121 Mr A. Eden, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London

Letter LONDON, 1 April 1940


I am sorry not to have been able to let you have an earlier reply to your letter of the 6th February [1] conveying a request from the Commonwealth Government for information, for the use of the Commonwealth Agricultural Council, on the policy of the United Kingdom Government in regard to food supplies during the war and the immediate post-war period. The matter is one which concerns several Departments and it has only now been possible to complete consultations with them.

The enclosed memorandum represents the result of these consultations. In a good many cases, the answers to the questions contained in your letter have had to be couched in very general terms, but I feel sure that the Commonwealth authorities will realise, as I know you do yourself, how difficult it is for the Departments within whose competence these matters fall to give more definite replies when there are so many uncertain factors to be taken into account. We hope that, in spite of the necessarily general nature of the memorandum, it may prove to be of some assistance to the Agricultural Council in their deliberations.


1 Document 46.


Memorandum by U.K. Dominions Office

[1] April 1940


His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom fully appreciate the reasons which have led His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth of Australia to seek guidance as to ways in which they can best direct Australia's production of foodstuffs so as to provide the maximum assistance to the Allied cause during the war and post-war years. The United Kingdom authorities regret all the more that they are unable, chiefly on account of the uncertainties of the shipping situation, to give as definite answers as they would wish to the questions addressed by the High Commissioner in London to the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in his letter of February 6th, 1940. [1]

2. Allocations of prospective purchases of essential foodstuffs between the various sources of supply are necessarily temporary and short-term, since they are determined by a number of constantly varying factors. For example, in order to deprive the enemy of vital supplies, the Ministry of Food is required from time to time to make pre-emptive purchases of foodstuffs in certain European countries. In general the Ministry naturally seeks to purchase as large a proportion of its requirements as possible in sterling currency and to make full use of those sources of supply which are least subject to enemy interference.

It is therefore anxious to make, in future as in the first year of war, the fullest possible use of the agricultural resources of Australia. But any attempt to give exact indications of intended future purchases would be not only difficult but misleading.

3. In particular, the limited amount of shipping space available is bound to restrict the ability of the United Kingdom to lift Australian exportable produce. For example, the Ministry's sugar programme for the first year of war envisaged the shipment of a quantity of Queensland sugar substantially in excess of the quantity which it now appears possible to transport during the present season. Further, the need to conserve tonnage may require that the Ministry's wheat purchases shall be made in the nearer sources of supply and in countries to which coal is exported. As shipping conditions are becoming more, rather than less, difficult, the Ministry does not feel justified in asking for an increased agricultural output from Australia with the object of meeting the needs of the United Kingdom.

4. These considerations, which limit the possibilities of preparing definite programmes of foodstuff purchases, apply an the more forcibly when the question of making any programme for the post-war years is raised. The Commonwealth Government, however, may rest assured that the Ministry of Food will make every effort, both in the immediate and in the more remote future, to satisfy as large a proportion of its needs as possible in Australia.

5. As regards the order of priority of the various foodstuffs required by the Ministry of Food which might be purchased in Australia, the High Commissioner and the Commonwealth Government are already familiar with the general position. Meat, butter, cheese, eggs and tallow are at present in the first class, followed by dried fruits, canned fruits and condensed milk in the second class, with fresh fruit and wine in the third. Sugar and wheat (for which unrefrigerated shipping is required) are in a special category, since purchases of these commodities must necessarily be restricted by general shipping considerations in spite of the high priority which the Ministry would wish to attach to them.

6. It must also be said that at the present time there is unfortunately no foodstuff which the United Kingdom is likely to be able to import from Australia in excess of normal peace-time quantities.

7. As regards the relationship between the United Kingdom agricultural industry and imports of agricultural products, mainly livestock products from Australia, the position is that the United Kingdom farming industry is also predominantly devoted to livestock production and for many years has been increasing its livestock output at the expense of arable products. Even of the arable crops a high proportion is grown to maintain livestock.

8. The Australian interests in the United Kingdom market thus concern products of major importance to United Kingdom agriculture. The United Kingdom is not, of course, self supporting in any of the livestock products which Australia can supply and there is plenty of scope for Australian imports. It is, however, evident that the relationship between Australian and United Kingdom agriculture is a close one and the opportunity of coordinating the programmes of the two countries both in war-time and subsequently is to be welcomed. It will be obviously impossible, even if it were desirable, to liquidate at short notice in peace-time any position which is built up during the war and both countries, therefore, have a strong interest in insuring that their agricultural developments keep in step.

9. The preservation of the United Kingdom livestock industry depends to a very large extent on imported animal feeding stuffs and such feeding stuffs naturally must have a fairly high place on the priority list of imports. This is particularly true of oil cakes and similar materials fed to cattle. The Ministry of Agriculture has established an order of priority in the allocation of available supplies of feeding stuffs to different classes of livestock in the United Kingdom, the order being cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. Adequate supplies of feeding stuffs for cattle are particularly important in view of the necessity for maintaining supplies of fresh milk. The general objective of the Home Food Production Campaign is to increase the production of food and animal feeding stuffs in the United Kingdom to the greatest possible extent in order to achieve the greatest possible saving in shipping space and foreign exchange. In pursuance of this objective every encouragement is being given to a restoration of mixed farming which in view of the nature of the soil and climate of the United Kingdom is the best means of increasing the productivity and at the same time maintaining the fertility of the agricultural land.

10. Owing to the shortage of feeding stuffs it will be necessary to reduce the pig and poultry populations but the present policy is to maintain the numbers of dairy and other cattle, and sheep.

As regards crops, a campaign is under way to ensure the ploughing- up of an extensive area of grassland. The United Kingdom Government has allowed a considerable degree of latitude to farmers in the selection of the crops that they will grow, preferring to leave this question largely to the decision of farmers in the light of local knowledge. Both the Government and the County War Agricultural Executive Committees through which it acts, however, advise farmers from time to time as to the crops which it would be desirable to grow. Increasing emphasis is being put upon the necessity for farmers to grow more of their own feeding stuffs and to make themselves as self-sufficient as they can. It is confidently expected that a great deal of the new acreage and some of the existing acreage will be put down to oats, barley and roots grown for the purpose of animal feeding stuffs.

There may be some increase in wheat but it is not estimated to be so large as the increases in feeding stuffs or as significant in the total supply situation.

11. As regards the position of United Kingdom agriculture when the war is over, it is impossible to foresee what conditions are likely to be. The experience of the years after 1918 is, however, still in the minds of both Government and farmers in the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister [2] has given an explicit assurance that that experience will not be allowed to recur. It appears that in all probability it will be necessary to maintain some sort of control for several years after the end of the present war and in consequence the Government's war-time policy is likely to be continued at any rate for a certain period.

[AA: AA1973/362, BOX 46, ITEM A39]

1 Document 46.

2 Neville Chamberlain.

[AA: AA1973/362, BOX 46, ITEM A39]