Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 7th June 1937.

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Photo of Mr Daniel Hopkin Mr Daniel Hopkin , Carmarthen

The more the right hon. Gentleman says he is prepared to do, the more it appears that much less has been done in this country. I respectfully point out to him that the Government have not yet decided upon the place of agriculture in the policy of the country. Only a few weeks ago there was a very disturbing speech by the Prime Minister. It disturbed the whole agricultural community. Is it not true that the main objective must be to obtain a remunerative level of price for what the farmer produces? At present the policy seems to be to give so much help to agriculture as will just keep it alive. On the opposite side, one may ask about subsidies, but what the farmers say is: "If you assure to us a remunerative price for our crops, we do not ask for charity or for subsidy. We do not ask for cheap lime or cheap credit but simply for the same means which are being given to industry, so that agriculture can pay a right and fair wage to the men who work on the land."

In the agricultural districts at present, the greatest problem that the farmer has to face is to find labour. He is unable to get labour for the land. He says: "I want the labour, but I am unable to pay wages which will attract men to the land." It is abundantly clear that where the farmer has an assured price—he has it in regard to wheat and beet and practically to milk—there he produces in abundance. In regard to milk, I believe that last year over 1,000,000,000 gallons of milk were produced. If the farmer knows that he will get a fair return for what he produces, he will produce abundantly and see that the country is well supplied with the commodity. The Minister has invited opinions regarding the report on milk, and I venture to put forward the views of the farmers of the county of Carmarthen. To sum up, what they ask of the Minister is to refuse absolutely to do anything to implement that report. The first and the most important of the recommendations in that report was that a permanent Commission of five persons should be set up and the whole of the policy regarding milk should be placed in the hands of those five persons. The farmers have a keen objection to this Commission. They say, "We were induced to go into this scheme on the definite promise of producers' control, and if you take this control away from the producers—from the board as constituted at present—and put it into the hands of this permanent Commission, it will be a breach of faith with the farmers."

If this permanent Commission were set up, would there be any kind of appeal from their decisions? Let us suppose that the policy which they have to carry out—which might not be their policy or the policy of the farmers, but might well be the policy of the Government of the day—and they were to take a decision as regards the price of milk or the conditions under which it should be sold, is there, or can there be, provided under this report any appeal from the decision of the Commission? It seems to me that there is no provision made for any such appeal. The farmer feels that once the control passes out of the hands of the producer it passes from him for good and all, and he has nad so many bad experiences previously that he will do his utmost to see that this permanent Commission is not set up. Is there one Member of the Committee who can point to a single example where the present board has abused its powers? Over and over again suggestions have been made from advisory bodies, not that the board should be overhauled, but that the prices which the distributive side of the industry has should be reduced.

There is the other strong objection which the farmers have to this report, and that is the policy of manipulation of prices. This would be altogether unfair to the industry. It is proposed to put milk at a certain price—let us say 1s. a gallon—and this would produce a certain number of millions of gallons of milk. The board find that this amount is too much. They reduce the price from 1s. a gallon to, say, 10d. a gallon. At 10d. a gallon so many fewer gallons are produced. This process goes on until finally the right price and the right amount of milk coincides. What happens to the pro- ducers in the meanwhile? This kind of manipulation of prices, which you have in no other industry, would mean that there would be chaos in the industry, no certainty, and eventually a large number of farmers would be put out of business altogether.

When will it be possible for the Minister to say that he will give the House some information regarding his long-term policy in regard to milk? For the farmers in West Wales this is of vital importance. He knows of the millions of gallons of milk a day which come from the town of Carmarthen Whitland and other towns in that area. It is of vital importance for the farmers to know what the Government intend to do to see that they get a right price for their milk. The present Marketing Board think that the cost of production is about 11.1d. per gallon. The Commission are of the opinion that it is about 9½d., but, taking the lower figure, the Commission thought that it would be fair to put on to the price of production at least 2½d. a gallon for the work which the farmer does and the risk which he takes. What steps is the Minister taking to see that the farmer gets somewhere about 1s. or perhaps a little more a gallon in his pocket free of all other charges? It has been suggested that the one way that is left—perhaps not the ideal way—to help the farmer is the policy of the levy subsidy. Is that still the policy of the Government, and will the Minister say if he can what steps he will take to see that the dairy fanner has a price to cover his cost of production and allow him a fair margin as a return for the work which he puts in?