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 William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I would like time to examine the matter from the point of view of quantity. Of course value is a difficult thing to estimate. There are elements of price as well as quantity in it which are always a difficulty, but I think if you take the values of one commodity with another—and after all that is what appeals to the farmer and the producer because it means that they are getting a return—it does afford a reliable comparison of one year with another. I am not sure whether the hon. Member was suggesting that there had been a decline in the consumption of eggs this year. The figures show that in 1935 some 150 eggs in shell were consumed per person, whereas in 1936 the consumption was 159, which shows that each person managed to consume on the average nine more eggs, and although that sounds a very small number, it comes to a considerable number when multiplied by the population of the country. As regards feeding-stuffs, I think there is no substance in the accusation that any substantial part of the rise in feedingstuff prices is caused by duties. There is no duty on maize, there is 2s. a quarter on wheat from abroad, wheat from the Dominions is free, and the existence of large Dominion supplies combined with complete freedom of trade, and an extremely low duty on other foodstuffs from foreign sources, makes the effect of the duty upon prices absolutely negligible compared with the effects of drought and the operations of nature.

I do not think it can be argued that there has been a fall in the purchasing power of the consumer. It must be obvious to everyone who studies the employment figures that there has been in fact a rise in the purchasing power of the consumer, and indeed, in my view, one of the major causes of the recent improvement in agricultural returns is the increased purchasing power in the cities caused by industrial prosperity and better employment. I can cordially re-echo what the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) said in his opening speech, that it is essential to realise how closely town and country react upon each other's fortunes. It is true to say that the countryside's best customer is the well-paid town worker in steady employment, and there is no doubt that, particularly in the heavy industries, the revival of steady employment has stimulated the demand for many British commodities, and, I think, for good British beef in particular.

The hon. Member for North Cumberland asked me whether I would do what I could to assist the poultry industry by helping to bring about better arrangements for marketing. That I can readily promise to do. I am ready to consider any suggestion that is made in that direction, and I will do my best to help them to get over their difficulties at the present time. I tried in my opening speech to give as fair and candid an analysis of the condition of the poultry industry as I could, and I have not found any reason in the course of the Debate to alter any views that I then ventured to put before the Committee.

I thank the right hon. Member for North Cornwall for the very kind terms in which he addressed the Committee on this subject. Indeed, so pleasant was his style and so much in sympathy with the objects of our policy did he seem that I am somewhat surprised at his having taken the trouble to move a reduction in the Vote. There was far more of blessing than of condemnation in his remarks, and I think he might well have let us get away with the £100, because there was so much of which he approved in our policy.

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams disapproved of our past efforts in agricultural policy, as in duty bound, and he gave the curious reason that they were in their character Socialistic. I find it very hard to combine his disapproval of our efforts with the application of an epithet which I had always hitherto considered he regarded as one of praise. But indeed, I think the difference between us on this matter is that I do not think you can call our policy Socialistic in the sense in which hon. Members have always interpreted that policy.