Algeria. In the months March to June, from the Canary Islands, they were 17s. 9d. a cwt., which is under 2d. a 1b. whereas the first early potatoes in this country from Cornwall, which do not came until May-July, were 13s. per cwt., considerably cheaper than the imported article from the Canary Islands.
The wholesale price. As regards the Algerian and Canary Islands potatoes there is no competition from this country at all. They come into this country almost entirely before the Scilly Islands and Cornish potatoes are ready and they are sold at a slightly higher price than the Cornish and Scilly Islands potatoes because they are slightly earlier. Even then, they are still within the possibility of purchase by people with quite small incomes. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is hardly fair to class them, or to attempt to class them, as a purely luxury article that can only be eaten in the most expensive hotels and restaurants. They are an ordinary commodity of the market, slightly more expensive than the main crop potato, which comes later.
If the right hon. Gentleman's purpose is really to encourage British horticulturists and market gardeners, has he considered how long it will take to bring fresh cherry trees and plum trees into bearing? This Act is to be for 12 months. I do not know whether he thinks he is going to get a large number of plum or cherry trees into full bearing in 12 months. I suggest to him that it takes rather longer to get either of those sorts of trees into bearing. Therefore, if this Act is to be only for 12 months as far as these crops are concerned which require a long period to get them into bearing, it really can have no effect upon the English market. If he says that it is only part of a continued policy of Protection, that it is only the first instalment, then I can understand it, but if it is merely an exceptional duty on luxury imports in order to put the balance of trade right, I suggest to him that in a Bill which deals only for 12 months with the position, it is hardly worth while putting a tax on cherries and plums, as it will probably take the trees six to 12 years to grow before they produce any crop.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will not consider seriously dealing with the industry of market gardening. Of course, this Resolution does not touch agriculture as agriculture is ordinarily understood. There are no farmers, substantially, who grow any of these crops, as crops, not even the new potato crop. [Interruption.] I have had a little experience of agriculture. I have been a farmer for many years, and once I had the honour of being asked to stand as a candidate for the National Farmers' Union. I do suggest that there is not a single crop, except possibly turnips—I know the right hon. Gentleman does not intend to include the ordinary field turnip crop, but the very early turnip, which comes over from France—which is grown by the ordinary farmer. They are grown by smallholders, market gardeners or fruit growers and not by the ordinary farmer Therefore, this is a Measure which is only apparently intended to protect—judging from the reception which it has had from the Conservative party —the market gardener. I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman is going to introduce any method of this sort to protect the industry of market gardening, he should at the same time see that the marketing, grading and transport facilities are reorganised, so that the industry may take full advantage, of any opportunities the right hon. Gentleman thinks it might get. He will find, that marketing and grading and transport are far greater factors in contributing to the future prosperity of these industries than anything he can do by duties such as these. Finally, may I ask him whether he contemplates in the Bill which will be introduced giving any guarantee to the agricultural labourers who work in these industries that if the industries derive benefit from these protective duties some of that benefit will go to them? In these industries, whether it is agriculture or market gardening, the labourer is one of the lowest paid men in the country and if the consumers are to be taxed in order to make agriculture richer I trust the right hon. Gentleman will see that some part of that wealth goes into the pocket of the man who deserves it most; the agricultural labourer.
Having listened to the greater part of the Debate I feel that on the whole the proposal of the Government is amply justified. I have never pretended that it was a comprehensive policy for agriculture or for the small-holder, or for the market gardener, but I say, and I say it emphatically, that there is ample justification for coming to the House at the present time for a Measure of this character. I base that statement on the fact that this country is passing through very grave financial difficulties, the extent of which no one knows with any certainty, but we do know, with a clear and certain knowledge, that what-ever solutions may be required the more we can be self-supporting, the more we can produce for ourselves some part at least of these products, whether they be of a manufactured nature or of the food of the people, the more we can be self-supporting and self-sustaining, the more likely are we to keep an even keel in the present difficult period. If you look at it from the point of view of employment and consider the figures which have been repeated in this Debate as to the numbers that have gone out of employment in the agricultural industry, is it not certain that even if it is a small contribution if it is effective it must be to the good in dealing with that problem.
I have heard a variety of views expressed to-day. On the one hand, I have been told that this is inadequate, that it does not go far enough, and does not embrace some things which hon. Members desire to see included. On the other hand, I have been told that I am interfering with essential articles for the poorest of our people, and that I have neglected above all to make any kind of provision that the labourer shall have his share of any advantage which might accrue from these proposals. I would remind the House that the National Government has been returned with a free hand to deal with these problems. But is it not quite true to say that all of us gave an undertaking—I did—that we would examine with care nut only the scheme in which we personally believed, schemes belonging to our section of the Government, but that we would take into consideration the views of those colleagues who form part of the Cabinet of this Government?—[Laughter.]—Why not? I am bound to say that in doing that we must ask for time at least to consider the problems. I think we are justified in doing so.
In some parts of this agricultural problem it is so easy to jump to conclusions. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken seemed to think that I would assume that cherry trees and plum trees were going to grow in a few weeks. Of course that is not so. Most certainly the problem of agriculture, even if we know only the fringe of it, is one which makes us recognise that it cannot be changed by a wave of the wand. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked that the agricultural industry should take steps to improve its methods of marketing and grading supplies. As an agriculturist I ask quite frankly, what encouragement is there for those of us who make an endeavour to serve the public to grade and market our goods, if every time we make the effort there comes, to take the cream off the price, after that effort, that organisation and that capital expenditure which are essential, those goods which seem to be the particular care of certain Members of this House and others outside, who have little regard for the condition of those who might produce the same articles in this country?
Admittedly this is an experiment—make no mistake about that. There is great disorganisation in the markets of the world. Even within the last few weeks there has been the shutting out of some of these products from the markets to which they have been accustomed to go. To what market can those things come now? To those markets which are open and free to be flooded, not with those things which are material for the general food of the people, but in the main with luxuries which at any rate we can welt do without. If they are to come in those who use them can at least pay an addition to that which they pay to-day. If hon. Members look at the list they will see in it those things which from time to time have been a cause of complaint on the part of the farming community.
Let me refer to the question of potatoes. I come from a country which is very closely associated with the growing of potatoes, a country which is, above all, concerned in producing seed potatoes and which can produce seed potatoes, as no other part of these islands can, for the use not only of those who farm in England but for sending Abroad. Is it good business always to sell your seed potatoes to be navel in North Africa for producing potatoes, under conditions quite dissimilar from conditions in this country, and under different conditions of labour from those in this country, and are you to view with equanimity the increase of the flow into this country, indefinitely, of things which are produced in that manner? For myself, I do not think that that is a reasonable proposition unless you are going to say, frankly, that you think that those commodities cannot be produced in this country. We all know, however, that they can be so produced, and that what is essential is that there should be some regulation, particularly of these early and competing products.
It has been said that I am asking for the powers of a Mussolini. It has been supposed that the House of Commons is going to have no control and no word or part in the Orders which will follow on this Measure, but the contrary is the case. This Resolution makes it quite plain that the Orders which I shall make on behalf of the Ministry are to be submitted to the House of Commons, and it will then lie with hon. Members whether they approve of those Orders or not. Complaint was made of what were described as the high-handed methods of the President of the Board of Trade in regard to a previous Measure. It was said that when my right hon. Friend was speaking on the Third Reading of the Bill with which he was concerned he must have had in his possession a printed list of those measures which he took in the subsequent Order. But that is no infringement of the custom or the Rules of the House of Commons, or of the Budget Regulations in this country. Indeed, it is only common sense that that course of action should have been followed.
Various points have been raised as to the exclusion from this list of certain articles, and some of my Scottish friends, for instance, have said that raspberries might well have been included. Let me be frank with the Committee. As regards the raspberry crop, the importation into this country in that form is infinitesimal and is bound to be infinitesimal from the very fact that it is a fruit which does not carry. On the other hand, there is of course the problem of fruit pulp which is of importance not only to the raspberry interest, but to others. This proposal which I am making to-day was, quite frankly, framed with the evident intention of dealing with those articles which could properly be described as luxury articles or which could, on the other hand, be said with equal certainty to be articles of very early production, competing upon an unfair basis with those things which we can produce in this country. I should be sorry if our proposals should not have the effect of encouraging and stimulating the increased production of these things in this country. That is an essential part of this scheme, and if it fails in doing that, it will fail in one of its chief purposes. It is essential to give encouragement to our people to develop their trade and industry.
Hon. and right hon. Members opposite often speak of the smaller man, of the smallholder, the allotment holder, and they sometimes quarrel with me because I have, in these hard times of economy, been forced to withdraw certain grants for some of these purposes, but I cannot think that there is anything which is more likely than these proposals to bring encouragement and added employment to the fruit farmer and the vegetable grower throughout the length and breadth of the land; and they are not confined to one part of the country alone. In regard to this problem, we shall, of course, have to consider in the future the wider problem of pulp, with regard to fruit and jam making. There is no doubt that these things must be considered by the Government in framing their general policy, but in these particular Measures I have confined myself, the Government have confined themselves, to the Schedule which is before the Committee.
I hope the Committee will realise that this is not a Measure extracted from us, as some people have hinted, because of pressure from any quarter. I will say quite frankly that the first thing that I did when I went into the office after the election was to ask my Ministry to give me a list, at once, of those goods which could properly be called luxury or early-produce goods. It is true that I have received deputations. Of course I have, and so has every Government, but the initiative in this Measure and the laying of it before the Cabinet was my affair, and nobody else's. If it fails, you can judge me on that basis, but if it succeeds, as I believe it will succeed, not in an immediate revolution—arid those who desire immediate revolutions are the kind of people who bring disaster to any country—but if there is a steady and gradual evolution, and if the pressure of development brings out of this industry better marketing and better grading, no man will be snore pleased than I, or will work for it with greater eagerness than I.
But I say again that the measure of that success must greatly depend upon the confidence which this House can instil into those on the land that this Parliament is not going to stop at the end of the year with which this Measure is concerned. It would be the height of folly if any agricultural policy were to be based upon so short a period. This is to deal with an immediate matter which, when the House rises for the Christmas Recess, will become a practical Measure and a practical problem. Many of these things will be dealt with in the early months of the year, in January, or even in December, and I trust that I shall have these Orders in operation at a very early date as soon as Parliament gives me these powers. I can assure those who have spoken that I have listened to them with the greatest interest, and particularly to those speeches delivered by hon. Members who have spoken for the first time, and I trust they will realise that it has been the definite intention of the Government not to leave any loophole, but to deal with a problem which in itself is urgent and which, in our judgment, ought to be secured and dealt with.
I am afraid that I cannot agree with hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway that the right hon. Gentleman has not at least made a very useful contribution to assisting those industries which are to be included in his Orders. Anyone who knows anything about the great tomato industry, in a very small tract of country which is very well-known to me, knows that it employs about 11,000 men, and that it could easily employ another 10,000 in that area alone if it were given an opportunity. I am not prepared to criticise the right hon. Gentleman for what he has done. I think he has done a great work for this particular industry, and the only criticism I should like to offer, and that in all friendship, is that we are all of us in every part of the House concerned with the one great question, how are we going to correct the adverse balance of trade? It must be admitted that, so far, none of the Measures, excellent as they are, are are really touching more than the fringe of that question. [Interruption.] I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) who, if he had been speaking in a different language, might have been listened to as the hon. Member for Algiers, because we are not concerned with their point of view.
While we appreciate what has been done, I do hope the right hon. Gentleman realises that in the great majority of this House sitting around him there is an earnest desire, not that he will achieve miracles in a day or week, but that His Majesty's Government will at the earliest possible date announce what their definite policy is going to be, so that there may be that feeling of security throughout the whole agricultural industry which all of us desire to see. I will only say that I believe the results of the right hon. Gentleman's policy are going to be far greater than some speeches have indicated. There are a great number of workers who are going to find their reward by being taken off the dole, to my certain knowledge, and find employment. [Interruption.] I am well aware that hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway are always very callous when these questions are discussed. I believe that when we read the concluding paragraphs of the right hon. Gentleman's answers to the questions addressed to him in the House, we shall all feel the Government have to-day set to work to produce a real, fundamental policy which will lift this great industry once more on to its feet, and we shall realise that that industry, valued at £2,500,000,000 not so very long ago, but which value has fallen to-day to £500,000,000, is an industry worth preserving, and worthy of a great national policy such as the country expects.
The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) properly said that these proposals for putting a tax on tomatoes, asparagus and new potatoes would have very little effect on the pound. I agree
with him. His argument was that if the Minister wanted to influence the pound he ought to bring in a large measure of Protection. That was his real argument. Does anyone outside Bedlam suggest, whatever the merits of Protection or Free Trade, that a large measure of Protection would have any influence on the pound? [Interruption.] Really it is pitiful.
If it did not weary the Committee, I would be very glad to answer the hon. and gallant Gentleman—[Interruption.] I think that hon. Members are rather indisposed to hear me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] It is true that the intromissions between countries do affect the balance of trade, but I suggest that an extended system of tariffs would not affect the pound, which is governed in the main by whether you have a redundancy of currency or a contraction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] I can see that there is no disposition to take this subject very seriously but I would say to my hon. and gallant Friend that, while he is entitled to argue in favour of tariffs, he might give a little more study to its real influence on the pound.
|Division No. 24.]||AYES.||[11.2 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Bernays, Robert||Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Caporn, Arthur Cecil|
|Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigle M.||Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Cassels, James Dale|
|Albery, Irving James||Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Castle Stewart, Earl|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)|
|Allen, Maj. J. Sandeman (Birk'nh'd, W)||Blaker, Sir Reginald||Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (P'rtsm'th, S.)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Blinded, James||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Boothby, Robert John Graham||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgbaston)|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Borodale, Viscount||Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)|
|Apsley, Lord||Bossom, A. C.||Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric|
|Aske, Sir William Robert||Boulton, w. W.||Christie, James Archibald|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Boyce, H. Leslie||Clarke, Frank|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Clarry, Reginald George|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Bracken, Brendan||Clayton Dr. George C.|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. B.||Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Cobb, Sir Cyril|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Colfox, Major William Philip|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Broadbent, Colonel John||Colman, N. C. D.|
|Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Colville, Major David John|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Conant, R. J. E.|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Cook, Thomas A.|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Burghley, Lord||Cooke, James D.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Brograve Campbell||Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Cooper, A. Duff|
|Beaumont, R. E. B.(Portsm'th, Contr'l)||Butler, Richard Austen||Copeland, Ida|
|Beit, Sir Alfred L.||Butt, Sir Alfred||Courtauld, Major John Sewell|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Caine, G. R. Halt||Craven-Ellis, William|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Palmer, Francis Noel|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Patrick, Colin M.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)||Peaks, Captain Osbert|
|Croom-Johnson, R. p.||Hurd, Percy A.||Pearson, William G.|
|Cross, R. H.||Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R.(Montr'se)||Peat, Charles U.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)||Penny, Sir George|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Inskip, Sir Thomas W. H.||Percy, Lord Eustace|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Perkins, Waiter R. D.|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Jamieson, Douglas||Peters, Dr. Sidney John|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Jesson, Major Thomas E.||Petherick, M.|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Pickering, Ernest H.|
|Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada|
|Dickie, John P.||Ker, J. Campbell||Pike, Cecil F.|
|Donner, P. W.||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Potter, John|
|Drewe, Cedric||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Knebworth, Viscount||Pybus, Percy John|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Knight, Holford||Raikes, Hector Victor Alpin|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Knox, Sir Alfred||Ramsay, T. B. w. (Western Isles)|
|Eastwood, John Francis||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Ramsbotham, Herswald|
|Edge, Sir William||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Ramsden, E.|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Ednam, viscount||Leckie, J. A.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Ellis, Robert Geoffrey||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Reid, James s. C. (Stirling)|
|Elmley, viscount||Levy, Thomas||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Liddall, Walter S.||Remer, John R.|
|Emrys- Evans, P. V.||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Rentoul, Sir Gervals S.|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Lister, Rt. Hon. sir Philip Cunliffe||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Lleweilln, Major John J.||Robinson, John Roland|
|Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. G'n)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Flanagan, W. H.||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Lockwood, Capt. J. H, (Shipley)||Rothschild, James L. de|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Fuller, Captain A. E. G.||Lymington, Viscount||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Mabano, William||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Gauit, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||MacAndrew, Maj. C. G. (Partick)||Russell, Richard John (Eddlsbury)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo|
|Glossop, C. W. H.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Salmon, Major Isldore|
|Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Salt, Edward W.|
|Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (1. of W.)||Samuel, Rt. Hon, Sir H. (Darwen)|
|Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||McEwen, J. H. F.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||McKeag, William||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||McKie, John Hamilton||Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard|
|Graves, Marjorie||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton||Savory, Samuel Servington|
|Greene, William P. C.||McLean, Major Alan||Scone, Lord|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)||Selley, Harry R.|
|Grimston, R. V.||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Gritten, W. G. Howard||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James 1.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Magnay, Thomas||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin|
|Guy, J. C. Morrison||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|Hales, Harold K.||Margesson, Capt. Henry David R.||Sinclair, Col. T.(Queen's Unv., Belfast)|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Marjoribanks, Edward||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.|
|Hanbury, Cecil||Martin, Thomas B.||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-in-F.)|
|Hanley, Dennis A.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Smith. R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Harbord, Arthur||Mills, Sir Frederick||Smithers, Waldron|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)||Somervell, Donald Bradley|
|Haslam, H. C. (Lindsay, Horncastle)||Mitcheson, G. G.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)|
|Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Molton, A. Harold Elsdale||Soper, Richard|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley)||Moreing, Adrian C.||Spencer, Captain Rich mi A.|
|Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Hepworth, Joseph||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Stevenson, James|
|Herbert, George (R other ham)||Morrison, William Shephard||Stones, James|
|Hillman, Dr. George B.||Moss, Captain H. J.||Storey, Samuel|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Muirhead, Major A. J.||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. i. G.||Munro, Patrick||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge)||Nail-Cain, Arthur Ronald N.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Hore-Bellsha, Leslie||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Hornby, Frank||Newton, Sir Douglas George C.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Horobin, Ian M.||Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||North, Captain Edward T.||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E.A.(P'dd'Qt'n, S.)|
|Howard, Tom Forrest||Nunn, William||Templeton, William P.|
|Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Hudson, Capt. A. u. M.(Hackney, N.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Thomas, Major J. B (King's Norton)|
|Thompson, Luke||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Thomson, Mitchell-, Rt. Hon. Sir W.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Thorp, Linton Theodore||Watt, Captain George Steven H.||Womersley, Walter James|
|Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-||Wood, Major M. McKenzie (Banff)|
|Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)||Weymouth, Viscount||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.||Wragg, Herbert|
|Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon||Whyte, Jardine Bell||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Wallace, John (Dunfermline)||Wills, Wilfrid D.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)||Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward|
|and Commander Southby.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Harris, Percy A.||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hicks, Ernest George||Maxton, James|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Hirst, George Henry||Milner, Major James|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Holdsworth, Herbert||Morris, Rhys Hopkin (Cardigan)|
|Caps, Thomas||Hopkinson, Austin||Owen, Major Goronwy|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jenkins, Sir William||Price, Gabriel|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Daggar, George||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Kirkwood, David||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Watts-Morgan, Lieut. Col. David|
|Duncan, Charles (Derby, Claycross)||Lawson, John James||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Edwards, Charles||Leonard, William||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Lunn, William||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||McEntee, Valentine L.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Groves and Mr. John.|