Let me begin by relieving any anxiety in the mind of the Lord President of the Council that I am going to berate him about the slip that occurred in the announcement of the results of his mission. I think myself he was somewhat ill used by the statements of the public relations officer in the United States. I am very glad that that matter has been agreeably cleared up by Mr. Clayton's expression of regret. There is, I am sure, irony of fate in the right hon. Gentleman being ill used by a public relations officer. It is rather the case of the engineer being hoisted with his own petard. The only criticism that I would pass upon this episode is that it is very easy to clear these matters of announcements between the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean. We had scores of them in the war and I do not remember any case—there may have been some— where there was any dispute or complaint. I hope that course of carefully checking up agreed statements will be followed in the future.
There is one other observation which I will address to the right hon. Gentleman, and thereafter I will leave him entirely to gather his forces for any statement he wishes to make to us. I hope he is not going to lecture us today on bringing party matters and party feeling into discussions of large public issues. There is no man I can think of from whom such rebukes and admonitions come less well. I would not go so far as to describe him in the words used by the Minister of Health a year ago when he was in an independent position, as a third-class Tammany boss. I believe that was the expression his colleague used about him, which I resented very much at the time. I thought it was very much to be deprecated using disparaging expressions about important institutions of friendly countries. Also we must, after all, admit that third class is perhaps too low a valuation to put upon the right hon. Gentleman's qualities as a party man and a party manager. I hope that he will not, therefore, attempt to asperse our character and motives in bringing these matters before Parliament and bringing party politics into discussions of world issues. I am bound to say I do not see why world issues should not be discussed even if they throw discredit upon the Administration of the day. The duty of the Opposition is to probe and analyse these situations. It is the duty of the Opposition to expose Ministerial failures and incompetence, and if, as a result of this necessary process of the discharge of public obligations, a number of people in the country take a less favourable view of Ministers than they had hitherto done, that is certainly no reason for any reproach being levelled at the Opposition.
I come to what is one of the really important points before us today—what we have to get for the 200,000 tons of wheat. I listened to the original statement of the Lord President of the Council and I have taken the trouble to read it again. [An HON. MEMBER: " Rigmarole."] I did not apply rigmarole to the statement but to the subsequent one
which he made, which should be studied; it will be found to correspond exactly with that description. The right hon. Gentleman certainly gave the impression to the House that in consideration—and I put it to all those who heard it—of our making this sacrifice of 200,000 additional tons of wheat we were going to receive very remarkable and special measures of help, as would first appear, from the United States in respect of India and in respect of the British zone in Germany. Certainly, I derived that impression, and I, therefore, asked for the exact dimensions of that help. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be so good as to give it now. He has this opportunity, and I really think he should clear it up, because the matter is one of the very first magnitude. The Prime Minister, on 4th April, said in the Debate on food:
We have, as I believe the people of this country would have wished us to do, reduced our margin of safety to the very limit to help others, but further we cannot go."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1946; Vol. 421; c. 1413.]
That was only on 4th April and now before the end of May 200,000 tons are given.
Everyone knows that the consequences of giving those 200,000 tons are likely to be very serious. I will not enter upon the reactions, for they will be thoroughly dealt with later on, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson [Interruption]—I always like to check up on these points—who has always been associated in my mind with a highly successful record as Minister of Agriculture, will be speaking later in the Debate. I am assured that very grave consequences will follow from this new departure from the Prime Minister's statement of 4th April in going beyond the limitations which he then thought were the utmost that could be imposed on the people of this country. I say I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what exactly has been gained. It ought to be given to us today. There is no military secret involved and no diplomatic offence can be given. Why cannot he tell us? Why not emulate the very wise declaration of the new Minister of Food that frankness would be the leading element in his policy? I ask pointedly and explicitly for an explanation of what advantages we have got from this very heavy sacrifice, with the injurious consequences which it entails, and which the right hon. Gentleman—I do not say wrongly; I do not prejudge the general issue—has found it necessary to impose upon us, and of which he has convinced his colleagues. That is the crux of the matter which we want to have established today.
But there is also another important issue, namely, the resignation of the Minister of Food, of which we have had no explanation of any kind whatever. This affects the status of Ministers as a whole. We are told that we ought to trust them and respect them; the country is adjured to give them its confidence and put its trust in their knowledge and comprehension of the affairs of their Departments. A Minister holds a position in the public eye for nearly a year, he is criticised and complained of by some and ardently defended by others. Suddenly, he vanishes, not a trace remains, not a bubble is noticeable upon the surface of the waters. That is an extraordinary way to manage affairs. The precedent regarding the resignation of Ministers must be taken upon a peacetime basis. Very often, in wartime, when considerable reconstruction of the Administration has taken place Ministers have not found it necessary to come forward and make individual statements.
I said that in wartime, when there was a general or partial re-construction, it was not thought necessary for Ministers to make statements. But this is surely a matter to cheer the hon. Member whose pacifist tendencies are so well known. We are now at peace, and we are about to celebrate its joys—
I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman intended to convey by his remark about my pacifist tendencies being well known. If he intended to mean by that that I was known to prefer peace to war I hope we all do, but if he intended in any way to mean that I was opposed to the active prosecution of the war he knows that he is mistaken, and I hope he will withdraw it.
I accept with pleasure the hon. Gentleman's statement that he prefers peace to war, and that his preference is remarkably pronounced and manifested on a great many occasions. But peacetime is what we are supposed to be
dwelling in now, and I submit that all the precedents of peacetime oblige a Minister to make a statement when he retires from office. I cannot, in my long experience, remember many cases to the contrary. If we look back before the war there were three most recent cases. There was the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden)—that will cheer up Members opposite; they clutch at straws—in 1937, accompanied by that of Lord Cranborne, a member of the Government, both of whose explanations were received in a most grave and attentive spirit by the House. Then there was the resignation of Mr. Duff Cooper, now Ambassador in Paris, after the Munich crisis. Again, a very full and moving explanation was given to the House. This is the first case, in peacetime, of the resignation of a Cabinet Minister, and I say that those are precedents which should be followed. Not only should they be followed on this occasion, but they should be followed in the future. I thought it my duty to give full notice to the ex-Minister of Food, and I wrote to him this letter two days ago:
My Dear Ben Smith
I feel that I ought to let you know that. we have decided to meet the general wish of the House by asking for a Debate on the Ministry of Food on Friday. Naturally, the House will expect a statement from you as to the reasons for your resignation, and if this is not forthcoming I shall be forced to comment unfavourably on the departure from the; peacetime usage involved when a Minister who has held an important Ministry disappears without any explanation being offered to Parliament.
I have searched the benches opposite with my eyes, but I cannot see any sign of the burly and engaging form of the right hon. Gentleman. He has departed " spurlos versengkt ", as the German expression says—sunk without leaving a trace behind. I must say that I am surprised that he does not wish to defend himself or his administration, which has been so much under fire. We are told, or it is rumoured, that he went on difference with his colleagues. Surely some explanation of those differences should be given. It is very unusual for Ministers to leave any Government on difference, and not offer any explanation. He may, of course, have been dismissed for incompetence, but even in that case one would imagine that he would wish to say some word in his own defence.
I have a regard for the right hon. Gentleman. He served in my administration and at Washington, and we gained golden reports of his work there. He was most popular, and had access to and influence in American circles. I am very much distressed that misfortune should have overtaken him, but I must say that his flight from the scene is ignominious and unbecoming, and not at all in accordance with what one would have expected from him. What is the strange power which strikes a resigning Minister down? Perhaps the Leader of the House can tell us a little about that. I ask him pointedly, Did the Minister go on a difference of policy and, if so, what was that difference, or was he removed because he was not thought equal to this particular task? I am sure that we can have an answer to that. At any rate, I hope it will be pressed for persistently during this discussion.
Those are the two main points which have led me to bring this matter forward today. But no one can doubt that the postwar history of the Ministry of Food and the policy which the Government have pursued have been extremely disappointing. Warnings were given last autumn. We had, in December, a fatuous remark by the representative of the India Office. On 10 December, the Under-Secretary of State for India said:
The food situation in India will continue to require constant watching but my noble Friend, who is in continuous touch with the Government of India on this subject, sees no cause for apprehension of famine whether in Bengal or elsewhere in India."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th Dec, 1945; Vol. 417, c. 26.]
That was in December. In this House we had Debates in November, in February and in April which culminated with the Prime Minister's pledge. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington and my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport were very prominent in those Debates. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southport drew attention to divergencies which he said existed between the statements made by the Food Ministry and the statements issued by the Prime Minister from No. 10,
Downing Street. We should like to know what, in fact, was the truth of those differences which existed then. At any. rate, the Indian quotation which I have read is sufficient to convict the
administration of an extraordinary lack of foresight in the matter.
The failure of the wheat supply of the world is not due to a shortage in any one particular country. It is due to a shortage in particular countries, but it is not due to any general failure of the world crop. That is a very essential point. The conditions in the British zone in Germany should have been foreseen beforehand. The story is indeed a tragic one. At the end of the Potsdam Conference, the Russians and Poles were allowed to occupy up to the Western Neisse, and not the Eastern Neisse, and another great influx of hungry and homeless people, numbered by millions, was driven into the British zone. The British zone is the least favourably circumstanced from a food point of view. There is the least agriculture and the most manufacture. There you have the great population of the ruined Ruhr. We have a more difficult task in our zone even than, the United States in theirs. The great feeding grounds which nourished Germany as a whole lie to the East of the iron curtain, and food supplies have not been sent from there to the population of Germany as a whole, to whom they belong, and which should have been reserved for their nourishment. On top of this has come this incursion of a very large additional number of hungry, suffering people. This had all been foreseen, because it arose out of decisions which were reached at Potsdam. I am not making this a matter of serious complaint; personally, I would not have agreed to it, although I might not have been able to prevent the establishment of the Western Neisse as the frontier between Poland and Germany.
Therefore, I say that the Government have been guilty throughout of a lack of foresight. Hard as it is to pierce the future, they have been singularly unsuccessful, and this casts its light upon the general question of planning, which is their great hope-and in which they repose unbounded confidence. This food shortage, as far as wheat is concerned, is not the result of a failure of world harvests; it is failure of distribution. That is all it is. The fixing of price controls, though very beneficial and necessary in many ways, has restrictions which are unforeseeable. For instance, we are told that because the price of wheat was controlled below the normal level which would have been reached by free markets, great quantities in the United States have been fed to cattle, or used for purposes other than human consumption, and that that is the prime cause of the difficulty. It is very dangerous when planners get to work upon matters which are. so intricate and vast that they must escape from designed control and can really only be harmoniously discharged by what is called the higgling of the market. I consider that greater liberty to private enterprise in these matters would have resulted in a more harmonious and normal supply. If that had been attended by undue rises of price, I personally would support, and have always supported in those cases, the Government of the country affected taking funds from the Exchequer to mitigate the increase of price to the people, which is what we are doing now.
The hard conditions of this country have continued for a very long time. More than any other country we have borne the brunt. When I was in Holland the other day, I felt myself in a community which had been gripped and compressed in the enemy's clutch. The grip is released, and once food has flowed in, the people spring forth, strengthened by the compression they have endured. We have been blood donors throughout the whole of the long six years of war. We have been tried to the last scrap of our strength. Nothing has been grudged, effort after effort has been made, not only physical but psychical, and it was natural in the moment of victory, when suddenly danger was removed, that there should be not expansion but collapse. That is a very fair, detached, broadminded explanation of the last General Election. I feel that that will excite controversy in no part of the Committee. We have had a very hard time, but owing to the great skill with which the wartime food administration was discharged, associated very much with the comprehending and sympathetic handling of this problem by Lord Woolton, it is true to say, as the new Minister of Food said, I think, that the actual health of the people has not been prejudicially affected. But the hard manual workers have been greatly weakened in their enegy. It is impossible for hard manual work to be carried on with full efficiency upon these present scales of rationing. I have no doubt this is affecting the miners, the blast furnace men and all those whose work is of the heaviest physical character. Then there is this monotony of diet, which I am very glad to hear the new Minister intends to remedy and rectify.
It is on top of all this, however, that the 200,000 extra tons are to be diverted. Our margins are woefully reduced. They have declined more than half—even, I think, to something like one-third of what was considered necessary. We are a unique community: 48,000,000 in an island that grows only half its food. I shudder to think our fortunes might perhaps be confided to some Food Board in which we should be only one in 20, and I trust that it will be borne in mind that there is no other country in a position even remotely approaching this vast energetic community in these islands perched up so precariously on the basis of foreign imports, foreign trade and foreign exchange.
I noticed in a Debate in another place that my noble Friend Lord Cherwell was sceptical about the figures which have been recently given, and to some: extent he was not contradicted in this by the Leader of the Government in the House of Lords, Lord Addison. I must say I rather share the scepticism. The figure of 8.39 million tons was given as being needed in Europe in the next few months, and it is shown that that would suffice to give 136 million of people, which is the population concerned, a diet of 1,600 calories per day —not very great but sufficient to avert the worst grip of famine. This 8,390,000 tons makes it sufficient to give that diet to the whole of the population affected, but it does not start on the assumption —because we have not heard how these calculations have been made—that there is absolutely no food there at all. As a matter of fact, there is a great deal of food in every country. Does this American calculation proceed on the assumption that the country is no better off than the towns? If so, these are both most fallacious foundations.
Everybody knows that there is a great deal of food grown—agricultural produce —and food they have saved and perhaps concealed. A great deal of food exists, and to start on the basis of a tabular margin that there is nothing at all is a very foolish way to approach the problem —or, I will put it differently, it is not the wisest way to tackle a problem of this importance. Not to discriminate between town and country populations is a matter very likely to lead to altogether wrong calculations. I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he could perhaps tell us whether one is right in thinking that these figures, Mr. Hoover's figures, are the ones we accepted, whether they are the operative figures on which all our present calculations are based, and whether, in fact, they are the figures on which we are asked to give up an additional 200,000 tons of wheat, with all the evil consequences which that entails.
I have now completed what I had to say but I will not sit down without wishing the new Food Minister all success in his most difficult task, which brings him to every fireside in the land and makes all the people follow his words and his actions with the very deepest anxiety and attention. I hope he may bring back to the Food Ministry some at least of the Woolton traditions where confidence was felt in the cottage homes in the Minister of State who regulated, often with severity, the daily fare which was at their disposal. I say that the hon. Gentleman brings to his part a brief but bright reputation in charge of difficult affairs and of presenting them to the House of Commons, and there will be no disposition to wish him other than good fortune in his work. But I say that the resignation of the late Food Minister registers beyond doubt or challenge a grave failure on the part of His Majesty's Government in a vital branch of policy. It cannot be denied that after all the criticisms, discussions, and arguments on this side and that, the Minister has gone and that that registers a breakdown and a failure in the great question of food, and that food now takes its place with housing as examples of the aggravation of the public privations which arise from Socialist incapacity.
The coming about of this Debate has, I must say, taken a varied and somewhat tortuous course. When I reported on my visit to Washington there were some rather strong interchanges between the right hon. Gentleman and myself, initiated in their strength by the right hon. Gentleman. His lead was followed by the newspapers which support him in the country and, generally speaking, there was a heavy barrage against me by the whole of the Conservative Press, both in lettering and in pictures. I make no complaint about that; I am used to it, and indeed I should be embarrassed if I had too much support from the Conservative newspapers, but the right hon. Gentleman promises to protect me against that menace.
Then there were the activities of the public relations officer of the State Department at Washington, and that set things going again. Here, indeed, was hope that the Lord President had been thrown over by the United States Government, and I admit that if that had been so I should have been in a position of some interest arid would have had something to say about it. But here again the public relations officer was elevated in the Conservative Press and I was correspondingly " pushed down the drain."I am bound to say that I was interested to note that for once-as far as I know, for the first time—a public relations officer had commended himself to the Conservative Party and the Conservative Press.
Indeed that is quite true, and I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for those observations. As I say, I think public relations officers are an ill used body of men who receive a great deal of unmerited abuse, and so it was somewhat of a comfort to me to see that one of them had at last come into his own, although he was an officer of the United States Government. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, that has been cleared up, and I think the Committee generally is glad that that should be so. I should like to express my very keen appreciation of' the action of Mr. Will Clayton, the United States Assistant Secretary of State, who is an absolutely forthcoming, cooperative and straight-dealing member of the American Administration, and a great friend of our country.
So we come to this Debate, which appears to be more peaceful than it promised to be, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he really must not think that I am feeling greatly relieved that he should withhold his punches against me personally today. I am not saying that I want to incite him to do otherwise, but I would not like any feeling to exist that he has been graciously pleased to let me off and that I am very greatly relieved. In fact, I would have been quite happy if things has been the other way. I said I thought the right hon. Gentleman in some of his questions was going out of his way to make party politics of a matter where it was not altogether appropriate. I still say so. If ever there was a matter which tugs the human heart, in which there is great sorrow and in which there is great difficulty, it is this matter of food supply, and, of course, it is a perfectly reasonable statement that if in the judgment of the Opposition the Government have made mistakes or blunders, it is not only the right, but the duty, of the Opposition to attack and expose the Government. Indeed, I earlier on incited the Opposition to be a little more lively in the conduct of the functions of the Opposition, so I would make no complaint about that at all, but I did think that in the circumstances of this case, in the light of the negotiations between us and the United States Government, and the complications with which we were faced, the right hon. Gentleman needlessly and rather persistently brought party politics into the matter, and I still think so.
Even now he cannot get the facts right. With great respect, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman understands this in detail. As I say, I make no complaint on that score, but even today he said that I had given—given—200,000 tons of wheat. We never had this 200,000 tons of wheat. We had no promise of the 200,000 tons of wheat. It was not in the ships, there was no target of any kind, and I explained this—I gave a child's guide to it in the statement that I made, precisely because I knew that many people might, quite legitimately and innocently, misunderstand the position.
When I went to Washington, I went with certain figures of British stated requirements. They had not been accepted by the American Government. They had to be argued about just as everybody else's stated requirements had to be argued about, and what I did was to agree right at the end, and after very heavy bargaining, to reduce those stated requirements by 200,000 tons. It is not a question of giving 200,000 tons; you cannot give what you have not got. I say to the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee that we have not got them, and whether we could have got them if we had negotiated otherwise, I am exceedingly doubtful.
The right hon. Gentleman has asked whether the Government have acted on the basis of Mr. Herbert Hoover's figures. Let me say we have not. Mr. Hoover has conducted a valuable tour over the world surveying the food situation, but, of course, he is not a member of the United States Administration, and I did not negotiate this matter with Mr. Hoover at all. Therefore, his figures are not relevant to this discussion, and I may say to the Committee that I personally, in private discussion with Mr. Hoover, disputed some of his figures in a perfectly friendly way. I do not treat with contempt or scorn or in any way critically any figures that Mr. Hoover may have given, but I say that they were not the basis of these discussions and that they are irrelevant to this Debate.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Sir B. Smith) whose presence he had requested by letter in the Committee today. These are matters, of course, between the Prime Minister and the Minister concerned. They are dealt with entirely by the Prime Minister in the customary way, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister authorises me to say, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman's questions as to whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe left the Government on a disagreement, or whether he was forced out of office, that the answer to both of those questions is in the negative. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe himself issued a statement to the Press, which was published, in which he said:
I have held the office of Minister of Food for 10 months. It has been a very difficult and exhausting time. I was very tired when I asked the Prime Minister to allow me to relinquish office on April 5 and I am glad that he now feels able to grant me my wish. …
There is no indication of disagreement of policy between my right hon. Friend and the Government.
Could the right hon. Gentleman correct that sentence? He said, "There is no indication of disagreement," but was there disagreement? We are not looking for indications, we would like to know whether there was or was not disagreement on policy.
When I said there was no indication, I was referring to the statement that my right hon. Friend made. I had already answered the question which the right hon. Gentleman now puts, when I said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, whose business this is, authorises me to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe did not leave the Government on a disagreement on policy, and that certainly his resignation was not required by the Prime Minister; he went at his own request, for the reasons that he himself has indicated in the Press.
There are precedents for this. There are precedents in peace and in war. It is a new and novel doctrine that every time a Minister resigns he has to make a speech in this House, presumably for the delight and interest of the Opposition. There are precedents both ways. My view is that usually when a Minister makes a statement to the House on resignation it is because there was a disagreement between him and his colleagues in the Government. I think it is right and constitutionally proper that on those occasions such a statement should be made. Then the Prime Minister usually makes some comments and the matter passes; but when there is no disagreement, there is no need for a statement in the House. There are plenty of precedents in peace and war for Ministers to resign without a statement in the House. Sometimes there is an exchange of letters with the Prime Minister—some of these letters used to be most charming in their phraseology in the days of Conservative Governments—and that was the end of it. Sometimes even shorter decisions were taken, when a Minister knew that he was not a Minister any longer because he saw it in the Press or went to the office and found somebody else.there. Fortunately, this never happened to me; it might have done in time—one never knows.
There was the case of Lord Monsell, in 1936, who resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty and was succeeded by Sir Samuel Hoare. Lord Monsell, who was then a Member of the House, made no statement to the House about it. There was the case of Sir Charles Trevelyan, who resigned the office of President of the Board of Education and was succeeded by Mr. Lees-Smith—the occasion upon which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister became Postmaster-General. There was no statement in the House. The fact is that, broadly speaking, statements are made when there has been a disagreement, and I think that is right; but whether there has been disagreement or not, it is entirely within the prerogative of the resigning Minister as to whether he makes a statement in the House or not. The right hon. Gentleman must face the fact that this is still a free country, and whilst Ministers had to take great notice of him while he was Prime Minister, that obligation does not continue in the present circumstances.
I would like now to give the Committee an account of the background and the meaning of the decisions—I think they are already clear on the statements that I have made, but I will expand upon them—which were reached in my negotiations on behalf of His Majesty's Government with the Government of the United States of America. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took the view that the time had come when there was a patent need for a mission to Washington on a high level, as the matter had got beyond the departmental level, and the organisation of this problem involved big issues of world policy. We took the view that the machinery for handling world food problems was obviously overtaxed, and that the way had to be prepared for handling it internationally at a higher level than had hitherto been the case, and in getting more concerted efforts and a greater and more high-powered drive internationally.
During the war the main bottleneck was not so much the physical supply of the food itself; it was shipping. No one will recall that more than the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who took such a personal interest in the shipping aspects of the problem. It caused great anxieties to the Government and the Prime Minister of the day. So it did to the Minister of War Transport at that time. It was also the fact that most of the war ravaged territories were under Axis control. This itself relieved us on the demand side, because all the countries of Europe that are now asking for food to be supplied most urgently, could then neither make a request to us nor could we have supplied them, because they were in Axis possession. Now they are among the people who are demanding supplies, and to that extent the problem is accentuated. The wartime shipping shortage, coupled with the fact that most of the war ravaged territories were under Axis control, made it practically impossible to divert manpower and other resources towards further increasing food production before 1946. It may have been that those countries were in a somewhat better position in 1945, and that if everything had been peaceful and quiet in Europe preparations could have been made to lay the foundations of a substantial harvest in 1946. But that was not possible, and consequently the harvest in Europe is suffering from the inevitable neglects which existed under warlike conditions in 1945.
In a general way, the present emergency was foreseen. That was notably the case at the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture at Hot Springs, which took place exactly three years ago. There, it was unanimously recommended —I quote from the resolution—
That as a first step in overcoming the general shortage of food every effort should be made by countries whose agriculture can be expanded in the short term period (so long as this is required and so far as the conditions of individual countries require or permit) to increase the acreage under crops for direct human consumption and even to hold back the rebuilding of depleted livestock herds— essential though this rebuilding will ultimately be—as well as the production of other crops which compete for acreage with essential foods."—
Until last winter, when, for the first time, accurate figures about requirements and stocks in the war devastated areas became available, it was still thought probable that the very large carryovers in exporting countries would confine the problem within the bounds of severe shortage rather than actual famine. On this assumption, all Governments permitted livestock to be carried at levels at which are now seen to have been excessive. That, I think, must be agreed. In this country, for example, the Coalition Government, under the present Leader of the Opposition, announced decisions over a year ago to relax efforts at more wheat production and to increase pigs and poultry above the low levels to which they had had to be reduced at the height of the U-boat campaign. The actual effect of this decision in diverting bread grains from human consumption has been rendered negligible by the fact that it was
reversed before 1st May this year, when the increased rations should have come into effect. We have been exceedingly sorry to disappoint the farmers in that matter. This economy was only achieved by breaking the pledge given to farmers under the Coalition Government. Such action could hardly be defended until the threat of world famine was beyond dispute, because this gravely embarrassed our livestock position, and has undoubtedly gravely embarrassed the farming community of this country. Therefore, no party is entitled, on the facts, to make party capital out of the state of unpreparedness in which the world found itself last winter, and all Governments must share, and take their share, of responsibility in the matter.
It is desirable that we should get the right perspective on this vast, tragic and difficult business. We must remember that the world mobilisation against famine now proceeding has no kind of precedent in time of peace. We easily forget that all previous experience of mobilisation of world resources has been for war against declared and known human enemies. Until a few weeks ago world opinion had not recognised famine as an enemy so formidable as to call for similar measures to be accepted. As in the case of Axis aggression, democracies tend to act effectively and in concert only when their citizens fully grasp what it is for which they are being asked to make sacrifices. Therefore, it is no use talking as if His Majesty's, Government in the United Kingdom were a world Government, able, if they wished, to produce enough to feed the United Kingdom and other countries.
Let us face quite frankly what is the position of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in this difficult food situation. What is our position? Even with intensive effort—and there is an intensive effort, in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) played a great part in the war, aided, as he will recognise, loyally and energetically by the present Minister of Agriculture, who is still, I assure the right hon. Gentleman, fully as energetic as he was in the Coalition Government—we grow only about half our own food. We are, therefore, the most vulnerable great country on earth in a famine contingency. It is a great thing that We raise about half our food supplies and I earnestly hope that British agriculture will never degenerate into the miserable state it did between the wars. I am sure that tat hope is shared in all quarters of the House.
After everything possible has been done here to grow more and to use less, the.main fight must still be won or lost far away—thousands of miles away. We can stimulate and inspire others to produce more and to export more, but we cannot command them. In relation to this we are now in the same position as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is in relation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe. We can ask but we cannot command. In discussing the food policy of the Government a clear distinction must be made between those matters which are under the control of the Ministries of Food and Agriculture and those matters in which the Ministries of Food and Agriculture can only influence and request but not control. Criticisms have been made that the British consumer is not getting enough—and he is not getting enough. It is not only a matter of getting enough. What we all want is that he should get a bit more variety and colour in his daily existence, including matters of food. The criticism that he is not getting enough really boils down to saying, in so far as it is a criticism against the Government, either that the Government ought to have persuaded overseas producers to grow more, or that they ought to have persuaded the exporting countries to send more here at the expense of the hungry countries.
It is difficult to strike a balance between claims for oneself and the recognition of the needs of the hungry countries. It is a tug in the heart of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It was a tug in the heart of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe. It is in mine, and it is in others. One is torn repeatedly between an instinct to say: " Well, let us look out for ourselves and not worry about these other people," and, on the other hand, a right and human feeling that we have got to do everything, including the making of sacrifices, to prevent the spread of famine in the world and its consequences. The Government have, for many months, been urging increases in output, decreases in essential consumption and increases in exports not only in rela- tion to our own citizens, but in the case of all the countries from which food export supplies may be available.
It is only, however, with the world wide awareness of the famine threat, an awareness—I can claim credit for this on behalf of the Government—which has largely been stimulated by His Majesty's Government, that public opinion in all countries has reached the stage of being prepared to accept sufficiently drastic measures to promote effective results. Everybody in all nations must face the gravity of the situation. They must all, in our judgment, be ready for drastic action. Our country must, of course, make its contribution. In particular, it is desirable for other countries to get rid of the disgrace of the black market. In this matter it fills one with a good deal of indignation to hear reports of black market operations. In so far as black market operations are tolerated in receiving countries—countries which are receiving wheat by the sacrifice of others—then it is a matter about which we have the right to complain and to become indignant. The reduction in the stated requirements of the United Kingdom by 200,000 tons means that we must examine the stock position or, as I prefer to call it, the " pipe-line,"Those miles of pipe-line stretching across the Atlantic and starting in the prairies of Canada and so on. My hon. Friend the Minister of Food is engaged in that task.
It was difficult to make the Americans understand the stock position in the United Kingdom. It is bound to be difficult for a country which is a great growing country and, indeed, an exporting country, to understand the special difficulties of a country like ours where we are dependent upon importations from overseas. I did impress upon them that this was a real problem and, as evidence, I pointed to the fact that, in order to protect the stock position, or the pipe-line, after the loaning of 200,000 tons in April, my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Food had reluctantly imposed restrictions and cuts upon the British consumers for that specific purpose, and he certainly would not have done it if he had not believed in the British stock and pipeline argument. Nevertheless, the Americans were not fully convinced, and that was one of the reasons why a concession in the end had to be given. But my hon. Friend the Minister of Food will examine the pipe-line. We must see if it can be condensed or tightened up still further. Doing so may involve risks and real difficulties. It may involve the risk of disturbance and dislocation here and there. In these circumstances, and additionally taking into account the fact that we are living in a terribly uncertain world —nobody can be certain about the food position from month to month, or even week to week; it is a shockingly uncertain world in this matter—taking account of all that, my hon. Friend the Minister of Food is making preparations for a system of bread rationing in case that should be necessary.
This may become necessary, not necessarily for the sake of economising in consumption—though that may become necessary—but because, if we take risks with the pipe-line and run the risk of temporary dislocations here and there, which it is most important we should avoid if we are to go on living in an uncertain world, then my hon. Friend may have to have at his disposal a rationing system. That would be not primarily for the purpose of making further cuts, but in order that the administrative machine may be more quickly adapted to the needs of a changing and increasingly difficult situation, if things should so turn out. Of course, if it should become necessary for him to economise in consumption, then the machinery will be there ready for this. I say no more about that because my hon. Friend the Minister of Food, in his concluding observations, will deal further with the question of rationing.
We are at last at the beginning of a new phase, the phase of world wide mobilisation of all food resources to win the peace. Like other democratic mobilisations, it comes tragically late; like them again, it is accompanied by a daily procession of black news which will go on— let us make no mistake about it—until the mobilisation has brought results in the fullness of time. There is nothing in the experience of this Government which has reminded my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and me and others more of the days when we sat in the right hon. Gentleman's Cabinet in the days of Dunkirk. Then all the news was bad. Blow after blow, tragedy after tragedy hammered at that Cabinet, and we had to keep our spirits up and our jaws set. It is much the same with the food problem. Nearly all the news from all parts of the world has been bad and we have had to wrestle with it at the highest level. It is a matter in which the Prime Minister has taken the closest personal interest.
Nevertheless, the very blackness of the situation is calling forth impressive and inspiring forces which may make this a turning point in human history. It is the first time when men have fought in ail countries on one side. Let us not miss the significance of this, or compromise our opportunities by a failure to recognise the fact that many countries are fighting on one side in the battle. Let us not compromise our opportunities by a failure to rise to their full greatness. This situation is totally different from the situation which faced the predecessor of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe at the Ministry of Food. By the way, his predecessor was not Lord Woolton; it was Lord Llewellin. Let us not compare the problems which faced my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe with the woes that faced Lord Woolton when he was Minister of Food. There is no comparison. The supply position was better, there was no heavy bargaining with the United States, food was a munition of war and was so regarded by the United States. The problem was one of shipping; that was the great bottleneck. There was Lend-Lease, which has gone. So I am bound to say that I think many of the harsh and rough criticisms of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe during his administration were very unfair in not taking into account the totally different circumstances. However, on the occasion of his departure he has been treated with greater kindness by his former critics in the Press. But he had a totally different and infinitely more difficult job than Lord Woolton ever had at the Ministry of Food.
The position as affecting our country before my visit to Washington was, in fact, becoming intolerable. Britain herself, the most dependent of all the great countries on food imports, was in fact, by inference, by tendencies in policy and in practice in the settlement of these matters internationally, in process of being saddled with the responsibility of feeding 20,000,000 hungry Germans and 400,000,000 hungry Indians. This was the problem that my right hon. Friend was up against, the problem that I had to handle as well as stimulating the high level consideration of the world problem. This was the problem of the British at the time when I opened these discussions at Washington with President Truman and the members of the administration. These figures have only to be given to show that it is utterly impossible for the United Kingdom to shoulder that responsibility. It is a responsibility in which other countries and the world as a whole must take their share. Neither of these responsibilities, either in Germany or India, were really the responsibility of the Minister of Food. He had his work cut out in feeding the United Kingdom. He had his problems here, and yet the Minister of Food under those conditions was being forced by events to make continual diversions from the United Kingdom stocks and cargoes afloat in order to avert starvation in the British zone.
I will give the House the figures. Since the German civilian programme began last autumn we have sent to the British zone out of United Kingdom stocks these quantities: flour, 88,000 tons; shipped barley 60,000 tons; barley to be shipped, 70,000 tons, making a total of 218,000 tons. But that is not all. We have arranged diversions to Germany of the following British cargoes afloat: wheat, 255,700 tons; flour, 6,000 tons; oats, 3,500 tons; barley, 7,300 tons, making a further total of 272,500 tons or a grand total of 490,500 tons. Near enough 500,000 tons have been diverted either from stocks or from British cargoes afloat to Germany. In addition, there have been diversions to India. Out of United Kingdom stocks, 4,000 tons of flour have gone to India, and out of cargoes afloat 100,000 tons of wheat, making a total of 104,000 tons. This position developed because of the lack of effective provision for those countries out of international resources, and my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Food had to give up 600,000 tons in all of bread grains which were actually in his possession—they were in his possession, not like the 200,000 tons with which I dealt—to keep hunger at bay in India and in Germany since last autumn or thereabouts.
I get, as I daresay others do, letters of all sorts from people in the country, some urging us to look after the Germans and the Indians, and some being most abusive because we are doing anything of the kind, particularly in the case of the Germans. I understand the feelings of both categories, but let me state why we do these things. As regards India, I think the House will agree that we have a special moral responsibility to do all we can for India. We have done so. As I will show to the Committee, I did all that I could for India at Washington, and I do not think anybody would dispute that. At this particular moment, when discussions are going on between the Cabinet Mission in India and the leaders of the Indian political parties, it is most important that there should not be a sheer smash up in the food supplies of India. Therefore, both on grounds of Empire unity and in the interest of the successful outcome of the present negotiations, I do not think anybody in this House would say that we ought not to help India
Germany is more controversial, but I advance these practical grounds in the case of Germany. If British occupied Germany reaches the stage of complete famine, certain things follow. Ruhr coal cannot be produced by famine stricken miners. Ruhr coal is badly needed not only for Germany but for France and for the whole of Europe—the whole economic situation in Europe is involved. Moreover, if the Germans go down in hunger, trouble will arise, disorder will eventuate; in fact, it has eventuated. Nazism will have the raw material upon which it can recreate itself, and the British military consequences will be grave. The Army itself will be in difficulties and demobilisation will be impeded. Consequently, on mere self-regarding grounds—political, economic and military—it is inevitable that we must seek to keep the occupied area of Germany with a minimum of food necessary to sustain human life as far as we can. That is altogether apart from the fact that the British find it difficult— and I am glad they find it difficult—to achieve any satisfaction out of starving people, whatever their nationality may be, and I think that represents the mind —if not of the few people who write scurrilous postcards and send scurrilous telegrams—and, I am sure, the ultimate judgment of this great British people.
It was in these grave circumstances of increasing difficulty for United Kingdom supplies in view of the diversions to British occupied Germany and India, that, with the entire good will of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhitne, the then Minister of Food—I stress that and I assure the House that this is absolutely true, mischievous newspaper comments to the contrary are absolutely unfounded—and with the great assistance of his officers, whom he placed at my disposal—and I have thanked him both for his personal help and for that of his officers—I went over to America to raise the whole question with President Truman and the high officers of his administration, and to ensure that it should be met, like the war, by mobilising all available resources against all essential needs. I found no disagreement on this necessity, either in the United States or in Canada. It is now accepted—and this is a vital point—that the threat of famine is no passing crisis. It is a continuing peril which will hang over us, at the very least until the harvest of 1947 reaches the consumer. That is accepted in the United States, here and elsewhere, as has been made clear by the Food and Agriculture Conference at Washington which followed. The political and economic consequences of famine on this scale are difficult to predict, since no really comparable disaster has ever hit the community of civilised nations. I have already pointed out the consequences of famine. They are not, of course, just a matter of nutrition, or malnutrition, which has lasting effects, with the possible spread of disease over frontiers, because disease does not take too much notice of frontiers, strategical or otherwise. Enough food to live on is the basis of the whole social and economic fabric, and it is this foundation which is cracking before our eyes.
What are the results of the Washington agreement? In the first place, it brings to an end the impossible position with which our representatives in the British zone of Germany have been faced, and with which my hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been faced; he also gets his share of headaches on the food front. Stocks on hand and in sight for the British zone at the time I left London were so low that by today there would not have been a ton of bread grains left in British occupied Germany. That was the position. In such conditions we obviously could not have maintained our share in the occupation. It would have fallen to pieces; it could not have gone on. Therefore, I can claim, and I do claim, that as a result of the Washington talks this threat to the prestige and security of the British position in occupied Germany has now been averted.
The right hon. Gentleman will hear; I will tell the Committee. Supplies for the British zone are again flowing at a rate sufficient at least to maintain distribution of food at the present level, low as that is. India was also faced with a breakdown of rationing in many Provinces during July and August. Here again there is good reason to suppose that the threat of breakdown has been averted. I earnestly hope so. At any rate, the situation is materially better and will be materially better than it was.
I have been pressed to give the figures for India and the British zone. I am now going to give them, and I am very delighted to give them. It really would not have done for me to give them before, because there are many other claimants in the queue, and premature divulgence of the figures might have crossed the wires, raised feelings and complicated the negotiations, with damage to our own interests and to the sweetness of the whole procedure. I am now in a position to give the figures to the Committee, which I would have loved to have given earlier on. I do not like to keep information from the House, but it really was necessary in the public interest. I made up my mind that as soon as I could give the figures I would, and this is the first opportunity for me to do so; therefore, I now give them.
Since recommendations in accordance with the agreement have, in the meantime, been submitted to the Combined Food Board by the United Kingdom and the United States Governments, it will be the duty of the Combined Food Board to consider these recommendations and, through the medium of the Exporters Sub-committee and the Cereals Committee of the Board, to draw up a full programme for shipment to claimant countries over the whole period, giving the sources of supply. The preparation of this programme is a complex matter and has not yet been completed. I am able, however, to inform the Committee that agreement was reached with the United States Government as to the quantities for India and the British zone of Germany to be recommended to the Combined Food Board by the two Governments—and Canada is with us—as a charge upon total available supplies from all sources. With regard to India, the quantity of wheat and coarse grain recommended over the five months from May to September was 1,165,000 tons, exclusive of any allocations of rice which the Combined Food Board will be able to make available during the period in question.
It is a figure in the programme. It is difficult to say whether before there really was any figure in the programme at all, because hitherto no figure has been accepted. Figures were mentioned, but had not been accepted, and were ineffective. Therefore, we now have this recognised by the two Governments, and by the Canadian Government, who will instruct their representatives accordingly, so that India is really officially and properly in the picture.
It is exceedingly difficult to be absolutely firm and precise about Indian figures. I say that with no reflection upon anybody. It is exceedingly difficult. I want to be frank with the noble Lord. These figures are less than India asked for. But what else could we do in a situation where we have such a deficiency, after screening, of some 3,500,000 tons of wheat? Cuts had to be made. That is why we had to make the cut of 200,000 tons. We could not help it.
On 7th May the Prime Minister said to me, replying to a Question:
It was agreed with the United States authorities during the recent visit of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food to Washington that India should receive 1,400,000 tons of wheat and coarse grains during the first half of 1946."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 133.3
He then said that 380,000 tons of that had been shipped up to the end of April. Do these new figure's which the Lord President has just given come on top of that, or are they a substitution? In addition, did not he say that the figures he has given covered from May to September? How does that link up? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot give the answer now, will he issue a statement showing how that all marries up?
I can give a quite simple answer. The 1,165,000 tons is the total allocation. I understand " allocation is the wrong word, for some reason. It is the total programme provision, or recommendation, for India for May to September. There is no addition of any previous commitments. That is the total for this period. I would only say that it is an infinitely firmer provision than ever before. It is accepted by the three Governments. The other figures have not been accepted.
It really is not less, for two reasons. The figure of 1,400,000 was dealing with a six months period, and this is a five months period. Moreover, all the signs indicated that the 1,400,000 was not going to be provided, because it had not been accepted definitely by the other Governments. They were friendly about it. This is in a firmer position, and India is much more likely to get it.
No, Sir. I am being as generous as I can with the Committee about figures. If I am to produce the whole of the claims and cuts—because that is the position we shall get into—we shall be in difficulties. India did ask for more. I myself, of my own knowledge, cannot answer for the Tightness of the Indian claim, neither can I answer for other countries abroad, but it was bound to be less, because the supplies are simply not there.
A year is another matter. I am dealing with the five months period. We will see: it may be that these figures can be given at a later date; I do not want to hide them. I only say that these discussions are still going on and if we were to publish the whole of the claims and the whole of the cuts, we might give rise to complications for ourselves and the interests of India. Moreover, whatever the programme was, India was not in fact being well supplied. The shipments to India from January to April were 329,000 tons of bread grains. The agreement, if fully implemented, will give a total of approximately 1,500,000 tons for January to September, 1946, apart from rice, and this compares with imports of wheat in 1944 of just over 600,000 tons and in 1945 of 759,000 tons, and with prewar imports of wheat, flour and rice altogether of about 1,500,000 tons. Thus, in spite of the world-wide crisis, India's lost rice imports are being more than made up in wheat supplies.
It may be that my right hon. Friend was not talking about precisely the same things that I am talking about. I cannot give the answer right off, but there may be an explanation of that kind. It must be remembered that before I went to Washington the only reasonably reliable bread grain shipments in sight for India were about 100,000 tons. That was mainly wheat and flour from Australia, with one cargo of Argentine maize. The later months threatened to be as bad or worse: prospects now, on the basis of the agreement, are about 300,000 tons, and the new rate represents roughly 60 per cent.—I can give this figure—of India's stated minimum requirement, as against 20 per cent. in sight, at the most, before I went to Washington. I think that is as much information as I can reasonably give.
Now I come to the British zone of Germany, Here the quantity recommended for shipment for the same period, May to September, was 675,000 tons. I do not want the Committee to think that I did a bargain on India and Germany against 200,000 tons from the United Kingdom. We tried not to get into a haggling market spirit about this, nor did we try to do a deal. I sat down with my advisers, and the United States administration sat down with their advisers, in the spirit of saying, " Here is an awful problem, we have to lift it on to a high level, what can we do to solve it? How can all of us help and make our contribution to the solution of the problem? "I, therefore, make no claim that I gave up 200,000 tons out of a programme—out of a hope— and got something else in return. We were trying to solve the problem, and it was in that spirit that the discussions proceeded.
I should emphasise that sources of supply for these quantities have not yet been determined, and that since a substantial deficit still remains on world account it does not follow that these actual quantities will be fully realised in practice, unless additional supplies can be made available sufficient to make good the deficit. As stated in the communiqué, the two Governments are resolved to do everything in their power to secure those additional supplies. In so far as these efforts fail to achieve their purpose, the net deficiency will not be met wholly at the expense of those two claimants but will be spread, so far as practicable, among claimant countries generally. The Committee will be glad to learn that since my discussions in Washington the United States Government have found it possible to make available for India and the British zone of Germany appreciable quantities of wheat and coarse grain for early shipment.
The Opposition have expressed doubt whether any advantages will accrue from the arrangements made in Washington to reconcile us to the acceptance of a 200,000-ton reduction in our own claims. I would give the advantages in this way. First, the British zone in Germany has been rescued from immediate starvation, and will now obtain a fair share of world supplies. Second, while the position in India is notoriously difficult to assess, India also can look forward to more than 1,000,000 tons of bread grains, apart from rice, during the next four months. That is much more than she has ever imported in any full year before, although, of course, it is only fair and proper to add that rice imports in India are far below the prewar level and to some extent India is only taking wheat because she cannot get the rice. Third, the United Kingdom has been relieved of the running drain on stocks and cargoes afloat which I have described; and, fourth, we have now created the necessary spirit and framework for a real, world wide, concerted attack on famine, which will be pursued through the International Emergency Food Council agreed upon this week in Washington. With great modesty and humility, I do not myself think that these are insignificant advantages, even if we are 200,000 tons worse off ourselves, on programme, as compare'3 with our originally stated claim.
That is the report I give to the Committee. I hope and believe it will commend itself to the Committee as an effort which was worth while. My hon. Friend the new Minister of Food will conclude this Debate, and, to the best of his ability, give any further information that the Committee may require. I would only say this on behalf of my hon. Friend. He comes to a difficult and tricky job. He will have plenty of trouble, he will walk on dynamite as he walks through the corridors of the Ministry of Food. He has started well by promising frankness, and consultation with the housewives and others who are vitally concerned. I hope the Committee will recognise that my hon. Friend has taken on a task of great difficulty and great risk, and that they will give him all the support, encouragement, good will and tolerance of which the House of Commons is pre-eminently capable when a man takes up a job of great difficulty and complexity. He deserves, and he ought to have, the good will of the House and the country. We look forward to his administration with every hope and belief that he will succeed. If, in my temporary excursion into this complicated and dangerous field, I have been of any assistance to my hon. Friend, or if I have been of any assistance to my country, then I myself shall feel amply rewarded.
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, can he state what steps are being taken to inform the German people very fully of what this country is doing to help Germany out in its difficulties? For the reasons he has given, surely, it is of the utmost importance that the very fullest possible statement should be made to the Germans as to what is being done by this country.
Just a minute—my hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster tells me that Sir Sholto Douglas has had a meeting of the area people this week, and the Press has been fully informed of what is going on. No doubt much of what I have said in this Debate today will be transmitted to Germany also.
The Lord President compared the war against famine with an operation of war, and I do not suppose there will be many hon. Members who would quarrel with that comparison. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, that carries with it the implication that the same standards of efficiency demanded in the conduct of war are needed in the conduct of this matter. It follows inevitably that the same refusal to consider the feelings of individuals which is necessary in the conduct of warlike operations, shall be adopted in this matter.
It is fair to say that the mystery surrounding what I may term the liquidation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rotherhithe (Sir B. Smith) has not been in any degree reduced by the speech of the Lord President. We have been told that there was no disagreement in policy, that the right hon. Gentleman was not dis- missed for inefficiency and the only hint which was given in explanation of the disappearance of a Minister of major importance was that the right hon. Gentleman had been a little tired. Any hon. Member who knows the patriotism and spirit of self-sacrifice which has always actuated the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe will not for a moment accept that suggestion. Is it really seriously suggested that a Minister of the Crown, charged with these tremendous responsibilities at this time, engaged upon what the Lord President has described as something akin to an operation of war, has abandoned his post because he is a little tired? I really feel that that explanation, if explanation it be, is grossly unfair to the right hon. Gentleman. We are entitled to be told what are the real reasons for this departure after a great deal of criticism of a Minister of major importance.
The Lord President was good enough, in his most own courteous fashion, to suggest that an attempt was being made to make party political capital out of the food situation. The introduction of the question of food into party politics is not new. It is conventional in addressing the House— at any rate for hon. Members opposite— to refer to a document entitled " Let us face the future."In that document, on page 3, under the heading, " What the Election will be about,"There is the undoubtedly true statement
That the nation wants food, work and homes. It wants more than that. It wants good food in plenty.
This stimulating document then continues to observe:
These are the aims. In themselves they are no more than words. All parties may declare that in principle they agree with them, but the test of a political programme is whether it is sufficiently in earnest about the objectives to adopt the (means needed to realise them.
Hon. Members opposite who are perfectly familiar with the terms of their mandate, cheer these observations. That, in my view, is a perfectly proper introduction of the question of food into party politics at a General Election, and it is a little unkind of the Lord President to regard Hon. Members on this side of the House as being party partisans who are dragging a great issue into party politics, when we raise this question of food today. There can be no matter of greater importance to the people of the country. Faced with a situation of this gravity, an Opposition
which did not raise this matter would not only be neglecting its duty, but would have that neglect of duty pointed out most forcibly by the Lord President on the first possible occasion. The seriousness of the issue emerges from the words of the Prime Minister as recently as 4th April. Before these cuts were imposed, the Prime Minister said this:
We have, as I believe the people of this country would have wished us to do, reduced our margin of safety to the limit to help others, but further we cannot go."-—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1946; Vol. 421, c. 1413.]
Futher we have gone—to the extent of 200,000 tons. Surely it is a little ungenerous of the Lord President to suggest that in seeking to discuss the Government's action in going further than they stated a few weeks ago, the Opposition is now attempting to make party politics out of this question? Hon. Members on this side are concerned about one thing, and that is that a matter of fundamental importance to every man, woman and child in this country is handled with the same efficiency as is required in an operation of war. I must confess that I do not thoroughly understand the reference of the Lord President to the 200,000 tons. I understand from his observations that we are sacrificing nothing, we never had the 200,000 tons, and the sacrifice is of negligible importance. It is a little difficult to reconcile that with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in his Press conference in Washington.
This is a very interesting, thin, debating speech, but the hon. Member is quite wrong. I did not say that. All I was quoting was the hon. Gentleman's leader, who thought I had physically handed over 200,000 tons. I explained what it was; it was something quite different. I certainly do not underestimate this 200,000 tons, and I wish to goodness we had them.
I am reassured by that interjection, because there is now no misunderstanding. The Lord President admits that a substantial sacrifice was made. He will correct me if I am wrong. That being so, it is a little dubious what value was obtained for that sacrifice. The figures which the Lord President gave with respect to India seem to me to indicate a diminution and a stepping down of the claims of India upon the Combined Food Board. So far as Ger-many is concerned, I do not know whether the provision for the British zone of Germany is charged directly to the United Kingdom allocation or not. All the right hon. Gentleman appears to have purchased by the sacrifice of 200,000 tons, which, as his own leader stated on 4th April, we could not sacrifice, has been American advocacy before the Combined Food Board. If the Combined Food Board serves any useful purpose, it serves the purpose of a proper and fair allocation of the world supplies. If it does not do that, it is a waste of time. If the Lord President had not obtained American advocacy and primed the gun with 200,000 tons, is it suggested that the Combined Food Board would have come to another decision?
Is it suggested that it was necessary to surrender this 200,000 tons to cause the Combined Food Board to do its duty, which is to secure a fair allocation of world supplies? I must confess that I cannot follow the Lord President's argument that in order to persuade this august international body to make a fair allocation, it was necessary to surrender further foodstuffs in view of the fact that only a few weeks previously we had been assured that no further surrenders could be made. I shall be interested to know, when the Minister of Food comes to reply, whether it is suggested that the Combined Food Board would have made any different allocation to what it has made if this 200,000 tons had not been offered. The matter is fundamental. If the Combined Food Board is a body whose decisions can be bought, if it is a body which it is necessary to lobby by advocacy, then its functions have indeed gone into disrepute. If, on the other hand, it is a body which fairly, scrupulously and evenly allots the diminishing resources of world food, then why was it necessary to make this surrender? I hops that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that.
As I understand it, this Debate also relates to the administration of the Department by the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe. I do not propose to say very much about that. It is repugnant for most of us to kick a man when he is down, particularly when he has never been very much up. In the absence of the right hon. Gentleman himself, it is perhaps a little unfair, even if he has had due notice, to challenge his personal administration, but I think one is entitled to say this, that the now admitted lack of foresight in the conduct of our food organisation and the admitted lack of long-sighted and intelligent planning cannot be attributed solely to the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe. It is not possible for His Majesty's Government, having liquidated the right hon. Gentleman, to come before the House and free themselves of all responsibility. The provision of proper food supplies by a Minister competent to secure it, and the giving to that Minister of the status and authority sufficient to enable him to carry out that task is the responsibility of the Government as a whole. And I hope it will not be suggested that a mere post mortem upon the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe, and a mere examination of why we passed from the days of Woolton pie to the days of Smith's potato crisps will be considered a sufficient defence for the Government handling of this problem.
The fact does remain that there was a complete lack of foresight. When the right hon. Gentleman the former Minister of Food told his tale of woe to this House on 5th February, he told us that the food situation had been causing anxiety since the previous summer. Despite that, despite the warnings given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), despite the constant warnings of the Leader of the Opposition, and despite constant attention being drawn to these matters, it was not until 5th February that the appeal was sent to the farmers to increase production; it was not until a month later that the call-up of agricultural labourers was stopped. If it be true—and I am sure it is, as it was said by the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe on 5th February—that the situation had given rise to increasing anxieties since the summer, the Committee is entitled to be told why urgent action to remedy these things was taken belatedly in the months of February and March instead of being taken in the months of August and September. Once again I hope the failure to take that action will not be attributed to the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe but will be fairly and squarely accepted by those upon whom it should lie—the Government of the day.
I would, if I may, add my good wishes to the Minister of Food in the task he has undertaken, and I imagine that his absence from the Front Bench at this moment would indicate that he is renewing his connection with food. I do. hope that he and the Government of which he is a Member will reflect upon the position of the housewives of this country. The Lord President of the Council dealt in a broad way with the problems of the world, but the problems of the people of this country are as acute in some ways as those of any people in the world. They have been rationed for longer, much more strictly and, it is fair to say, much more efficiently. Their reserves are few, and I am perfectly certain that the Members opposite who represent mining constituencies will agree that it is not only the miners of the Ruhr whose output is affected by the shortage of food. We know there are countries in the world where food conditions are perfectly easy; we know that there are countries in the world who have made no proper contribution to the world shortage; we know there are countries in the world where a great deal of food goes to the black market; and we know there are countries in the world whose standard of living is higher than it was in 1939.
All these matters surely are a challenge to the Minister of Food in this country to secure a fair and a square deal for the people here. After all, our whole recovery, as we have been told again and again by members of the Government, depends upon the energy and the force which our people put into the work of reconstruction and recovery of trade. They cannot do it unless they are properly fed, and I hope that the Minister of Food will remember that his primary responsibility, his first responsibility and his greatest responsibility is to secure an adequate and full diet for the people of this country. I can assure him if he succeeds that there will be no criticism on party or other grounds from this side of the House. We shall be only too thankful if he can succeed where I am afraid the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe failed.
I will not keep the Committee long, but there are. two points to which I should like, to call attention. The first of these is the central group of figures in the world food situation. These are, unquestionably, the amounts of grain that are being eaten by American animals. A startling set of figures were published in "The Times " some weeks ago by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Mr. Gaitskell) before, of course, he was elevated to Ministerial rank. These figures as far as I know have not been challenged. At the time when he wrote the estimated world deficiency in grain supplies for export was of the order of 10,000,000 tons. I do not recall the exact figure of the total consumption of grain by animals in the United States of America at that time, but it was well over 100,000,000 tons. That is a most significant figure, and I can recall most clearly that the increase in the consumption of grain by the animal population of the United States of America over the same consumption in 1939 was no less than 30,000,000 tons.
No doubt conversion ratios are very complex in this matter, and before we can get any strictly comparable figure of a wheat equivalent there would obviously be some reduction in this total, but I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that the animal population in the United States—the pigs, poultry, and cows—were consuming at least twice as much more grain in 1946 than would be required to resolve the whole food problem of the world at least in the sense of preventing famine from appearing anywhere. It is not my business, nor the business of His Majesty's Government, to tell our American friends what to do about this problem, but no one contemplating the history of American opinion, the history of American generosity, can believe that if this dreadful fact were fully understood by the peoples of America, they would not willingly come to the assistance of the starving peoples of the world, and insist on effective measures being taken to acquire this grain for more urgent uses.
I understand that it is a matter of price policy. The higgling of the market, so much praised by the Leader of the Opposition in his opening speech, produced a set of price relationships that made it more profitable to feed grain to animals than to sell it for human consumption. I understand that the recent rise in price for grain for direct human consumption will cease in the matter of days or weeks. Again, I am given to understand that what makes it difficult for the American Administration is the fear that any further increase in the price offered in the market for export will break down the general control of prices, and will actually make the situation worse by causing the farming community to hold back grain in the expectation of still further rises in price. That is where the matter must now remain—in the hands of the American Administration. But I repeat my conviction that I cannot believe that, if the American people were fully conscious of the immensity of the need, and of the extraordinary resources they possess to meet it, they would be unwilling to support effective measures to secure grain for human consumption throughout the world.
The second point I would like to make is to assure my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council—although I realise he needs no such assurance— that the people of this country are prepared to continue to do their duty. He does not need to be told that our people will insist upon grumbling. Whether the food situation improves or not, whether further sacrifices are required from them or not, they will grumble at the conduct of public business. But they will understand that the dreadful first signs of famine are already appearing in Germany. The infant mortality rate is rising. The death rate is rising. The rate of absenteeism is rising. I remember the Leader of the Opposition once saying that we " should not stain our victorious arms with vengeance."There would be no more terrible vengeance than to stain our victorious arms with the lives of children. The British people will not deny to the Government any powers which are necessary to secure that we make the greatest contribution we can, short of a severe decline in our health, to save the lives of the people who were once our enemies.
I think we all regret the absence of the ex-Minister of Food today. As one who has been not only a critic of his administration, but who was for a time a colleague of his in office, I should have preferred to have said certain things in his presence, rather than in his absence. After all, a resignation from office is not a funeral, and we cannot be expected to preserve undue obituary reticence about the administration during the tenure of the former Minister. I remember that in my youth a famous Oxford don used to say to his pupils, " Remember that the Final Schools and the Day of Judgment are two examinations, and not one." So it is with the incidents of public life. I trust that although we shall have no longer the ample and genial figure of the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench, he will find an at least equally comfortable place—and quite a number of us have gone through this experience—either on the back benches, or in a neutral convenient place below the Gangway. We shall hope to see him as genial in the future in the less arduous and less crowded position which he will now occupy. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can altogether complain, or the Government, after resigning as he has done, with no more explicit explanation than he has given to the Press, and in view of his absence today, if he is taken by the public to some extent to have given a verdict against himself.
I will only say this: I think we have all recognised, and those who have criticised him have recognised, the right hon. Gentleman's real sincerity, unremitting exertions and passionate desire to see the people of this country fed, and fed better. We realise that if sometimes he has been less responsive than we would have wished to some of our suggestions regarding supplies for other countries for whom we have responsibility, it was because of this overriding preoccupation with the food supplies of this country, and not inhumanity which led to his decision. The criticism I have made is that the right hon. Gentleman did not, to the extent to which the facts accessible should have enabled him, either foresee the situation developing or forewarn the public of this country or the world. I also think that as a Minister in a Government which is responsible in regard to other countries, to India and the British occupied zone, he took too modest a view of his functions and considered himself too exclusively as responsible for the food supplies within the frontiers of this Island. Having said that, I pass to the immediate and the future situation.
As regards the Lord President's mission to Washington, the Committee had not been in a position to form any responsible view as to how valuable that mission was until the right hon. Gentleman gave us the figures only a few minutes ago. All of us would wish to examine those figures, with the accompanying reservations and qualifications, before we come to anything like a considered opinion on the exact result. For example, with regard to supplies for India, I could not gather that what is now to be included in the programme is substantially higher than the amount which we had thought, from the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson), had been assured when the former Minister of Food was at Washington. Doubtless, as a result of the recent mission, the future allocation is more sure than it was, but it is not, I think, necessarily more sure than we were led to believe by the previous answer.
As regards the British zone in Germany, I think we have all heard with the greatest possible relief that the arrangements made by the Minister have resulted in the avoidance for the present of what would have been a very great tragedy. In view of this, I want to say sincerely that I have no doubt that, having heard the speech of the Lord President and having read with some care the statements inserted in HANSARD on 23rd May, his mission was well worth while. In particular, I think it will be of the very greatest advantage if he is able to secure immediate effect to the agreement in principle that henceforth the rations in the British and American, and perhaps also the French, zones will be on an equal basis and equally assured.
I do not associate myself with any suggestions that the British Government have been misled by any exaggerations of the need of Europe and of the world. There may have been exaggerations here and there, but I am sure that, without any exaggeration, the plight and the prospect are such as to go far beyond anything that is being done, or can be done. What is of much more importance than possible exaggeration are suggestions frequently appearing in the Press that are intended to suggest precisely the opposite. For instance, a few days ago, under some such heading as "Is Europe really hungry? ", I saw a report from a correspondent who explained the way in which he had bought a most luxurious meal at a cost of £6. Meals that can be bought for £6 are not a very relevant factor in calculating the plight of hundreds of millions of underfed Europeans. Where there is extreme scarcity, there is bound to be something of a black market, and where the prices in the black market are as fantastically high as £6 for a meal, they are a pretty clear indication that the amount in the black market is not sufficient to prevent starvation in the country, even if the black market supplies were spread over the country as a whole. To speak about black market meals at £6 as though they are in any way an indication that there is not great and unavoidable starvation in the countries concerned, is something that makes pale into insignificance the famous folly of Marie Antoinette's question, "If they cannot get bread, why don't they buy cake? ".
I have just come back from a short visit to the British zone in Germany, and I would like to say a few words especially about our responsibility there. We are ourselves there directly responsible for the Government of some 22 million people. The German administration are acting only as our agents and our servants. The zone is one which is about as far from being self-supporting in food as this country ordinarily is. When I was there, we were right on the edge of a terrible abyss. As the Lord President has explained, we were very near indeed to the point at which even the very low rations—the 1,050 calories—now given would have to be cut off. But let us no-deceive ourselves that, if the danger of that reduction has been averted, the; situation is or will long remain satisfactory, unless there is a great and positive improvement in supplies. Anything like 1,000 calories is definitely starvation if continued for any length of time, as we have found in our experience of the camps, where supplements by individuals are not possible, and where we have had to put the provided food well above that level. I was very glad to see in the Washington statement that it is intended to put up the ration to the American level, which is 200 or 300 calories more a day, as soon as feasible. I will again express the opinion that for any length of time anything less than 1,500 calories, the rate at which the ration in our zone stood till the recent reduction, is not really a tolerable figure, and I hope that we shall put 1,500 calories as our target, and not 1,000, or even 1,250.
I do not think any English visitor could go to the British zone, as I did, with the opportunity of having personal talks with almost all the most responsible British officials in the zone, both military and civilian, without coming back with a very real sense of national pride. The qualities, the ability, the attitude to their task and the broad humanity of their" outlook are extremely impressive. I was no less impressed" by the fact that they were facing a task which, at its best, is almost superhumanly difficult, and which is bound to become quite impossible, in whatever sphere one is considering—the political the revival of industry, or anything else—if the ground is cut from underneath them by the failure of food imports. Therefore, I repeat that, while we are all extremely glad that the great tragedy which was threatening a few days ago has, at least for the time being, been averted, and that there will be nothing dramatic in the way of a collapse before the harvest, it is absolutely essential soon that the whole standard and scale should be put up. I trust that will be possible by means of the arrangements that have been made, and will be made, through the Combined Food Board.
I realise that, in relation to our resources, this country has made a contribution which will compare very favourably with that of any other country. If however it should prove impossible to obtain sufficient supplies from elsewhere to stabilise the position of food supplies in the British zone at a higher rate than the present 1,050 calories—although I have never up to this moment advocated a reduction in our standard rations—I would ask the new Minister of Food to consider whether, even at the cost of some further sacrifice here, we could do something to raise the level above its present rate. Our average consumption here is 2,856 calories a day. Having regard to the difference in the numbers involved, to the fact that it is not a matter really of 22,500,000, but at most of something like 10,000,000 of the urban population who are unable to get any supplement in the country, the difference between 1,050 and 1,500 represents something like 100 calories on the average food consumption of this country; that is less than a 28th or 3 per cent. of the total.
While I hope it may be possible to get the necessary supplies from other countries, and while even if we make a contribution I hope it may be possible without a reduction in the standard rations, I would ask the Minister to consider whether, in the last resort, even at the cost of fresh restrictions of bread consumption, we should not see that even at that cost the rations should be increased to 1,500 calories in Germany.
Next I would suggest to the new Minister that he should try again to see whether he cannot give some satisfaction to the very widespread desire of many people in this country to make voluntary contributions. I was very glad to see from an answer he gave to a Question two days ago that he is turning his mind to this matter. I assure him that I know some of the difficulties involved, but if he could find a scheme which is satisfactory in this respect he would earn the gratitude of many people among the givers and not only among the recipients.
One word now about the other side of the world. There is one, and perhaps only one, rich stock of food in the world which is not required by, or even claimed by, the producing population for home consumption, and that is the rice in Siam. I say only a word or two on this because I have every hope that more will be said by someone who speaks on this matter with greater authority than I. I would like the Minister to consider whether some further steps cannot be taken to bring into the pool of the Combined Food Board this very large amount of rice which, I am told, amounts to 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 tons. I know that efforts have been made, by Lord Nathan for example, but I wonder whether some kind of effort in conjunction with the United States might not succeed where other efforts have failed. While speaking of Japan may I call attention to one passage in the Washington statement which says that the United States Government have reviewed the programme of imports into Japan with a view to ensuring that Japan does not receive preferential treatment over Allied and liberated areas? As one reads the terms of that paragraph the inference seems perfectly clear (a) that Japan has hitherto been given such preference and (b) that even now the abject is only to bring them down to something like an equality with the liberated areas. I confess that I was quite unable to see why Germany should be under any greater penalty than Japan. I think that if the whole of the Japanese import programme and the problem of the Far East were looked at on the basis of the same criteria as those adopted in Europe the effect might be to improve the position of European countries at the cost of some not unmerited revision of the Japanese supplies.
There is one last thing I should like to say to the new Minister. My chief complaint about his predecessor was that he would not inform the world of the whole position as he was able to see it or, at any rate, as the facts at his command should have enabled him to see it. I tried for three or four months to get the promise of a lucid, candid and comprehensive White Paper. When I received the promise it was a further two months before the White Paper came, and when it did come it was certainly not the lucid, candid, and comprehensive document I had asked for. It was severely and justly criticised in the House. Indeed anyone who has had experience of how official documents are drafted could have inferred quite confidently, as I did at the time, that the delay in publication was due not so much to the time taken to find new information to be inserted, but to the time taken to decide what was to be left out. A great deal, I feel sure, was cut out from the later drafts of that White Paper.
I asked the former Minister a few days ago when he would produce the amended, and, I hoped, improved edition which had been promised to me as far back as February. I pressed him to do it in the month of May, when the F.A.O. met in Washington. He said that he had been considering the matter and that there might perhaps be a quarterly publication starting in July. In relation to the present circumstances and the present situation this is really not good enough. I would ask the new Minister whether he could not give us an immediate new edition of the White Paper and whether, in the present circumstances, we could not have a monthly edition. In the new edition I would ask him if he could not, at last, really give us the true facts about our wheat stocks. The reticence of the Government during the last few months has been most extraordinary. The former Prime Minister gave us total global food stocks of this country as far back as March of last year when we were still in full hostilities. It was not until February of this year that we could get the corresponding amended figures from the present Government. The former Prime Minister gave those figures for the purpose and with the result of killing dead fantastic exaggerations of the extent of our stocks at that time. In the following year the stocks fell and fell, and because until February this year the present Government would give nothing in the way of amendment, it is natural that the figures given in the previous March, which did great injustice to the whole of our cause and prejudiced our negotiations, remained the figures before America and before the world. We now have our global food stocks but we are still denied our wheat stocks. How can we possibly assess the real value of the arrangement made by the Lord President in Washington if, although he has now given us some details of the promised contributions that are coming from America, he does not tell us in relation to what wheat stocks the elimination of 200,000 tons from our programme has been made? And why should he not?
The former Minister told us a few weeks ago that unless he was specifically ordered he would not give figures of individual commodities. Why not? I have heard the reasons given but they simply do not apply to the publication of our wheat stocks, and I ask the new Minister to look into this and to ask himself whether it has. not been an unnecessary humiliation to this Government that we have had the Minister of Food and the Prime Minister saying time after time that our wheat stocks are down to a minimum and that we cannot go any lower and then, by announcing their agreement to 200,000 tons of wheat being taken out of our programme, admitting that their earlier statements were not justified. We have done great harm to our cause and we shall continue to do so unless we really state the whole of our case with the whole of the relevant facts. It is a good case and there is no doubt that the record of this country in regard to meeting the necessity of the other countries, bearing in mind our resources and the fact that we are an importing country, is not one we need be afraid to put to the world. There is every advantage to us and to the whole cause of the food negotiations in publishing it clearly. I hope the Minister will not consider that this is a small or unimportant matter in relation to the purposes that he has in mind. There is a sentence in the Washington
statement of which I hope this Committee will realise the tragic significance:
The measures recently adopted for diverting grain into human consumption and for cutting down consumption in livestock are only now beginning to have their full effect.
Why? The answer was given by the Lord President just now. He said that it was only in the last few weeks that world opinion had realised the magnitude and character of the food crisis. Why is that? It is largely because the Minister of Food, and the Government of which he was a Member, have refused and refused and refused to give the kind of information which they could have given and which, properly presented, properly publicised, properly dramatised, would, I believe, have enabled many of the measures that are now being taken to have been taken so many months earlier that they would have largely transformed the present situation.
I hope that the new Minister, who comes here with a record of having always shown an obvious desire both to meet the wishes of the House and to give every kind of relevant explanation both of facts and reasons of policy, will continue in his new office, whatever traditions and precedents he may find there, the record and traditions of his earlier administration. One of his greatest assets in starting upon his new and extremely difficult task is the fund of good will he has earned by the way in which he has dealt with questions put to him in the past. I am sure that if he will continue in that tradition, he will find that as he goes on, and as he has to call upon the British public perhaps for longer endurance and further sacrifices, he will find that the confidence they have in him at this moment, if he justifies its retention, will be one of his greatest supports. After all this public has shown in the course of six years that it has the right to be treated as an adult public, to be taken into the confidence of Ministers who are asking them to make sacrifices, and has never shown itself unworthy of that confidence.
I want to say something on a matter which has been raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), namely, the problem of public opinion. I shall not attempt to go into the arithmetic of the situation. Putting it very broadly, we and other countries are making sacrifices and the world will gain. I believe that to be a right policy, but that policy must have the understanding and support of public opinion if it is to be a success. It seems to me that any difficulty which exists in gaining the support of public opinion is not in relation to India but in relation to Germany, whether or not we should deny ourselves in order to feed the German people. It has been said over and over again in Debates in the House that this is not a party issue. If it is treated as such, as unfortunately it has been, the Conservative Party will lose very much more than we shall.
The Lord President of the Council said this morning that this is a poltical problem in the widest sense; that if we fail to deal with the situation in Germany as it is today, bitterness will be created which may lead to a revival of Nazism and that will mean holding Germany down by force for many years to come. He also said that it is an economic problem, that starving people cannot work. It has been said to me on more than one occasion in private conversation that it would be to the advantage of this country if Germany did meet with economic collapse. Nothing, of course, could be more fallacious than that point of view. It is quite impossible for this country to prosper unless Europe also prospers; if Europe is to prosper, Germany must prosper, and if Germany is to prosper the German people must be fed so that they can produce the coal and other things that are needed. So, as again the Lord President said, if we look at this problem from the political and from the economic angle, self-interest alone leads us to play our part in feeding the people of Germany and other enemy countries. However, it is not only a political and an economic problem but a moral issue. All I shall say there is that it is better to be the Good Samaritan than to be the Pharisee.
I want to turn to certain practical questions which arise in relation to this problem of public opinion. If this policy of the Government is to succeed, it must have the support of public opinion. What are the practical issues involved there? I take the view myself that it will do no one any good if we in this country sacrifice so much that our health is seriously affected, particularly the health of the children. Will the people of this country accept the view that, within those limits, we should take risks and make sacrifices, which is, as I understand it, the view of the Government? I must confess that some months ago I took a different view from that which I am taking now. I frankly confess that I have changed my view as the situation has worsened, and I believe now that the policy of the Government is right, as I have attempted to outline it, and I am prepared to give the Government my full support not only here but in the country, in trying to get the Government's policy across to the public. Did the right hon. Gentleman wish to say something?
I did not say I had repented, I have not; I have merely changed my view, and for this simple reason, that the facts of the situation have changed. Those people who are incapable of changing their views when the facts change are extremely rigid in their mental make-up. As I have said, a few months ago I was inclined to say that we should not reduce our standards here. I am now prepared to say, as the situation has become so very much worse on the Continent and in other countries, that I believe the Government's policy of sacrifice, of taking risks, within limits, is right, and I am prepared to play my part for what it is worth in putting this policy across to the people.
I wish to consider for a moment or two on what lines we can expect to gain and keep the support of public opinion for this policy. We have people who say that if the Germans had won the war they would have starved us, and, therefore, why should we feed them? The short answer is that we did not fight and win the war in order to copy the Nazis. I believe that the great majority of the people will accept the policy of the Government on the following conditions: First, that the facts are explained to them and their imagination is aroused. I ask the Minister of Food to pay special attention to that. We need much more publicity in the Press, in films, on the wireless, on posters, and in every other way, so as to bring the facts home to the people, to rouse their imagination, and to make us all realise that, although we cannot see what is happening, these things are going on, and people are actually starving.
I am certain that the first condition is that the facts should be brought home to the people and explained to them. Secondly, public opinion must be satisfied that the Government have done their best to gain the full support and sacrifices of other countries, that a real effort is being made to secure the cooperation of all countries in this great effort. I am fully satisfied that the Government have done their utmost in that direction. All I am asking is that the people should be satisfied also. Thirdly, the people must also be satisfied that what supplies of food we have got are fairly issued. There must be no black market for long purses. Lastly, I would say that the people must be satisfied that we are making the best possible use of all the supplies of food we have got, that for example we are not losing fish through bad transport.
When considering the question of public opinion in relation to this great effort the trouble is that the fight against famine is less dramatic than war. We did not expect, when the war ended, that we should have to embark on this long grim struggle. Most of us, when we had to stand up to bombing, realised most of the time that by doing so we were helping to win the war. It is a much more difficult job for the harassed housewife, after six years of war, going on " making do," facing all the difficulties of feeding her family, to realise that she is saving people from starvation and is helping to win the peace. As I see it, that is the central difficulty so far as public opinion is concerned in relation to this whole matter. War is dramatic. The support of the people can be obtained much more easily in war than in peace. It will be much more difficult to get the imaginative support of the people in this long continued grim and grey struggle. But I believe it can be done. We are fundamentally humane and generous people. If it is brought home to our imagination, if the people are satisfied as to the conditions I have suggested, I am certain that we shall rise again to the occasion, as we did in 1940.
Hitherto, the attention of the Committee has been concentrated mainly on the extraordinarily difficult problem of supplies and allocations, and rightly so, especially as we were anxious to hear the apologia of the Lord President of the Council in his efforts to increase those supplies and allocations. But to my mind, insufficient attention seems to have been given to the fact that there are several nations who can contribute much more than they are contributing to the common pool of supplies, which would increase those supplies very substantially and enable more generous allocations to be made. It is most unfortunate that the flow of food supplies seems to be invariably from West to East, and that there seems to be little or no evidence of food supplies coming from the direction of East to West. Why not? Is it not about time that somebody in this country asked that question in a big way, and got an answer?
Why should the Western nations be having to pour food supplies Eastwards and the Eastern nations be making little or no contribution? Can we not have an answer today as to what specific reasons Soviet Russia, for instance, has given to the world, as to why the countries that are largely her satellites are not receiving food supplies largely from the East, instead of having to have their food supplies sent from the West, and why is it necessary for food to be sent into those countries in such quantities? Is not the real reason, if the truth be told, because a great deal of potential food supplies in those satellite countries were stripped from them at the time of their liberation, their so-called liberation, as some might term it? Is it not a fact that the bulk of the agricultural machinery and much of the livestock were taken away and sent further East, and that the Western nations are now having to find food for those nations which, at the time of their liberation, were deprived of much of the foodstuffs, or potential foodstuffs, which we now have to give them? I think that this is the place, and this is the day, on which these kind of things should be stated.
I am not so much concerned at the moment with the question of supplies and allocations, about which so much has been said. I want to concentrate on how these foodstuffs, which are being collected with great difficulty and at great cost and sacrifice, will be used, whether, in fact, they will be sent to the right people, whether in fact they will reach the people who need them most, and whether there will be much waste of all that valuable and expensive food which is procured and distributed at so much sacrifice and cost? There is overwhelming evidence that in certain nations in Europe today, the food which is sent to them at so much cost and sacrifice is not reaching the right people, the people who need it. Vast quantities are going to the black market, vast quantities are being consumed by people who can afford to buy at high prices, and those who really need it are not in fact getting it in anything like the amount they otherwise would.
What guarantee is there that there is a really satisfactory, fair and equitable distribution of these valuable foodstuffs when they reach certain nations in Europe? It is on that point I would ask the new Minister whether he could give the Committee and the country any kind of assurance. The people want to know. They are making great sacrifices. That is not easy and we want to know whether, in fact, these sacrifices are really worth while and that the foodstuffs are reaching the proper quarters and not being largely consumed by those who do not need them at all—fat, wealthy, greasy people who are not in fact the starving millions of Europe at all. I have abundant evidence, with which I would not weary the Committee, because there is not time. Nearly everybody has some kind of information. In fact, a lot of quite unnecessarily fat, healthy and wealthy people are getting this valuable food which should be going to the starving millions of Europe.
I now turn to the question of U.N.R.R.A., which is mentioned on the Vote. I am not at all happy from all the evidence that comes to me with regard to the distribution of food in certain countries in Europe. U.N.R.R.A. get the food there, and there is good evidence that they are doing an excellent job in getting the food there. But in many countries in Europe, especially the satellite countries around Soviet Russia, when that food has been delivered within the boundaries of the countries by U.N.R.R.A. at great sacrifice and cost to other nations, they have no further supervision of it. It disappears from their ken and it is not their pigeon apparently to take any further interest in it. It is the concern of the world and of all those who have sacrificed in one way or another to produce the food which U.N.R.R.A. are responsible for handing over to the starving countries. Surely, we should be interested in knowing what happens to it after that. Why should not U.N.R.R.A. be allowed to take any interest in how the food is distributed? Why should not they have supervision over it? Why should they be warned off if occasionally one or two of the bolder spirits take a bit of interest?
The food is being sold in the black markets by those who take over the stuff from U.N.R.R.A. along with all kinds of nepotism which, if the whole truth were known, would be a scandal to the world. I say quite deliberately that in many countries on the Eastern side of Europe that is happening: Our food which is delivered to U.N.R.R.A. and handled with great efficiency by U.N.R.R.A. to these countries, is not getting to the proper quarters. It is going in enormous quantities—two-thirds and more—into the black markets. It is being distributed with political prejudice and unquestionably it is not reaching many thousands of people who ought to get it. This country believes that the people are getting it but they are not. I have said some strong things which needed saying. There is overwhelming evidence of it. Certain hon. Members of the House of Representatives of the United States some months ago visited some of these countries and came back with a startling tale. Many other people are bringing back stories, but it is not easy to get behind the iron curtain and certainly it is not easy to see behind the iron curtain.
The U.N.R.R.A. officials are followed around and not allowed to go poking their noses—as they are accused of doing—into what is not their concern. Why, for instance, should so many Communist commissars have sole control of the distribution of food in countries which, in fact, are not Communist countries at all? Why should the head of U.N.R.R.A. in Czechoslovakia be a well known Comintern Communist? It is a very great pity that the directorship of the distribution of food should be in the hands of men who are notoriously filled with gross political prejudice. I have said something which the people of this country ought to be told. The whole question of the great sacrifices which are being made by so many to get food to many parts of Europe needs to be investigated. I would like to ask the Government whether we cannot have a Mr. Hoover going to some of these countries and getting at the truth, or whether a carefully selected commission of inquiry cannot be sent from both Houses of Parliament, or from the nation, to many of these countries to see how the food which is being collected at such cost and sacrifice is in fact being distributed. Is that not possible? The President of the United States sends Mr. Hoover round the world with a commission. What is Great Britain doing? We are making very great sacrifices to U.N.R.R.A. I would like the people of this country to be better assured that these sacrifices are not to a very large extent in vain.
I would like to express my sympathy with the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Sir Ben Smith), the late Minister of Food. He was the victim of circumstances. He was driven by events over which he had no control.
This Debate has been largely concerned with what happened in the immediate past and what is to happen in the immediate future. So much publicity was given to the immediate world food crisis that it was thought it was a 90 day crisis and that it would finish as soon as the 1946 harvest was gathered. The facts are that when we get in the 1946 harvest the world will be as badly off for food as it was when we got in the 1945 harvest. Unless measures are taken immediately to conserve the 1946 harvest and to spread it over the year and distribute it according to our needs, at this time next year we shall be in the same desperate plight as we are today. The shortage might even continue beyond 1947 into 1948. In order to get into the position of having sufficient wheat to satisfy hunger and prevent starvation, it will be necessary next year to continue diverting grain from animals for direct consumption by human beings. Therefore, there will be a delay in building up animal stocks on farms. So when there is sufficient food to satisfy hunger there will then be a shortage of the animal products which are so valuable and important for health.. We are not dealing with a 90 day crisis but with a shortage of food which will last for three or four years.
With the stepping up of production of cereals in the exporting countries, when production in European countries comes back to the pre-war level, the world may be faced suddenly with piled up stocks in the exporting countries for which there is no economic demand. There is the rise in prices during the scarcity and that will be followed by a fall in prices which may be the prelude to another economic crisis such as happened after the last war.
Such is the grim picture of the world food position. In view of the gravity of the situation, the F.A.O. called a conference of representatives of the temporary organisation dealing with food, the Combined Food Board, U.N.R.R.A., and the Emergency Economic Committee for Europe and of the Governments who can make a major contribution to the solution of the world food problem. I hope it will be in Order—
I do not want to interrupt, but I would point out that the Debate surely is limited to the Votes which appear on the Paper. My recollection is that whereas U.N.R.R.A. appears on the Paper, F.A.O. does not.
I thought that the decision reached at that conference on the production of the 1947 harvest might be interesting to hon. Members. That conference reached very important decisions. It elaborated in detail what should be done by all countries with the 1946 harvest, and what should be done by all countries to make the 1947 harvest the greatest in history. These recommendations will come to the Government. To enable their decision to be carried out, the conference rcommended that the Combined Food Board, which at present consists of only three countries, be transformed into an International Emergency Food Council with representatives from 20 different countries, and that the great decisions which are to be taken about the allocation of food should be taken by a body which would have great authority. To make sure that the food council would make the right decisions and give the right advice to governments, it was decided that there should be set up immediately a world information service which would keep the whole position under review and inform that council, the governments and the people of the world so that every person would know the position, and, in the event of any adverse factor in any part of the world affecting food production or food distribution, the facts would be known at the earliest possible date and the appropriate action taken.
It was also decided at the conference that F.A.O. should immediately in cooperation with other united organisations begin to work out a long term permanent policy, and, such was its urgency, that the F.A.O. conference should be called two months earlier than was originally anticipated. I very much doubt whether any conference of so many nations ever in so short a time arrived at a unanimous decision on matters so vitally important for the common people of all nations. I wonder if it would be in Order if I might ask the Government to give an assessment of the world food position proposed by F.A.O., and state the unanimous conclusions reached, in a White Paper so that hon. Members in this House should know what has taken place.
May I say one last thing? These are important decisions. This country had such a good and well organised food policy during the war, and our prestige stands very high. Therefore, I hope the Government will wholeheartedly support this new Food Council, and will accept its instructions and carry them out as far as possible. I believe that by doing so, we shall make a very great contribution to peace. After all, famine is the greatest of all politicians. We cannot build peace on empty stomachs.
I am sure the Committee are glad that they have had an opportunity of hearing the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr). He speaks with authority, and I hope the Government will adopt his proposal and publish a White Paper as he has suggested. I am sure that it will give factual information which is so badly needed by all of us who take an interest in this world wide food problem. His gloomy forecast of what will happen in the next four years makes me feel that the opening speech today was all the more regrettable. I have always heard that the House of Commons is an unpredictable place. I never expected at this tragic stage of the world affairs to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) make a speech lasting three quarters of an hour without dealing with the famine problem which faces the world. Hardly a reference was made to the tragic situation facing millions of people. Twenty minutes were spent in trivialities about the resignation of the former Minister of Food—and that from a right hon. Gentleman from whose Government no one ever resigned. Sacked Ministers merely became displaced persons and were given jobs outside their own country so that they were conveniently out of the way.
I think the Lord President of the Council's attitude was the right one. He gave, for the benefit of those who wish to have excuses for their actions, certain reasons why economically and politically food must be provided. He went on to stress the point that really does matter, namely, that it is quite foreign to the people of this country to be indifferent to the sufferings of people whether they belong to friendly or enemy nations. I I do not think it would be outside the range of this Debate if I quoted from Lord Woolton on this subject. It is curious how the Tory mind seems to run in odd grooves. Speaking a short time ago, on 20th February, not in another place, so that I am allowed to quote his words, he said:
I pledged the Minister of Food my support on condition that he would not feed the people of Europe or anyone else at the expense of out already low minimum standard of rationing in this country. I beg the Government not to be too internationally minded on the food front. Britain comes first with the people of this country.
Strangely enough, almost on the same day there was a quotation at the trial in Nuremburg on the same subject, and the quotation was this:
If anyone feels hungry it will not be the German people. It makes no difference to me if the people you administer starve. This everlasting concern about foreign people must cease now, once and for all.
That was Goering during the war. That was precisely the same attitude of mind as Lord Woolton's and of some hon. Members opposite—complete indifference to the sufferings of other people I think the Lord President of the Council stated the situation correctly when he said that the people of this country are not pre-
pared to stand by and watch people starve. I would like to add a quotation from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford, on 27th December, 1941, speaking about what was to happen at the end of the war. This was a promise to the enemy as a condition of unconditional surrender. He said:
Once steps have been taken to liquidate Hitlerite Germany, once the Nazi leaders are overthrown and the German war machine disrupted, we promise to the German people as individuals, food, employment and security and to them as Germans, a self repecting life within the European family.
We have heard nothing of that kind from the right hon. Gentleman today.
I turn to one or two constructive proposals to the new Minister of Food, whom I humbly congratulate on attaining this great office. Would he, first of all, tell us of what the bulk stock figures are composed? The global figures are so misleading. We were told at the end of March that the reserves of this country were of the order of 3,800,000 tons. It if! now known that not much wheat was included in that amount. Of about 800,000 tons of potatoes around the countryside, practically none were included. Those figures are quoted widely in America, yet nobody knows on any authority of what the 4,000,000 tons is constituted. I submit it would be of the greatest help to this country and to those of us who are interested in the food problem if we could. have some factual information as to how that 4,000,000 tons is made up. I think it was the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), who said that the public should be informed, and he blamed the Government. I do not blame the Government as much as I do the Tory Press. I think the Tory Press seize hold of every " rag, tag and bobtail " story and exploit it in order to create feeling and work up unrest against the action which the Government are rightly taking to save the starving people, even though it entails further self-sacrifice on our part.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford earlier today asked whether the figures on which the Government based their calculations are published, and he asked on what they based the idea that this food was needed here, there and everywhere. I commend to his attention and to the attention of all Members of the Committee the Report of the Emergency Economic Committee for Europe, pub- lished on 7th February. It really is an important report, and worth while quoting in some detail. It states that in Europe this year 140,000,000 people would be on the 2,000 calory level or lower. That is months before the cut was made in Germany. The effect of the cut in Germany is that about 70,000,000 people altogether will be on 1,000 calories or less. When the Minister winds up, I would ask whether he can give us some assurance in regard to the figures which the Lord President quoted, that the new supplies to go to Western Germany are sufficient to raise the calory level above 1,000, because 1,000 is totally inadequate. The level must be at least, 1,500 calories.
The food problem in Western Germany is the rock bottom problem. We cannot get production in the Ruhr unless there is food in 4he men's bellies. The 1,000 calory level is the starvation level; and 1,500 is not even enough except to prevent starvation. While talking about this, I would remind the Committee that we are one of the best fed nations in Europe, and all credit to Governments past and present for the fact that that is so. The Emergency Economic Committee stated in their report that there were only three other countries in Europe better off than we were. I think the three were Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark. Everybody else in Europe in much worse off than we are, even at our present calory level.
I would ask the Minister whether he can give an immediate and quick decision in regard to food parcels for Europe. I, and I think all hon. Members, get a tremendous number of tragic letters from people in this country who have brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers, friends or relations in different parts of Europe who are literally starving to death. Up to now they have been forbidden from sending, of their own free will, something to assist those people in their dire distress. I do not believe any British Government has the right to interfere with the individual conscience on this matter. I do ask the Minister to start his new term of office well by making what the whole nation would regard as a generous gesture, in allowing those who are prepared to put by some of their own rations, in order to help starving friends and relatives, to send parcels where they are most needed, and most urgently wanted at the present time.
I would go further and urge acceptance of the scheme suggested to the Minister's predecessor, namely, that people should be allowed to surrender points in order that various charitable organisations can use those points with the money which they have for the purpose of purchasing food. In asking him to consider doing that, I would emphasise that there is not the slightest chance of food that is sent out in that way getting to the wrong place. The food purchased through this organisation, the Council of British Societies for Relief Abroad Fund, is literally put into the hands of the people who most need it, in the places where it is most needed. There is no fear of it getting on to the black market.
We should start, I was going to say a noisy campaign, but a full-blooded campaign on saving, the saving of bread particularly. I myself take the view that the sooner bread rationing comes the better. I know that is not a popular view. If people could only understand how much everybody could help by doing a little. With a population of 48,000,000, if they all ate one ounce of bread a day less, there would be a saving of 480,000 tons of wheat a year. People just do not realise what is wasted when they throw their bread into the dustbins, and when, as some of us do, they eat too much with their daily meals— of course, I agree that it applies to me as, indeed, to most here. I ask the Minister and the Committee to ignore the stupid stories which we hear from uninformed Press correspondents, and indeed others, who go abroad, and come back and tell us that nobody is starving. It simply is not true. It is true one does not see starving people walking around the streets dropping down dead now, though that did happen in Berlin in the middle months of last year. Starving people will not be found in the Ruhr lying in the roadways. However, if you take the trouble to go into the awful hovels and holes in the ground where they live, they will be found lying on their beds, and dying. Take the trouble to examine the children—as I and other hon. Members have done—and it will be found that there is hardly a child in that area not suffering from skin disease, and malnutrition.
Therefore, I hope the country, the Committee and the Minister will ignore the ridiculous things that go out in the Press. I say they are published largely for political reasons. There are misrepresenta- tions about what is going on in Rome; misrepresentations about what is going on in Germany, and even misrepresentations about what is going on in France. The country will be behind the Minister in any further sacrifice he may ask of them, provided he keeps them informed of the position. Let the country know the real position with regard to the conditions of starvation in these countries, then I am sure the contribution which already has been great from this country will willingly be greater, and will bring relief to a very large number of suffering people who are now. dying by slow starvation.
In the few minutes at my disposal I would like to confine my remarks to one topic, and one only, namely, the surplus of rice stocks in Siam. That these stocks are surplus is, I think, quite clear from an answer given to me on the 15th of this month by the late Minister of Food, in which he said:
… the surplus existing in Siam may be as much or even more than 1½ million tons."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 1874.]
That is a very large figure at any rate, compared with 200,000 tons. That that stock is not moving into the consuming circles is also proved by authentic and authorised figures, which we have had in the last 24 hours which show that in the last four months the movements have been 32,000, 31,000, 14,000 and 36,000 tons. That is a very unsatisfactory trickle. It is worth noting that this is the only surplus stock of foodstuff of real moment in the world. All the difficult problems do not arise here which arise if we ask countries which are producers to give up something, and ask the individuals to make some sacrifice. Here, indeed, is a testing ground of the efficiency of the new organisation being set up, to which everybody wishes well. We must get those foodstuffs into the hands of those who require them, and will die without them.
India is in a state of semi-famine and requires rice just as much as it requires grain. The unrest and the political difficulties in Malaya would all be greatly eased if more rice flowed into that country. It is, I believe, a problem of first-class importance, and I strongly urge that His Majesty's Government should deal with it, not through the usual channels or through normal means. At present there are three or four authorities who all have a finger in the pie and some right of interference. There is Lord Killearn's organisation; there is the new High Commissioner of Malaya, and there is His Majesty's Minister to the Siamese Government. I believe this Government would have the backing of everybody in the country if they made a special effort to release this, the only big available surplus stock in the world, which would save millions of lives and relieve pain. In wishing the Minister of Food good luck in his task, I would make one practical suggestion. Let him cut through the three-ring circus, which is trying to handle this problem, not with conspicuous success, at the present moment.
In conjunction with the United States, who must be a willing partner in this, and with India, which is greatly interested as a consumer nation, and one which will supply some of the means of obtaining the rice, let the Minister create a high powered tripartite commission, with full authority from all the countries, to go on to the spot to handle the problem. It is not, as was said the other day, only a problem of supplying consumer goods to obtain the rice. That would mean taking 1,500,000 tons of rice at an approximate figure of £40 per ton, a total of £60,000,000 of goods, which cannot possibly be done. I do urge the Government to act rapidly. I am certain they will have the good will and assistance of everybody concerned in this country, and other countries, when this problem, which is so far away, is brought into the forefront of their minds. We should make a wholehearted attack on a problem which is clear cut, concentrated in area, and near to our hearts, and capable of solution in saving millions of lives. That can be done only with energy and foresight, which I am sure is part of the make up of the Minister of Food.
Several speakers in this Debate have emphasised to the new Minister the importance of publicity. I think that Lord Northcliffe during the first World War, the Minister who was the equivalent of the Minister of Information, said that if you tell the British people the full facts they will back you to the end. During peace it is not only necessary to tell the people the facts but for the Minister to convey to the people that they are really getting a fair deal, and that the Government are doing the best that they can to grapple with this world problem. I pin in congratulations to the newly appointed Minister of Food, and wish him every success in his difficult task. I hope he will take his great gifts to the microphone and cultivate the radio equivalent of the domestic manner.
The Committee listened with very great interest to the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr), who speaks with great authority upon this subject, on which he has first-hand information. I hope that his voice will reach not only this Government but all Governments concerned, and that they will heed the warning he gave that this is not a 90 days' crisis, or a problem only with regard to the 1946 harvest, and note also the emphasis he laid upon the vital importance of making an international effort to deal with the food shortage.
I listened to the Leader of the Opposition and I suppose we are bound to get these Parliamentary exchanges between the right hon. Gentleman and the Lord President. I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition always gets the best of these exchanges in personalities. There was some doubt as to whether we were to have this Debate today, but we had it in the end, for what reason we now know. When the Leader of the Opposition initiated the Debate he said he did not intend to attack the Lord President on this occasion. Then for the next quarter of an hour he proceeded to do so. He then said that he hoped the Lord President would not give us a lecture on party politics, and himself gave us a long lecture or rigmarole on party politics, which I think was almost completely irrelevant to the vital question of food supplies.
I am glad that the Lord President went to the United States of America to deal with this at the top level. It was necessary to deal with it at that level; the Lord President said it had gone beyond the question of the administration of food in this country. It was of course necessary to send over a Cabinet Minister who could have consultations with the President. The general opinion of those who have carefully read the American Press is that the Lord President did a good job when he was there, not only with regard to the case which he stated here today, but also in the extraordinarily good broadcast he made in the United States. Of course, the grower is always in a better position than the consumer; that is true here and that, I suppose, is very much the case in America and in Canada. They have their meatless days, but I think that all hon. Members who have been there have found over and over again that ordinary people in America do not know the real situation here. They do not know the full facts, but when they are given the facts of the contribution this country is making and of the rations of the ordinary citizen of this country, there is an individual and public tendency to respond.
I hope that America, which has made so many contributions during the war and before she entered it, will consider even greater sacrifices and a larger contribution. I think it was Litvinoff who once said that peace is indivisible, and so is the welfare and wellbeing of the people of the world. I hope it will be realised that you cannot have a prosperous America, with a reasonably plentiful supply of food, and enjoyment of the potential postwar conversion boom, while countries in Europe are almost starving or homeless or without adequate food supplies. There will be little security for the United States or any country if those conditions continue. We have already had one winter in which people have been hungry and many have been homeless— this is the certain temptation to produce another Hitler. All the material will be there for another Fuehrer to reconstruct his Werewolf organisation with the cry of bread and circuses. I say, therefore, that it is of tremendous importance, individually, nationally and internationally, that the United States of America should make the maximum contribution to the solution of this very difficult and vexed problem.
But part of the problem is, How are we to inform the individual citizens of America and Canada of all this? I would put U.N.O.'s broadcasting system or something like it at the disposal of my hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities if I could. Someone must use broadcasting from an international point of view and continually give the people the full facts. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) asked if World Food Situation the Minister, when he replies, will give a statement supplementary to that of the Lord President with the fullest information possible. I hope the Minister will do that.
A question which has been referred to by most speakers this afternoon is that of variety in diet. I think the hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food himself, in one of the first statements he made on his appointment, referred to it. Our diet is monotonous, as anybody who has been out of this country for a few days and then returned realises. The fruits of victory, the fruits of six years of prolonged war strategy, have been to bring this additional heavy burden of monotony upon the people of this country. People in the United States are amazed when one tells them the restrictions which the children have to stand in this country after six years of war rationing with the prospect of future rationing. I hope the Minister will find some way of giving variety to children's diet. I hope also that he will not forget the old people, because they have had to carry a very heavy burden during this period. They are a needy case. There is another question I should like to ask the Minister, or perhaps it would be better to put it to the Lord President. One reads in the newspapers of supplies held by the United States War Surplus Disposal Board. Are there war stocks of food, most of them in the United States, available to be purchased? If so, has any attempt been made by the Ministry of Food to get them, because some of them would be very useful in this country? I believe that the United States food industry would like to see those stocks come to Europe; has any effort been made to secure them for Europe? I would also like to ask the Minister to tell us something about the system of bulk purchase which is being used. Will he tell us if this system is working well, because in effect anyone importing food into this country must do so through the Central Purchasing Board? Does that Board have the fullest opportunity to obtain food wherever it may be grown in the world, not only in the dollar area, but elsewhere?
On the question of India, I remember the late Professor Sir Edward Thompson, at a lecture at Oxford, saying that the only way to meet these difficulties was to raise the prices in India at the proper time. When there is the danger of hundreds of thousands of small growers hoarding food until prices go up, the most effective way to obtain that food is to sanction an increase, because then the stocks will come on the market. It is far more effective than arranging an emergency system for transport and distribution, which in India is almost impossible.
This Debate has been well worth while. I do not think that the housewife wants to hear a statement on the retirement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rotherhithe (Sir B. Smith). As the Lord President has said, there are numerous precedents for a retiring Minister not making a speech from the third Bench below the Gangway. The housewife wanted to hear from the Lord President the information which he gave today, regarding his visit to America. The housewives hope that the new Minister will not give us a lot of hopes if they cannot be fulfilled. They do not want rosy, optimistic statements, but they want to know that the Minister of Food will see that they get fair play, and that the Government will do their best both in a international and national sense to achieve this. We wish the new Minister well. He has a successful record in his short term of office. Most hon. Members will agree that this is a difficult job, and I hope he will achieve success in it for the food consumers of this country.
I do not want this Debate to pass without any reference being made to home production. I want an appeal to go out from this House to the British farmers to play their part in the months which are before us. We shall not get out of our troubles until after the harvest of 1947. This coming autumn will mean a tremendous amount of work for the British farming industry. The signs are at present that we may be late with this harvest, and it will mean that during the autumn months every British farmer will have to do everything possible to get in the wheat crop and sow for the 1947 harvest. In this connection I want to make an appeal to the Government. We in the farming industry require during the autumn all the possible assistance which the Government can give us both in labour and other means. The suggestion has been made that we should appeal to the American farming industry, and that they would respond to such an appeal. I am certain that if we appealed to the British farming industry they would respond also, and that we should be able to increase, as I hope we shall increase, the thousands more acres of wheat required.
On a point of Order; may I draw your attention, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, to the fact that it is only a Quarter to Three o'clock, and that the Debate can go on to Four o'clock? Already quite a long time has been taken up by speakers from the Front Benches.
May I begin by joining with the expressions of congratulation which have been offered from all sides of the Committee to the new Minister of Food? I am sure that we all wish him well on the very sticky wicket upon which he has been selected to bat by the captain of his team. I hope he will succeed. I think he was very wise in his first public statement to say that he would eschew prophecies, but I am not sure that he was quite so wise when he said that he was going to try and get increased variety. I would remind him of what happened to one of his colleagues who made a similar statement. His colleague was his own Prime Minister, and he made it in a letter to Mr. Gollancz on 25th January. It was followed less than 10 days later by the announcement of further cuts. I hope that the precedent is not going to be followed in this case.
He stated he was going to try to get an increase in variety of diet; and that statement was followed by cuts in our rations. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said that I should be addressing my remarks to the shortcomings of the Ministry of the hon. Member's predecessor. Before I do so, I should like to say one word about the speech which we heard from the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House gave us a long account of his trip to Washington. For the first time he gave us a number of figures, but these figures in fact turned out to be fairly meaningless. They did not add up, nor did they tally with previous figures which have been given. He told us that India could now look forward to receiving 1,165,000 tons, excluding rice, from May to September, and the British zone 675,000 tons of wheat. That would have been very satisfactory but for the addendum that the sources of supply for these amounts had not yet been determined, nor could they be secured unless more supplies came forward. That is a fat lot of good in return for a definite commitment to abandon 200,000 tons of wheat.
What did he claim as a result of his trip? He claimed, in the first place, that the British zone had been rescued from starvation, but the ex-Minister of Food not very long ago told us that an agreement had been reached between the two Governments at Washington that the diet and the rations of the two zone? should be the same. What more has the right hon. Gentleman got? He said that India could look forward as a result of his achievements to more than 1,000,000 tons in the next four months How does he reconcile that with what his own leader the Prime Minister said as recently as 7th May in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson)? He said:
It was agreed with the United States authorities during the recent visit of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food to Washington that India should receive 1,400,000 tons of wheat and coarse grain during the first half of 1946."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 774.]
What has happened between the visit of the former Minister of Food and the right hon. Leader of the House? What more has he got except the slight variation in the figure, and if it were true—and I am sure the Prime Minister did not mislead the House on 7th May in telling us the agreement which had been reached in
regard to the amount that should be given to India—how can the Lord President now say, " Look what I have done for India "?
The last point he made was that a framework had been agreed upon for a world wide attack on famine. Is it world wide? Has he got Russia in? What is the main difficulty in Europe today? It is the existence of the iron curtain. There is reasonably adequate food for all the countries and the people living in the countryside West of the iron curtain in Europe today. Doubtless some of the people living in the very big towns are short of food, but for those living in the small towns, where access to the countryside is easy, there is not much shortage. However, the real reason for the shortage in the towns is because the great wheat, grain, and food producing areas of the iron curtain are shut off from the rest of Europe. When the right hon. Gentleman says he has got a world wide organisation for tackling famine and he leaves out some of the greatest grain producing areas in the world it is nothing of which to boast.
Let me turn for a moment to the Ministry of Food itself. One of the main reasons why we find ourselves in peacetime in the present position of world famine, to use the words of the Leader of the House, is very largely because the Government have enlarged the system of supply through a single channel. There is no question at all that in the past, as far as this country is concerned, there were thousands of people associated with this business, and this country was the great nerve centre of the world. These people knew what was happening all over the world, what the conditions were, what the prospects were, what the weather was likely to be and what the harvest was likely to produce. Those facts were all known at once. When we have in peacetime, as we have today, a system of buying through a single agency, the country is losing all those advantages. We had to do it in wartime, because during wartime we got into the Ministry all the best experts—the men who had learned and gained this experience in the hard school of making their own living and learning their job. These are now dispersed and all that we have left are civil servants. We have lost moreover—and this is the really important factor—the. skill of these men and we are losing that skill every day, be- cause they are no longer able to carry on their functions and keep in touch with things. I have tried during the last 48 hours to get some information for use in in this Debate from particular channels as to what is happening in the various parts of the world. What did I find? I have found it almost impossible in London to find out any accurate information—information that was available on the tape on every moment of every day in the past.
The second drawback we are suffering from is that all these decisions in regard to food are concentrated in a very few people's hands. In the old days there were hundreds and thousands of firms scattered all over the world who made their own decisions. It may be on occasions that mistakes were made, but taking it by and large the decisions were nearly always right. Nowadays, we have the thing concentrated in the hands of a few and if one or two at the centre make mistakes it is not they or their firms who suffer but it is the whole country. One real claim to gratitude which the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council might have put forward as a result of his visit to Washington—
The right hon. Gentleman is very much accustomed still to deal with the Opposition on the basis of his big battalions rather than on the basis of argument. Let me give him a word of advice. If he gave himself a little more practice in the use of argument instead of relying on the big battalions he might find it easier to go abroad and succeed, because he would then be relying upon argument instead of upon his big battalions. I repeat that one of the few items for which we can be grateful as a result of his visit to Washington which he did not mention in his speech, although he did in his statement, was that he got the American people to reverse the price ratio between human foodstuffs and animal prices. That is the fons et origo and it was a human decision taken by one or two men to save the world from suffering.
Let me deal with two or three different items. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food when he comes to reply if he can give us any information about the situation of feeding stuffs today. When I was speaking in the Debate a month ago I suggested that as a result of the figures that had been given by the former Minister the Government were entering upon a gamble in the supply of milk. I venture to forecast on the basis of the figures which have been published and given by the Minister that we will suffer a loss of probably no less than 100,000,000 gallons this winter, which represents one month's supply in the six months. I was told on 5th April that the Government were quite satisfied that we should be able to maintain the milk supply of the country. I wonder whether the present Minister of Food believes that.
Let me give a few figures in regard to the feeding stuffs position. During the war, despite all the difficulties, we managed on the average to import 323,000 tons of linseed. In February we imported 9,000 tons. As to copra, another important feeding stuff, which is the basis for margarine, we imported 115,000 tons in a year. Last month we imported 11 tons. We used to import 156,000 tons of palm kernels, and in February we imported only 18,000. We imported 613,000 tons of cotton seed during the war, in February only 3,000, and in April only 1,700. These were figures of which I was not aware when I made that calculation. If that drop continues, then I say that the drop in milk production will be even graver than the drop of 100,000,000 gallons to which I referred in the last Debate. Perhaps we can have some information on that point.
On the question of linseed and maize, we should be glad to know why we are still receiving a much smaller proportion of linseed from the Argentine as a result of the whole of the amount being sold to America than, on merit, it would seem we are entitled to. The United States itself is a very large grower of linseed and yet, for reasons that, no doubt, were valid at the time, they are the sole buyer, and we are getting something less than one third of the Argentine crop. One of the incidental results, I am told, is that whereas American manufacturers of products who use linseed are getting 80 per cent. of their prewar supplies we, in this country, are getting only 40 per cent. That has not merely a disastrous effect on the manufacture of linoleum, which is required to help our rehousing, but has also a disastrous effect on the manufacture of margarine, and the provision of high protein food for cattle.
Why are we not getting our fair share of maize from the Argentine? I am told that last year we got about 300,000 tons, compared with the several million tons we received each year before the war. Admittedly, the crop was not large this year, but I am told that it was fairly large— something in the order of 3,500,000 tons —of which 2,500,000 tons are available for export. All the countries in the world are buying maize in the Argentine and our share, including that of Eire, is a beggarly 200,000 tons. Why? I am told that one of the reasons is that Russia is buying and is offering a better price than we" are. I am told that a Russian mission in Buenos Aires is also buying linseed. Why Russia requires to buy linseed I do not know. It is said that they are offering for this linseed, in exchange, agricultural machinery at a time when we are told that they cannot produce any crops because they are short of agricultural machinery which has been looted from them by the Germans. It would, indeed, be just as well if we had the iron curtain raised.
Finally, I come to cotton seed from Egypt. We are getting no cotton seed from that country at the present moment. Yet there are masses of it in Egypt, no longer being burnt and available for export. I am told that the Egyptian Government are not prepared to sell us cotton seed unless they can get manufactured goods in exchange. I cannot understand why Egypt cannot get those manufactured goods. The Government, week after week, take credit to themselves for an enormous increase in the export trade. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is reported to have said, recently, that the increase this month was enormous and incredible. If the export trade is so enormous and incredible, why cannot we get a little cotton seed from Egypt in return? The Government cannot have it both ways.
We on these benches repeat the charge which I made in the last Debate, that the Government have done too little, and too late. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President gave a list of the bread grains that we had already sent to Germany, or that were on the way, and it so happened that it added up to 600,000 tons. Six hundred thousand tons of wheat is just about the amount that could have been made available this autumn from British homegrown crops if the Government had taken the decision when they ought to have done, last September, and asked the fanners to increase their acreage. Again, the Government have done too little, and too late. They have gambled on the nation's food. I have already dealt with the gamble on this winter's milk, a gamble that will not come off, as the housewife will know to her cost when the autumn and winter days come.
What about bread? The right hon. Gentleman went to Washington. He gave away, however he likes to cover it in words, 200,000 tons. He admitted, in his statement, that that was a cut in our import programme. He did not give it away and get for it any specific promise, or any commitment by the United States, of any extra wheat. I quoted his figures earlier in my speech. All he did, in the words of the communiqué that was issued, was to give away the 200,000 tons in order to reach agreement on certain guiding principles and to make certain recommendations—there was no commitment— to the Combined Food Board for the allocation of supplies if they were available. This is unlike what was done in the days of Lord Llewellin, who when he went to America, came back with certain specific commitments from the United States not depending on any allocation by the Combined Food Board, but dependent specifically upon definite commitments by the United States Government. At that time they were carried out. One of them, in particular, was about making the necessary sugar available. The right hon. Gentleman made this cut of 200,000 tons. Why? As a gesture, if you please, to show to the United States that the British people were prepared to make sacrifices —as if the history of the last six years had not shown to the world that we were prepared to make sacrifices. It is a shameful confession to make to the House. Is it surprising that, when the right hon. Gentleman was making it, the former Minister of Food was hiding behind the Chair, unwilling to take his place on the bench beside his right hon. Friend?
What does it involve? This cut of 200,000 tons comes on top of two previous cuts, making a total of 615,000 tons. Do the House and the country realise what this means in terms of bread? It is six weeks' flour. A little time ago we were down to bedrock. Only a month ago, the Prime Minister said that there was no margin left, that we had reduced our margin of safety to the limit, and that further we could not go. The pipeline has been shortened twice. Today it has definitely been cut. No wonder the former Minister was unprepared to take a share of the responsibility. Let me put the matter in this way. The Minister of Food, who is to follow me, will correct me if I am wrong. From now until the next harvest is gathered in—and in this country it will not be until the middle of September at the earliest—we shall be dependent in this country for our daily bread on the maintenance of weekly shipments of a minimum amount of wheat from across the Atlantic. We can only pray that those shipments will be made, and we can only wonder whether, with the best will in the world, it is within the physical capacity of the American Continent to get those minimum requirements down to seaboard and get them across.
The history of the last few months certainly proves that the commitments, whatever they were and at whatever level they were, have not been fulfilled by a very considerable margin. The margin is so narrow, as a result of this last cut which the right hon. Gentleman has accepted, that unless the shipments keep up to schedule, there is no doubt that a moment will arrive some time about the middle of August, and will extend probably from the middle of August to the middle of September, when the pipeline will not only have been shortened and cut, but will be dry. That means that this country will find itself without bread in its shops. That is what is going to happen if any interruption occurs in these minimum weekly shipments of wheat from the United States, and that is why we say that the Government have indulged in a gamble.
I would wind up by saying that there is an old and hackneyed saying that charity begins at home. If I understand it aright it means that those who have a proper sense of responsibility take steps to safeguard first—and I emphasise " first "—people for whom they are responsible. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said this morning, the fortitude of the people of this country has been sorely tried. They have never faltered and I have no doubt that whatever the Minister has in store for them they will tighten their belts once again, but we on these benches warn the Government that they cannot for ever feed people on victory parades and on promises of variety and good things to come at a time when in fact queues grow longer, shortages are increasing, and the real cost of living, unlike the phoney Crippsian index, is steadily rising.
The Minister of Food (Mr. John Straehey):
I must thank hon. and right hon. Members who have said kind words about me in this my first appearance in this capacity, and I think that with that I will proceed straight to several points raised by the right hon. Member for South-port (Mr. R. S. Hudson). In saying his kindly words about me—and I would just like to make this point in explanation—he said he thought it may have been unwise of me, in the situation in which we find ourselves today, to have spoken about hopes of increasing the variety of the diet of the people, and he asked whether it was not more probable that we are faced with a situation where there may be cuts. The two things are not altogether incompatible. Our great difficulty—and we say this most openly and frankly—is in the great staples of cereals and fats, and it is there that we face a situation of great menace. It is in this respect, therefore, as my right hon. Friend has already mentioned, that we are going to take precautionary measures with which I will deal in greater detail later. That, however, does not altogether exclude the prospect mentioned by another hon. Member of exploring every possibility of at any rate lightening the burden of the people of this country by increases here and there in the variety of their diet, and that is what I was alluding to.
To come to the principal point made by the right hon. Member for Southport, I must say right away that I thought he was utterly unfair to the Lord President in his main criticism of the arrangements which were come to in America. He really cannot have it both ways. He alluded—and many right hen. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen did this repeatedly—to the 200,000 tons which they say were given up as if it were 200,000 tons which were safely in our bins here at home. That, of course, is not the case. Then he came to deal with the more than 1,000,000 tons, which has now been given as the programme of imports to India, and the 675,000 tons which has been given as programme to go to Germany, as if these were airy illusions; as if these were things on which no dependence whatever could be put entirely ignoring the fact that, at the very worst, the two things—the 200,000 tons which we are stated to have given up and the programmes arranged—are exactly on the same footing They are neither of them things which were in the bins, they are both questions of the future—dealings in futures as it were—and he should have added in fairness to the arrangements made that we must regard the two amounts as comparable, and not take one as if it were a loss from stocks already in our hands and another as if it were something which may or may not be realised.
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that no provision would have been made by the Combined Food Board if there had been no Morrison mission to the United States; no provision for the British zone in Germany; no provision for India? Surely the demands were all being put in, and all were being considered, and all that has happened is that a figure has been fixed at the present time in a programme which had to be made.
All we can say is that no provision had been made for the needs of Germany and the needs of India in this case. [HON. MEMBERS: " Oh, yes."] Not in this period—in the preceding period, yes—and those preceding provisions had not been realised. That was the gravity of the situation we faced.
That is just what I said, that in the previous period there had been a programme; that programme was not being realised, and some new provision had to be made because of the desperate situation which was arising. Old schemes were breaking down. The responsibility —an entirely impossible one, as my right hon. Friend said—of the entire provision for India and for our zone of Germany falling on us was arising, and some new arrangement had to be reached. I feel that it is absolutely essential for the Committee to understand that.
Now the next important criticism—the short term criticism—which was made both by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport and by the Leader of the Opposition earlier on, was the suggestion made in various forms that what really was at the back of the whole world food shortage was not the second world war, was not the droughts of last year, was not the state of the world as it is today—ravished, and in' very great disorder as it always is after a world war— this was not "the trouble; it was that dreadful bugbear, the word " planning " which was really the whole trouble. We really cannot accept that for one moment and, of course, when it comes to the point, when they get what they, are accustomed to call doctrinaire ideas out of their heads, right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen do not accept that view. They are continually accusing the Government, for example, of doing too little and too late. What they wish apparently, if their insinuations and implications mean anything, is that the Government should do nothing at all; that we should abolish the Ministry of Food, presumably, our planning arrangements in agriculture—all this should be swept away, and we should go back to the good old days of laissez faire where prices were left totally uncontrolled to find their own level. And what a level it would be! We should have famine of the most awful kind today, and as the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Boyd Orr) very truly said, we should have the most violent inflationary movement in food prices today, and then, a few years hence, perhaps when enough millions had died in the interval, we should have a violent glut in food without there being any planning measures to deal with it, and British agriculture would go back to the condition it was in 10 years ago. Is that really the alternative, which the Opposition put before the House and the country, to the policy with which His Majesty's Government are endeavouring to battle with the present situation?
I cannot deal in any detail with a number of detailed and definite points raised by the right hon. Gentleman. On the important point of cotton seed from Egypt, I am informed that the trouble there is not that Egypt will not sell for lack of manufactured goods—British goods are certainly reaching Egypt, as they are reaching many parts of tie world—but that she wishes at the moment to consume her cotton seed herself.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that' Egypt is using her cotton seed for burning in her furnaces, because that is more economical from her point of view than to ship it to this country, and to receive blocked sterling in exchange? If she can get the goods she will ship the seed. That I know on high authority.
It shows how difficult it is to get the facts of these circumstances, because the right hon. Gentleman prefaced his remarks by saying that the Egyptians were no longer burning their cotton seed. I leave it to hon. Members to agree among themselves.
The right hon. Gentleman said that Russia had a mission in the Argentine, which was buying. As we announced yesterday, we have a mission in Argentina also. It is perfectly right to emphasise the tremendous importance of this country securing a fair and just share of these very limited supplies of fats, which are just as important as, and perhaps in the long run may prove even more critical than, the cereals position. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall use every endeavour to see that we receive our largest possible share in the importation of these vital commodities.
The right hon. Gentleman ended his remarks on a sombre note, a not unjustified one from the point of view of the situation, emphasising the difficult situation in regard to cereals which we face during the next three months until our harvest and the harvests of the Western world and of the Northern hemisphere are reaped. He said that during this period We would be dependent on weekly shipments across the Atlantic. That is perfectly true but it is not new. This country must, at the present time at any rate, be dependent on the shipment of a steady flow of foodstuffs into this country. I will say a word in a moment about the measures which the Government have determined to take and the preparations for those measures which the Government have now authorised my Department to make, in case there should be some interruptions or any delays in those shipments, so that the dire consequences of which he spoke should in no circumstances arise. Before I leave that subject, I would like to point out that in these circumstances it would seem that the action of my right hon. Friend in America in coming to a reasonable and sensible arrangement with the American Government for a joint combating of the world famine situation was, to say the least of it, wise. It is precisely by Anglo-American collaboration, widened out as soon as possible and in every way, that the problem can be solved. The only wise and prudent thing to do is to come to these agreements, even if they do mean some sacrifices on our part in certain particulars.
There are one or two words I wish to say about the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He said a kind word about me for which I thank him most sincerely. He then said one or two words about my predecessor. He described the very vigorous efforts which he had made to make my predecessor take part in this Debate. He seemed to have a good deal of complaint against the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Sir B. Smith) because he had taken the view, on his own advice, that he would not take part in this Debate. I can quite see that that may be a disappointment to the Opposition but I really feel that it was a decision which my predecessor and no one else was entitled to take. Surely, if there is an occasion upon which a Minister himself makes his own decision as to whether or not he wishes to make a statement, it is the occasion when he resigns. Therefore, I would like to say to my hon. Friends on this side that I for my part thank my predecessor, who has deserved so well of our movement in the past and who has never deserved better of it than in the manner of his resignation and the dignity and restraint with which he has carried it out.
I would like to go straight on to the most important point we have before us, which is the decision on bread and flour rationing which has been arrived at by His Majesty's Government The bare fact of that decision was announced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House today. I would like to make perfectly clear what that decision is. The Government have decided to authorise my Department to proceed at once with full preparation and consultation on a scheme of bread and flour rationing. That means that conversations with the Trades Union Congress, the British Employers Federation, the bakery trade and other trades concerned, are being initiated. When those preparations and consultations have been completed and when in a few weeks' time—perhaps about the end of next month—we know the results of them and we are able better than we can today to review our overall supply position, then the decision will be taken as to whether to put into effect the scheme to ration. I, of course, cannot possibly prejudge today what that decision will be; but I would say to the House that if there is the slightest risk or danger of there being those grave consequences mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport of any actual shortage of fundamental foodstuffs in this country without rationing, then unquestionably the decision will be to ration.
We shall certainly take no risks whatever in a matter of this gravity. It would perhaps be unnecessary for me to say that it would be criminally irresponsible on the part of the Government if they flinched from a hard decision of this sort, if they put off the evil day and hoped for the best. We shall look at our margins most conservatively and carefully and take our decisions in that light. It is quite true that if all went well—the factors are many and complex—we should probably be in a position to get through without the institution of bread and flour rationing. It may be so. But most of these factors are not in our control. Most of them depend on events, the seasons, the capacity of Governments to move great stocks of food over great distances, and the most important of these factors are not in our control. Therefore, I repeat that we shall play safe, and it may well be that when we come to review this situation in a few weeks' time the Government's decision will have to be to put into effect our plans for bread and flour rationing. In view of that possibility, I would, therefore, like to say a few words about what the rationing of bread, which we have never had in this country since the 1914–18 war, would mean.
I think we had it in the 1914–18 war. We can easily verify that fact. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find we did. The purpose of rationing, of course, is precisely to ensure that the people of Britain do not lack for food, and that everyone will receive his fair share of the available supplies. In a word, the purpose of rationing is to give security for our daily bread, and, therefore, if bread rationing comes, it should be taken—as I am quite sure it will be taken—by the people of this country as a security measure. Far from it being anything alarming, it will be the assurance that this Government will see that in this period of greatest difficulty the people of this country are fed. The purpose is, as my right hon. Friend has said already, above all, to give us control of the situation. If I may use a simile, we are sailing during the next three months into a storm area. We do not know whether the storm will hit this country in full force, but we are determined to go into that storm area with the capacity and the ability to shorten sail at the shortest notice if that proves necessary. That is why we may well find it wise to institute such a scheme even, as it might prove, unnecessarily or even prematurely, rather than to err on the other side.
The other thing I would say about rationing is—and I think hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will bear me out here—that all experience shows that when one faces a situation of shortage, or potential shortage, rationing with all its disadvantages and difficulties is the only proper and right way to meet the situation.
Is that true about bread? I thought that was quite exceptional, because it is the poorest people who eat most bread. They have less choice of diet and, therefore, the rationing of bread, like a bread tax, hits the poorest people much harder than others.
The right hon. Gentleman makes that point, but, of course, he cannot expect me to describe any scheme of rationing which may be introduced. I think I can say that those considerations, which are partly valid though not entirely so, have not been neglected, and will not be neglected in the consultations we undertake as to the kind of rationing scheme which may have to be introduced. We do not believe that a voluntary scheme of economy such as my Department has had in operation during the last few weeks, which may be valuable up to a certain point, can ever be fully satisfactory. The family which responds to the appeal for economy always has the feeling that some other family may not be doing so, and that their sacrifice merely means someone else's indulgence. The only possible fair way of dealing with this situation, if it arises in its full force, is a system of rationing such as we have had in regard to other commodities, almost as essential as bread stuffs; a system such as we in this country have known how to administer with the utmost fairness—and I pay tribute to my distinguished predecessors during the war years and after in this respect—in which the people of this country have the utmost confidence, a system, as has been said repeatedly in this Debate, which has been the admiration of the whole world. Therefore, we can be confident that if a bread rationing scheme is introduced it will be introduced on the standards of fairness and of efficiency on which the previous rationing schemes have been introduced.
Here I would say a few words about a thought which may be in the minds of some hon. Members. I think it has been absolutely necessary to speak in advance with some emphasis and in some detail about this possibility of bread rationing. There may be a question in some hon. Members' minds that we may be encouraging the hoarding, not of bread, because that is not practicable, but of flour. I do not think for one moment that that is a danger which we need fear in this country. The mood of the people of this country is such that they are not in the least apt to do that. I repeat what I have said before, that the very purpose of the rationing scheme is to ensure bread supplies to the people. Therefore, there can be no motive whatever in any attempt to hoard flour. I do not think I can add more than that. But I might say, quite incidentally, that the kind of flour we all get today is a very poor thing to hoard.
I would like to add something in regard to the measures which we are going to take to deal with our situation on the supply side. That falls into two parts. There are the home supply and the supply from overseas. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has told me of the very special measures he has taken, is taking and will take to stimulate the production of cereals in this country, and, above all, to bring them forward and make them available during the critical three months that lie ahead of us. He has made a special appeal on the wireless to the farmers. He is asking them to do their utmost—and I add my plea and my appeal to them in the national interest—to make special efforts this year to make the crop available at the earliest possible moment.
There will be some 500 additional combine harvesters in operation this year, and they can be a really important factor in making bread grains of all sorts available to us at the earliest possible moment. The figure for sown area, of which there has been criticism, will, I understand, come out at not much below the 1945 figure after all, which is very much better than it appeared to be at one time. These measures are not confined by any means to this year's harvest. My right hon. Friend is already undertaking the development of cereal cultivation in this country for the following harvest. He has set a target of 2½ million acres additional, and has passed legislation, as the House knows, for that purpose and for appropriate ploughing-up grants. Therefore, I have his utmost support in the critical situation which faces us; we are helping ourselves, in this country, to the very utmost degree.
Mr. De la BÃÂ¨re:
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether an additional supply of labour is available, because all these combine harvesters and everything else are perfectly useless unless we have an ample supply of labour on the farms, and really the Government's attitude up to now has been deplorable?
My right hon. Friend has just authorised me to say that he feels confident that the labour situation this harvest will make it possible for the farmers to deliver the goods. I would now like to turn to the points raised by the right hon. Member the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter).
If the hon. Gentleman will permit me—there is one point of cardinal importance in regard to production at home. At the present moment 'there are hundreds, indeed thousands, of tractors and other implements, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture knows, which are absolutely essential for gathering in the harvest when it comes, but which are standing idle because there are no spare parts. I know the difficulties; it is no use saying they come from America and cannot be obtained because of strikes and so on, but if we want to get this harvest in we shall have to make spare parts in this country and provide the farmers with them.
We are well aware of this consideration, and parts are being made in this country on an emergency programme to replace parts which would more naturally come from America.
I want to say a word now about the request made to me by the right hon. Member the Senior Burgess for Oxford University. He asked me to publish another and fuller White Paper, and I think I can accede to that request. It will be possible to give another White Paper and I can assure him that I will give my personal attention to seeing that the fullest possible information is contained in it, because I entirely agree with him that it is vital to dramatise the position before the Governments and the peoples of the world in order to get their full cooperation. On the question of stocks, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it has been the settled view of my Department that it would be unwise and risky for this country to publish statistics of its stocks. He will not expect me to reverse that view oh a snap decision three days after coming into office, but I will promise him that I will look at the matter myself with a completely open mind, come to my own conclusion and put it, as I think is right on a matter of this importance, to my colleagues and see what decision we can reach.
We will examine that. I want to turn now to the international aspect of this question, which has been debated by a number of Members. We have been accused in the past because it was felt—I think the right hon. Gentleman felt that we had done too much—that this country has sacrificed too much and given up too much for the sake of the hungry world without these Islands. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), who spoke very eloquently, as he always does, and the right hon. Member for Oxford University did not feel that we had gone far enough, and pressed that, if necessary, we should make further sacrifices in our diet for the sake of the peoples of Europe. In view of the gravity of the announcement which has been made on the subject of bread and flour, I do not think he would press that. I would point out that this is one of the most drastic measures which this country could take.
I should like to say this about the controversy in which my predecessor, through no fault of his own, became involved. I cannot help feeling that on both sides it has been somewhat misstated and misunderstood. It has been represented as a controversy between idealism and internationalism on the one hand, and realism and " Britain first " and let the devil take the hindmost on the other. I do not think that even the shortest acquaintance with the practical problems of the case bears out the view that these are the real terms of the problem. When the problem is really faced the fact is that the only course for this country is to play its part in a united rational attack on the situation of world famine, or potential world famine, and join with all the other great countries in the world. For us, on the one hand, to try to play a lone hand and think only of our own needs, in my view would not only be wrong but catastrophic and dangerous for this country. On the other hand, to think that we alone can bear the burden of attempting to feed the millions in India, or even our zone in Germany, is something which our nation cannot attempt to do with the best will in the world.
The Minister is talking about our zone in Germany. There is one method by which we could supply food. We could give them cured herrings. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but is the Minister aware that one quarter of the herring fleet is now, at the height of the season, tied up in harbour, and that 45 tons of herring were dumped in the sea the day before yesterday? What excuse or justification is there for that?
There may be something in it—that is quite possible. [Interruption.] Is it suggested that I could conjure the herring fleet out of the ports this afternoon by something which I might say? I am perfectly willing to examine the possibilities, but it is perfectly absurd to think that I could go further in the matter today. This Debate, if it has done nothing else, has made all sides of the Committee realise, and I hope it will make the world realise, the very great sacrifices which this country has made to alleviate world conditions. I believe that the Lord President's visit has done much to relieve India —I cannot put it higher than that, because that problem is of tragic magnitude which none of us can hope to solve—and to rescue the British zone in Germany from a desperate situation, which was one which could not be postponed; it was coming on very soon.
I should like to say a word about the allegations that are made as to living conditions in Europe and whether Europe is really starving. I have met these returning travellers who are perfectly sincere people. I know many of them personally. They have come back and told us that in this or that place they have found people living as well as or better than the people in this country. It is perfectly true that in many parts of Europe there are some people living as well as or better than the people of this country. They may be farmers or rich people, but the real urban masses in many parts of Europe are living under bad conditions, and theirs is an entirely different story. These returning travellers seldom meet them, and, therefore, it would be utterly wrong to believe all these stories which we get from individuals, or to accept the picture that they present of what is happening abroad. I put it to this House that this country cannot face the prospect of world starvation, of starvation in Europe, or, let us face it, starvation in Westphalia. Apart from all reasons of humanity, that prospect is one of economic stagnation. There would be no timber for this country, no coal, no trade, no revival, and in its place there would be pestilence and chaos. Can we believe that this country could revive against a background such as that? No, Sir.
Famine, like peace, will be found to be indivisible. We shall find that it is just as much in our interest to mobilise the resources of the world to fight world famine as it was to mobilise them for defence. But I do not for one moment subscribe to the doctrine that we should do these things only with self-interest as the motive. This is one of the cases where practical hard-headed reasons and reasons of common humanity combine to point in the same direction. In the face of famine we shall find that it is really true that we are all " members one of another."In the face of famine that is true of all men, even though the colour of their skins may be different and some may live in India, and even though we were fighting against some of them yesterday. At this juncture we of the Anglo-Saxon race would do well to remember the words of a great British divine of the 17th century, words which by a happy coincidence have been made live again through one of the great novelists of America who used them in a title of a fine book of his. I refer to these words:
Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and, therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
Make no mistake about it, the bell of hunger and of famine is tolling or will toll for many in different parts of the world and over many parts of Europe today. We as a nation are deeply and irrevocably involved in mankind. Therefore, in this crisis in man's fate—and it is a crisis in man's fate—as in the last crisis, we of this nation shall play our part and carry manfully burdens which the world may well think insupportable. In this Debate, the present crisis has been compared with that of 1940 and, I think, not unjustly. It is smaller in one way, because at that time our national existence was at stake, whereas on this occasion our national existence, thank goodness, is not at stake. But it is greater in another way, because it is probably true that more human lives are involved in the solution of the problem which is immediately ahead of us than were even involved in the war.
In this new crisis the British nation will pursue its steady, resolute course, and will play no small part in saving both itself and the world.
I would like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman upon the eloquence with which he moved us during the latter part of his speech, and although I think his views of the outlook were exaggerated, it is certainly better for a Minister to begin in a difficult office of this character in a spirit of facing, and even magnifying, difficulties, rather than in a lighthearted spirit, expressing hopes which may not afterwards be fulfilled. I always find, myself, that the British nation will never forgive optimism that is not borne out, but that if pessimism is not borne out one's previous inaccuracies are forgiven.
I had intended to move a reduction of £5 in the token Vote in order to show our disagreement with the policy which the Government have followed, and in order to mark our censure of their administration of food, which has culminated in the departure of a Minister who, until only the other day, we were told to admire, and in whom we were told to confide. I am not satisfied with the answers given by the Lord President. The information he gave us was very vague, and rather muddled. We still do not know if we start in the calculation of what is to be given to India, and to the British zone in Germany. It appears that the sacrifice of the 200,000 tons, which was represented as a great moral contribution to the solution of human difficulties, is also belittled by the right hon. Gentleman. So, both sides of the argument seem to have vanished. But in the last part of the Lord President's speech or, rather, in the ante-penultimate part, he made a declaration of immense and formidable importance with regard to the rationing of bread. I do not feel that it would be proper at all to give a vote this afternoon which might be taken as opposing that policy. If the Government feel compelled, at a later date, to introduce it I should like much more consideration of that matter.
There is, as I indicated, in the rationing of bread, one very great difficulty, namely, that it is consumed in immense quantities by the poorer people, and that the shortage of other foods, or a rise in prices of other foods, increases the eating of bread. All this is elementary, of course, but it touches profound issues, and I, personally, would not be prepared to go into the Lobby to vote, dissatisfied as we are with the statements which have been made, when that vote would appear to mean that this grave issue had been, without due consideration, resisted by us. Therefore, I shall not move a reduction of the Vote.