HC Deb 03 June 1889 vol 336 cc1767-92
* THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY(Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)

In rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, I must refer for a few moments to the history of the case so far as a Department of Agriculture is concerned. There has been a very strong expression both in and out of Parliament of a desire for a Department primarily responsible for the interests of agriculture, and from time to time during the last ten or 12 years there has been an expression of feeling on the part of those representing the agricultural interest in this House which successive Governments have found it impossible and, indeed, have not desired to resist. This feeling has been increased and deepened by the depression which has undoubtedly existed during the last few years in agricultural industry. It has been admitted on both sides of the House that the depression has caused an amount of suffering not confined to the propertied classes but extending also to those who live by their labour. This is a matter which no Government can overlook. I do not mean to state that past Governments have been indifferent to the interests of the agricultural classes of this country. Much has been done with the view to meet the demands which have been made from time to time. In 1883 the Committee of Agriculture of the Privy Council was constituted, and I think it will be admitted by all who have paid a due regard to the work that has been done that the Committee of the Privy Council has carefully endeavoured to safeguard the interests of agriculture. The Government of 1887 and 1888 admitted that it was necessary to reconstitute the Department which had the care of agriculture, and I cannot but regard that obligation as one which is pressing upon the House and upon the present Government. Having regard to the present condition of affairs, the competition which exists in agricultural districts, the reduction of prices during the last few years, resulting, perhaps, in a greater dislocation of employment in the agricultural industry than in any other industry, and having regard also to the fact that in many parts of the country land has been allowed to go out of cultivation and that those who had been dependent upon it as owners and cultivators and employers have suffered most severely, we cannot but admit that there exists very considerable ground for the demand made on behalf of the agricultural classes for the constitution of a Department which shall make the interests of agriculture its special and peculiar charge. We admit, Sir, that this is not a personal, individual, or sectional question. It is not confined to the interests of the landowner or the farmer or even the agricultural labourer, but is an Imperial question. It is clearly to the interests of the country that the land should be made productive to its utmost capacity, and should be made to contribute to the prosperity of the country as far as possible. This Bill provides for the constitution of a Board of Agriculture on the principle of the Local Government Board and the Board of Trade and as a part of the Government of the country. The Board will consist of a President, who will be the Minister in special charge of the Department, and he will be assisted by members of the Cabinet and by such other persons, if any, as Her Majesty may from time to time deem fit to appoint. I am aware that some hon. Members are of opinion that a Board is not a proper constitution for a Ministry of this character. But I venture to think it is desirable that there should be Members of the Board who, for consultative purposes, might be called in to assist the Minister; and there are occasions when the ordinary Members of the Board might prove exceedingly useful to the Minister. That is a matter, no doubt, of opinion; but I believe it has been found in the past that the Members of the Committee of the Privy Council on Agriculture who are not Members of the Government have given most useful Assistance to the Lord President, who is practically at present the Minister in charge of the Department. The Bill provides that the salary to be appropriated to the President of the Board of Agriculture shall be the same as that of the President of the Board of Trade and the President of the Local Government Board. It also provides that in the event of any one of the great officers of State who are named in the Bill being appointed to the position of President of the Board, he shall not receive the salary named in the Bill. It is therefore distinctly contemplated that some one of these officers may be charged with the duties of President. The Bill proposes to take over the existing officers of the Privy Council Committee and of the Land Commission. I desire to refer to the excellent services which have been rendered by the Members of the Land Commission and by its officers. I believe there is no Department of the public service which has done better work in every respect than the Members and officers of the Land Commission. The Government are of opinion that the staff of the Commission may be very usefully taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture, and that their experience and knowledge will prove exceedingly useful to the Minister for Agriculture, while by the transfer a considerable economy will be effected. It is further provided in the Bill that it shall be in the power of Her Majesty in Council to transfer to the Board such powers and duties of any Government Department as are conferred by statute, provided always that the Orders in Council shall be laid before Parliament for a period of 30 days during the sitting of the House, so as to give an opportunity to either House of Parliament to express its opinion upon the transfer. Our object in making that provision is that when the Board has been established and has got to work and has proved its capacity for the discharge of the duties intrusted to it—the care of a population exceeding that engaged in any other industry—it may fitly have transferred to it duties which bear upon the interests of agriculture, so that it may from time to time accumulate to itself, with the sanction of Parliament, the responsibilities which properly belong to a great Department. The Bill is an effort to establish a Department which will, I hope, be exceedingly useful to the agricultural community. No doubt a great strain has been put upon those who are interested in land during the last few years. Prices have fallen; there has been an absence of profit in almost every important portion of the farmer's industry, and now we have to endeavour by all the means in our power to bring back prosperity to that portion of Her Majesty's subjects, not by any action of Parliament, not by the fostering care of a Department, but by bringing home to them that knowledge and power by which they themselves may work out their own deliverance.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)

MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton)

There will be no difference of opinion as to the necessity of a Minister being set apart for the purpose of superintending the interests of agriculture. That is a position which the House accepted unanimously in 1881, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian was Prime Minister. That principle has been carried out in a manner to which I will allude directly. If the time has arrived when dissatisfaction is felt with the mode which has been in force for sometime, and it is thought desirable to alter the mode, the principle remains intact, namely, that the House approves of a Minister to preside over this most important branch of our national industry and manufacture. I do not know whether the First Lord of the Treasury did not hold out rather too rosy a prospect as to the result which may follow from the appointment of this Minister. I am not disposed to undervalue the great power and beneficial effect of Ministers, but I am afraid the evils under which our agricultural friends suffer are not evils which Government or laws can cure. Any prospect which would hold out to the agricultural community that either prices will be affected or that the present conditions will he altered by anything this House can do in the way of altering the present machinery for conducting agricultural affairs, is very likely to prove an illusory one. The First Lord of the Treasury omitted to inform the House that there is at present a responsible Minister of Agriculture distinct from the Lord President of the Council. There was in 1883 constituted a separate Committee of the Privy Council for Agriculture, presided over by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I do not say that this is the best plan, but at the present moment we have a responsible Minister of Agriculture, the Duke of Rutland. The Government have come to the conclusion that it is desirable to terminate this state of things, but the right hon. Gentleman has not told the House what functions he proposes to confer on the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in lieu of those he at present discharges, or whether that office is now to be relegated to the position of a sinecure. I think the First Lord of the Treasury will agree that it is most desirable that the House should watch with the most jealous care any proposal to add to the paid Ministers of the Crown having seats in either House of Parliament. Our forefathers were very careful on this point, and unless the case is absolutely proved as a clear necessity which could not be met in any other way, we ought not to add to the number of Members of the House holding offices under the Crown. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that in this and the other House of Parliament there are about 50 Members holding office and receiving public remuneration. Including those Members who are not in the Cabinet, and those who are attached to the Household, there are 31 Members of this House who receive pay. They are a body of great ability and force, but they should not be added to save in a clear case of public necessity. I admit that the Minister of Agriculture should be a Member of either House of Parliament, but the point I desire to lay stress upon is this—is there no mode of reconstructing and redistributing the present offices of the Government so that a due supervision can be obtained of agriculture without adding to the present paid body? There are seven Members of this House representing the Treasury. I do not think that a case now exists for three Lords of the Treasury in the House of Common. For a long succession of years one of the Lords of the Treasury attended to Scottish business; but recently a Secretary for Scotland has been created. Therefore you have a surplus Lord of the Treasury. Then there is the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster, which happens to be held by a Member of the House of Lords. There are four Members of the Household have seats in this House—the Treasurer, the Controller, the Chamberlain, and the Groom. I do not know that there is any public necessity why all those Gentlemen should have seats in Parliament. Then there are the various offices of the Secretaries of State. I do not say that the Home, Colonial, and. India Offices are over-represented. The War Office has been subjected under the present Minister for War to a great improvement. When he took office there were four representatives of the War Office in this House, but now there are only two. There is room for reduction in the Admiralty. [Admiral FIELD: "No."] My hon. Friend is a great authority on Naval matters, and I should be sorry to express an opinion against him in the Naval Department of the Admiralty, but looking at the matter from the Parliamentary point of view, I think the present First Lord and the present Secretary are quite capable of representing the interests of the Admiralty in this House, and the office of the Civil Lord is a surplusage. Admitting, therefore, the necessity for a change in the present mode of administration, I think the Government might so re-arrange the present Members of the Government having seats in the House, as to provide a Minister of Agriculture without adding to the Members of the Government with seats in Parliament. As to the proposed remuneration, it could very easily be obtained if some of the sinecure offices were suppressed. I wish the First Lord of the Treasury had given us a little more information as to the staff and the establishment. It is not the salary of £2,000 a year which constitutes the danger of cost; it lies in the fourth clause. The danger is that the Board of Agriculture will appoint secretaries and officers and an expensive staff. The view I wish to submit to the Government is that there is not the slightest necessity to add to the present civil expenditure in reference to this Department. What the country and the agricultural Members desire is a responsible Minister in this House who can represent their views. We do not wish to create another highly-paid staff of officials in addition to that at present existing. The Agricultural Department of the Privy Council cost in salaries last year £30,486. If we take education and agriculture away from the control of this Department, what can it have to do except work of a purely ceremonial character? The cost of the Education Department, exclusive of inspection, non-effective services, and all grants amounts to £60,000. The Privy Council itself cost £21,000, and the fees received were under £2,000. There are those who think the better way would have been to have separated the Education Department from the Council altogether, and to have an independent Minister of Education, and I believe the country will never rest until it has an indepen- dent Minister of Education. There is already an expenditure for staff and management in the Agricultural Department of the Privy Council which ought to be amply sufficient for this new Department which is to be created. It is proposed to transfer to the Board of Agriculture the work of the Land Commission. I think that is a very great improvement. What does the Land Office cost? Last year it cost something like £23,000—£22,934. Three Land Commissioners receive £1,500 a year, then there are two Assistant Commissioners and one chief clerk with £800 a year, and one clerk with £550 a year. My point is that these highly paid officials, whose work is to be transferred, ought themselves to be transferred to the new Department. I am glad to find that the First Lord of the Treasury cheers that statement, but I contend that we must give no discretion to anyone to do otherwise. We must make this clear; because there is a clause in the Bill which says that these gentlemen are not to be placed in any worse position as respects their tenure of office, salary, or superannuation, than at present—a provision which is so worded as to be just the very thing to raise controversies with the Treasury which will practically end in these gentlemen being pensioned off, and another large staff put upon the country. We had this in the bankruptcy readjustment. I remember that I tried very bard to get the House to pass a clause making it compulsory on the Lord Chancellor to transfer all the occupants of the old offices to the new; but we had the usual Treasury Bench objections that you must not control a great personage like the Lord Chancellor, and must leave him to exercise his own discretion. Of course the House accepted that view and did not insist on taking away the discretion of the Lord Chancellor—who, equally of course, did not exercise that discretion in the way the House desired, and never will. If, in abolishing one office and substituting another, the House means that the old officers are to do the work of the new Department, it must say so in explicit terms that cannot be explained away; and I, for one, shall most earnestly object to and resist as far as I can in Committee any attempt to create a new Department for secretaries and officers and servants, and pensioning off the existing staff of secretaries and officers and servants, for I contend that with an expenditure of £30,000 a year on the Privy Council Office, and £22,000 a year on the office of the Land Commission, we are paying a particular class of men quite sufficient, both as to number and remuneration, to discharge the whole of the duties which are proposed by this Bill to be placed on the new Department. These are the only remarks I have to make at present. I have no opposition to urge against the principle of the Bill, although there are many questions that will arise in Committee. I am sure there is a desire on this side of the House to facilitate the progress of the measure into Committee, and it is in no spirit of hostility, but simply with a wish to help the Government in carrying out an administrative reform, that I have endeavoured to point out the various difficulties which present themselves to my mind as matters that will have to be dealt with in the next stage, and which, I hope, will be fairly and frankly considered.

MR. JEFFREYS (Basingstoke)

In congratulating the Government on the step they have taken in introducing this measure, I would remind the House of the long period of distress and bad harvests which the farmers of this country have of late years had to undergo. Under these circumstances there is no doubt that the care of agricultural interests ought to be committed to a special Department of the State such as is now proposed, and I can only express a hope that the new Board of Agriculture will be composed of men who will be practical agriculturalists, and not mere officials. I do not feel equal to the discussion of whether there should be an entirely new official created, or whether the new Minister of Agriculture should be taken from the official body in this House; but I hope that, whoever he may be, he will be a practical man, and will have under him men who are also practical agriculturalists. I am glad to see that it is proposed to take over that part of the Land Commissioners' duty which relates to the tithes, which at the present moment is a burning question amongst agriculturalists. I hope the new Board will see its way to the introduction of a Bill for the redemption of tithes, which I regard as the only way in which this vexed question can be settled. It is not clear, however, whether the Board will have under its control the Corn Inspectors, whose duty it is to go to different markets and calculate the prices of the corn—wheat, barley, oats, &c. —sold in this country, so as to fix for the year the averages upon which the tithes are based. The farmers complain that the Inspectors do not properly and efficiently carry out their duties, inasmuch as they only deal with the prices where large quantities are concerned and the highest rates are reached, leaving out of their calculation all the corn sold at the lower prices, whereby, the recorded average being higher than it should be, the tithes are also fixed at too high a rate. At present the Inspectors are under the control of the Board of Trade, and I think it would be well to transfer them to the new Board, who should see that the average prices are fairly recorded, and thereby confer a great benefit on the farming community.

MR. HENEAGE (Grimsby)

I have to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the Bill he has introduced in compliance with a demand which has been made by agriculturalists more universally than any they have put forward during the last 20 years; and, I may add that while they have demanded a separate Department primarily responsible for agriculture, they have also demanded, with no uncertain voice, that there should be a Minister who must be responsible for that Department. But, while I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the clauses dealing with agriculture and the transfer of the Land Commissioners to, the new Department, I cannot congratulate him on the administrative machinery of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to think the Committee of Agriculture set up by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian has been a great success. For three years, however, I believe it never met, and, according to my own experience, when it was called together the Cabinet Ministers always found they had something else to do, and it was only the other Ministers who came. But even this Committee had an advantage over the Board now proposed, because those Ministers who were upon it were selected as having given great attention to the question of agriculture; whereas the right hon. Gentleman now proposes to set up a Board of ex officio Cabinet Ministers. There are eight Cabinet Ministers, all of them with a great deal to do, and these are the Gentlemen who are to be brought together to give the benefit of their intelligence to an unskilled Departmental Minister. What we want is a Minister who will know what he is about and who will not have to ask advice from the Home Secretary or any other official of the Government. But what will be the result of bringing together these eight Cabinet Ministers and others? They will meet, not as a Sub-committee of the Council, though they are of them, because they would not be a Committee of the Council; not as a body of experts, because they are to be chosen, not in consequence of any knowledge of agriculture, but from the position they hold in the administration; in point of fact the proposed Board will be "neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red-herring," and, consequently, for agricultural purposes, they will be practically useless. But there is another objection. If there has been a demand for a separate Minister of Agriculture there has also been a cry for a separate Minister of Education, and if we constitute a Minister of Agriculture I fear we shall be putting off for a long time to come the appointment of a responsible Minister of Education. My right hon. Friend has said there was a Minister who was primarily responsible in the shape of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. So far so good; but he was only primarily responsible, for when he found ho had to deal with large questions the President of the Committee of the Privy Council would have his say in the matter, and the Chancellor of the Duchy had not even the last word. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the other day he distinctly said the President of the Committee of Privy Council was the responsible Minister, and not the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Therefore we come back to the state of things we all objected to in 1881, when Sir Massey Lopes brought forward his Motion, and when the Privy Council reigned supreme over both Agriculture and Education. I want to see this altered, and when in Committee I shall move to omit Clause 1, and to insert instead a clause framed on the lines of the Secretary for Scotland Bill, declaring that the Minister should hold office during Her Majesty's pleasure, with a salary of £2,000 a year. Either the board is to be a real Board, or it will be a sham, and I think it is a little too late in the nineteenth century to come to this House and ask it to enact a sham. As to the economical part of the question—the question of ways and means—we are told that there will be some saving through the abolition of the Land Commissioners, but if they are not to be retained, some one else will be required to do their work in their stead. I hope we shall have a Department fully equipped with all the officials necessary to carry it on by means of transfers of officials from other Departments. I think it would be very easy to save money in this way. My right hon. Friend (Mr. H. H. Fowler) has referred to a great number of offices that might be abolished, and I will not deal with those. But this I may observe in connection with the office of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, that it will remain practically a sinecure when you have taken the duties which now appertain to the Department under this Bill. And so also with the President of the Privy Council. He will have nothing to do, unless he deals with the Education Department, which we should all deplore. Therefore, I say that if you want £2,000, you have nothing to do but to put two offices together, and so you save a salary. The salary of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is not paid out of the Imperial revenues, but you can give the work or the office of Lord President to the Chancellor of the Duchy, as well as the office of President of the Board of Works. So it is possible to provide £6,000 a year, and fully equip your Department of Agriculture, without setting up new offices of profit. These are the only remarks I desire to make now. I am cordially in favour of the Bill, but I wish to make it a popular measure by removing those objections on economical grounds to which I have alluded, and I hope, in an improved shape, we shall pass it this Session.


I do not wish to follow the right hon. Gentleman into a discussion which is rather more relevant to a Committee than to a Second Reading, but I wish to express, on the part of my constituents, the great satisfaction we feel at the introduction of this Bill. I am sure that none of us expect that the question of agricultural depression is at all involved in the passage of the measure. I do not think any Bill can deal with the real cause of agricultural depression, which is foreign competition, I certainly do not anticipate any such result. It has always been a matter of great surprise to me that the agricultural interest in this country, which we are all never tired of declaring is the greatest industry of the country, should so long have remained without a Department to represent it, or a Minister responsible in this House. In that respect we are far behind other countries—far behind France and America, both of which are provided with Agricultural Departments and with a means of giving effect to any measure for the interest of the country. They are provided with ample means of obtaining information, and that is a great need in this country. It is difficult for any one interested in an agricultural question to know where to obtain authorized information in this country. For instance, only recently a case was brought to my knowledge in which a gentleman had special interest in getting correct information about the law of markets, and it was in relation to the Weighing Machines Bill. He went to the Board of Trade, and they sent him to the Privy Council. From there he was referred to the Local Government Board, and then he was sent up to the Home Office; and still he was unable to get the information he desired. If the Bill removes only this deficiency it will do much for the interest of agriculture, too long neglected.

MR. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)

So far as the Bill proposes to create a Board of Agriculture, I have grave reason to fear that it will prove a miserable failure. We have had unfortunate experience of the administration by Boards. I might refer to the Board of Trade, which, so far as it exercises any influence over the business of the country, consists of the President. I really am unable to see what work this Board will have to do. It is evidently a consultative Board from its composition, and the only question that will come before it for decision it seems to me will be the expediency of passing some Order under the Contagious Diseases Animals Act. If we are to derive any benefit from the Department, it must be headed by a responsible Minister, who will take the initiative and interest himself in collecting information that may benefit farmers, and in circulating this information through the country. Unless this can be done, I have no expectation that the new Board will be any better than the present one. The great difficulty is to appoint a Minister with practical knowledge of the requirements of agriculture, and who will take sufficient interest in the subject. Many advantages might be derived from a Board of Agriculture under such control by procuring information from foreign countries—information as to growing of crops and rearing of cattle, and various other matters. But unless the Board is represented in the House we shall have no opportunity of stirring up the Minister on various questions of interest that arise. The difficulty is to find the Minister. That that can be done when there is the right man at the head of the Department, is exemplified by what is done in the United States, where the Department not only collects all available information, and is ready with information as to the particular crops and kinds of seeds suitable for every part of the country, but even supplies farmers with corn samples wherewith experiments may be made. I do not think there is the slightest hope of anything of the kind for this proposed Board, and without something of the same means of obtaining and distributing information, I do not see that the Department will be of more value to farmers generally than the Committee of the Privy Council that now busies itself about cattle diseases. I hope some step may be taken in the direction suggested by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Heneage)—having a responsible Minister in this House. Should the Bill go into Committee I will support the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman and join in so shaping the measure that it may really be of some advantage to farmers.

MR. BEADEL (Essex, Chelmsford)

It is rarely I intrude my opinion on the House, but as this Bill deals with a subject in which I and my constituents are specially interested, I may express my thanks that the Bill has been introduced and received with general support from both sides. The only objections that have been raised are but objections to clauses—matters for Committee, not objections to principle. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton most be fully cognizant from professional knowledge of the difficulties under which agriculture has been carried on. He must know that the possessors of landed estates are, some of them, in a hopeless condition, and that there is an absolute necessity that some investigation should take place as to what their difficulties are, and whether some remedy may not be found for them. I am sure the hon. Member for Forfar cannot be a practical agriculturist, or he would not expect that under the condition of things existing farmers can produce crops at a profit, or landlords receive their rents. For myself, I shall be grateful to the First Lord of the Treasury if by means of this Bill we can arrive at some solution that will give even a modicum of comfort to those who own land and those who occupy it, arid who both combined are not in a position to employ and afford the means of support to the labouring classes as they desire to do. If, by bringing intelligence to bear, anything can be done to ameliorate the existing condition of things, the Government by introducing the Bill will have rendered a great service to the country.


I am pleased—and I share the feeling which is I think general — that the First Lord of the Treasury has thought it right to introduce this Bill. There is one point with respect to which an alteration in the Bill would be welcome, an alteration making the Minister at the head of the Department responsible for everything connected with it. I am sure that is quite the feeling in the country, and I trust the Government will find themselves able to give effect to this desire. The duties that will devolve on this new Department will be of the utmost importance. Only yesterday I was talking to a lady, whose name has long been honourably known in connection with agriculture, Miss Ormerod. This lady has carried out most extensive experiments having for their object the protection of our crops from the ravages of vermin. The Department will have an important duty to discharge in spreading knowledge derived from these experiments as to the means of defending our cereals from those ravages that now only allow a third of them to arrive at maturity. It will also diffuse information as to the valuable experiments of Sir J. B. Lawes, in Hertfordshire, which are too little known, and the knowledge of which ought to be spread throughout the length and breadth of the land by such a Department as is now proposed to be created. Agriculturalists do not expect to be made rich by Act of Parliament, and we do not expect that the great depression that has so long affected agriculture can be removed by a stroke of the legislative pen, but we do feel that with somebody in a responsible position at the head of a Department having the interests of agriculture at heart, we should acquire knowledge we at present are without, but which would prove of the highest value, that we shall have better instruction in our agricultural schools and colleges, and in fact I look upon this Bill as the beginning of a movement from which great benefit must accrue to England's greatest industry.


I am sorry the Bill begins by trying to perpetuate a sham. A Ministry of Agriculture I thoroughly approve of, but a Board of Agriculture will be a repetition of the sham Committees now existing in reference to several Departments. I have had the honour to be Vice-President of the Committee of Council; but I never once saw this Committee; and I suspect the President of the Board of Trade has seen very little of his Board. A Committee or Board is but a buffer between a responsible Minister and the public; and if you are establishing a new Ministry, you had far better have a Minister responsible for executing the duties of the office than a number of names to which no meaning at all is attached. To proper and productive expenditure in connection with the Department no one will object. The expenditure may be large, but it must be made useful and productive. The United States have a Commission of Agriculture which is economical and yet costly. It has a head Commissioner corresponding to the proposed President; a secretary, a statistician, an entomologist, a botanist, a chemist, a microscopist, a chief of the Forestry Division, a Superintendent of Gardens and Grounds. All of these have laboratories and the means of conducting experiments, with results that are most advantageous to the agriculture of the United States. For instance, the Commission, having studied the cultivation of sugar and proved the best plants for cultivation in the various parts of the States, have so increased cultivation of sugar in the United States that from a large sugar-importing nation, it will in time become a large sugar-producing nation. There is one part of the Bill—Sub-section 2 of Clause 2 —to which I cannot but take exception. It is there proposed not only to supersede the control of the Science and Art Department over technical schools in which agriculture is taught, but Inspectors are to be appointed by the Minister of Agriculture. This, I think, is a mistake and there is no more reason why agricultural schools should be under the Board of Agriculture than commercial schools should be under the authority of the Board of Trade, or schools whore navigation is taught under the Admiralty. I do not think this proposal is likely to increase the efficieny of the schools. But on the whole I give the Bill my hearty support, and I shall be glad to give what assistance I can in Committee to remedy its defects.

MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

Whatever may be the differences of opinion as to the ultimate effect of the Bill, at all events there is a unanimous concensus of opinion that the introduction of the Bill is an earnest of the interest the Government take in the position of agriculture, and for which I venture to say the agricultural interest will be grateful. For my own part I rather join with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fowler) in warning Members for agricultural constituencies, and those interested in agriculture, not to expect too much from the passing of the Bill. No Bill can be a specific against agricultural depression, the causes of which lie too deep to be reached by any measure of this character. Still the intention of the Bill is a right one; it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, and is likely to put us more on an equality with other agricultural nations from whom, in some respects, we have dropped far behind. The right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord, fell into a slight mistake when he said we have a responsible Minister for agriculture at present in the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I doubt very much if that is an accurate description of his position. I do not think he can be held to be a responsible Minister, because he is not an independent Minister; it is not in his power to take any step of importance which the interests of agriculture may require without the consent and the signature of the Lord President. If there is a responsible Minister now, it is the Lord President of the Council and not the Chancellor of the Duchy. The Bill appears to me to be so drawn as to meet some of the objections urged against it on the ground that it will make unnecessary additions to the staff required for an Agricultural Department. The greater part of the staff is in existence already, and the Bill will merely have the effect of consolidating a number of existing Departments under one responsible head. I am not sure that there is not something in the objection to the constitution of a Board. Is a Board really necessary? I understand it is to be in the nature of a consultative body, for the purpose of instructing a Minister who may not be sufficiently informed in matters of agriculture himself. And it is to consist of certain officials specified in the Bill, many of whom must be Cabinet Ministers themselves, and also of other persons whom the Board may think it necessary to include. The first class of men it is obvious need not necessarily, and probably would not, be acquainted with agriculture. In that case I do not see the use of their appointment. If certain differences arose between the Minister and his colleagues in the Government as to the measures which the Minister might think necessary to take, they would be settled, of course, in the Cabinet itself. As to those which come in the other category, it is quite true they might be experts in agriculture, but what is to be their position supposing a difference of opinion arose between them and the responsible Minister, and what would be their resources supposing they differed altogether with the Minister, and he insisted on pursuing one policy while they very strongly advocated another? Then, again, I think there was something worthy of consideration in the observations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite in regard to the clause of the Bill which relates to education. It seems to me, however, that these questions are one and all matters purely for discussion in Committee. I hope the Bill will be read a second time to-night, and I hope Her Majesty's Government between now and the Committee stage will consider the various suggestions that have been made.

MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)

As I have had something to do with one or two deputations in reference to the question of an Agricultural Department, I should like to thank the Government for having acceded to our wishes by bringing this Bill before the House. But if I faithfully report to the House what I think is the opinion of many farmers on this question, I shall be obliged to say that up to the present the farmers, generally speaking, do not quite understand why an Agricultural Board should consist of Her Majesty's Secretary of State and those other Gentlemen whose names appear in Clause 1. At the same time, if there is any necessity for the forming of the Board in that way, we will not look a gift-horse in the mouth. I join with hon. Members who have already spoken in not only thanking the Government for having introduced this Bill, but in thanking Gentlemen opposite for having expressed their approval, without of course committing themselves to all the details of the measure. The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) seems to think that this scheme will provide the means of teaching farmers their business, and of showing them how to conduct their business under present circumstances with profit. Now, I have no hope whatever in that direction myself. I do not believe that all the Boards that could be devised could teach English farmers how to make the cultivation of English land profitable under present circumstances. At the same time, other countries have well equipped Boards, and if agriculture is of importance to any country in the world, it is of importance to England. We know how we depend on foreign sources for our supply of food, and I think the Government should do everything they can to remove the difficulties of the English and Irish farmers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds (Sir L. Playfair) seemed to think that the Bill would do mischief to the teaching of agriculture at South Kensington. Without wishing to throw cold water on the endeavours of South Kensington, I may just mention a little fact that came out before the Commission of which I had the honour of being a member. We were examining some schoolmasters as to what was done in the way of teaching agriculture, and we were told by one gentleman that he got a certain amount per head for those pupils who passed in the agriculture branches. He was asked what practical benefit followed the teaching of agriculture in this way, and whether the farmers became peasant proprietors, market gardeners, or what? He replied, "Well, for the greater part we pick for this agricultural instruction the boys we think are the sharpest, and who will be the easiest to pass, and we must admit that those boys, as a rule, have no connection afterwards with agriculture." I expect that if we attempt to teach agriculture in a technical way we must have some change in this respect, and I think that if we have a representative head of this Board or Department in the House of Commons who understands agriculture practically, we shall obtain a better state of things in connection with agricultural education than that which I have just described. I am sure the farmers have no wish that the Department should cause any great increase in expenditure. We believe that a practical Department might be created without calling on the taxpayers of England for any great increase in taxation, but we do think it of the greatest importance that we should have a responsible head of the Department in the House of Commons, because we have an idea, which my experience in the House thoroughly corroborates, that very little is done here in the way of legislation on agricultural subjects, and what is done is generally done as the result of a good deal of worrying of Ministers by private Members. If we have a responsible representative of this Department on the Front Bench we shall feel we have someone to go to with our grievances, and we shall hope that agricultural questions will make more progress in this House than they have done in the past. I think, also, it is necessary to have practical men taken into consultation with the authorities on this subject., whoever these authorities may be. I think it is further of great importance that when a Department is formed some practical man should be selected with knowledge of farmers throughout the country to be sent down to meet farmers on their own ground. This is done to a certain extent in connection with the Board of Trade and also with the Local Government Board, and I think it of great importance that farmers should be able to come into contact with the Department here in London, because through the very nature of their business they are unable to meet together and to discuss matters as other business men can. Farmers are not so behindhand in practical knowledge as some hon. Members seem to think. Farmers know as well how to conduct the practical part of their business as any of the industrial classes do theirs. But we are so scattered that we have not the means of getting directly in communication with responsible heads of Departments, as other industries have. I hope the Bill will be allowed to pass without any alteration in its main principles. I trust that whatever is done economy will be considered, and that some attention will be given to the consultation of practical men. Then at any rate I think the farmers of England will have the satisfaction of feeling that at last a Government has come into power which has shown sympathy with the British farmers and which is anxious to do all a Government can do for them.

* MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

I do not think this debate should come to an end without one county Member on this side of the House saying a word of welcome to this measure, which in its main principle I am sure commends itself to county Members on this side of the House just as much as on the other. The only point I wish to express a decided opinion upon is as to the consolidation of authorities which is the principle of the Bill. The proposal to hand over ultimately the powers of the Land Commissioners to the new Board was of the greatest importance, but I think that consolidation should be prompter than is proposed. As to the constitution of the Board, that has been so unanimously condemned I suppose that defect will be got rid of. I listened with interest to the remarks which fell from the hon. Member for Forfarshire with regard to seed distribution and information as to seeds in America. He omitted to say, however, that there are now no less than 20 different phases of the activity of the Department of which he spoke; and in this context I would point out to the hon. Member for Leeds that the reports circulated in America—which reports are of a most suggestive and practical character for agriculturalists—number 400,000 or 500,000 a year. We all know that the admirable Reports issued by the Privy Council, such as those by Miss Ormerod as to destructive insects, and those of Professor Brown as to swine fever, are of great value to farmers, but can the re- ports which have reached our farmers compare in number to the figures I have referred to? On the general principle of the Bill, with the exception of the constitution of the Board, I believe the House is practically agreed.

* SIR W. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N W.)

I desire to call attention to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Chelmsford division of Essex (Mr. Beadel) as to the present condition of agriculture. Many people do not recognize the extent of the sufferings which the agriculturalists have been going through for a considerable time. But there is one thing which they do recognize—namely, the influx of agricultural labourers into the towns to see if they can find more profitable employment than is to be had in the country. I would remind the House that that nation is the most prosperous which grows a considerable quantity of food for its own people. I thank my right hon. Friend for giving us hope that some consideration will now be paid to the agricultural interest. Not that a Board of Agriculture or a Minister of Agriculture can do everything, but it is right that agriculturalists should have an opportunity of coming to someone who thoroughly understands the business, and of inquiring what quantities of corn are produced abroad, and what quantities are likely to come into this country, whether the Inspectors in the various corn markets have done their duty, and whether a fair average price of corn has been given. They will also want to know that all disease is kept out of the country, and that there will be a clean bill of health before any foreign cattle are allowed to come in. I believe that a Minister who will be solely responsible is infinitely preferable to a Board.

MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)

As a Member for an agricultural county, I beg to thank the Government for introducing the Bill, but having taken the work is hand, I do hope they will do it thoroughly and will consent to redraft the first Clause. What the House and the agricultural interest desire is that there should be a Minister responsible to the House, and that he should have the aid of men who are thoroughly and practically acquainted with agriculture. I trust, therefore, that the Cabinet Ministers who are named, and who will constitute more or less a phantom Board, will be cleared away. I trust that another result of the measure will be the abolition or reorganization of the Woods and Forests Department. The interesting Report of the Select Committee which sat on the question brought out the fact that England, one of the wealthiest of countries, is behind the nations of the Continent in forestry, and that there are vast tracts of England which can be planted to the great benefit of agriculture, and the beauty of the country, and also to great economic advantage. I think also that if this work of forestry is taken in hand seriously by the Board of Agriculture, they will be able in a few years to establish schools of forestry in England, Scotland, and Wales, and be able to set up examples for private owners and create demesnes of great good to agriculture and of beauty to our hills and mountains which will become in the end of great financial advantage.


I trust I may now ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. I have no complaint to make against hon. Gentlemen as to the way in which they have received the measure. It is natural that there should be differences of opinion as to the provisions of the measure, and that some hon. Member should desire to have a Board and others a Minister without a Board. One hon. Gentleman desires that the Board should be responsible to Parliament and should not be a sham. But if it is responsible to Parliament it will not be a sham. The Local Government Board has a responsible Minister and is not a sham.


I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is only speaking with the indulgence of the House, as he has no right of reply.


I only desired very briefly to answer some of the points that have been put by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. One hon. Gentleman desired that the Board should be responsible to Parliament and should not be a sham. But if it were responsible to Parliament it would not be a sham. I hope the Government will be able to obtain the assistance of gentlemen who are well acquainted with all subjects connected with agriculture. It is expressly provided that there should be transferred to the new Department such officers as are employed in any other Department which would be merged in the new Department. No option is to be given to those Gentlemen, except that they should not be transferred to positions inferior to those which they have previously filled. It may be possible to transfer to the new Department an existing Minister, although it is not expressly so provided. But I do not think there will be any additional cost incurred. The Government have shown that they are not insensible to the necessity of reduction in the number of officials. The Surveyor General of the Ordnance, for example, and the Judge Advocate General have ceased to be officials in the receipt of salary. One of the Land Commissioners is also extinct. The right hon. Member for Leeds has referred to the subject of technical education. I am, however, inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Essex that the instruction given in the present schools is of a somewhat perfunctory character, and unless this training is made of a more practical and beneficial character it will become doubtful whether it is worth while to incur the expense which these schools occasion. The broad lines of the measure have been sufficiently indicated, and the Government are prepared to consider the details in Committee. What the Government desire is to constitute a Department the principal duty of which would be to watch over the great industry of agriculture. I am afraid we can not hope to teach far-mere their business or to improve prices or production, but we might do good by organization and direction. I hope the House will now read the Bill a second time, as there is another measure to follow.


As representing a large agricultural district, I wish to thank the Government for having introduced this Bill, which will establish a Department that will be the recipient of valuable agricultural information, with, I hope, a Minister to represent it whose place will be in the House of Commons. I am thankful that Her Majesty's present Government is the first that has stepped out of its way for the last 20 years to help the agricultural community, who, I think, will accept this Bill as a set-off against the superfluous proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which were not received with more enthusiasm than they deserved in the part of the country which I have the honour to represent. I hope I may say without presumption that I trust the right hon. Gentleman will take care to man the new Department with practical men of the stamp of the late Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), instead of merely ornamental individuals, or what we in Essex call mere platform farmers, who have no sound practical knowledge of agriculture.


I only wish to say that, as a Member of the Forestry Committee, I trust that the very important question with which they are associated will receive attention at the hands of the Government in the Bill now before the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second Time, and committed for Monday, 17th June.