§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [15th February].—[See page 98.]
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he rose to call attention to the great depression and distress of the agricultural interest. He must say that he was surprised that no mention of that distress was made in Her Majesty's Speech. He felt perfectly satisfied that there was 318 no one in this land who felt more acutely for those who suffered that distress and depression than did Her Majesty. He regretted the Prime Minister was not in his place, and especially regretted the cause of his absence. He was glad to see sitting opposite to him now the noble Lord the present Leader of the House, who must feel as deeply as anyone in that House the great distress afflicting the agricultural community. The noble Lord knew perfectly well how necessary it was that that good feeling which had so long existed should be maintained between the landlord, the tenant, and the labourer. He knew the present condition of those classes, and that of those three classes the labourer had suffered the least during the last seven years. Great sacrifices had been made by the tenant farmers, who maintained their position, which they could not have done but for the ready help given them by the landlords. If it was necessary a year ago to draw attention to the agricultural distress then existing, it was equally, if not more, imperative that the House should give attention to the distress now suffered. For seven years the agriculturists of England had been suffering great privations, and he would venture to say that if something were not done—if some good fortune did not come to the agricultural interests—a calamitous day would come for England when another year had passed. Let them look at the present state of things for a moment. It had been said, and he believed truly, that one-third of the wheat crop had not been got in. It had also been said, though, he believed, with a little exaggeration, that one-third of the crop sown was either rotting in the ground or was in such a condition that it would not come to maturity; and, if that was so, the country would be able to count on only one-third of the ordinary crop of wheat. He did not take quite so gloomy a view of the state of things as that; but, looking at the unfavourable weather during the last four or five months, he thought they could not, under the most favourable circumstances, expect more than half a crop. Sir James Caird, who was well known to that House, had stated in a book which he had published on the question that the consumption of wheat in this country was something like 110,000,000 cwt., of which quantity 319 55,000,000 cwt. was grown in England, I the remaining 55,000,000 cwt. being imported. What was the money value of that? The 110,000,000 cwt. of wheat was valued at £64,375,000. The value of the English crop was £32,187,500, while that of the foreign crop also was £32,187,5000. But suppose we had only half a crop this year, how would the figures stand then? The value of the home crop would only be £16,096,875, and the value of the foreign crop would be £48,284,375, and he was thus understating the case, because the increase in importation had been considerable since 1877, the year when Sir James Caird published the book from which he quoted. The enormous amount of money which was thus sent out of the country was a matter for serious consideration. He was glad to see the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) sitting opposite, for last year he followed him, and gave some account of agricultural prices, and he hoped the hon. Member would do so again on this occasion. No doubt some prices had risen, hut that was not so with regard to wheat. In the book of Sir James Caird, there was an estimate of the capital employed in the cultivation of the soil of this country by from 560,000 to 580,000 tenant farmers, and the amount was stated to be upward of £400,000,000. The losses sustained by the tenant farmers were fixed by the Prime Minister in a speech he made atLeedsat£ 130,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) put the losses down at £150,000,000, and Sir James Caird stated them to be £130,000,000. If they took the sum at £150,000,000—and he knew that that was a low figure—they found that the tenants had lost more than one-third of their capital. That was a fact of serious import, and demanded serious consideration. Although the statement he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) made last year with regard to insolvencies among the class referred to might not have been absolutely correct, there were, indeed, he was sorry to say, an enormous number of men who, if called upon at this moment to pay what they owed, would find themselves in a most hopeless condition. But, happily, everyone was anxious to help the tenant, and he was sure he was expressing the feelings of every landlord in that House and in 320 the country when he said there was a strong desire to keep the tenants in possession of their farms if at all possible to do so. The present state of the country was very unfavourable; large districts from one end of England to the other were devastated by floods, ditches were uncleaned, hedges had not been trimmed, and the ground was foul. Why was it that England, which a few years ago was so flourishing, was now in this lamentable condition? The want of capital. Everyone who could save a shilling would endeavour to do so, because he knew that in the present condition of things the money laid out would not be returned. Then, again, none of those appliances so necessary to agriculture were to be found. Little lime was used now; no artificial manure was to be found; and there was now little of that good old farm-yard dressing of former times. What was the reason of this? Why, the absolute want of stock, both of cattle and sheep. The Agricultural Returns showed that there was now a much smaller number of cattle in the country than in 1861 and 1871, hundreds of thousands less, and as to sheep they might compute the reduction by millions. He would repeat that this was a matter for the very serious consideration of the Government. And it was a curious fact, which many persons, perhaps, did not know, that half of the stock they did see did not belong to the tenants. An eminent agriculturist had assured him that there were but three persons in one large parish of about 7,000 acres who had stock of their own; and on making inquiries himself he found that there were nine men who had stock of their own, but only three who had sufficient for their farms. He wished to draw attention to another point. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council had stated, in answer to a Question, that there was to be no hope for the slaughter of all cattle at the port of debarkation. Why, that was one of the things that every English agriculturist most required, because, with the present facilities for the importation of fresh meat, the flocks and herds of the British farmer should be protected from the danger of diseases from foreign countries.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, the law was that cattle arriving from any country where disease was supposed to exist 321 should be slaughtered at the port of debarkation. At present all foreign cattle were slaughtered except those arriving from Scandinavia and Canada.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, it might be so at that moment; but it should always be so, as very few countries indeed were ever free of disease. He had no objection to stringent regulations, provided they were fairly carried out; but it could not be gainsaid that the partial stoppage of markets gave a certain class, whom he would not name, the power to purchase at the price they liked. [Mr. MUNDELLA dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman shook his head. He held in his hand a proclamation dated Whitehall, by which at one fell swoop as many as 150 markets for the sale of cattle were suppressed, thereby causing a great loss, sometimes as much as £2 or £3 per head to the owners. It was quite true that if markets were stopped in Sussex the cattle of that county might be sent to the Metropolitan market; but it was equally true that once there they had to be sold for what they would fetch. Several pounds a head might be lost by the sale of those cattle in that way. Of taxation the land, as had frequently been pointed out, bore more than its proper share. No one would deny that who looked at the multitude of rates now falling upon it—the poor rate, highway rate, county rate, bridge rate, sanitary rate, education rate, sewers rate, and the voluntary church rate, among others. [A laugh.] He was not surprised to hear that laugh; but if a man paid the voluntary church rate, it showed that he had a respect for the old building in which he had been married, in which his children had been christened, and in the shadow of which he hoped to be laid to rest. That expenditure intended for the benefit of the country generally should fall exclusively upon one class of property was a matter which deserved the serious consideration of the Government. Bents had been reduced 25 per cent, but the taxation remained the same, including the Income Tax and Land Tax. The Floods Bill would command general approval provided it embodied a reasonable principle of taxation. In proposing to give compensation for improvements to agricultural tenants, the Government were entering upon a very difficult question, 322 which had hitherto baffled all attempts to deal with it. No one could deny that an outgoing tenant ought to receive from his successor value for what he put into the land; but it was equally incontestable that the landlord ought to have some claim also in the event of a tenant failing to do his duty by the land. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard), although in his country speeches he professed to be as anxious for the interests of the landlord as for those of the tenant, did not quite act as if that were the case. [Mr. J. HOWARD dissented.] What the hon. Member was really anxious for was the interests of large tenants. Landlords, he said, availed themselves of the Law of Distress to keep insolvent tenants on the farm, out of whom they could screw more money than they could out of tenants who could pay their way. Now, that statement had no tangible foundation whatever. A landlord who acted in that way he could only describe as a born fool, because he would certainly lose much more than he gained. The noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) observed the other night that no change in local taxation would afford relief to the ratepayers unless accompanied by more economical administration. With that statement he did not entirely agree. The Prisons Act, the placing of a portion of the police on the Consolidated Fund, and other measures of the same kind, had undoubtedly afforded relief to the ratepayers. The payment of 4s. per head with regard to lunatics was also a gain to the taxpayer. The grant of £250,000 in respect of main roads, though not what they required, was also some little acknowledgment that it was a question which deserved the serious attention of the Government. Those main roads, which were maintained in former times by the establishment of toll gates, should be charged on the Consolidated Fund. It was a very cruel thing that at such places as railway stations and roads much frequented, and where the traffic was very great, the great majority of the people using those roads did not contribute anything towards their maintenance. He did not wish to detain the House, but he had one question or two to ask with regard to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Commission had sat from the year 1879, and only 323 reported in 1882, and the only recommendation of which the Government had taken any notice was that with regard to unexhausted improvements. Yet there were many other most important recommendations. The Commission recommended that the cost of the maintenance of the indoor poor should be thrown on the Consolidated Fund. That would have been an immense relief; and the fact that the cost of outdoor poor remained with the locality would have been a guarantee that there would be no extravagance in administration. Another recommendation was that a certain portion of the local taxes should be assigned to the local authorities in aid of local expenditure. The noble Lord told them to wait for the County Government Bill; but, wise or prudent as the measures might be which the Government had in contemplation, they were in the future, and did not deal with the present distress; and while they were waiting the people who were interested in such a Bill might perish. Then there was another question. It was said that the rates were to be divided between the owner and the occupier. He, for one, should make very little hesitation about that matter, supposing it was forced upon him; but they must look at it in this way—any tenant going to look at a farm, before he would say what rent he would pay for it, always inquired what were the amount of the local rates and of the tithes. Having satisfied himself as to what the local rates and tithes would come to, he would then proceed to offer what he considered to be a fair rent; and if, therefore, the tithes were put upon the landlords it would make no difference, because the value of the farms would only be increased. The Commission, to whose opinion every consideration was due, had also advised that every facility should be given for the redemption of tithe. That was an important question worthy of the serious consideration of the Government. All those recommendations affected the present occupiers of land; whereas what the Government offered was for the future. He would be the last to deny that the Government proposals would benefit the tenant in the future; he hoped that the Government would deal with the question in a liberal way, and not with the object of gaining a Party advantage. If they dealt with the sub- 324 ject in a fair and liberal spirit, their proposals would meet with the consideration they deserved; otherwise they would assuredly fail. He had sought, in the course of his remarks, to place before the House the present unexampled depression of agriculture; and before he concluded he would read the figures in a Return showing the corn and flour imported into this country during the five months commencing in September in each year. For the three years 1881, 1882, and 1883, the importation of corn and flour into this country had been returned in quarters, and not in cwts. as formerly. In the first five months of the agricultural year 1881, beginning on the 1st of September, 1880, there were 7,026,925 quarters of wheat imported; in the same period in 1882 the quantity was 7,149,986 quarters; and in 1883, in the five months commencing the 1st of September, 1882, there had been imported 8,299,100 quarters. It could not be denied that the prosperity of the agricultural interest was of vital importance to the country; and a remedy for the present depression was a question deserving the most earnest consideration of the Government. He did not say that bounties or protection should be adopted; but something ought to be done to insure the quantity of wheat grown in this country from decreasing. So foolish a thing was never done, in his opinion, as taking off the 1s. a-quarter duty on imported corn; it would have been better even if raised to 2s. The producer in foreign countries would have paid it, and a considerable sum would have been in hand for the relief of agriculturists from local taxation. They must hope for better times, and that the Almighty Being, in whose hands they were, might grant them favourable weather, the first element towards the removal of that great depression and distress; and he thought they might ask, and had a right to expect, that the Government of this great country should give the greatest—nay, more, the most important—interest that consideration which it deserved, and that relief from those unjust and heavy burdens which now pressed so severely on the real property of this country.
§ MR. W. FOWLER
said, that the hon. and gallant Baronet had again dilated upon the agricultural distress, and had again failed to point out a remedy. He 325 did not suggest that they should go back to Protection, or that the Malt Tax should be again imposed; the whole burden of his argument was the old story of remitting local taxation. It had been repeatedly said in the House that it was no use to try this remedy, because what was reduced in taxation would go to increase the rent. It must be admitted that they had not yet found anything like a remedy for the distress; but he would most emphatically repeat that if the seasons were against agriculture they ought at least to take care that the laws were not against it also. The fact was that in some of the Midland Counties in England there had been eight consecutive bad seasons; and the loss incurred was probably even greater than the amount stated by the hon. Baronet. In the Report of the Royal Commission several causes were mentioned as tending to create or enhance distress. One was the rise of rents in recent years. He would quote on that head the opinion of Mr. Clay, one of the Commissioners. In his Appendix to the Report he said—Sir James Caird puts the rise of rent in England for the last 18 years at 21 percent, and in Scotland 26 per cent; but I have no doubt that if we went back 25 years the rise would be 25 per cent for England, and 30 percent for Scotland. The case is so urgent that nothing less than a reduction of rent of from 20 per cent to 30 per cent will save the present tenantry from ruin.The hon. and gallant Baronet had said truly enough that there had practically been a reduction of rent during the year of 25 per cent. He fully admitted that there had been a general and even a generous reduction of rents agreed to by the landowners; but it was only for the year, and not for a permanency. It had been stated that one cause of the distress was the increased cost and the inferior quality of agricultural labour; but the fact was that the condition of the agricultural labourer up to very recent times had been a disgrace to the Empire. The English agricultural labourer had been miserably paid and worse housed for centuries, and it was the farmers' own fault if the labourer had sought for more remunerative labour in the towns, despairing of making a reasonable living on the land. The result was, undoubtedly, that agricultural labour had become scarce and dear. It had been stated that another cause for the distress was the increased price of stock, 326 but that would surely tell in favour of the farmer who had a good stock. It told against the man who was short of capital, and he was glad to hear from the hon. Baronet so clear an admission of the necessity of more capital if they were to have a real recovery. Since this subject had been discussed last year two events had occurred—the Report of the Royal Commission had been presented and the Settled Land Act had been passed. He would refer to some of their suggestions. He doubted whether, even if the recommendation of the Commission that the cost of maintaining the indoor poor should be thrown upon the Consolidated Fund should be adopted, much relief would be given to tenants, although it might amount to a large gift to the landowners. For his part, he could not see any reason why a present should be made to landowners as if they were coming to Parliament for assistance in formâ pauperum. The cost of maintaining the police and the lunatics, half the indoor poor rate, the school board rate, and the sanitary rate might amount to some 1s. 1d. on the acre only, whereas the loss which had been sustained on the average by the tenant had been estimated at £1 per acre. The Commission had made several useful suggestions with regard to the necessity for rendering the cost of transferring land less, and for preventing adulteration of manures, as well as for bringing in a measure for making the compensation of tenants for unexhausted improvements compulsory. He was afraid that, when the details of the measure about to be introduced by the Government dealing with that subject came to be considered, it would be found that the Bill would involve very difficult and complicated questions. In his opinion, distress for rent would have to be abolished altogether. The Commission further recommended the appointment of a Minister for Agriculture; but, in his opinion, such an appointment would merely end in the creation of another Department of State, and in the introduction of another excellent Gentleman into the Cabinet. He was glad that the Settled Estates Bill, faulty though it might be, had been passed into law. Under the Settled Estates Act, the tenant for life might sell everything except the mansion-house, the park, and the land which was held with the park. Why he should 327 not be allowed to sell the house and the land held with the house, which in many cases were the only things that would enable him to sell the other land at a fair price, it was difficult to understand. That Act, moreover, did not really give freedom to the owner of the land; it did not add to his borrowing powers practically; it gave him a power of selling the land, but it did not give him power over the proceeds of the land when sold. Our present law encouraged accumulation and discouraged dispersion, on what principle he was unable to see; but what they wanted was to have owners who were real and competent owners over the whole country. If they got rid of that system of settlement and had real owners all over the Kingdom, and also gave the tenant proper security for his improvements, they would attract more capital to the land. But no tinkering with local taxation, or any of those small matters, would really meet the great evil of the present time. He believed that the time would come when they would have better seasons, and that those who had really done justice to the soil as owners would be able to take advantage of the improved state of things. But if they once let the land get out of condition and out of heart, it would take a long period to put it right again. He thought that the holding of so much land by embarrassed owners was one of the greatest causes of the existing distress. He believed that, generally speaking, those owners who were able to do justice to the tenants and the labourers were far better off than those who bad too much land for their means. He had recently been over an estate of 4,000 acres, where the mansion-house and adjoining buildings were falling into decay. How could they expect a man who had not the means of keeping up his own house to do justice to 4,000 acres of land? It was time they had more freedom in the holding of land—freedom for the owner and freedom for the occupier; and then they might hope once more to see a happy and prosperous state of agriculture.
§ SIR MASSBEY LOPES
said, he shared the regret of the hon. and gallant Baronet that the subject of agricultural distress had been altogether omitted from Her Majesty's gracious Speech. They had now had some eight consecutive bad 328 seasons, and he feared that the present one was only too likely to prove worse than any that had preceded it. The distress of agriculture affected all classes of the community; and yet with that distress, so prominent and so patent to all, no sympathy whatever was expressed in Her Majesty's gracious Speech, and no consideration was given to it. That, he thought, was a great and glaring omission that must be felt by every man interested in agriculture, which was, and he hoped ever would be, the most important of all our national interests. In the Speech from the Throne last year there was some comfort and consolation offered to the distressed agriculturists, because the House was then invited to consider what would be the proper extent and the most equitable and provident form in which a contribution should be given from the Imperial Treasury to local taxation. Now, however, they had not even that crumb of comfort left to them; for the whole question of local burdens had been entirely "shunted." Her Majesty's Government were not justified in raising the expectations they excited last year, unless they were in earnest in their endeavours to fulfil them. The noble Marquess the Minister for War told them the other night that it was absolutely necessary that reform should precede relief; that they must settle the question of the reform of local government before they could look for any remission of local taxation. Now, he said emphatically that reform was no necessary preliminary to relief, and that if they were to wait for the reform of local government, their chance of obtaining any relief for local taxation might be deferred till the Greek Kalends. It now appeared that they were not to have a County Board Bill introduced at present, although they were told last year that such a Bill lay all ready in the pigeonholes of a Government Office. They were, it seemed, to have the experiment first tried of bringing in a Bill for giving local government to the Metropolis, which might not prove to be a very easy matter to deal with. The noble Marquess had referred to the remissions granted in aid of local taxation by the late Government. Those remissions were very acceptable; and, in making them, the late Government only carried out the will and the wishes of the House of Commons, which the 329 previous Ministry had totally neglected and ignored. The amount of remission in taxation was £1,550,000 in England and Wales. In Scotland and Ireland the statistics were so imperfect that it was almost impossible to ascertain the exact amount of remission and relief. But since 1872 the amount of new impositions were £1,700,000 for education, besides £500,000 for highways and £300,000 for sanitary works, in England and Wales, and for those increases they were indebted to the present Government. So that in the last 10 years they had fresh importations amounting to £2,500,000, as against £1,550,000 in remissions, and were, in round numbers, £1,000,000 worse off than before. If, therefore, they had a grievance in 1872, how much more cause was there for it now? In 1872 agriculture was flourishing, whereas now they were passing through a period of serious depression. Another matter to which he would call attention was the Report of the Royal Commission. On that Commission they had every phase of political opinion and every class represented. It was extraordinary and most remarkable that the Report of this mixed Commission was unanimous. There was only one portion of that Report he would allude to, and that was the recommendation of the Commissioners that personalty should contribute as well as realty to the maintenance of the indoor poor, and that certain locally collected taxes should be handed over to the local authorities in alleviation of their national burdens. It must be remembered that the Royal Commission, in making that recommendation, had only followed in the lines of the Lords' Committee of 1850. One portion of Her Majesty's Speech referred to the question of tenants' improvements. The principle of compensation for improvements bad not only been conceded, but, he believed, had been advocated by hon. Members on both sides of the House; but the question was, where were the tenants who had capital to expend in improvements? There was scarcely enough capital left among them to expend in the ordinary occupations of husbandry. He was of opinion that a tenant farmer ought not to be called upon to expend his capital in permanent improvements. That was the business of the landlord. During the past few years agri- 330 culture had entered upon an existence of disastrous depressions, which no legislation, however revolutionary, could remove, for agriculture must ever be a more or less precarious business. The burdens placed upon agriculturists, which were almost intolerable in days gone by, had of late years been more oppressive than ever; the present mode of assessing the rates was more than monstrous. Agriculturists were not agitating for Protection; but what they said was that, the Government having accepted the principle of Free Trade, and having removed Protection from the agricultural interest, it was only fair and just that they should remove the exceptional burdens which were imposed on account of the exceptional privileges enjoyed. Having given Free Trade to agriculture, agriculturists had a right to ask for fair taxation.
§ MR. JAMES HOWARD
said, he fully admitted the gravity of the situation alluded to by the hon. Baronet (Sir Massey Lopes); but he could not see that the proposals of the hon. Baronet would be a remedy for the evils complained of. Much had been said about concessions of 10 and 20 per cent in rent, and so forth; but nothing had been said about re-valuation. In his opinion, if the condition of the farmers was to be improved, it must be done, not by a small remission of rates, but by a very considerable remission of rent. He saw no good in prolonging the discussion, but he would ask, Why did not the late Government, of which the hon. Baronet was a Member, do more during their six years of Office to remedy the grievances of which he complained? All they did had been to appoint the Royal Commission, to whose Report the hon. Baronet had alluded. One of the recommendations of that Commission, no doubt, was that personalty should be liable to taxation as well as realty; but, unfortunately, the Report did not tell them how such property was to be rated. If the stock-in-trade of all traders was to be rated the farmer's stock-in-trade would be liable to taxation with the rest, and he doubted whether he would really derive any substantial advantage from disturbing the present system. He was glad that the Government proposed to legislate on the subject of tenants' improvements, and he agreed that a good Tenants' Com- 331 pensation Bill would be of great service in the future. Of course, no legislation would be of any avail unless they were favoured with more propitious seasons than those they had lately had to encounter; but a liberal and well-considered tenant right measure would enable the tenants to make the best use of favourable weather when it came. He believed such a Bill would lay the foundation of the future prosperity of the agriculturists, and he was glad to find the Government had the energy to introduce one.
§ MR. E. W. HARCOURT
said, it really seemed as if it were impossible to arrive at the lowest depths to which the unfortunate agricultural interests were doomed to descend. The wet had destroyed their corn, and rotted their cattle, and they were afflicted with foot-and-mouth disease, imported from abroad. One year, two years, three years they might have stood up against; but a seventh bad year brought with it absolute ruin to many. Well, now, how did an enlightened Government propose to assist them in their misfortunes? The farmers were told that the advent of the present Government to power would be in itself sufficient to cover all their misfortunes. What had they done for them? They had already removed the malt tax for them, thereby reducing the value of their barley 30 or 40 per cent, and they had given them a Hares and Rabbits Bill, which was very seldom heard of. If they were really the farmers' friends, they would try to find out what the farmers really wanted. If they asked, they would be told, in the first place, that what the farmers wanted was fine weather. He hoped the farmers would not retort upon them that the Liberals had failed to provide them with that article. They would be told, in the next place, that one thing, at any rate, that was required was protection from foreign disease, which was destroying their flocks, not by slaughtering live stock at the port of debarkation, but by refusing to permit live stock to enter the country. They wanted also relief in the matter of local taxation. They would be told that the farmers wanted to be fairly treated in the matter of rates, and that they did not conceive that that was the case as long as £250,000,000 of real property was made to bear the whole burden, as against 332 £900,000,000 of personal property which paid nothing at all. They would be told that the maintenance of indoor poor, the maintenance of lunatics, the maintenance of main roads, and the cost of education were considered oppressive burdens as long as they were borne by one class of property alone. It was really worth while to consider the matter entirely apart from Party politics. It was worth while to listen to the complaints of, and to give relief to, a class which represented the largest interests in the Kingdom; a class upon which all other classes depended, and the ruin of which would involve the ruin of every other class in the Empire. They found the agricultural classes absolutely true to each other. He said it in the face of the House, and without fear of contradiction, that the owners of the soil had met the occupiers with generosity, and that the occupiers had met the labourers with kindness and consideration. They were far too independent to ask for State aid; all they asked for was that the rates should not be laid on one class alone, and that the stock of the country might not be destroyed by foreign disease. They asked that in the interest of the country at large, and they were willing to submit to inconvenience themselves in order to attain that end. The farmers were quiet and patient under their misfortunes, and they would remain so, if they were convinced that they were suffering under a visitation of Providence, and that all was being done by the Government which an intelligent knowledge could dictate. But they would not remain so if, when they asked for bread, you gave them a stone, and if they thought they were being handed over to the morbid experiments of ignorant politicians, and that they were to be made the sport of a spurious Liberalism. They knew that to own land would not benefit a man when it was becoming a dearer luxury every year, and when every year it was paying a smaller percentage. They knew that to parcel out land in small lots was not the way to attract capital into it; and they knew that to give the regulation of expenditure to those who did not pay the taxes was not the way to induce economy. The farmers were cleverer fellows than some hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House seemed to think. It would not be easy to cheat 333 them into the belief that you were doing great things for them, when you were doing nothing at all. He hoped a wiser spirit might prevail, and that, if the farmers were to be done good to, it would be in a way which the farmers themselves would appreciate.
§ MR. INDERWICK
said, he desired to call the attention of the House to a matter which pressed with considerable severity on farmers, especially in the South of England, and which was almost entirely beyond any control on their part. From various causes the cultivation of corn in the districts of the country to which he referred had become more and more unprofitable, and farmers had consequently been driven to the growth of other crops, and especially of fruit, vegetables, and hops. In this new direction, however, they had found themselves pressed by the impost known as the extraordinary tithe. This matter had already engaged the attention of the House, and had been reported on by a Select Committee. That Committee had reported that the extraordinary tithe was an impediment to agriculture; and it was, moreover, very harassing to the persons who had to pay it. It was, therefore, desirable that the impost should be abolished in some equitable manner. That conclusion had been arrived at not only by the Select Committee, but also by Chambers of Commerce and Agriculture, and in certain Diocesan Conferences composed of men who, in a great measure, received the extraordinary tithe. It might be said that in promoting a new arrangement of that kind they were unsettling the settlement come to in 1836; but the answer to that was, that that settlement was made in view of a state of things which no longer existed, and of one which could not have been contemplated at the time the Act was passed. The remission of duty on foreign hops had relieved the foreign competitor but not the home, who remained burdened by the extraordinary tithe; and as against him, therefore, the foreign growers enjoyed protection. He thought the time had now arrived when some reasonable settlement ought to be come to in the matter, though he was not one of those who desired the question to be settled without regard to the persons who received the tithe; and the farmers were themselves desirous of a reasonable 334 settlement. Great agitation at present prevailed upon the subject, and many of the tithe-payers had given themselves up to what was termed passive resistance—that was to say, they refused to pay the tithes at all; and consequently the tithe-owner, who was frequently the vicar of the parish, was driven to adopt the invidious course of resorting to force to compel payment. Meetings were being held and speeches made which were likely to produce bad feeling between the tithe-owner and the tithe-payer unless the Government made up their minds to settle the question in some form or other. He did not want to trouble the House with any views of his own as to how the subject was to be adjusted. He would only observe that the total amount of the tithe was about £100,000, a sum which surely any person with statesmanlike views would be able to deal with. The real difficulty, however, was that the extraordinary tithe was only a part of the great question of the tithe system, which ought to be dealt with without delay. If it were postponed indefinitely it might be settled in a way which would not be altogether just, fie did hope, however, that means would be found before long for arriving at a just and satisfactory settlement.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Rye (Mr. Inderwick) that the question of extraordinary tithe ought to be placed on a satisfactory footing; but the question was one with which it was not very easy to deal. He was a Member of the Committee referred to, and he was quite willing to adhere to every recommendation which it made. It was most desirable they should do all they could to facilitate agriculture, and to give scope for new products which were more profitable for the capital than those which were at present grown in many places, for can growing cereals and other things of that kind had not of late been a profitable occupation. He should be very glad to see established a settlement of the question on equitable terms, and upon the basis of the tithe being paid by the owner of the property. By the law as it stood now the owner of the property was liable for the payment of the tithe, and the payment by the tenant was merely a conventional matter of arrangement. It appeared to him that the principle on which the incidence of 335 taxation might he settled might be a matter of arrangement between the landlord and the tenant; but he thought one thing was most desirable—namely, to keep the tithe-owner, who was generally the vicar of the parish, and the tenant farmer apart in these transactions as far as possible. With regard to the question of the assistance that had been given in the direction of remission, he (Mr. Gregory) ventured to say that in no case had a landlord raised his rents and asked for more from the tenant, because the latter had been relieved. It had all gone for the relief of the tenant; and he thought that if there was something further done in that direction the result would be the same. They might fairly augur well for the future from what had taken place in the past. He agreed with the suggestion that all permanent improvements should be the landlord's, and that it was for him to construct all the necessary works for the proper occupation of the farm, and to assist the tenant in draining, fencing, &c. The tenant was liable for the proper cultivation of the land, and he was bound to keep it in order. If he did not do so, then he was not a fit person to be intrusted with it. He thought that the best means of securing a good relationship between the owner and tenant was to create substantial landlords. On this point he ventured to say that the Settled Land Bill of last Session was as important an Act in that direction as had ever come before the House. He could not help thinking that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) did not give sufficient credit to the scope and intentions of the Act, and that it deserved a little more consideration than had been accorded to it. He would venture to correct him on one point—namely, that the owner was unable to sell the mansion-house of an estate, that was not altogether correct. He could do so with the consent of the trustees, or by an order of Court. With these exceptions, a tenant for life could sell the whole or any part of his property as if he was an owner in fee simple. It was true that the money realized did not go into his own pocket; but it was applicable to the discharge of encumbrance, or to the purposes of the estate, and, he (Mr. Gregory) ventured to say, for purposes which were most beneficial to it. He thought this was a great benefit, and he knew from 336 his own personal knowledge that the Act was being taken advantage of to a considerable extent by many who owned encumbered estates. Just at present there was a great disinclination to embark capital in estates, partly arising from agricultural depression, bad seasons, and other causes, one amongst them—and a very important one—being the uncertainty of the position in which a landlord might find himself placed with regard to the agitation and legislation with which they were threatened. He should be very glad to see the Government Bill on tenants' improvements brought in at the earliest opportunity; and he should be glad if the effect of it was to give justice to the tenant, and to put an end to wild and extravagant ideas which could never be carried out. This, he hoped, would bring solvent purchasers of land into the market. Capital could then be laid out upon it, and proper encouragement given to occupiers. In this way, he thought, a great deal of land which was now running out of condition could be brought into good order, and a happy and flourishing agriculture promoted. That, however, could only he done by a wise and statesmanlike measure, giving with the benefits contemplated to the occupier a proper degree of security to those who might embark their capital in the land.
§ MR. DUCKHAM
said, that on the opening of Parliament last year, the agriculturists were led to believe that some very essential measures would be granted by the Government, among them Bills relating to local self-government and relief of local charges. Following that was a paragraph upon Ireland, and then the reform of the local government of London. This year London government took the precedence, and local government in the country was to be dealt with if time would permit. Not a word respecting local taxation and other measures that they had confidently hoped to see brought forward—they were all passed over, with the exception of compensation for tenants' improvements. Although the country was suffering from calamitous seasons and distress amongst all engaged in agriculture, such as he (Mr. Duckham), had never known before, and which was most seriously aggravated by the introduction and spread of foot-and-mouth disease, no mention was made of these matters in 337 the Speech. He thought the time was come to press upon the Government the necessity of altering the existing law so as to prohibit the importation of live stock into this country from countries where diseases were known to exist. What the English farmer wanted was to have the cattle from those countries slaughtered at the port of embarkation and not debarkation. The present system had proved utterly ineffectual to guard their herds and flocks from the introduction of those diseases from foreign countries which had proved so disastrous to the farmers of this country. In addition to the distress caused by the dreadful continuous seasons of disastrous weather, they had year by year the markets and fairs and all public sales periodically closed throughout the Kingdom, to the serious inconvenience and distress of all concerned in agriculture. Surely, it was not too much to ask that measures should be taken to insure the slaughter of animals, in countries where disease existed, at the port of embarkation, and have their carcases sent to their dead meat market. That this was perfectly practicable was last week proved by a cargo of 5,000 carcases of sheep arriving in good condition from New Zealand. The farmers of England did not want a return to Protection; but whilst they had to compete with all the world with their produce, they did want their herds and flocks protected from insidious diseases, and to have wise measures carried into effect for that purpose. As it was at present, the same men were employed to attend the diseased cattle in the lairs at Deptford as in the lairs attached to the Islington markets. What, he asked, would be the effects produced in the minds of the inhabitants of this great Metropolis if a vessel sailed up the Thames with a large number of passengers suffering with small-pox? What would be the effect if the same nurses who were employed in the Small-Pox Hospital were daily to go from thence to St. Bartholomew's Hospital to attend the sick there? Yet they were perfectly parallel cases. He knew that the men were disinfected before going from Deptford to Islington; but he spoke advisedly when he said that it was a mere delusion to suppose that it could be effectual. Farmers had been told that they should not rely on growing corn; that they should make the produce of the land walk to market 338 in the shape of meat, and during the past eight years there had been an enormous area of land laid down to permanent pasture. There were now 1,643,663 acres more permanent pasture than in 1874, an area equal to the agricultural area of the counties of Beds, Berks, Bucks, and Cambridge. The result was 598,110 acres less corn grown, 318,000 less cattle, and 5,994,173 less sheep. It was clear that something must be wrong in the present system, or such a state of things could not exist. He believed that capital had been driven from the cultivation of the land by want of security, over-preservation of game, the constant introduction of contagious diseases, excessive rents fostered by an arbitrary and cruel Law of Distress, and the imposition of an excessive burden of local taxation. Lord John Russell, when arguing for the repeal of the Corn Laws, said that, on its taking place, a re-adjustment of local taxation must follow; but instead of the promised re-adjustment, burden after burden had been imposed; they had had the police, the disturnpiked roads, the education rate, and various other impositions placed upon them, all of which were national in their object and should have been treated as such. He considered the wealth of the country should contribute to the relief of its poverty. The question of the unjust bearing of local taxation was not by any means confined to the agriculturist. It was severely felt by the urban ratepayers; and particularly that class who, from their hard-earned savings, had purchased small plots of land, and erected cottages, frequently with borrowed capital, and as soon as they had done so the tax collector demanded a rate often equal to the cost of a week's maintenance of their families. He (Mr. Duckham) said the farmers of England had borne their burdens and what they felt their wrongs patiently; they had not been violent in their demands, and they now trusted that their appeal for better regulations, whereby their property would not be wasted, and whereby the excessive burdens under which they laboured would be relieved, would not be made in vain. He could not close his remarks without expressing his sense of the earnest manner in which the Privy Council had carried into effect the provisions of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act. Its failure only proved the 339 necessity for greater powers being vested in them.
§ MR. MARUM
wished to say a few words on the present condition of agriculture in no spirit of hostility to the landlords. The surface of Ireland contained about 20,000,000 acres, of which 15,000,000 were arable and grass lands. About the time of the repeal of the Corn Laws there were some 9,000,000 acres under rotation of crops, and 6,000,000 under grass. The stock upon these 6,000,000 acres was under 2,500,000 of fat cattle, and something less of sheep. In 1868 the sheep ran up to 5,000,000, and there was also a considerable increase in cattle. But in 1883 the cattle had increased about 1,000,000, and the sheep were under 3,000,000, and owing to the presence of rot amongst them the number would fall very far short of that figure this year. There were 10,000,000 acres in pasturage, and scarcely 3,000,000 under rotation of crops. These figures showed a great decay of scientific agriculture. Persons who did not understand the matter very commonly encouraged the mistaken idea that it was well to have as much of the land as possible in grass; but there could be no doubt that in any country mixed husbandry led to better results than a purely pastoral system. The present depression would probably prove ruinous to all the small farmers of the country. What was the cause of the cessation of scientific husbandry there? The cause was to be found in the fact that they were handicapped under universal Free Trade. They had a rugged soil, and a climate that was most precarious, and they laboured under a great necessity for manual labour; whilst on the Continent, against which they had to contend, the soil was most fertile and the climate was magnificent. The consequence was that, so far as cereals were concerned, the Irish farmer was so handicapped that he was thrown entirely out of the market, and it was utterly impossible for him to enter it if he did not breed cattle under the existing universal Free Trade prices. He did not advocate a return to Protection, for he believed such a thing in Ireland would be ruinous. He was merely stating what he considered were the causes of the present state of depression, and showing that that depression was due, not only to the bad seasons, but to Free Trade prices under which 340 the farmer laboured. To meet these evils various strong remedies had been proposed, in none of which he had much faith. One was emigration; but how would it materially improve the prospects of men without capital? The tenant farmers were really reduced to a condition that they could not afford to pay any rent unless through circumstances which were external to their own resources, and in Ireland they had no commerce. In England commerce existed, and was a valuable adjunct to agriculture, supporting a large portion of the population; but in Ireland agriculture was the entire means of subsistence. If he went into history he might show that the commerce of Ireland had been systematically interfered with by England, and upon that ground he considered that Ireland had a claim upon the Imperial purse. He was convinced, that under the present Free Trade conditions, there would always be a certain amount of periodical famine, and a certain portion of the population constantly being thrown upon public assistance in Ireland, and that the country would constantly be appealing to the public Exchequer for assistance. The Poor Law relief system had been suggested as a remedy for this; but he looked upon such a remedy with grave suspicion. If the surplus population were to be thus maintained an 18s. rate would be necessary, and the money would ultimately come from the pockets of the tenants. Adverting again to the suggested remedy of emigration, he might remark that he should oppose any such system which would take people out to a strange country, give them a miserable pittance of £5, and then send them adrift. That was what had been offered. He objected to it for that reason; and, in the second place, because such a system had the effect of taking from the country all the young and fresh and enterprising young people, and leaving behind only those who were unable to work, and who ought to be assisted in their age by the younger members of their family. What they would prefer was that the population of Ireland should be given employment in the development of the industrial resources of the country. If they were to have a system of emigration, however, let it be one that should be large and general in its scope. If the Government would propose a scheme 341 of emigration, purchasing some millions of acres of fertile land in some salubrious country, and give a free passage and certain tracts of land to those of the farming class and their families who would embrace the opportunity of leaving Ireland—establish some sort of colonization scheme, in fact—he could promise them that it would receive the careful consideration of the Irish Representatives. At any rate, whatever the cause and whatever the remedy, the state of agriculture was now such as to make it imperatively necessary not to sacrifice it to the inferior interests of that country. If the causes of Irish distress received due attention there would be no clamouring for separation; on the contrary, it would be found that a large proportion of Irishmen appreciated the fact that in England there was more civil and religious liberty than in any country they could ally themselves with. Could they be surprised, however, looking at the condition of agriculture—which was the sole industry in Ireland—looking at the fact that not only was no relief given to it, but that no mention even was made of it in the Queen's Speech, and looking at the divided and antagonistic interests which existed between the two peoples, that the people of Ireland asked for Home Rule, for something which would relieve them from connection with a country which sacrificed her to Imperial interests, which were almost entirely commercial, and could they wonder that under such circumstances they should be desirous of taking the government of the country entirely into their own hands? Under all the circumstances, therefore, it was not to be wondered at that the people of Ireland were sullen and discontented; and he had never known, in his long experience of the Irish people, moderate public opinion more discontented and sullen than it was at the present time.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, that, although the debate had been somewhat gloomy, he was quite sure the country would appreciate any discussion as to the causes of the present agricultural and commercial depression. His hon. Friend had complained that there had not been more measures mentioned in the Queen's Speech for the benefit of agriculture. For his own part, he had no doubt that the Government were acting wisely in confining itself to mea- 342 sures which it had a reasonable prospect of passing. It was for the Representatives of the people, rather than the Government, to take up the question, invite discussion, and try to find out what were the causes of the distress that prevailed, and what were the genuine remedies. The discussion throughout the debate that evening had been confined to agricultural distress, as if no other industry was suffering. He ventured to say that there was very little to choose between the condition of agriculture and manufactures. No one could take up the newspaper without seeing evidence that capital was being profitlessly employed by those engaged in the manufacturing industries, and that they had been suffering silently for years. He asked himself this question—What were the great causes of this general depression?—and he answered, undoubtedly it had been the want of sunshine and bad seasons which had been the first and main cause. He fully admitted that the foundation of our prosperity was the successful condition of agriculture. When it was not prosperous no other industry was healthy. But the question he wished to ask was this. So far as the distress was preventable, had Parliament done its duty? He unhesitatingly said it had come far short of it. It had been urged in vain that the Land Laws should be altered, the laws affecting settled property modernized, and obstructions to free sale and cultivation removed. They had passed the Agricultural Holdings Act in such a form that it had been looked upon as the greatest sham ever offered to the people of this country; and gentlemen identified with it were insisting that it should be made real and operative. He confessed he was suspicious of measures for the agricultural interest proposed by Her Majesty's Opposition. For a long period in that House and the country they had asked for the repeal of the Malt Tax in the interest of agriculture; and, now that it had been repealed, the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. E. W. Harcourt) came forward to say it had reduced the price of the better class of barley; and that might be true, because the former fictitious value could not be maintained. Subventions from the Consolidated Fund in relief of local burdens would be fallacious as a panacea for the distress of farmers, for it would be taken advantage of by landlords to raise their 343 rents; and commerce was so dependent upon agriculture, the two were so identified, that he should be sorry to see the farmers misled. If the advice of Cobden and Stuart Mill had been followed in a serious spirit before the distress came there would have been infinitely less suffering. Landlords returned 10 or 20 per cent of their rents, but they maintained the exorbitant rents nominally, hoping to exact them, and thus the farmers had their capital wasted before they came into close quarters with the landlords. It was said, since the passing of the Settled Land Bill, owners willing to sell could find no buyers; but if the measure had been passed some years ago, buyers would have been found at good prices. He confessed to having a deep interest in the farmers of this country. He was largely engaged in manufacturing in the East of England, and he knew those interests were profitless unless agriculture was in a state of prosperity. He was, therefore, anxious that something should be done for agriculture. The landlord ought to take over a share of the difficulties, and the necessities of the case would oblige them to offer to their tenants such facilities as would give the intelligent farmer an opportunity of recovering his position. It was from the operation of the Land Act of last Session, supplemented by other measures, that the farmer must expect prosperity. He hoped the agricultural interest would speak out in that direction, so as to find some practical remedies, instead of advocating such proposals as a reversal of Free Trade policy. As to the tithe, he regarded it as a burden, not upon the farmer, but upon the land. It was a sort of second rent-charge, and if the farmers were relieved from the payment of it they would be called upon to pay an increase of rent to a corresponding extent directly to their landlords. The real question to consider was whether the amount paid in tithes was appropriated in the best form, in order to meet the national necessities. In his opinion the farmers were entitled to ask that there should be some re-adjustment of the system of tithes; and he believed that at no very distant date some proposition would be submitted to Parliament on the subject. If farmers were to have relief of public burdens, it must be by economical expenditure. He could only marvel that hon. Members, espe- 344 cially those on the other side of the House, could assist in voting such large sums of money for the Army and Navy and for enterprizes abroad, while they themselves had to come to Parliament as beggars willing to accept a few pounds almost in any form. Parliament ought to be courageous in checking the ruinous public expenditure in which we had been engaged of late years, for it was only in this way that the public burdens could be lightened. He believed that local burdens wore heavier in the towns of the North than in the agricultural districts. In his own borough they had a poor rate of 4s. 7d. in the pound, and yet they did not begrudge the education rate, because it was regarded as the wisest possible expenditure. What they did begrudge was the taxation for prisons and gaols. He would ask the Government to look into the licence question, and see if there was not there a large useless expenditure. When landlords spoke of reducing rents, he ventured to say that in the North of England owners of property were suffering far more than the owners of land during this depression. In the towns of the textile industries he did not hesitate to say that rents had gone down 40 and 50 per cent.
§ MR. BIDDELL
said, that he thanked the Government for their promise of introducing a Bill for the payment of agricultural improvements, though he feared that, under the present state of things, disimprovements would prevail. At the same time, he thought that an Act might be so drawn that, while just to all parties, it would be generally beneficial. But there was some danger of their going too far. It was always argued that the landlord should pay for such improvements; but it would eventually be found it was the incoming tenant who paid for all. Sagacious land agents first bound the incoming tenant to pay the outgoer's valuation, which would include those improvements. In that way it might lead to entry valuations—which in the Eastern Counties were already very heavy—being run up to a most crushing extent. Some philosophers would say, let the parties make their own agreements; but it should be recollected that it was custom they wanted to improve; for on that much of their agricultural law depended, and custom established hundreds of years 345 since were no longer adapted to deal equitably with modern farming proceedings. Corn-growing might be considered irrespective of the personal interests of either landlords or tenants. Was it the nation's interest that its decline, as in late years, should continue? Year after year were they to become more dependent upon foreign supplies; and that with the comparative decline of their Navy? France had already nearly an equal Navy to their own. Suppose they found themselves at war with her, and another Naval Power—say Italy—could they then maintain a free course for their bread supplies? If not, would there not be great danger of their being starved into an ignominious peace? The hon. Members for Bedfordshire (Mr. James Howard) and Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) intimated that reductions of rent would meet the case. He (Mr. Biddell) argued against such an idea. What was most wanted was some measure which would render it more profitable to cultivate the land as arable, than allowing it to relapse into pasture, or, as some persons called it, prairie land. He himself had lot land at such a rent as it was worth to feed, reducing it from 30s. to 10s. per acre. When they paid their butcher's bills let hon. Members be aware that the high prices charged arose from the distressed farmers having sold off their sheep, which, from want of capital, they could not replace. It might be said—"Let them give way to men of adequate capital." All very well; but the House had so treated the land that capitalists would have nothing to do with it. If any hon. Members opposite wished to show the farmers how capital could be safely put into the land, he would undertake to find them thousands of acres of land to operate upon. Alluding to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. (Illingworth), he (Mr. Biddell) thanked him for the admission as to the depression, for the last few years, of the manufacturing interests. It was clear, then, that what was called Free Trade did not bring them at all times prosperity. He hoped the time was near when they would be able 10 give that subject their impartial consideration, for the general infatuation for an abstract idea—for at present it was nothing else—had prevented them doing so hitherto. For his part, if the hon. Member for Bradford 346 would propose a small import duty on woollen manufactures, for which his constituents were famous, he (Mr. Biddell) would second it. The hon. Member had intimated that the farmers should be thankful for the repeal of the Malt Tax. He (Mr. Biddell) asked why; for the Government had only changed its name and place of collection. There now existed a greater tax between him, as a barley grower, and his customers, the beer drinkers, than there was before. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire had intimated that the Conservatives wished to relieve their local burdens by putting a tax upon stock-in-trade. He (Mr. Biddell) repudiated any such idea; what he wished to see was local, and he might say Imperial taxation, based upon, and be assessed according to, the means of those from whom they were collected. That such was not the case he would show by citing the works of the hon. Member, which were probably rated upon £500 or £600 a-year. A farmer's profits near by, assessed upon a like basis, could not be compared to those of the iron works, and yet they contributed equally. Again, in regard to labour, the iron works used up 10 times the labour the farmer did. Yet, in the case of old age, or from disablement by accident, when any of those workmen required pecuniary assistance, the farmer contributed equally with the owner of the iron works. The Cabinet, in discussing this subject, seemed to him (Mr. Biddell) like doctors, who, instead of considering how best to uphold and maintain their patient in this world, discussed how he could best be buried. Instead of considering how best the farmers could be enabled to continue in their operations, Government had spent its time in considering in what way they had better leave. But, in conclusion, he would remark that whatever their measure might be it would have his most impartial consideration.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, there could be no doubt of the reality and urgency of the present agricultural distress. The time was ripe for consideration of county government and local taxation. One of the great advantages to be obtained would be uniformity of assessment among the Unions in every county. In London they had this great benefit. The only part of the Empire in which there was established by legislation 347 a uniformity of assessment was in the 32 Unions of the Metropolitan district. What was wanted in the country was one and the same basis for local and Imperial taxation, and he regretted on that account that the County Government Bill was not a leading part of the programme of the Government, because he regarded the development of local government as the key to many of the problems which the Opposition were trying to solve in other ways. He thought that the last speaker (Mr. Biddell) had pointed to a most important branch of the subject, and he should have been exceedingly glad if the Government had been able to see their way to introduce a Bill dealing with county government and taxation. That question was really much more urgent than that of a Municipality for London, which only concerned the Metropolitan population. The proceedings of that House would have been of a far more satisfactory and substantial character were such a Bill to be introduced. He could not but fear that there was a reluctance in some quarters to extend fully and fairly the electorate in the counties. In the boroughs every elector had a vote for the local government, and if that principle were extended to the counties it would give the greatest satisfaction. He found that, according to what had been laid down by Sir John Lambert, the total amount of the poor rate in the rural sanitary districts was a little over £3,000,000 sterling, and that the average charge upon the rural sanitary districts for poor rate, county rate, police rate, highway rate, and school board rate was 2s. 7d. in the pound. It would not be possible, therefore, for the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) to say that charges of that sort were excessive. The question, however, whether the area of charge should not be widened was deserving of the attention of Parliament. Before he sat down he would refer to the depression of agriculture. If hon. Members were disposed to complain that no sympathetic allusion had been made to the subject in the Speech from the Throne, he thought they should remember that such an allusion had been made at the close of last Session with reference to the past harvest. As the hon. and gallant Baronet who had brought forward the subject (Sir Walter B. Bart- 348 telot) had said, there could be no doubt that our requirements for foreign corn would be less by £9,000,000. It therefore appeared to him that the allusion of Her Majesty in the Speech at the close of last Session to the improved prospects of agriculture was absolutely true. The hon. and gallant Baronet had also said that there had been a great reduction of rent. That was no doubt true, but there had previously been a great rise in rent. Sir James Caird had mentioned as one of the causes of the existing agricultural depression the undue rise in rents which had taken place within the last 20 years, and that from 1867 to 1877 that rise had been no less than 11½ per cent. As to the measure for the prevention of floods, it should not be forgotten that attempts last year to deal with the subject were met with obstructive, or at least dilatory, tactics on the part of hon. Members who sat on both sides of the House.
MR STAVELEY HILL
said, that they must put on one side the bad seasons, to which the distress in agriculture was undoubtedly mainly due, and consider whether there was anything in the law, as it existed at the present time, which injuriously affected the persons engaged in agriculture, or which pressed upon agriculture itself. This they had to consider with reference to three classes—the landlords, the tenants, and the labourers. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) had said that very little had been said about the Settled Estates Act, thereby inferring that hon. Gentlemen on that (the Conservative) side of the House were dissatisfied with it. He (Mr. Staveley Hill) most strongly denied that such was the case. If the hon. Member had been there at the time when the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) was discussing that Act, he would have heard that it was looked upon on that side of the House as very beneficial; indeed, one of the most beneficial Acts that had been passed. It was scarcely charged against the present system that rents were excessive; and, certainly, no rents could possibly continue which made land difficult to hold for agricultural purposes. It was generally felt, also, that it was neither for the benefit of the owner himself, still less for the tenant, and least of all for the general public, the consumers of the produce of the soil, that any man should 349 continue in that ownership when he had not the means to hold it either for the benefit of himself or of others. The lion. Member for Bradford had regretted that this Act had not come into operation at an earlier date, as it might have enabled those who had accumulated capital in trade to dispossess the present owners and become themselves landed proprietors by purchase. He was afraid that in that case the purchasers would be still more dissatisfied than the original owners. It was not necessary to say much about the agricultural labourers, as there was not in the country any working man who was in a better position. He had better wages, relatively, than any other working man; and on many estates he had been put in possession of an improved cottage and an improved garden. There was not a farmer who had not found out that if be wanted to keep a good labourer he had to give him a good cottage and a good garden, and he would be loth to leave. To come then to the question of the law as it affected tenants, with reference to the passage in Her Majesty's gracious Speech which announced that the tenant was to have compensation for unexhausted improvements, the hon. Member for Bradford had characterized the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875 as sham or bogus legislation; but, instead of its being so, he (Mr. Staveley Hill) believed that that Act was a much needed and most useful measure; for, among other things, it substituted for custom, which it was difficult to ascertain, something that was fixed and definite, according to which, in the absence of any written agreement, the outgoing tenant should be compensated for his unexhausted improvements. In connection with that question, it must be remembered that it was a very difficult one. In assessing the compensation to be paid to an outgoing tenant, it was necessary to guard against fraud on his part, nothing being easier than for him to produce vouchers for manuring and other operations which he had never carried out, and we must guard also against crippling the incoming tenant by making too large an assessment. One Amendment, however, he was prepared to adopt as to the Act of 1875, for he thought that when they had adopted what they considered the very best system of compensation for the outgoing 350 tenant, they should say to every tenant, "You ought always to have the advantage of that," no matter whether there was an agreement between the landlord and tenant or not. Upon another question—that of contagious diseases—it had been suggested that infected animals should be slaughtered at the port of embarkation; but that was not the law under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, 1878. That Act provided for the slaughter of animals at the port or wharf of disembarkation; and the Privy Council could go no further than that. He could not, therefore, see how the embarkation of infected animals could be prevented—only, indeed, by insisting upon a quarantine at the port of embarkation—while he was ready to admit that their slaughter upon their arrival here was not altogether effective as a preventive of the spread of disease. Every precaution, however, should be taken by means of proper disinfection against drovers and others conveying infection in their clothes. He was glad to hear the hon. Member for Bradford admit that trade and agriculture were so closely connected that the misfortunes which affected the one affected the other. What they wanted was a good home market; but he did not see how they could have that unless trade was prosperous, and trade could never prosper until they had a free exit for their manufactures, which at present had to encounter prohibitory tariffs abroad. The most recent Report on Trade and Commerce announced that the tariffs of all the countries of Europe were being maintained, and most of those countries were actually increasing their tariffs. He believed that the protective system of foreign countries, by closing their markets to our manufactures, was at the bottom of our agricultural as well as of our trading difficulties. We had had a trial of Free Trade for nearly 40 years, and were as far as ever from the result hoped for by Mr. Cobden. The time had, therefore, in his opinion, arrived when it was necessary to say that unless other countries relaxed their tariff this country would retaliate by increasing its tariff. In that view, it was desirable to bring together the Mother Country and the Colonies under a system of mutual tariff relations which would induce them to lower their tariffs upon our manufactures, by placing duties 351 on the produce of foreign countries which those Colonies could supply.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, he had no intention of detaining the House with comments on the present unfortunate condition of the agricultural interest. That condition was, he thought, admitted on all hands; and the great object for the House to consider was, what legislation might take place; what steps the House might take in endeavouring, as far as possible, to relieve the depression from which that interest suffered. He thanked Her Majesty's Government for having undertaken to deal with the question, and wished to impress upon the House the necessity for dealing with it, and dealing with it quickly, no less in the interests of the landlord than in that of the tenant farmer. If, as was the case, the capital of the tenant farmer had been gradually melting away, the rents of the landlords had been gradually falling off, and that state of things could not continue. The longer delay in putting the condition of agriculture on a just footing, the greater would be the difficulty of the raising it out of its depressed condition. He had listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who had introduced this subject to the House (Sir Walter B. Barttelot); and he had been surprised to find that, although he had dwelt upon the difficulties of the present situation, he had had no practical suggestion to offer as a remedy for the state of affairs. He did not think that any shifting of local taxation would be of real use or benefit to the cause of agriculture; because, although by that process they might nominally reduce these burdens, the money must be paid out of a common fund, to which the farmers and others must contribute. So far as he had looked into the question of local subsidies, it seemed to him farmers had been relieved of 1s. by the payment out of another pocket of 1s. 3d. Notwithstanding the subsidies to the police, which had taken place in Scotland as well as in England, the people in Scotland were paying little less for police now than they did 20 years ago. It was quite true, as had been said, that deterioration was setting in, and the condition of the country getting worse and worse, and what they had to consider was how far legislation could remedy 352 this state of matters. Reference had been made to one cause in addition to the bad seasons, and that was that the amount of capital applied to the cultivation of the soil was much less than formerly, and was getting less year by year, and what had become of the capital? No small part of it had been absorbed by the landlords in unduly high and excessive rents, and for this they were indebted, to a very large extent, to the existence of the Law of Distraint. There was no doubt whatever that that law presented a temptation to the landlord to take a tenant with insufficient capital, and so increased the number of competitors for a farm; and as increased competition meant higher prices, farmers had in this way been called upon to pay higher rents than were the fair market price. The first thing towards redress, therefore, in his opinion, would be the total abolition of the Law of Distraint. That would produce a considerable fall in rents, and remove one grievance of which farmers justly complained. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken (Mr. Staveley Hill), he (Mr. J. W. Barclay) entirely repudiated, for himself and for the Scotch tenant farmers, the idea of a return to Protection, or "Fair Trade," which was the same thing in disguise. If they were going to have a duty upon corn, they must have a duty on all kinds of seeds; and if the farmers were going to get across store cattle, they would have to feed them upon taxed seed, and there would be no profit in that direction. Some hon. Members had said they must take care not to overburden the incoming tenant. He presumed the outgoing tenant was only to be compensated for such improvements as had increased the value of the holding, and it would be a great advantage to the incoming tenant to get the farm in good condition, although he paid a considerable sum for it. With regard to the Bill promised by the Government, if the House had made up its mind to give compensation for improvements, there would be no great difficulty in establishing the principles on which it ought to be done. The principles to be embodied were—(1) That the tenant farmer be compensated fully for such increased value as he may have given to his holding; (2) that the value of the improvements 353 is the increased value of the holding to his successor, due to his improvements; and (3) that the amount of increased value be settled by arbitration. Of course, he was willing that corresponding compensation should be given to the landlord in case of deterioration, and he should give stringent powers to the landlord to interfere when deterioration was going on. If those principles were conceded, there would be no great difficulty in framing a satisfactory Bill. But if they took the basis of expenditure by the tenant, the principle adopted in the Agricultural Holdings Act, they would be landed in a maze. Such a measure would be a satisfactory neither to the landlord nor to the tenant, because there would be great uncertainty and scope for fraud. He thought the principle of basing the compensation on the increased value of the improvements was the only one which was at once practical and would secure justice and fairness to all parties. He strongly recommended the Government, if they were not prepared to bring in a Bill to carry out fully the demands of the tenant farmers, not to introduce a Bill at all; because a Bill which did not go far enough would create disturbance without conferring benefit. If the Agricultural Holdings Act had been made compulsory at the time it was passed, he thought the state of matters would not be nearly so bad to-day as it was. They could not expect farmers to expend their capital and energy until they were quite certain they would reap the full fruits of the application of that capital and that energy. If the Government were going to bring in a Bill, it ought to be a comprehensive Bill, and one that would go far to settle the question for many years to come—a measure which would be sufficiently broad to inspire confidence in the farmer and stimulate him to renewed exertions, and, at the same time, attract outside capital to farming. It would be far better for the landlords of England to accede, fully and freely, an adequate measure of compensation, than to go about it in a niggardly way, trying with how little they could put off the tenants' just demands. Farmers, under such circumstances, would not be encouraged to make the effort which was necessary to compete with the greatly reduced prices of all cereals due 354 to the increased facilities of transport from abroad. He hoped the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington), if he replied, would indicate when the Bill would be introduced, because it could not be introduced a day too soon, in the interests not only of agriculture, but of the country.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
said, that he trusted he might be allowed to trespass on the patience of the House in order to make a few observations. Before speaking to the question, however, he desired to make a personal explanation. Some few weeks ago, when addressing a meeting in the country, he quoted from a speech he had seen reported in a local paper, representing the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. James Howard) as having recommended tenant farmers, with regard to agitation, to take a leaf out of the book of the Irish tenant farmers. Since quoting that speech he had, in a personal interview, been assured by the hon. Member that he had been misreported, and that he said and meant exactly the contrary to that which had been attributed to him. Under these circumstances, he (Sir William Hart Dyke) took that, the earliest, opportunity of setting the matter right by withdrawing every word he had said in reference to the misreported observation of the hon. Member. The Queen's Speech was an able document in one sense, for in it the Government avoided some dangerous questions, and skated over the thin ice with marvellous dexterity. The complaints which had been made from that side of the House of the almost total absence of any reference to agricultural matters in that Speech had been more than justified; and he thought the agricultural interest, had good cause of complaint against Her Majesty's Government on that subject, seeing the many professions which they had made. A miserable paragraph of a line and a quarter referring to compensation for unexhausted improvements, as to which, perhaps, hon. Members on both sides of the House had given pledges which they would not have given if they had had the opportunity of going into the question more fully than they had done. No doubt, as an abstract proposition, it was right and fair that the tenant should have absolute security for the capital he invested in his holding; but 355 the very representative Committee which sat upon this subject last Session found that it was surrounded with difficulties. He, however, would say that, so far as he and his Friends were concerned, the Bill of the Government would receive fair and candid consideration. So long as the Bill dealt fairly and justly with the question of improvements, and so long as it sought to encourage the development of capital, it would receive his support; but if, as was hinted in some quarters, and by the hon. Gentleman who last sat down (Mr. J. W. Barclay), this Bill was designed to hand over to the tenant farmer a tenant right which he did not now possess, and for which nothing was to be paid in return, and to hand it to him at the expense of the landlord, such a proposal would meet with his strenuous opposition, and that of his Friends also. If the tenant were given a fictitious interest which did not now exist, there would spring up an unhealthy competition for land, with the inevitable consequence of an increase in rent. A measure in that direction would be no boon to tenant farmers. There was all the more reason for disappointment that the subject of local burdens was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, because, last year, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in reply to an influential deputation, manifested a disposition to deal with, the matter in a broad and generous spirit. It was almost like laughing at tenant farmers to promise them that they should have absolute security and compensation for the capital they might invest in the soil, while they were left pressed down by the weight of grievous local burdens unredressed; in that way perpetuating this hydra-headed monster, which devoured the capital which might otherwise be placed upon the soil. It was like putting the cart before the horse to deal with the question in this manner. The difficulties of the farmers were aggravated by the position in which they stood with regard to sheep and cattle, and their liability to have their flocks and herds subjected to the ravages of disease. But they were determined, in season and out of season, to keep pegging away at this question of local burdens until they got some redress. Indeed, from the experience of the past two years, it seemed as If the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council (Mr. 356 Mundella) had only to be pressed hard enough, and often enough, to be able to secure absolute immunity from the importation of those terrible diseases which created so much disaster to the agricultural community. Looking at the prices of beef at New York and in this country, we ought to use our utmost endeavours to prevent the possibility of the importation of those diseases. He could not agree with those who said that the sole cure for agricultural ills was a radical change in the Land Laws; and he would remind hon. Members who held that opinion that by the Settled Estates Act of last year all tenants for life were now rendered, in fact, real owners of their estate as regards improvements of all kinds, and could apply capital instead of income for the benefit of their property. He believed that the Act had done more good to the landed interest generally than any Act which had been passed during the present century. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire had talked about large remissions of rent, and not rates, being necessary; but he would remind the hon. Gentleman that considerable remissions of rent had been made and were still going on, and that many landlords were reduced to a fourth or a sixth of their former incomes; and, more than that, landlords had learnt that it was necessary to deal in as liberal a spirit as possible with their tenants. No doubt, also, landlords were now much more inclined to take a good tenant at a less rent than to take an indifferent tenant at a higher rent. He looked upon the state of affairs which had been indicated on all sides of the House, as regarded the present state of agriculture, as far too grave a question to be squabbled about in any Party sense whatever. He felt sure that the Government would meet with every consideration from hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House in dealing with that very difficult problem; and, as far as he was concerned, he would give a candid examination to their measure whenever it appeared, hoping that they would deal with the matter in a fair, just, and equitable spirit.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
desired to say one or two words with reference to the subject of local taxation. Earlier in the evening the hon. Member for South Devon (Sir Massey Lopes) had complained that 357 the Government had done nothing in regard to that subject, and had made no promise in the Speech from the Throne. He also complained that there were in the Speech from the Throne no expressions of sympathy with the sufferings of the agricultural interest. He (Mr. Goschen) confessed that he should think it more probable that the agricultural interest would look to measures mentioned in the Speech rather than to apparent words of sympathy. If he were a farmer, he would not mind the absence of eloquent expressions of sympathy, if he found in Her Majesty's Speech that a subject which had so long exercised the mind of the agricultural interest, and to which so large a portion of the agricultural interest attached very considerable importance, was at last to be dealt with. They had in the Queen's Speech an announcement that a Bill was to be proposed of very considerable importance—namely, regulating compensation for unexhausted improvements; and he trusted that hon. Members opposite would not do the Government the injustice of saying that they had neglected the agricultural interest when they numbered among the measures which were to be proposed—and, he trusted, carried—during the Session one of such great importance. The hon. Member for South Devon attached, in his view, too great importance to the question of the relief of local taxation. He had not heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite any answer to the question put to them as to how many shillings per acre they expected to be saved to the tenant and the landlord by relief from local taxation. The sum of £1,500,000 had been given, as was said by the hon. Member for South Devon, in relief of local taxation during the late Administration. What portion of that relief had gone to the aid of the agricultural interest? He should like to ask, of how many shillings or how many pence per acre had the farmer been relieved by the measures which had been passed in the direction of subventions? If the complaint against the present Government was that they had not proceeded further on the lines traced out for them by their Predecessors, surely it was fair to ask what had been the result of the subventions already granted. No doubt, hon. Gentlemen opposite were entitled to set off against the relief given any additional burdens which had been 358 placed on landed property; but he wanted to know how much per acre would the relief have been to the farmer, or to the farmer and the owner together, if there had been no such set-off? Would it have been 1s, an acre; and, if so, would that have dealt in any substantial or satisfactory way with the grievances alleged, and with the suffering which undoubtedly existed? But, more than that, what had been the consequence to the farmer and the owner of that relief? And how had the money been raised by which that relief was given to the agricultural interest? Why, by additions to the Income Tax; and he put to hon. Gentleman opposite, to the farmers, and to the landowners, this question—How much of that additional Income Tax had been paid by the farmers and by the landowners themselves? Again, the country was entitled to be acquainted with the views held by Members who pressed so strongly for the relief of local taxation as to what ought to be the ultimate measure of that relief. How many shillings per acre did they wish to be relieved of, or could they be relieved of, by proceeding further in the direction of subventions; and in what way did they think it would be best to obtain the sum that would be given to the agricultural interest? That was a question not of Party, but of equity. He was not protesting against the demand for relief; but if he was protesting at all, he was protesting against the form in which that relief was asked for at the present moment; and he wished to know what the programme was of those who saw the chief remedies for agriculture in the diminution of local taxation. How many millions could they be relieved of, and what proportion would that bear to the rent that was paid by the farmer? It was perfectly possible that there was a fair claim for some relief and some readjustment; but, holding this view, he could not agree with the hon. Member for South Devon that they should not consider in that question of relief the subject of reform in local government. The noble Marquess who led the House told them those two subjects ought to proceed together, and that one of the first questions was the constitution of the body which would administer the funds. He trusted that, notwithstanding the great pressure of Public Busi- 359 ness, time might soon be found to deal with that most important question; and that as soon as they had County Government established on broad and permanent lines, the whole subject of local taxation might be taken up, not on the, to his mind, false system of mere Government subventions, but in a much broader way. The entire system of their local finance would have to be considered, and it would be best done when they had bodies to whom they might not only intrust the distribution of those funds, but who might be interested in the legislation for raising those funds. He trusted the reply would not be made to him that he was indifferent to the claims of the agricultural interest. He merely hoped their claims would be examined in an equitable spirit, and that it would be dealt with in a proper way, not merely giving relief from the Consolidated Fund to a certain class, and then taxing that certain class almost in the same proportion, in order to make up the deficit in the Consolidated Fund. He now turned to a rather difficult and abstruse argument, and he did not know that the House would be obliged to him for introducing the topic. Still, it was one of considerable importance. He had asked himself, and many statisticians and economists had asked themselves, whether a portion of the agricultural depression—not the larger part, which all admitted to be due to the seasons, but whether some part of it—was not due to the fact that there was a fall in the price of almost all farm produce except cattle, sheep, butter, cheese, and commodities of that kind? His point was this—that, as the result of inquiries that were now being made, it appeared that there was—what could scarcely be denied—a considerable appreciation in the value of gold; and that that appreciation in the value of gold had had a general effect on the prices of almost all commodities, unless there were very special counteracting circumstances. The economists argued in this way. They said that through the demonetization of silver in Germany, and the resumption of specie payments in America, and other causes, some £200,000,000 of gold had been absorbed that would not otherwise have been absorbed; and, therefore, they came to the conclusion that, a priori it would be likely that the value of gold would increase, and that 360 there would be a fall in prices of commodities. The next process was to examine the prices of commodities, and see whether experience justified that conclusion. Whether they took iron, cotton, wool, leather, or wheat, the same rule was found to extend over the whole range of commodities—the sovereign had appreciated in price, and would command a greater quantity of commodities, or, in other words, they had to give a greater quantity of commodities for the same amount of gold. The reason why he had introduced the subject was that, if that were so, then the farmer who raised a certain quantity of barley, oats, or whatever it might be, received for them a smaller price in gold; while, on the other hand, his debts for rent, payable in gold, remained unchanged; and, on the other hand, unless at the same time the price of wages had fallen, the farmer must pay the same price for his labour. If that wore so—and he trusted that the House would see that he did not wish to dogmatize; he only put it forward as a matter which all politicians and all interested in commerce, in agriculture, and in all the transactions of this country, ought to bear in mind—the one natural result from this would be that rents must fall; that if produce from the land sold for a smaller price, that which should he paid for the occupation of land should be a smaller sum also; at least, nominally—that was to say, a less sum in gold; but the landlord, who would receive a given amount of sovereigns from the fall of the prices of all articles, would be able to command a greater amount of commodities for the same amount of rent. The argument he had submitted could only be met in one way—namely, by a denial of a general fall in prices. That, he believed, would be very difficult to substantiate. He noted the fact that the fall in prices had not extended to cattle, sheep, butter, and cheese—in fact, to all that comprised the produce of grazing farms—because in this particular industry the fearful havoc there had been amongst the flocks had counteracted the tendencies of natural causes, and had prevented the fall in the prices of this particular industry, which otherwise was fairly universal. There would, no doubt, be a number of other causes; but he submitted this one for the consideration 361 of the House and the public—that if, as was undoubted, there had been a greatly enhanced demand for circulation through the flow of gold into the United States, Germany, and other countries, the natural consequence was that prices must fall. In short, just as the discovery of gold had resulted in a great flow of that metal into this country, creating temporary prosperity, enhancement of prices, increased manufactures, and appearance of wealth, so a diminution in the supply relatively to the demand must produce the opposite consequences. Hon. Members might say that this was no consolation to the agricultural interest; but it was their duty to look these facts in the face. If they were true, they might strengthen the case of the agricultural interest for the relief of taxation. Having a conviction that some process of the kind he had described was going on, he thought it right to state his views frankly to the House, and to invite hon. Members on both sides to think out the great problems that attached themselves to this question, and which went far beyond the subject on which they were more immediately engaged—namely, its effect on the agricultural interest. The Government received the whole of the taxes of the country in gold; its contracts were in gold; it had to pay interest on the Debt in gold. Salaries remained stationary, and the outgoings of the Exchequer were almost unaffected, except so far as purchases were concerned, by the causes to which he had alluded. But this was not so with those who had to pay the taxes. It was a matter most deserving the attention of economists, and those who were responsible for the finance of the State, whether the burden of taxation on all classes was not being heightened and the difficulties of agriculturists aggravated by the causes to which he had alluded. They might, perhaps, see in them a partial explanation of that depression which had alarmed the country so much, apart from other more visible and certain causes. It might be that the effect was merely temporary, as was the case on the discovery of gold, and that prices would right themselves, and thus matters settle down; but it might be that important changes were pending in ther elations between debtor and creditor, and that those who were receiving fixed amounts, like landlords and others, 362 might see a difficulty in being able to maintain the contracts into which they had entered. He was profoundly grateful to the House for having listened to his abstruse argument.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he scarcely expected to hear the severe depression from which they were suffering accounted for by an able and ingenious argument as to the universal fall in prices owing to the appreciation in the value of gold. The right hon. Gentleman had informed them that there had been a universal fall of prices in almost all commodities except cattle, sheep, butter, cheese, and other articles of that kind; and this he accounted for by the severe losses among cattle and sheep upon grazing farms. In reply to that argument he had to observe that, unless he was totally misinformed, there were more cattle and sheep—taking the country through—produced upon arable farms than upon grazing farms; and, further, he ventured to think that the right hon. Gentleman had omitted from his calculations altogether one of the most serious items in connection with the increased prices of these particular articles—namely, that the competition in cattle with American and other foreign countries had almost entirely ceased and passed away. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would find, however able his arguments and however brilliant his theories, the practical result of the whole matter to be this—that the price of cattle and sheep was as high as it was because the competition had almost disappeared, and also because of the severe losses in consequence of contagious diseases. There could be no doubt about the extreme gravity of the present position, nor did he think that the case had been one whit over-stated in any of the speeches to which he had listened. He shared in the astonishment that had been expressed at no reference being made to the subject in the gracious Speech from the Throne, and that Her Majesty's Ministers were the only people in the United Kingdom who appeared to be totally unconscious of the deplorable and unhappy state of things. He was not unmindful, however, of the measures that were mentioned in the Speech, and which, had been referred to by his right hon. Friend. He believed that the Tenants' Compensation and the Floods Prevention Bills both dealt with subjects 363 that were deserving of attention at the present time, and he could assure the Government that they would both receive the most careful consideration at their hands. If the proposals of the Government were based on just and equitable principles, the Conservative Party would be just as anxious to see thorn carried into effect as the Government itself. But he wished to guard himself very distinctly against its being understood that he regarded even a measure giving compensation to agricultural tenants for their improvements as a specific or a remedy in any material degree whatever for agricultural distress. Those who entertained such expectations were doomed to bitter disappointment. A clear proof of that statement lay in the fact that it was precisely in those parts of the country where compensation was most fully secured already, and where, encouraged by that security, the largest amount of capital had been sunk in the land by the tenant, that losses had been heaviest, and that the agricultural depression had been most severe. The Opposition had always supported the principle of compensation, because they believed it was right, just, and expedient, and because they were convinced it was in the interest of both parties concerned. But it was to other measures that they must look for any permanent relief of agricultural depression; and the Government had it in their power to do something to that end. Agricultural depression had been traced by some authorities mainly to four causes. The first was the succession of bad seasons; the second, foreign competition; the third, the increased cost of production; and the fourth, the loss which had occurred amongst the stock of the country, which was a very material part of the property of the tenant farmer. He would first mention the increased cost of production. No complaint had been more common or more often heard by the Agricultural Commission than that of the great increase of burdens on the land. He held most strongly that land at any time was unfairly taxed in comparison with other descriptions of property. It was most unjust that it should be so, especially when the agriculture of the country was struggling for its very existence. He could not answer the question of the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), how much 364 the relief claimed would amount to. No doubt, figures would be given on that subject in the course of the debate. He was not satisfied with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on that subject. The relief ought not to be limited to the maintenance of the indoor poor, as defined in the Report, but should be extended to all objects of national interest which were partially or wholly charged now upon the local rates. Upon the losses of stock he was able to speak with emphasis at the present time. These losses had extended now to Ireland and Scotland also. Those countries had hitherto been absolutely free from disease. He wished to remind them of the history of these unfortunate outbreaks. In the nine months from January to October, 1880, there was absolutely no foot-and-mouth disease in the country. But, in the latter month, or in September, 1880—he was not sure which—unfortunately, three cargoes of diseased animals from France were landed alive at Deptford, and almost immediately after the disease appeared in the London dairies. It then spread with great rapidity over the country; they had never been free from it since; and as long as the present system of importing diseased animals continued there was no chance of getting rid of the disease. What they wanted the Government to do was to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission on this point without any unnecessary delay. That recommendation was—That the landing of foreign live animals should not he permitted from any country as to which the Privy Council is not perfectly satisfied is thoroughly free from infectious disease.That recommendation was proposed not only in the interests of agriculture, but in those of all classes of the community. It was recommended not by Tories or Representatives of the agricultural interest alone sitting on that Commission, but by one eminent Professor of Political Economy, and by more than one Gentleman of Liberal, and one, indeed, of extreme Radical opinions. He would ask the House to remember that they had tried the old system now for a very considerable time; they had gone on insisting on landing live cattle even from countries in which they knew disease to exist. As a result the price of meat had been getting higher and 365 higher, and had now reached an extravagant figure, far higher than any agriculturist would wish to see it in the future. If they would only do all that they could to encourage the production of meat at home, then, at no distant date, they would find they had conferred a benefit on the agriculturists of this country; they would have done something to permanently decrease the price of meat. He had pointed out two ways in which it appeared to him Her Majesty's Government might, at all events, do something, even if it be not very much, to give some relief to the agricultural interest at the present time. Of course, he was perfectly aware that if the bad seasons continued they would be nothing like adequate to deal with such a position of affairs. In that case they should either be content to witness the practical collapse of the greatest industry in the country, or provide some means of relief far more immediate and definite in character than anything contained in the recommendation of the Report of the Agricultural Commission. He would remind the House that when there was such great depression in Ireland the Government came forward at once to the assistance of agriculture in that country. He was convinced that England would never suffer for a moment the greatest industry which she possessed to be permanently injured or destroyed; but if these seasons were to continue, they should approach perilously near to that position. As the capital of the tenant farmer and the landlords grew less and less every day, he saw no reason why the Government could not do what he asked them to do—that was, to take into serious consideration, with a view to putting it into practical operation, the advisability of establishing some system of Government loans, by which money could be advanced, in the same way as had been done in Ireland, for the purpose of keeping the soil in cultivation, and arresting that great deterioration of the land which, if allowed to spread, would effect an incalculable loss on the wealth of the country. There remained one other cause of agricultural depression with which he should like to deal—namely, foreign competition. The great difficulty he always found in connection with that question had been to form an accurate estimate of the probable character of 366 that competition in the future, and not only in the future, but even from year to year. The earlier evidence given before the Royal Commission on this point was of a character which might be described as absolutely alarming. Last year the price of wheat, wherever the sample was a good one, was all that they could desire; this year it was absolutely ruinous; and the prospect for the coming year was—what? He defied any human being to tell. But if it became evident that wheat could no longer be grown at a profit, it would not be long before Parliament would be asked—however the proposal might be received, and however much it might be opposed by men like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth)—to entertain some measure of a protective character; and when that demand was made it would not be on behalf of the agricultural classes alone, but all classes of the community. The main causes of the agricultural depression suggested by the hon. Member were bad Land Laws, a sham Agricultural Holdings Act, and the exorbitant rents paid at present. The hon. Member offered an instance of the serious mistakes which might be made, even by men of genius, when they were dealing with subjects with which they were not acquainted; and he could not help thinking that the hon. Member had not been at much pains to make himself acquainted with the most recent information, otherwise he would never have delivered the speech which he had that night made in the House of Commons. The Report of the Royal Commission had been very much canvassed; and the appointment of the Commission had been canvassed still more at the time. Some said the Commission would never do any good; others that its recommendations would be futile. But the chief value he attached to the labours of the Commission was that they would be able to explode the several fallacies so popular at the time, and which had been set forth by the hon. Member that night. When the hon. Member talked of bad Land Laws being one of the causes of the agricultural depression, he would like to read a few words of the Report, which were a fair expression of the evidence given before the Commission—Whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the causes of agricultural depression, or 367 as to remedies which may he suggested for it, it will he observed that there prevails complete uniformity of conviction as to the great extent and intensity of the distress which has fallen upon the agricultural community. Owners and occupiers have alike suffered from it. No description of estate or tenure has been exempted. The owner in fee and the life-tenant, the occupant whether of large or small holding, whether under lease, or custom, or agreement, or the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act—all without distinction have been involved in a general calamity. It is important that this should be clearly understood, so that undue stress may not he laid upon suggestions for legislative changes, which, whether expedient or not, have no direct or immediate connection with the distress of the present time.Another cause was said to be the exorbitant rent that had been asked. But the Report did not bear out the opinions of the hon. Member, for the Commissioners said that the evidence satisfied them that the practice of demanding exorbitant rents was exceptional, especially on large estates. He had himself had a good deal of experience in letting farms of late years, and he had found that the landlord had little or nothing whatever to do or say? with regard to the rent; the tenant fixed it, and the landlord was obliged to take whatever the tenant offered. He agreed that trade was unfortunately suffering as well as agriculture; but why was it suffering? Because our markets had been failing us. There were two markets—the home and the foreign—of which the latter had failed because of the hostile, and sometimes prohibitory, tariff's imposed on English manufactures by foreign countries; and the former had failed because agriculture had been grievously depressed. The hon. Member opposite admitted that it was partly inconsequence of a succession of extremely bad harvests that trade was suffering so much; but he would ask the hon. Member what he thought would be the position of trade in this country if there were to be no harvests at all. And he might depend upon it that there would be no harvests in the future unless it should pay to produce them. He commended that point to the consideration of those Gentlemen opposite whom he was disposed to call extremely bigoted Freetraders. No one wished to undervalue the benefits that had been derived from Free Trade in the past, and he should not dream of any return to Protection except as the lesser of two evils. His advocacy of Protection would 368 depend on the character of the future competition into which we might be called upon to enter. Trade was suffering, and would continue to suffer, as long as agriculture should continue to be depressed; and agriculture never would recover its former position, or anything like it, until corn in this country could once more be grown at a profit; and if ever it became clear that in consequence of foreign competition corn would remain permanently so low as to prevent its cultivation at a profit, then he, for one, would not hesitate to propose their return to Protection, as the least unfortunate alternative. That was not his object, however, on that occasion; but he had ventured to indicate some of the causes of the agricultural depression existing at the present time and some of the remedies which it was in the power of the Government to put into operation, and which they should put into operation without a moment's delay. He hoped that the appeals which had been made to the Government by hon. Members on both sides of the House would not be without effect upon them. Agriculturists had claimed no more than they were entitled to as a matter of justice and right; and he could assure the Government that until those claims were met in the manner to which they were justly entitled, they would, in pursuance of the duty owing to their constituents, be pressed upon the Government in season and out of season until the appeal was responded to.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
Sir, I shall occupy the attention of the House but for a very short time, while I address myself to one branch only of the subject which has been discussed at such length tonight—namely, that of the importation of foreign cattle. I should like, at the outset, to be permitted to assure hon. Members opposite that sympathy with farmers and with landlords, in the present depression of agriculture, is not confined to one side of the House. The commercial and manufacturing interests of the country can have no hope of recovering their former elasticity until such time as the agricultural interest itself is in a better condition and our home trade has greatly improved. It is impossible that the loss of £50,000,000 a-year can go on year after year in one of our most important branches of industry without it being felt by all other branches of industry, and my own opi- 369 nion is, that if we even had only two or three years of agricultural prosperity, the general trade of the country would be enormously improved. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Chaplin) made a statement at the outset of his remarks, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), which entirely took me by surprise. My right hon. Friend, in his interesting and able speech, into which, however, I do not propose to follow him, spoke of the effect of the depreciation of the value of gold upon agricultural prices except cattle, cheese, and butter. But the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) says that one cause of this is that foreign competition has ceased and passed away from this country. He again and again repeated that we have really done with foreign competition, and he was cheered by his Friends when he made that statement. Now, the hon. Member never made a greater mistake. The importation of live animals during the past year is the largest of any year for the last 15 years in the history of the country with the exception of one year.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to explain? What I intended to convey to the House was this—that foreign competition in meat had almost entirely disappeared at the prices at which it was conducted a few years ago.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
No doubt, the price of meat has very largely in creased in this country. The price of mutton is unquestionably high, and the price of beef is higher than it has been for many years. But the arguments of the hon. Gentleman applied to the importation of foreign cattle. What is it that he proposes to do? He insists that it is the duty of the Government, with out an hour's delay—
§ MR. MUNDELLA
Then, "without unnecessary delay." I took down the words of the hon. Gentleman at the time; but I am willing to substitute his present words, "without unnecessary delay." He insists that it is the duty of the Government, without unnecessary 370 delay, to prohibit the importation of live foreign animals into this country. Now, what effect would that have on the meat supply of the country? In the year 1881, the number of live foreign animals imported was 1,278,891, and the total value £8,025,000. In 1882, the number imported was 1,483,761, and the total value £9,272,000.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I am giving the hon. Gentleman the importation; and, if we deduct and abstract that supply from the domestic consumption of the country, it will at once be seen that the prices of meat would be enormously affected and increased. In the opinion of authorities fully competent to judge, it would make a difference of at least 2d. or 3d. a pound in the price of meat, now sufficiently high, if we were to exclude this supply imported from foreign countries to the value of more than £9,000 000.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
The hon. Member reverts to his old argument when he says that it would come back again in the shape of a greater supply of dead meat. It has been proved by experience that when, through fear of the cattle plague, we totally prohibited the importation of live animals from Belgium and Germany, which were sending us large quantities, the large supplies we had been in the habit of receiving were not replaced by a single cargo of dead meat. That, I think, is an unanswerable argument. Then, again, I am sorry to say that the dead meat trade, so far from increasing, is steadily diminishing. In 1881 we imported 812,000 cwts. of fresh meat, whereas, in 1882, we imported only 460,000 cwts., and the value fell off from £2,163,000 to £1,282,000. That was up to the end of December last year, so that there has been a falling off of nearly £1,000,000 in value in regard to dead meat, and approaching to nearly a corresponding amount in the importation of live cattle. What the hon. Gentleman proposes to do is to cut off the supply of live cattle.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
Now, when did the hon. Gentleman first use that argument? It has always been understood 371 in the House that one of the greatest boons the Government ever conferred upon the agricultural community was in passing the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act in 1878. And yet hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House speak of that Act as if it was of no value whatever. Certainly that is not the opinion of the Royal Commission.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
With respect to the recommendation of the Royal Commission, it is quite true that they made the recommendation which the hon. Gentleman has referred to; but I should like to ask how many Representatives of the consumers were upon the Royal Commission? Nay, I will go further. The noble Duke the late Lord President of the Council (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) was the Chairman of that Commission; and instead of recommending that proposal, I believe he voted against it. It is also a fact that several of the most experienced Members of that Commission voted against the paragraph which the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire himself carried in the Commission. Under these circumstances, I cannot accept this recommendation of the Royal Commission, when I know that those who had the responsibility of carrying out the Act, and who may have the responsibility of carrying it out again, are of opinion that no Government dare put in force that recommendation. I make that assertion advisedly. The hon. Gentleman says it is this imported disease that has produced such havoc among our flocks and herds; and he has given a history of recent events in connection with imported disease since the accession of the Government to Office. Now, upon that point, let me state to the House exactly what has happened in respect to these diseases. Since the Act was passed in 1878 there has been no cattle plague. I hope the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) will listen to my statement; because I listened most attentively to his. I say there has been no cattle plague since the passing of the Act of 1878, and no sheep-pox; while the ravages of pleuro-pneumonia, which was the principal disease against which the Act was passed, have steadily decreased. In 1877, there were 2,700 outbreaks of pleuro-pneumonia, and 5,000 372 animals affected. These numbers steadily came down year by 3'ear, until, in 1882, there were only 494 outbreaks, and 1,200 animals affected. It is to be hoped that the time will shortly come when I shall be able to say that the animals affected, and that every herd affected, may be slaughtered off at once and the disease wholly stamped out. Indeed, I may venture to say that pleuro-pneumonia, which was the disease in regard to which the Act was mainly passed, has been almost entirely stamped out. I now come to foot-and-mouth disease. The hon. Gentleman says that from January to October, 1880, this country was free from foot-and-mouth disease; but that soon afterwards three diseased cargoes came in and re-introduced it. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will say that that is not quite the fact. He knows, as well as I do, that from January to October, diseased cargoes were coming in steadily during the whole of the time; and that as many as 13 cargoes, I believe, came in during those nine months. It was not after October, but before that date, that these cargoes were steadily coming in. But during those nine months the country was practically free from disease. The year 1880 was an exceptionally good year, for I find that in the whole of the 12 months the total number of animals affected by foot-and-mouth disease was only 32,000, and the number of outbreaks 1,461. In the year 1881, there were 4,833 outbreaks, and 183,000 animals affected. Last year, 1882, which was almost as good a year in regard to the number of animals affected as 1880, the number of outbreaks fell from 4,833 to 1,970, and the number of animals affected from 183,000 to 37,920. It must also be remembered that those 37,920 animals are the number affected by foot-and-mouth disease, out of a total of more than 33,000,000 animals, which constitute the flocks and herds of the country. That is the disease which, according to the hon. Gentleman, is playing such havoc among our stock. Now, I will tell him what it is that is really playing havoc. It is a disease which has certainly not been imported, but which has been the direct consequence of the wet seasons which we have had in this country, and which it is not easy to get rid of. We lost in one year nearly 3,000,000 of sheep from 373 the disease known as sheep-fluke. We are still losing them from the same cause, and if we do not get fine weather, I am afraid that the loss will continue to go on. We must have lost millions of sheep owing to fluke, and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that disease is not an imported disease, although it is one which is prevalent all over Europe. The flocks of this country have suffered from it in common with every other flock in Europe grazing over low lands. Then, is it fair, in the face of these facts, to say that we are suffering from imported disease? The Government have done all in their power to arrest the progress of disease, and the hon. Gentleman has himself admitted that the Privy Council have worked with considerable success; and yet he calls upon us, as some other hon. Gentlemen have done, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Herefordshire (Mr. Duckham), to prohibit the importation of foreign cattle, although he knows very well that the Act was not framed for prohibition. Let me read the words of the Act. I am surprised at the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), because, at the time the Act was passed, he, and every Member who sat upon the same Benches, declared indignantly that such a thought as that of prohibition had never entered their heads; on the contrary, they asserted that all they wanted was the greatest possible facility for importation. I have here the Schedule of the Act which applies to foreign animals. It is headed "Foreign animals; slaughter at the port of landing." It goes on to say, "foreign animals only to be landed at a part of the port defined." They are to be landed in such a manner and at such a time, and they are not to be removed alive from the wharf. That is precisely what has been done. We have had the cargo slaughtered wherever we have found disease, or had a suspicion that there was disease. Sometimes before the authorities of the country from which the animals came have known themselves of the existance of disease, we have placed animals from that country under the slaughter provisions of the Act; and, at this moment, there are only two ports in the world that are exempt—Antwerp and the Scandinavian Islands. Cattle from all other ports are slaughtered at the port of debarkation. 374 That is exactly the state of the law, and I am sure that since the Act passed, no one will say that we have been lax in the administration of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart Dyke) has spoken about the terrible restrictions we have enacted in this country, and has wondered that we did not recoil from them. But I must remind him that we are engaged in administering the Act as we found it, with the aid of the Privy Council, in the best way we are able. We have been assisted, in a way I hope every one who may succeed us will be assisted, by the Department of the Privy Council. I sincerely hope, if it should ever be found advisable to transfer this branch of the Privy Council work, those to whom it may be transferred will continue to have the advice and knowledge of Mr. Lennox Peel, who also assisted the Duke of Richmond and Gordon in carrying out the Act. He has his heart most thoroughly in the work; he has always been desirous of doing all that he can to prevent the introduction or spread of calamitous diseases; and in regard to the Privy Council itself, I do not think it possible for any Department to work more cordially, more promptly, or more heartily together. No one has been absent from his post since October last; but all have been actively engaged in earring out the demands of the country. When the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire speaks of the restrictions imposed by the closing of markets, I would like him to ask his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) if he thinks that we have done too much in that direction. The result of closing the markets of this country has certainly been satisfactory. When Mr. Clare Sewell Read proposed it, we met him at once, and what has been the result? Norfolk was free entirely until the end of October. On the 9th of December there were 45 outbreaks in that county, and on the 11th of December we applied the Order. The very next week the outbreaks fell to 35, the following week to 28, and the week following to 11, until finally they came down to none. The same thing has happened in Northamptonshire and Suffolk, and I hope that gradually similar results will be produced in other counties. But I must confess that I am not so sanguine about stamping out foot-and-mouth 375 disease as I was at first, and a good many other persons take the same view. I am not sure how far the disease is indigenous. I received a letter from a farmer the other day, telling me it was folly to attempt to stamp out foot-and-mouth disease, and objecting to the restrictions imposed by the Department. We have, however, been guided by the Act, and by the opinion of Mr. Clare Sewell Read and my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Poll), and have done our best to stamp out the disease. We shall still continue to do so. As I know that this question is very shortly to come on again, when the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire brings forward the Resolution of which he has given Notice, it is perhaps better that I should reserve anything I have to say further upon the question until that time arrives. I will only say now, that the evidence given to us goes to show that breeding is not stopped by foot-and-mouth disease. We have abundant evidence to prove that; and so far from the breeding of cattle having fallen off, the number has actually increased from the year 1867, when it was 4,900,000, to about 6,000,000 now, and there has been an increase during the last year, notwithstanding the very high prices of stock. In 1867, there were 4,900,000 cattle in Great Britain; and in 1873, they reached 5,900,000. The highest they ever reached was 6,000,000. At the end of 1881, they were 5,900,000, and they are about 6,000,000 now; so that it is incorrect to say that there has been a great falling off in cattle. The falling off has been almost entirely in live sheep; but I say that with the terrible disease affecting sheep which I have referred to, you cannot hope to maintain the numbers. We have watched the progress of the disease with great anxiety, and we are only astonished to find that the numbers have stood as well as they have every year, and that they are maintained as they are. I hope I have now said enough to convince the House that Her Majesty's Government are not indifferent to the gravity and importance of these questions. I see the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross) in his place, and the right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, confirm me, when I say that both the present and the late Government were agreed upon one point—namely, that we had no desire to stop the importation of cattle. 376 All that we want is that everybody should send us as many cattle as they are able, but that they should be slaughtered at the port of debarkation. I have only one more word to add. My noble Predecessor (Viscount Sandon), when Vice President of the Council, himself pointed out that hon. Members were mistaken in supposing that the Act was intended to prohibit the sending of live cattle to England. All the Government said was that they might be landed alive, but that they would not be allowed to be taken beyond a certain limit. Every speech delivered on the subject states the same thing. The object is to land the cattle alive, but to slaughter them at the port of debarkation. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire is not content with that, but he wants them to be slaughtered at the port of embarkation. That is a very different thing, and the result would be famine prices for meat. Prices are high enough now, and anything that would increase them, would produce much misery and distress in the great towns of this country.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
Sir, there was one portion of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks which I confess I heard with some surprise. It was that part in which he called my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) to account for not being acquainted with the condition of the law. The right hon. Gentleman said it was all very well for my hon. Friend to charge the Government with not having exercised judicially the powers intrusted to them, but that he ought to have known they had no power under the Act of prohibiting the landing of cattle.
§ MR. MUNDELLA.
They have power under the Act to prohibit the landing of animals suffering from cattle plague. The three conditions are prohibition for cattle plague, slaughter at the port of debarkation for other diseases, and free ingress when the animals are not infected.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
Am I to understand that there is no power of prohibition, except for cattle plague?
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
Then, how is it I find an Order of Council, dated the 14th February, 1883, ordering that ani- 377 mala brought from the port of Boulogne shall not be landed in England, Wales, or Scotland. This appears to be at variance with what the right lion. Gentleman has just stated.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
The reason why the importation of animals from that port is stopped was that the ships engaged in the trade were found to be impregnated with disease, and they were therefore stopped, in order that they might be disinfected. It has been resolved that the trade should be stopped for a month, in order to afford time for the progress of disinfection to be carried out.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
In that case, one of two things must have happened—either the right hon. Gentleman was misstating the law when he said that the Government did not possess this power, or the Government have been acting contrary to law.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
In the event of any emergency arising, the Government have power to prohibit; but the principle of the Act is the slaughter of the animals a the port of debarkation, and there must have been a great emergency in order to induce the Government to stop these ships for a month in order that they might be disinfected.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
As there appears to be some doubt in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, I will call attention to the powers which the Privy Council do possess. Among them, I find a provision that the Privy Council may, from time to time, make such general or special Orders as they may think fit for prohibiting the landing of animals, or of any other specific kind in regard to cargo, fodder, litter, &c.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
It was under that provision that a special Order was issued stopping the landing of cargoes from the port of Boulogne for one month.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
What did the right hon. Gentleman say in reply to the observations of my hon. Friend? My hon. Friend drew attention to the exercise of these powers. My hon. Friend stated that the disease had been stamped out by the judicious exercise of our powers in 1880, but that it had been reintroduced by importations from abroad.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
Then, the right hon. Gentleman denies that the cattle disease had been practically stamped out 378 in 1880, and re-introduced by importations from abroad. The right hon. Gentleman talked lightly of the foot-and-mouth disease. The right hon. Gentleman talked very lightly of it indeed. He evidently thinks it has been protective of procreation. [Mr. DODDS: Oh, oh!] I am in the recollection of the House; and if hon. Members of the House who have just entered it, and who have made these disorderly sounds, were not here, I am in the recollection of the House, when I say that the right hon. Gentleman pointedly remarked that so far from foot-and-mouth disease having done very serious injury to the owners of stock, the quantity of stock had considerably increased during the time the disease has prevailed. Now, in proof of the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire, that foot-and-mouth disease was practically put down in 1880, and re-introduced under the auspices of the right hon. Gentleman's administration of the law, I will quote an authority which I think he will not gainsay. That authority says that, up to September, 1880, the whole of the United Kingdom of England and Ireland had been, as far as the Veterinary Department of the Privy Council could ascertain, free from foot-and-mouth disease, and the strongest evidence existed that this re-introduction was due to the importation of diseased animals from abroad. Now, who is the authority for this statement—the statement for which the right hon. Gentleman said just now there was not one scintilla of evidence? It was the Report of the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman himself presides.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I never said anything to contradict that statement. I was perfectly aware of it, because I made it in the House myself.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
The right hon. Gentleman certainly made the statement to which I referred just now; but, leaving the right hon. Gentleman to refresh his memory with the Act of Parliament and the Report of his own Department, together with the Orders in Council, I will, with the permission of the House, refer to one subject which, has been touched upon in the course of the debate, and upon which I should like to say a few words, speaking as a private individual, and in no shape or form representing the views of my right 379 hon. Friends near me any more than they would upon such a subject be accepted by me as representing mine. Among the various remedies suggested for agricultural depression, I have remarked that hardly any touch any person except the out-going tenant. The out-going tenant is the person for whom all these reforms are apparently intended. We are told that compensation for unexhausted improvements will be of material benefit as an alleviation of agricultural depression. But who does compensation for unexhausted improvements affect? It affects the out-going tenant if he happens not to be an in-going tenant elsewhere. If he is going to retire wholly from the business of agriculture, no doubt, the transfer of the property of other people into his pocket will be, in his view, a great advantage. But what advantage does compensation for unexhausted improvements confer upon that individual whom I think the House ought to have some regard for—the man who is called the sitting tenant, who has tilled the farm during the whole of his life, who has succeeded members of his own family who have gone before him, and who probably intends to hand his farm over to those who succeed him in a direct line—the man who has no idea of flitting, or of becoming an out-going tenant, in order to attain any of the advantages which have been mentioned? This brings me to this point; unless Parliament is prepared to do something towards placing the business of agriculture in such a position that it can be conducted on fairly reasonable terms, under all ordinary circumstances, and affording a reasonable hope of profit, no discussion on the subject will be of any avail. I have never hesitated to say myself that the idea that a mere reduction of rent would meet this question is one that is not worth one moment's entertainment. The question of rent will settle itself without the action of Parliament. It is settling itself already. But what does this in reality mean—the statement that the agricultural difficulties could be redressed by a re-settlement of rent? It is only following the advice of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury to the Egyptians, to "stew in their own juice." It means that the landlords may be preyed upon by the tenants, and the tenants by the labourers, but no other class of the community, 380 under any circumstances, must be called upon to contribute towards the redress of agricultural difficulties. There was one statement in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, which I heard with great satisfaction. It was that statement in which the right hon. Gentleman stated that until agriculture was restored to a healthy condition in this country commercial prosperity could not hope to revive. We have advanced a great deal recently, and we now find that the depression of agriculture is recognized as a matter of national concern. We used to be told that it was only a question for the consumer, and that what happened to the producer of food was of no concern whatever to the great mass of the consumers, who had only themselves, in their capacity of consumers, to care for. We have now advanced so far that the depression of agriculture is recognized as a national concern; and, consequently, I think that I am right in drawing this conclusion—that the whole of the community engaged in other pursuits is interested in the restoration of its prosperity, and is bound to lend a hand to the attainment of that end. If I were to urge that all other classes of the community ought to be prepared to incur certain sacrifices for the purpose of restoring agriculture to prosperity, I should only be re-echoing what has already been stated from the Ministerial Bench. Her Majesty's Government, I dare say, will not be prepared to deny this, that if it could be shown that agriculture cannot be conducted at a profit in this country, without the] protection of agricultural produce from ruinous foreign competition, there would be a strong case made out for a demand that all sections of the community should incur a reasonable amount of the burden thereby involved. I might urge that if agriculture were the only interest affected by foreign competition; but is that so? Are there not fellow-sufferers engaged in other pursuits? We know, unfortunately, that Board of Trade Returns and official statistics show us that almost every other interest is suffering to a large extent from this cause. I am not now dwelling upon the loss all other interests suffer from owing to the effect of the dimished purchasing power in the home market due to agricultural depression. I am referring 381 to the direct foreign competition in manufactured articles from abroad. The working men of England are constantly told that the one thing they should insist upon is a cheap loaf. We have all heard enough of the small and the large loaf; but I have no doubt the spectre will be again trotted out by the Treasury Bench. But if the working men of England find their means of purchasing a loaf, be it great or small, vanishing from their view, I think they will not be disposed to pay much attention to stale arguments of that kind. I have recently been visiting the manufacturing districts, and I was astonished to find that numerous manufacturers who were formerly content with only branch establishments in a Continental country are now removing their entire plant and capital and business from this country to other countries, which, in plain English, means that the money which formerly found its way into the pockets of English workmen will now be paid to foreigners. ["No, no!"] Hon. Members say "No!" I was not long ago in one of the manufacturing towns of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and I saw there empty mills. They were not only unoccupied, but I ascertained that they were empty owing to the fact that the actual machinery had been literally taken out of them, conveyed abroad, and there re-erected, and that the business formerly conducted in the West Riding of Yorkshire will, in future, be conducted in Germany and France. Is the House prepared to say that that is not a matter of national concern? Amongst the items of imported articles I notice a large number of manufactured boots and shoes. I think when the boot closers of Northampton again visit Trafalgar Square—that Majuba Hill, from which it is apparently necessary to quicken the Ministerial conscience—they will have some more solid grievances to urge upon the consideration of Her Majesty's Government than the necessity of abjuring any recognition of the Deity in our proceedings in this House. They will find their means of earning their livelihood rapidly vanishing from within their grasp, and the capital formerly expended in their employment being transferred to other lands. The working classes must consider this point also; they have to contend now in the cosmopolitan labour market with the workmen of other countries, whose standard of 382 comfort is far below their own. Are the workmen of England prepared to meet these competitors on equal terms? Are the English workmen prepared to see their standard of comfort brought down to the standard enjoyed by Continental workmen? Because it will come to that. Not only the standard of comfort of the artizans, but the length of hours must be considered, if we are to hold our own in such an uneven race. It has been my desire to detain the House for as short a time as possible, and, in conclusion, I would like to ask those who advocate Free Trade—the one-sided Free Trade which now prevails—whether they consider any burdens whatsoever in the shape of taxation upon food, or upon those engaged in producing food, are imposts which are immoral in themselves? If so, I should like to ask them how they can justify the imposition of grinding rates and heavy taxation upon land which is devoted solely to the production of food? If the idea of the entire freedom of the food of the people from all taxation is to be insisted upon, we may fairly ask how we are to reconcile the taxation of the food produced at home, and of the producer himself, with the grandiose notion, in favour of foreigners, of the free supply of food and the non-taxation of those engaged in its production? The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council spoke about the price of meat, and it appears to be assumed throughout the course of this debate, as far as I have heard, that the price of meat is so high in this country that we need have no fear in the future of foreign competition in respect to that commodity. Now, I venture to hold, with all submission, a contrary opinion. By the time the British agriculturists shall have succeeded in laying down their land in that permanent pasture which is advocated as, in England and Ireland, most suited to the soil and climate of both countries, some new development of the importation of live and dead meat will have been discovered, which will upset all our calculations and set the farmers by the ears. If the country should once recognize that the business of agriculture or of pasturing cannot be conducted at a reasonable profit in this country, then we must be prepared to have recourse to those remedies which are not newfangled ones, but which have been tried in all countries throughout the globe, for 383 the protection of agriculture as well as of all other threatenened industries. The views I have ventured to give utterance to, it is well known, I have always held myself. Although they have been termed pious opinions, they are certainly, as far as I am concerned, held with consistent piety; and I think it is high time that this question should be viewed by all sections of this House, and by all classes in this country, entirely apart from all those old-fashioned prejudices which have so long prevailed. It may be perfectly true that a certain number of years ago we were able to produce various manufactured articles cheaper than any other country. Other countries had not learnt to develope their own manufactures, and to protect themselves from competition from us. Under these circumstances, the trade of this country advanced by leaps and bounds. But other countries have now learnt to protect themselves and to exclude us from their markets. In the former period to which I have referred, other agencies were at work—such as the development of steam and electricity. To hear some hon. Members talk, it might be imagined that Mr. Cobden was the inventor of steam, and that the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) was the patentee of electricity; for every improvement and development of commerce which has taken place of late years has been attributed to the results of their agitation. I trust that the House will consider these questions seriously, apart from all the prejudice which I know prevails against any mention of protective duties upon articles consumed in this country. On the contrary, I trust that the question will be impartially considered as a whole. I may say that, in connection with this matter, I have been charged with advocating a specific 5s. duty on corn; but I wish distinctly to say that I never maintained myself, in any dogmatic manner, the necessity of a 5s. duty as against a 6s., a 4s., or any other duty upon corn. Still less have I declared myself against a reasonable sliding scale. In conclusion, I beg to thank the House for allowing me to make these few remarks upon the question. The subject is one which, although, at this moment, the suggestion does not command a very large amount of public 384 support, must soon be seriously considered, and will inevitably force itself upon the attention of Parliament.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Gorst.)
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he wished to ask the noble Marquess opposite, before the debate was adjourned, on what days it would be continued, and what course it was proposed to take with respect to private Members' Notices on Wednesday and Friday, in the event of its not being previously concluded?
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON,
in reply, said, he had, in accordance with what he believed to be the usual practice, already placed on the Paper a Notice that he would, to-morrow, move that Notices of Motion and Orders of the Day be postponed until after the Order of the Day had been taken for the resumption of the debate upon the Address to Her Majesty. He also proposed following the course adopted on a former occasion, in the event of the debate not being concluded to-morrow, to make the same Motion on Wednesday with respect to the Orders of the Day.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till To-morrow.