§ * MR. LOPES (Grantham)
said, he desired to call attention to the continued depression in agriculture; and to move—That this House regrets that, notwithstanding the severity of the depression to which attention was called in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, Her Majesty's Government have not thought it their duty to entertain the proposals which have been made during the Session, or to take other action to lessen the difficulties and to improve the condition of the Agricultural interest.He hoped the House would find an apology for ids action in the importance of the subject. At the moment it was impossible that this House could discuss any matter of graver magnitude to the community at large, or of greater national concern, than the prevalence of distress j among the agricultural community. The case he ventured to submit was no sentimental or sensational grievance; it was 814 real and substantial. They did not expect the Government to have applied any heroic or drastic remedies, but he thought they had reason to complain that the Government had not attempted to mitigate the evil, or to lessen the difficulties which they had acknowledged to exist in this matter. The question of agriculture was mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne; and the hue, well-sounding, sympathetic words employed were emphasised by the fact that the Government chose a young and inexperienced Member representing an agricultural constituency to move the Address. No wonder, then, that hope and unbounded charity towards Her Majesty's Government was aroused in the breast of every agriculturist. But great disappointment was created when it was learned that this unwonted expression of sympathy was only to take the form of a general inquiry—a general inquiry into all agricultural grievances, which was exactly what no agriculturist wanted. Such an inquiry meant delay, whilst they wanted something immediate, and something which would be practical; and he must denounce the conduct of the Government as a deliberate attempt to shunt and shelve the question on which awkward promises had boon made in the rural constituencies. It was for these reasons that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division (Mr. Chaplin) moved an Amendment to the Motion for the appointment of a Committee, his object being to limit the scope of the inquiry, and so hasten the remedies to be applied. Now they were told, at the fag-end of a somewhat memorable and, at the same time, wearisome Session, that they were to have a Royal Commission. The only possible practical effect of such a Commission would be to postpone for three years any remedy which could be devised. It was like asking for bread and being given a stone. But why was not this Commission appointed before? The Prime Minister, when challenged the other day, was obliged to admit that on certain days of every week during the Session the Government could have moved for a Committee. We had the answer of the Prime Minister that any discussion on the appointment or reference to a Committee to inquire into this calamitous state of things (though it would only have 815 entailed a single night's discussion) I would be pure waste of time. The Government, he added, were not prepared to devote any portion of the Session to a pure waste of time. But the Government had devoted the whole of the Session to what they on that side deemed to be a pure waste of time. Such a statement from the Prime Minister, however true an exposition of the utter indifference of the Government with regard to agricultural matters, was most unfortunate, most damaging, and most mortifying to the rural supporters of the Government; and had the rural constituencies understood at the last Election that agricultural matters were to be deliberately postponed while Her Majesty's Government were running the farcical comedy of Home Rule night after night through the House of Commons, hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen would not have been sitting on the Benches opposite. What was the use of a Royal Commission? It would be costly, protracted, and voluminous; and there was no security, even if it ever reported, that its recommendations would be carried into effect. They had had Royal Commissions one after the other, and yet no Government had ever attempted to carry out many of the recommendations which they had made. Take, for example, the case of the Poor Law. A Committee of the House of Lords in 1850 had reported that the relief of the poor should be a national object, and that all descriptions of property should be made to contribute their fair quota. This opinion was confirmed by the Luke of Richmond's Commission, which recommended that the cost of the maintenance of the poor—and they drew a distinction between the indoor and outdoor poor—should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. Yet no steps had been taken by any Government to carry this recommendation into effect. The Prime Minister was no believer in Royal Commissions. In 1869 he refused a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole question of local taxation upon the ground that the matter would ill brook delay, and Her Majesty's Government were themselves determined to be the most active form of Commissioners. If they could act heroically then, why not now? They were in a better position. They had a Minister of Agriculture, there was a Board, and a 816 whole army of officials. It was perfectly possible for the Government, had they wished, to have made an inquiry on their own account into many of the matters now affecting the agricultural interest, and to have brought forward some remedy which would, at any rate, have mitigated the evils which they believed to exist. He was not favourably impressed by the very first action of Her Majesty's Government, because they took the opportunity, when agriculture was at its very lowest ebb, to reverse the policy of their predecessors, and to turn the Minister of Agriculture out of the Cabinet. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. Gardner) would agree with him that, had he been included in the Cabinet, he would have been in a far better position to cope with his other colleagues. Since 1879 the farmer had had a long struggle against adversity. Seasons had been bad, but the chief factor had undoubtedly been the unparalleled fall in prices, owing to the pressure of foreign competition. In 1885, the total value of wheat, barley, and oats sold in England and Wales was £39,031,000; in 1892 the value dropped to £31,019,000,or a decrease of about £8,000,000 from grain alone in the income of the farmers, while the decrease would be far greater during the present year because prices had fallen still lower, and there was every reason to believe that a larger area had gone out of cultivation. This, moreover, was the only country where shorter crops did not mean higher prices. In 1885 the total wheat crop was only 9,500,000 quarters, and the average price 32s. 10d.; while in 1892, when the total crop had dropped to 7,000,000 quarters, the average price dropped to 30s. 3d. There had been a falling off in the gross revenue of the farmers during the current year,, I as compared with the average of the five preceding years, of no less, than £33,577,000, or 14s. per acre. In June, 1890, the total capital employed in farming in the United Kingdom was £405,200,000; in June, 1892, it was £331,600,000, making a decrease of £73,600,000. Still more serious had been the fall in the value of live stock, because in recent years live stock had been the sheet anchor of the farmer. In June, 1890, the value of the live stock in the United Kingdom was 817 £248,000,000; in June, 1892, it was £179,000,000, or a decrease of nearly £70,000,000. This was not a landlord's question. It was equally a tenant's question, and was fast becoming an agricultural labourer's question. Up to the present the agricultural labourer had been better fed, better clothed, and better housed than in past years. But there was every reason to believe that if the present depression continued there would be a decline in his wages, and that at a season of the year when he would be most injuriously affected. He had said enough to show that the present state of things was almost unprecedented. They had had bad seasons before, failure of hay, low prices, and so on, but never an accumulation of all these evils, and this when the agricultural classes were in such an impoverished condition. On all sides were to be seen the depopulation of the country-side, migration into towns, and the keen competition of the agricultural labourers with the working men of the towns. But the evil went further, for nearly all the small shopkeepers of the small towns depended upon the agricultural community living around them; and the depression had had the effect of seriously reducing their incomes. He would strongly impress upon the Government that the position of the yeomen also was exceedingly difficult at the present time. He sometimes wondered how it was that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who were always advising the return of the yeomen to the soil and the growth of a peasant proprietary, were continually crying out for fresh burdens on the land, and would never give any relief whatsoever from those burdens. What had the Government done to relieve the distress which they had admitted? Year after year, month after month, and day after day the case had become more urgent, and yet the House had sat for six mouths and nothing whatsoever had been done. Inside or outside the House the feeling of dissatisfaction was growing. All agriculturists were agreed that the subject of local taxation should be entered into, and all needless burdens removed. They were not advocating Protection, though gentlemen opposite must acknowledge that the pressure of foreign competition was far greater than the supporters of the repeal of the Corn Laws led them to expect. 818 The pressure of foreign competition emphasised the fact that those needless burdens ought to be removed. The repeal of the Corn Laws had affected not only the ability of the land to bear those burdens, but the justice and equity of the burdens themselves. If it was just that a class which enjoyed special fiscal advantages should also bear special fiscal burdens, it was equally true that when those advantages had been taken away the burdens ought to have been removed. Such relief would come with peculiar grace from gentlemen opposite, because all fresh impositions upon the land since 1846—police, lunatics, highways, education, and sanitary—had been imposed by them. Of the taxes which had been imposed upon the land since 1846 gentlemen opposite had never removed a single one. It was true that agriculturists had had very great relief during the last few years: but for that they were indebted to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had provided the funds. But the rates were still increasing. They not only had new rates, such as the education and sanitary rates, but the highway rates, owing to the abolition of turnpikes, were far more serious than before. They never contended that it would have been possible for the Government to re-model the whole of their local taxation, but they could have followed the precedent set by their predecessors and made personal property contribute a, just quota. At the present lime there was every reason why this should be done. Of late years land, its products and its amenities, were decreasing in value, whilst all other descriptions of property were increasing. In 1881 land assessed to Income Tax was valued at £51,000,000. In 1891 it had fallen to £41,000,000. The total amount of profits from trades and professions assessed under Schedule D in 1881 was £255,000,000, whilst in 1891 it had increased to £351,000,000. It was an economical mistake to put exceptional burdens upon any one class of property, because it prevented the circulation of capital, discouraged improvements, and operated as a restrictive tariff in favour of the foreigner. They had impressed upon the Government the necessity of slaughtering imported cattle at the port of disembarkation in order to prevent the introduction of disease, and Bills had been brought in on both sides to prevent 819 foreign food from being fraudulently palmed off as English. That would not have been Protection. There was no desire to prevent the free introduction of foreign meat, but they wished to enable the purchaser to know what he was buying. Such a measure would operate equally in favour of the consumer and of the producer. They had also impressed upon Her Majesty's Government the gross inequality of the Income Tax, land and houses being assessed upon an excessive valuation arbitrarily fixed. They had to pay, not only upon the gross value of their incomes, but upon incomes which were never received. There was no allowance for bad debts, agencies, or insurance. What was the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to these representations? He put another 1d. on the Income Tax. With regard to swine fever, they impressed upon the Government that it was a matter which affected very much the farmer and the poor man; but the Government were not prepared to extend to them any sympathy. What eager desire had they exhibited to show their sympathy to this class upon whom they showered their blessings only at Election time? The Government pleaded the inconvenient season of the year, and prided themselves upon the fact that 289 pigs less had been attacked this year than last. They also urged that it was impossible to act, owing to the miserable impecuniosity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was glad, however, to find that there had been a death-bed repentance. It was not likely the House would have seen the Motion the Government had put upon the Paper if it had not been that the Motion he was submitting obtained the first place for that evening. He hoped, now that the Government had taken action, they would push the matter forward, and, if necessary, put pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Attention had also been directed in the House to the questions of the transfer of laud and of railway rates on agricultural produce. The cost of laud transfer ought to be made as simple and cheap as the transfer of Consols, whilst a Royal Commission had strongly recommended that all preferential rates as between home and foreign produce should be done away with. How was it the Government had not taken any action 820 upon the Resolution with respect to agricultural holdings passed in the House not long ago? It was certainly possible that many of these measures might not be adequate remedies for the distress which existed; but that was not a sufficient answer to bring against those who advocated this Resolution. If these remedies had been accepted Her Majesty's Government would at least have shown sincerity, and would have done something to mitigate existing evils. But his case went still further than this. Her Majesty's Government were the responsible parties to deal with this matter, and not they (the Opposition). It was not the duty of the Opposition to suggest, but it was the duty of right hon. Gentlemen opposite to act. Why had they not acted? He believed it was because the subject was too dull, too prosaic, too commonplace. They preferred legislation of a more heroic character—of a more dramatic character. Constitutional changes were more congenial to them than industrial and social questions. To imperil an Empire, to destroy a Church, to overthrow a voluntary system of education in this country—these were their favourite pastimes. Their only excuse was the impeenniosity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, however, could find £750,000 to run the Home Rule show. But they were unable to find a single 6d. to remedy the present disastrous state of things in agriculture. The people of the country would begin to realise that not only generosity, but even sympathy, ought to begin at home. While the Government had sat wringing their hands every other country had been doing something for agriculture. France had opened out forests to pasture, reduced railway rates, and voted 5,000,000f. to Agricultural Societies. Germany had prohibited exports and reduced railway rates. Bavaria had opened out forests. Austria had reduced the rates for fodder on the State railways, and had recommended reduction to private railways. In conclusion, he only wished to say that he based his justification of the Resolution upon the utter, and he might almost say studied, neglect and indifference of Her Majesty's Government to this question. Whilst the distress had been increasing absolutely nothing had been done. Not only had they rejected all suggestions, but they had made no counter-proposals. 821 They had given no encouragement; they had expressed no sympathy, and given no assistance. It was not a class question, because all classes were equally affected by the condition of the agricultural interest. Thanking the House for its indulgence and attention, he concluded by moving the Resolution.
§ * MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
said, he rose to second the Resolution, out of sympathy for agriculture, and certainly not as wishing to join in a Vote of Censure against the Government of which he was a supporter. He regretted most sincerely that nothing had been done for agriculture, because he came, he was sorry to say, from a county full of distress, where many worthy, industrious, careful men, through no fault of their own, were being ruined, many of them asking themselves, sometimes with tears in their eyes—"What shall I do? I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed." From being comfortably off they now saw no haven of shelter before their eyes but the workhouse or the grave. Looking back over the comparatively narrow vista of 20 years, he felt as though he had then lived in the Garden of Eden, for in those happy days the fanner had a pleasure in his business and made a fair income by his industry. He went on his farm a happy man; he went home a cheerful and contented man, and his aim was to increase the produce of his farm, and to cultivate it like a garden. The landowner possessed a property which was supposed to be the securest in the country. The labourer saw his employment constantly increasing, his wages rising, and his general independence improving year by year. Alas, what a contrast there was to-day! The farmer, with no relaxation of industry, was now unable to make both ends meet; his heart was full of care; he saw bankruptcy staring him in the face, and his farm, especially if it. belonged to him, was like a millstone hung round his neck. The landowner saw his rent vanishing and the value of his property constantly diminishing, while the agricultural labourer's chance of employment was getting smaller and smaller, and his wages were getting lower. Land was neglected or vacant, and cottages were standing deserted. Contrasting the past with the present, it seemed as if some demon had risen from the pit, and, waving 822 his hand over the fair fields and happy country homes, had blighted them with a curse. But this was not the first generation on which such a calamity had fallen. This century had seen some very remarkable ups and downs in agricultural affairs. It had contained two periods of remarkable agricultural prosperity, and also two of very great distress. The first period of prosperity began a little before the last century went out, and continued unbroken for 14 years, and then, with slight variation, down to 1819 or 1820. The second period was from 1853 to 1878—nearly a quarter of a century. The first period of agricultural distress was more severe than the present. It began in the "twenties," lasted through the "thirties," and into the "forties"—about another quarter of a century. The second period of distress began in 1879, and, alas! continued and increased still, and would he much added to by the drought of the present year. The first great period of prosperity occurred partly under Free Trade and partly under the Corn Laws of 1815, while the second quarter of a century of prosperity was entirely under Free Trade. The first period of distress occurred under a system of very high Protection—Protection amounting almost to prohibition; while the second period, which the country was suffering from now, was under Free Trade. But there was one thing he would point out that was common to both of these periods, and that was that the distress had been in times of low prices, and the times of prosperity in higher prices. He was persuaded that one key, and one alone, unlocked the mystery of the cause of these periods of ups and downs, of high and of low price's, of prosperity and of distress—namely, great alterations in the supply, and consequently in the value of money. Facts were stubborn things. He would prove his assertions by facts. The first period of prosperity was coincident with the era of paper money—of money made with the printing press; the second with the era of the great gold discoveries, the largest output of metallic money the world ever saw. The first distress followed the return to the metallic standard, and the second followed the falling-off of supplies of gold and the increased demand for it, due not to any natural cause, but to legislation against silver. These facts were in direct 823 contradiction to the teaching of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, when they discussed agricultural distress in February last, advised themto think more about agriculture and less about bi-metallism.He said—Low prices were not the result of any monetary system.To supposethat the fall in prices was due to a restricted currency was really, in his opinion, one of the greatest delusions in the world.It was, perhaps, presumptuous for a plain farmer to differ with a great authority like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and especially to try to teach him political economy; but he (Mr. Everett) must endeavour to do it. He was very confident that he had in the right hon. Gentleman a very intelligent and teachable pupil. The words of the right hon. Gentleman were in direct opposition to facts, to history, and to the greatest authorities on questions of this kind. Whether general prices were high or low, the key to them was to be found in the abundant or the smaller supply of money. That was the great factor in the case. He was supported in this view by Adam Smith, who had said—The quantity of goods or labour which a given quantity of gold or silver will exchange for depends always upon the fertility or barrenness of the mines which happen to be known about the time when such exchanges are made.Mr. J. S. Mill had said—That an increase of the quantity of money raises prices and a diminution lowers them is the most elementary proposition in the theory of currency, and without it we should have no key to any of the others.John Locke said—The lessening of the quantity of money makes an equal quantity of it exchange for a greater of any other tiling.Hume said—It is the proportion between the circulating money and the commodities in the market which determines the price,And Ricardo—That commodities rise or fall in price in proportion to the increase or diminution of money. I assume as a fact that is incontrovertible.The Chancellor's statements, therefore, were contrary to all authority. The truth was it was so long since his right hon. Friend had left school that he had forgotten his A. B C. Much or little money was the key to the higher or 824 lower level of prices. Their present disease was low prices, and a remedy would be more money. If a horse was lame in the foot it was no use doctoring his shoulder to cure him. Let them look at the terrible distress which afflicted agriculture and trade also, earlier in the century—and ample materials existed. Such a look would confirm this contention. Four Select Committees had sat to inquire into Agricultural Distress—that was to say, in 1821–2,1833, 1836, and a Committee of the House of Lords in 1837. Their Reports, and the evidence given before them, and the Debates of the times, showed that the larger or smaller supply of money went to the very root of prices and of prosperity or distress. The Select Committee of 1821–2 was presided over by Sir Thomas Gooch, a predecessor of his in the representation of Suffolk. The Act ordering a Return to the metallic standard had been passed in 1819, and many connected the fall in prices and trouble with that Act. The Committee, however, passed a Resolution that they would not inquire into this view of the cause of the situation. Said Mr. Attwood, a Member of the House, speaking of this—I remember, in April. 1821, that I was examined before the Agricultural Committee of the House of Commons. They told me openly and publicly that they had passed a Resolution that they would not inquire into the currency part of the question, and that I must confine my observations to the agricultural part of it. 'Good God!' said I, 'gentlemen, what are you? Are you not a Committee appointed by the House of Commons to inquire into the cause of the distress of agriculture?' 'Certainly,' said they. 'And what is the distress of agriculture? Is it not the low price of agricultural produce?' 'Undoubtedly,' said they, I rejoined, 'Is there any other distress in agriculture, except the low price of agricultural produce?' 'Certainly not.' 'What is the low price of agricultural produce? Is it not the small quantity of money or currency which agricultural produce commands in the market?' 'Most certainly it is.' 'Why, then,' said I, 'do you mean to say that you have passed a Resolution declaring that you will not inquire into the very subject which you are expressly appointed to inquire into?' I could get no further answer to this.Though they passed this Resolution they could not, however, keep clear of the question. The Committee presented three Reports—in June, 1821; in April, 1822; and in May, 1822. In these Reports they spoke of—The unparalleled prosperity of agriculture down to 1814.825 They admitted with regret that the complaints in the Petitions which had been referred to them as to the existing distress were founded on fact; that the returns from an arable farm were by no means adequate to the charges and outgoings. The fall in prices they agree explained the trouble. They expressed the hopethat either from the savings of more prosperous times, or from the credit which farmers, past punctuality of payment may command, farmers possess resources which will enable them to surmount the difficulties under which they labour.They touched upon questions referred to in the Petitions such as tithes, rates and taxes, warehousing of grain, Corn Laws, &c.; but they saw no adequate relief to be had in dealing with any of these. As to Protection, they said—The ruinously low prices of agricultural produce at this moment cannot be ascribed to any deficiency in the protecting power of the law. Protection cannot be carried further than monopoly.No corn was admitted, then, while the price was under 80s. a quarter. On the change in the value of money they said—Your Committee, however, cannot but ascribe a proportion of the depression in prices … to the measures which the restoration of our currency had rendered necessary … an effect which has been aggravated … by the endeavours of other countries to revert to a metallic currency simultaneously with ourselves. They deeply lament the derangement which the fluctuations of the last 10 years in the value of the currency had occasioned in all the transactions of life, together with the individual loss and suffering unavoidably produced by the return to a fixed standard.They also said—The departure from our ancient standard in proportion as it was prejudicial to all creditors of money and persons dependent on fixed incomes was a benefit to the active capitals of the country. And the restoration of the standard has been in its turn proportionately disadvantageous to the productive classes of the community, and also attended with embarrassment to the landowner having mortgages and fixed charges to meet, fixed when land bore a higher value in reference to the impaired value of money.Following the Report of that Committee the Small Note Act was passed, which gave some relief while it lasted. The Committee of 1833 was presided over by Sir James Graham. In their Report they referred to the hope expressed by the former Committee, and said theyWith deep regret express the fear that the difficulties alone remain unchanged"; 826 that the "Savings are gone, or greatly diminished"; the "credit failing," and "the resources generally exhausted.They went on to say—Less labour and capital are being applied to the soil. Ancient corn lands, especially clay lands, are going out of cultivation.This arises from low prices and inadequate profit of cultivation.They agreed with the Committee of 1821 as to the effect of the currency changes, and referred to the decay of yeomen farmers, which they considered due to the fall in prices and to the altered value of money. They quoted from the Report of the Committee of 1821 their remarks as to the cruel effects of, first, the depreciation of money, and after of its appreciation, and pleaded for the desirability of steadiness of price. They said—Fresh experiments in the value of money must affect the price of agricultural produce, shake public confidence, and lead to the derangement of all settled contracts, and they ought, after past experience to be viewed by the Legislature with peculiar caution.It would have been well if this had been remembered before Germany changed her standard in 1872, America hers in 1873, France hers in 1874, Austria hers in 1892, and India hers now. Before the Committee of 1833 the following testimony was given. Mr. Joseph Sandars, corn merchant, Liverpool, said—During the depreciation of the currency from 1797 to 1819 there was a period of very unusual prosperity amongst farmers; the Bank Restriction Act of 1797 was reversed in 1819, and we have seen a descending scale. … I think agriculture has not reached the bottom of that scale.The distress was very materially aggravated by the Act of 1826, which repealed the Act of 1822 permitting the issue of £1 notes.Mr. John Cramp, of Thanet, farmer and valuer, said—How do you think prices have been lowered so much?—By the diminution of the circulating medium. What has lowered agricultural produce has lowered everything else.Mr. William Smith, near Derby, farmer and agent, said—All this insolvency is owing to the fall in prices.Not a more industrious set of men living.Their property swept away by the Act of 1819.Mr. Henry Burgess, Secretary to the Committee of Country Bankers, said—If the metal which is standard becomes scarce that will produce an alteration in prices.827The Acts of 1816 and 1819, taken together established a lower range of prices permanently.The Act of 1819,"—the main cause of the fall in prices, as well agricultural as manufacturing. "Nine out of 10 of the great manufacturing works in Lancashire, he had been told, "had changed hands through insolvency. The witnesses, examined before that Act (of 1819) was passed, were mainly persons concerned with commercial affairs in London, such as Exchange brokers, loan contractors, and London bankers. Many of these hail interests directly opposite to the interests of the productive classes.He was afraid these were the classes with which his right hon. Friend below him took advice now. Who did he send to represent him at the Brussels Conference? Representatives not of industry, but of money. The Select Committee of 1836 was presided over by Mr. Shaw Lefevre. It was a most influential Committee, including Sir R. Peel, Lord John Russell, Sir James Graham, and Lord Stanley. It took a great body of evidence, but did not report. The Chairman prepared a Report, but the Committee could not agree on it. Distress had increased rather than diminished, that was affirmed by many of their witnesses. John Langhorn, banker, Berwick-on-Tweed, who was a witness called, said—No relief would be afforded to the farmer except through the relaxation of the currency.Distress of 1810 removed by increased issues.Distress of 1819–20–21 relieved in 1823–4–5 by increased issues.He looked upon the raising of the standard of 1819 as an act of naked injustice.Lord Ashburton (Mr. Baring) said—Price is regulated by the demand and supply of the article to be measured, and also by the value of the article of which the measure is made. Price is a certain portion of that metal (or other article) which is established by law as the measure of value.Richard Spooner, M.P., banker, said—I consider the main cause of the present depressed state of agriculture to be low prices occasioned by our monetary system.The price of everything is regulated by the quantity of circulating medium.None of these witnesses, it would be seen agreed, with the doctrine laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in February last. The fourth Committee (of the Lords) sat in 1837, and did not agree to any Report. It took a great deal of evidence as to the effect of the Currency Laws on prices. Here were a few samples: Mr. 828 John Lewin, large farmer and miller near Wickham Market, Suffolk, said—We have always had better prices when the currency has been expanded, and when it is contracted they are lower. … I have watched for 20 years the Bank circulation; the issue of country notes expands and contracts with it. (Banking was free then.) When the Bank of England has increased its issues, our prices have got up; when they have been contracted, our prices have gone down.Mr. Pattison, M.P., a Governor of the Bank of England, was asked—How do you account for the great fall in prices since 1820?He said—It is owing to the change from a paper to a joint metallic and paper circulation.Have you any doubt that the contraction of the currency reduced all prices?— I believe that the alteration of the currency had an effect on prices.The Earl of Radnor said—I attribute the general fall in prices to the contraction of the currency which followed the Act of 1819.Mr. E. S. Cayley, M.P. for Yorkshire, said—My firm conviction is that the necessary consequence of Mr. Peel's Bill was to reduce the price of wheat in this country from 80s. to 40s.—Answer 3640.Lord Ashburton said—The more he considered it, the more he felt the question of the currency to be one not only of the utmost importance, but as the one in which were involved all the distresses experienced by the country, and also their remedy.He would now give a few quotations from speeches in the many Debates on distress in those times. Sir James Graham, in a speech in the House of Commons on a Motion to forbid the circulation of Scotch £1 notes in England in 1828, said—The gentlemen opposite had contrived to reduce the price of corn lower than it had been since the Revolution. The miracle was produced by a very simple process—namely, that of tampering with the currency, from which the landlord is sure to be the first to suffer. The value of money was heavily increased, while all contracts remained at their nominal amount. The change bore down the amount of the landlord's receipt for his produce, while all the fixed charges and incumbrances on his estate were increased. He was forced to pay in a currency 30 per cent, higher than that in which he had borrowed, and the consequence was that he must retrench, abandon the hospitality and liberality of his ancestors, and live like a niggard and degraded man, and squeeze his tenants like an oppressor, or the monied man walked in and took possession. A decrease in 829 the quantity of money is the first step in the high road to ruin.Earl Stanhope, in the House of Lords in 1830, in the Debate on the Address, said—To what is the universal distress owing? It is to be ascribed to the erroneous basis on which our currency has been placed since 1819. Prices have not fallen in agricultural produce only; the depression has been continuous and universal ever since the Act of 1819 passed, and especially since the suppression of small notes took effect in the beginning of last year. Such a universal and continued depression can be ascribed only to some cause pressing alike upon all branches of industry, and that cause is to be found in the enormous contraction of the currency which has taken place.In the Debate on the distress of the country in March, 1830, Mr. Western, M.P. for Essex, said—It was to the change in the currency that we were to attribute our distress.Mr. Hudson Gurney said—To me it does seem perfectly clear that the one and only source of all our difficulties, and of all the distress that press so large a portion of our population to the earth, is the affair of money—the great and inconceivable error of making gold their only standard.Mr. Attwood said—The conduct of the Government respecting the currency had operated as a confiscation of the property of the landed man for the benefit of the monied man.Sir F. Burdett said—The fatal Bill of 1819. Subsequently to that measure there was a Motion for a Committee by the hon. Member for Suffolk (Sir T. Gooch) which was obtained, and a partial relief was obtained for the existing distress by the issue of £1 notes.He mocks at the worship of the "golden idol."They sacrificed the agricultural interest, the shipping interest, and the commercial interest, to the public creditor, to placemen, and to pensioners.In the Debate on agricultural distress on May 25, 1835, on a Motion of the Marquess of Chandos, the Earl of Darlington seconding, said—So desperate was the condition of the agriculturists that it was, in his opinion, the duty of the House to brave all difficulties, and go to the root of the evil. It would be found that the contraction of the currency was the root of the evil.The famous Mr. Cobbett said—The real cause of all the agricultural difficulties of England was the change which had taken place in the value of money. Therein lay the true source of the national misfortunes. … The original moving power by which their distress had been occasioned was the well- 830 known currency measure of the right hon. Baronet near him.Mr. Benett said—He agreed with Mr. Western that the causes of the agricultural distress, and the sources of relief must be sought for in the currency question.Daniel O'Connell said—There was such a place as Ireland; agricultural distress was as great, if not greater, in that country than in England. They had been during the Debate wholly forgotten. The remedy proposed by the noble Lord (relief of taxation) was only like clipping or paring the thorn in the field. One remedy—the only sure remedy—was passed over—namely, one that would have the effect of mitigating the horrors of the Gold Currency Bill. If no one else would, he would put in his claim for that scheme, which was better than all the other schemes he had heard that night proposed.On Mr. Cayley's Motion for a silver standard on 1st June, 1835, O'Connell said again—A more destructive Bill, a more iniquitous Bill, than that of 1819 had never been introduced. There never had been a Bill more fatal to this country or so fatal to Ireland. There was no pressing necessity for that measure. It appeared to him to have been concocted in insanity, and for no other purpose than to make a mighty experiment on the power of human suffering to see what weight it would bear. He remembered persons having valuable interests in land leased to others who had also interests, and all were swept from the face of the land by the effect of that Bill as by a plague or pestilence.The monied interest had a strong motive for upholding the present system.Mr. Wodehouse said—All other remedies would prove utterly ineffectual. He had been one of the Committee who sat in 1822 upon agricultural distress, and he had been one of a small minority who were opposed to the adoption of their Report on the ground put forward by Mr. Huskisson, that it did not sufficiently take into account the altered value of money. He was convinced that the present state of the currency had already done incalculable mischief, particularly to those connected with agriculture, and still threatened to overwhelm them with immeasurable ruin.Mr. Richards said, their distresswas entirely caused by the Bill of 1819.Sir R. Peel declaredthat the Bill did increase the distress of the country to a certain degree I do not deny. It was impossible to escape … After 20 years of. … Inconvertible paper. … Without.By depreciating the standard the prices of all commodities would be raised.And the last quotation he would give was from Lord John Russell, on the Corn Laws. In 1843 he said— 831In 1815 a new policy was adopted, and 80s. was established as the price at which foreign corn might be admitted. An important change, however, occurred in 1819, which really affected the price of corn. The attempt to keep up the price of corn at 80s. entirely failed; for the right hon. Baronet, in 1819, introduced a change in the currency and restored the standard of value.What was the effect? Why, five years before 1820, wheat averaged 80s. 9d., while in five years after 1820 it averaged only 57s. 3d.It was not any alteration in the Corn Laws that produced the alteration in price; it was the change in the monetary system,said Lord John Russell. Was it not clear that change in the value of money was the key to the distresses and agonies of those sorrowful years? Contraction of money was the disease, low prices the symptoms; the consequences general industrial ruin. Jevons said—Money rose 140 percent, in value in those years; prices fell 60 per cent.Low prices did not bring a blessing, but exactly the reverse. The second great revival of agriculture began soon after the great gold discoveries under Free Trade, and continued a quarter of a century. It was coincident with the largest increase to the metallic money of the world recorded in history. A general rise in prices took place soon after the new discoveries began, as the tables of the average prices of commodities clearly show. And with that rise came extraordinary industrial prosperity. If the Prime Minister, with his great powers, made himself conversant with the facts, he would not speak of gold as of fixed or immovable value when, as a matter of fact, it had greatly altered in value in the way of decrease after the great gold discoveries, and of increase in the last 20 years. A great and continuous fall in prices was the cause of the great distress from which the agriculturists were now suffering, a fall due to the growing value of gold. Since that fall commenced a Royal Commission (of 1879) on Agricultural Depression had been appointed and had made its inquiry, and most of its recommendations had been carried out. There was a Commission on Depression in Trade and Industry in 1885. Then a Gold and Silver Commission in 1886, which recommended more money, whilst there had also been several Monetary Conferences, evidences that something was wrong with money. Now anohter Commission was proposed. He ven- 832 tured to predict that, unless the fall in prices was stayed, nothing that that Commission would do would be of any good. The hon. Member who had preceded him had spoken of the great loss agriculture had sustained by the fall in prices. Mr. W. C. Little, in The Farmer's Almanack of the present year, showed that the gross value of the agricultural produce of Great Britain was now £35,000,000 a year less than the mean of the years 1865 to 1875. An enormous loss to fall annually upon one single industry in the country. Land had fallen in value £20 to £30 an acre. Well, this was the disease. What was the cause of the fall in prices? To those who were acquainted with the facts (which, unhappily, lay out of sight to most people) the cause—or, at any rate, one great cause—was perfectly clear. In the gold standard countries money was, for the second time in the century, steadily rising in value. Why this was the case was also very plain. With a continually increasing population and production of commodities, there had been a large decrease in the supply of gold, as compared with the past, and, worse still, legislation in country after country against silver had been artificially enormously increasing the demand for gold. The natural effect produced was that gold had risen in value and prices had fallen. When these changes begun some astute persons saw the cloud arising, and spoke of it. Lord Beaconsfield spoke of it in the House of Lords in 1879, and the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) spoke of it in the House of Commons as long ago as 1883. Lord Beaconsfield said, "Gold is appreciating every day, and as it appreciates the lower become prices." Mr. Goschen attributed part of the agricultural distress then beginning to be felt to the same fact. He should like to make a few quotations from Mr. Giffen's interesting book, Prices and Incomes Compared, published in 1888. Mr. Giffen there said he predicted in 1879, in a paper he read on "The Fall in Prices since 1873,"That we were in the presence of the phenomenon known to economists as the appreciation of money.He added (page 38)—We can say positively now that the recent change from a high to a low level of prices is due to a change in money of the nature and in he direction of contraction.833 After setting forth the facts, he writes—The inference seems conclusive that since 1873 the alteration in the economic movement has been in money, and to this must be ascribed the change in prices which has occurred.On page 41 he said—The rising prices of commodities between 1850 and 1873, although commodities were increasing as much as they have done since, were maintained by continual additions to the stock and efficiency of money. Since 1873 the movement of additions to the stock—which was a very pronounced one—has been arrested, if there has not been an actual withdrawal from, or diminution of, stock uncompensated by any increase in the efficiency of money. Consequently, the fall of prices since 1873 is explained by the check to the previous movement.Later on Mr. Giffen said that if (as he had shown to be probable)the supply of new money is not equal to quite keep things at an equilibrium, then we may have a long-continued fall from generation to generation.The effects to follow were given in the following passages:—The weight of all permanent burdens increased.Debtors pay more; creditors receive more.It prevents those who have debts to pay gaining by the development of industry, as they would otherwise gain.The weight of the gold debt of a country like India enormously increased.Spells ruin to individuals and classes.The probabilities appear to point to a further … run upon gold.He even suggested that—We may have to devise a substitute for money that will be more stable in value.He well said (page 55)—Many mischiefs might have been avoided if all concerned had realised 10 or 15 years ago what was likely to happen in money, and good will be done now if possibilities are kept steadily in view.The Daily News of June 27, 1893, said—Every country which forsakes silver for gold inevitably throws more work upon gold, and increases its value in relation to merchandise—in other words, prolongs the depression of prices in the great markets of Europe and North America.Similar opinions were held by thinkers in Germany and in the United States. At the Silver Convention at St. Louis, in November, 1889, Mr. Senator Stewart said—The fact that money is gone up and property down is felt throughout the land. Every farmer in the great valley of the Mississippi feels it; every wealth producer in the East feels it too; every mortgagor is suffering from this fraudulent change in his contract. The weight of the farmer's mortgage is becoming heavier every day, while his power to lift it is constantly diminishing. Despair is upon him; he and his family are suffering; hope is taken away. It takes more bushels of wheat, more 834 bales of cotton, more hours of toil, to pay his debt by 30 or 40 per cent, than when he contracted it.The truth was that the pound sterling in England and the Colonies had been changed from an honest pound of steady value into a cruel oppressor of the producer continually reducing prices and profits, and so reducing the employment of labour and forcing down wages. It had become to unfortunate debtors an instrument of extortion of the worst Shylock type. The Government had stood by and seen producers here and in the Colonies robbed. India had pleaded in vain for assistance in the reduction of the continually-growing burden of her Debt, and the English farmers had made the same plea without being listened to. At the Brussels Monetary Conference recently the attitude of Great Britain was unfriendly to the proposal to restore the currency to what it was before. At the present moment the Government were dealing a double blow—to the poor ryot in India on the one hand, increasing the toil he would have to give for his money, and to the poor farmer in England, increasing his toil, on the other. What he wanted the Government to do was to treat money (whether silver or gold) as a friend to the people, not as an enemy. He wanted them to help to restore the currency, which had been tampered with. There was, in his opinion, no other remedy to our depression. This was a life and death question with the English farmer. If he was wrong in his views, he was, at least, honestly wrong, but he was persuaded he was not wrong. It was far from his wish to blame the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardner). He did not wish to hurt the Government, only to mend it. For the sake of his suffering neighbours at home, he had embraced this opportunity of pleading their cause. The Government might, by adopting the views he had advocated, bring about greater prosperity, not only to agriculture, but to all classes of the people. If, instead of treating money as an enemy, they would look upon it as a friend, if with free ports they would give also free mints, they would bring blessings upon the country, they would fill up the Exchequer, they would remove agricultural depression, and they would effect an enormous amount of good.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House regrets that, notwithstanding the severity of the depression to which attention was called in the gracious Speech from the Throne, Her Majesty's Government have not thought it their duty to entertain the proposals which have been made during the Session, or to take other action to lessen the difficulties and to improve the condition of the Agricultural interest,"—(Mr. Lopes,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
said, he was sure that every Member who approached the question would have a feeling of the deepest sympathy with the agriculturists of this country, who were suffering very severely from the depression which now existed; but he must demur to one or two of the propositions put forward by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Lopes). The hon. Member said, in the first place, that the supporters of the Government did not tell their constituents that they intended to pass the Home Rule Bill this year. The hon. Member must have grievously misread his opponents' addresses and speeches if he thought any such thing. He (Mr. Lambert) did not grudge the time spent in passing the Home Rule Bill, because he believed that measure would so relieve the work of Parliament that they would soon have time to attend to those duties which so urgently needed seeing to at home. He believed the division of rates between landlord and tenant was a non-controversial reform. It was recommended by the Richmond Commission, and hon. Gentlemen opposite did not dare to oppose it, although when they were in Office they did not pass it. The hon. Gentleman opposite rather taunted the Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Gardner) with not having a seat in the Cabinet. He (Mr. Lambert), on the other hand, congratulated his right hon. Friend on his patriotism. It was said that the late Minister for Agriculture refused to take Office at first, because he was not offered a position in the Cabinet, and his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gardner) was to be congratulated on having shown, at least, as much patriotism as his predecessor. The cause of agricultural depression was foreign competition caused by increased production in foreign countries. This 836 had conduced in Great Britain to cheap food. He would ask hon. Members opposite, especially those representing borough constituencies, whether they were prepared to say that cheap food was not a blessing to this country? The present Government was asked to cure all the ills that agriculture was heir to before they had been 12 months in Office. Was agricultural distress more acute now than it was a year ago? [Cries of "Yes!"] And what was the reason? The weather. If hon. Gentlemen opposite could control the weather they would be very desirable men to have to conduct the agricultural operations of the country. He had been unable to follow the conclusions of the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division (Mr. Everett). He (Mr. Lambert) confessed that the subject of bi-metallism was rather beyond his comprehension. It seemed to him that if greater prosperity would be produced by making the ratio of silver to gold 15 to 1, the result of making the two metals of equal value would be to get 15 times more prosperity. No doubt the farmers' produce had diminished in value owing to the depreciation of silver, but the working classes sold their labour for gold. Not only had gold appreciated, but wages had increased, so that working men had received more than formerly, and what they had received bought more of the necessaries of life. If it was intended, by placing an artificial value on silver, to increase the price of food, that was nothing less than Protection, which he felt sure the country would not have for a single moment. The question of bi-metallism had already been settled by a large majority in the House of Commons. The Mover of the Resolution had said he wanted to obtain a reduction of taxation. He (Mr. Lambert) was against all rates and taxes on principle, and hated and detested them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin), speaking at Lincoln on January 21, 1893, said—Many large measures would be dealt with in the coming Session. He thought they ought to devote their energies to obtaining a Parliamentary Inquiry without delaying the whole question of the burdens on land, and the exact proportions of taxation which ought to be borne by landed property on the one hand and personal property on the other.Why, then, had the right hon. Gentleman refused the inquiry which had been offered by the Government again and 837 again? A Parliamentary Inquiry having been offered, he should like to ask whether, supposing all rates upon land were abolished, the landlords would not immediately raise the rents? For himself, he was against all rates and taxes on principle. But would hon. Members opposite agree with the landlord that the rents would not be increased? If the tenant farmers wore to support the Conservative Party they would not obtain an amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act. When the Agricultural Holdings Act was before the House in 1883 the right hon. Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin) voted in 13 out of 14 Divisions against the tenant farmer. He must protest against putting all the blame for agricultural distress on the present Government. Foreign competition was the cause of it, and the acuteness of the distress this year over that of last was owing to the weather. As to the speech of his hon. Friend on bi-metallism, he failed to see how that would remedy matters, whereas it meant Protection, and the country would not stand it. The Government had proposed a Committee of Inquiry, which was blocked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin). What was the reason for his attitude? He would be glad if he would explain that. He (Mr. Lambert) rather thought he knew the reason.
§ MR. LAMBERT
said, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would allow him to give him a reason for the attitude he had taken up. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was afraid of what the Committee would recommend. Their proposals might be too Radical for him. The right hon. Gentleman would not care to have an outside tribunal interfering with rents. The House of Lords was very much interested in agriculture. Why had they not prepared a Bill and sent it to the House of Commons? He maintained that the Department of the President of the Board of Agriculture had not failed. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gardner) had done everything in his power to mitigate the agricultural 838 depression and meet the farmers as well as he could. Anything that would make food dearer in this country would not be palatable to the working classes. He considered the true remedy for agricultural depression lay in the producer and the consumer being brought closer together, in the tenants having greater security for their capital, and more freedom in cultivation, fair rents, and farms more suitable to their capital; and he should vote in support of the Government in negativing the Resolution.
§ MR. WHARTON (York, W.R., Ripon)
said, this Debate had been looked forward to with the greatest interest. Farmers in the country had been waiting and waiting; the depression had been getting deeper, and something was expected from the Government with regard to their interests which had been so long and grievously delayed. He thought they were justified in asking the Government why they had turned a deaf ear to the prayers of the farmers and labourers, who were looking forward to a time, not only of depression, but to a time of poverty. In the Debate on the Address the Opposition were told that they did not propose any remedies. But on that occasion he said it was not the duty of the Opposition to propose remedies. Had anything tangible been proposed by the Government for their acceptance? Only a Select Committee to inquire, not into one definite suggestion of relief, but into the whole question of agriculture and its depression. That was nothing more nor less than an abominable sham. Such an inquiry would have lasted one, two, or three years, at the end of which time the present Government would not have been responsible for what was going on. Then a Royal Commission had been proposed. The Board of Agriculture cost the country over £57,000 a year. The farming interest was in a state of depression; the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that he had not a penny too much, and vet a Royal Commission was to be appointed, which would cost at least £25,000, to ascertain facts which the Board of Agriculture could put the Government in possession of in a few months. The Government had in that Department the best men who could give advice with regard to the question; but because the Government did not wish to give instant relief a desire was shown to 839 postpone the subject. He believed that the tenant farmers understood the meaning of these Select Committees and Royal Commissions as well as the fact that the Government would not give them that relief which was sought. Now it was known what the professions of the Government and its supporters during the last Election were worth, and when the time came again to solicit a renewal of their confidence the Government would be brought face to face with their broken promises, and would not be returned by a majority to the House.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. H. GARDNER, Essex, Saffron Walden)
I think the accusation made against the Government of not carrying out the policy embodied in the Speech from the Throne comes rather strangely from hon. Gentlemen opposite. At the time the Speech was delivered it was hoped that the House would proceed to inquire into the subject by means of a Select Committee; but, owing largely to the action of hon. Members opposite, this Committee was not appointed. I would call attention to the character of the Resolution which has been presented by the hon. Member. The Resolution conveys an attack on the Government in terms studiously vague and ingeniously comprehensive. It enables all sorts of men holding opinions absolutely opposed to each other on the subject of agricultural distress and its remedies to join together in a general attack on the Government. I would like to know from hon. Gentlemen opposite what steps the Government have failed to take, and what are their sins of omission? I do not believe that any hon. Gentleman opposite will get up and say honestly that he knows more than three recommendations of a heroic and specific character for dealing with agricultural distress. These are:—First, the reform of our fiscal system—in other words, Protection; secondly, reform of our currency—in other words, bi-metallism; and, thirdly, reform of our climatic conditions—in other words, better weather. I think all of these recommendations are equally impossible under present conditions. Lord Salisbury, speaking this Session in the House of Lords in the Debate on the Address, said there were only two remedies for agricultural distress—the one the weather and the other prices. One of these you cannot 840 alter, and the other you will not alter. The right hon. Member for Sleaford has testified that, as far as he is concerned, he thinks there is only one remedy, and that is bi-metallism, because he objects to any inquiry except one as to prices. As to the proposals which, as the hon. Member has pointed out, have been made during the Session, the Government has waited with expectancy—and I myself almost with longing—to hear what are the recommendations from hon. Gentlemen opposite who pose before the country as being the special friends of the farmers. I admit with regret that the majority of the farming interest in this country are disposed to support hon. Gentlemen opposite. But this distress is admitted to be as bad as ever it has been, and there is a wicked Liberal Government in power which neglects the interests of the farmers. Why have not hon. Gentlemen come forward this Session and pointed out what is to be done? They have brought in Bills dealing with swine fever and with the marking of meat. But will any sane man in the House say that these Bills represent everything that ought to be done to meet the agricultural depression? The Government have been most anxious to bring in a measure dealing with swine fever when the state of business of the House permitted. That Bill was brought in yesterday, and I hope hon. Members opposite will allow it to be considered as soon as possible.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
I should not be in Order if I were to go into that now. It is not before the House. But I may inform the House that it is a Bill which proposes to transfer to the Board of Agriculture the business of dealing with swine fever, which at present is in the hands of the Local Authorities. This is one of the proposals which the Government are accused of not bringing forward. I pass now to the question of marking foreign meat. The hon. Member attacked the Government because they did not accept at once a proposal of this nature. I am glad to see the late President of the Board of Trade in his place, and I would be surprised if the right hon. Gentleman gets up and says that he would be prepared, as a Minister in a Conservative Government, to accept a proposal for the marking of 841 meat without due consideration beforehand. The Government were accused by the hon. Member of not dealing with this question, when, as a matter of fact, the Government assented in the other House to the appointment of a Committee to inquire not only into the marking of foreign meat, but into the marking of all foreign and colonial produce. The hon. Gentleman must have been aware of that fact, but he was careful to suppress it when attacking the Government. Then there is the subject of railway rates. The President of the Board of Trade has done all he could for the benefit of agriculturists in this direction; and at the present moment the First Commissioner of Works is presiding over a Committee which is endeavouring to see what can be done for the protection and benefit of agriculturists. The Government have also given attention to the subject of the adulteration of fertilisers and feeding stuff's. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford, during the late Government, brought in a Bill on that subject; but, unfortunately, he was unable to get it through the House. I had the honour of introducing a measure on the same subject this Session; the House has accepted its Second Reading; it has been referred to a Grand Committee; and there is every possible chance of the measure, which will be of great use to agriculturists, becoming law this Session. It has also been said that some reform of the Agricultural Holdings Act is essential for the benefit of the tenant farmers. I have always entertained that opinion. It certainly does not lie with hon. Members to accuse the Government of indifference with regard to the Agricultural Holdings Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford especially argued that this very measure should be referred to a Select Committee. Now, what do we propose to do?
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I did not say the measure—for there was no measure before the House—should be referred to a Select Committee. What I said was that a Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into the subject.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
Certainly, that is what I say. The measure to which I refer is the Agricultural Holdings Act, which is the law at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to refer the matter to a Select Committee. But we propose to refer it to a Royal 842 Commission, which is better than a Select Committee, because a Royal Commission can continue its work when Parliament is not sitting, and will place us in a position of being able to formulate legislation on the subject in the ensuing Session. Then there is another matter. I was surprised to hear the hon. Member complain because the Government did not accept a Resolution for closing the whole of the ports of this country against foreign cattle. What necessity is there for such action at the present moment? Foot-and-mouth disease, which has cost the agriculturists of this country millions in the past, is almost, I may say entirely, extinct, and the cases of pleuro-pneumonia have fallen from 472 in 1891 to 13 in the first 28 weeks of this year. I feel proud, as President of the Agricultural Department, to be able to tell the House and the agriculturists that as regards the diseases under our immediate control, we have practically a clean bill of health. As I have said, there is no practical, instant remedy for agricultural distress. That was admitted at the great Agricultural Conference held last year at St. James's Hall. The Government now propose a Royal Commission to inquire into that subject. We do not make this a. Party question. We ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to join us in this matter for the good of agriculture. As far as we are concerned, we think the condition of agriculture too serious to be made the shuttlecock of Parties, or the ground for a partisan attack on the Government. We now propose a Royal Commission to inquire into the subject. We hope that Commission will be appointed; that it will not be such a lengthy matter as the Duke of Richmond's Commission, which sat for three years; but we hope that it will be a, small and effective Commission. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will have nothing to do with a Select Committee. Are they now going to hold back from the Royal Commission; are they going to join with the Government in an honest endeavour to adopt effective remedies for distressed agriculturists; or are they going to slam the door in the farmers' faces? I hope that they will not do so. I trust that the Royal Commission will be appointed shortly, and that hon. Gentlemen, both in the House and outside, of all shades of political opinion and of all positions in agricultural 843 life, will join with the Government in the inquiry which we propose to institute. I have said that no kind of heroic measures are possible in dealing with agricultural distress at this moment; but I consider that the Royal Commission will give the farmers an opportunity of laying their grievances and proposing remedies before that non-Party tribunal, with the result that, as I hope, the Government will be in a position to make in the next Session propositions which may prove to be of practical benefit to those who are engaged in the cultivation of the soil, and which will afford some measure of relief to the greatest, though, I regret to say, by no means the most prosperous of our industries.
§ MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
said, the Minister of Agriculture had accused the Conservative Part) of not having given their attention to the question of the relief of agriculture. But that was the first opportunity they had had of discussing the matter this Session. The Government had put down a Motion for the appointment of a Committee, but they would not give a single evening for its discussion. In fact, the Prime Minister said the other night that the matter was not worth discussing, and that such a discussion would have been a waste of time.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I beg the hon. Gentleman to quote the words I used. I said nothing whatever of that nature.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Till the hon. Gentleman quotes me he has no right to make such representations.
§ MR. JEFFREYS
said, that he was at the time only speaking from memory; but, fortunately, he was now able to quote the report of the right hon. Gentleman's words, which were as follows:—The discussion on the appointment of the Committee would have been pure waste of time.And he added—We were not disposed to devote any portion of the Session to pure waste of time.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
That is so; on the appointment of a Committee, under the circumstances and for the purposes for which it was desired. We desired the appointment of a Committee.
§ MR. JEFFREYS
said, that he must, of course, accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. He, however, still stood by what he had stated in the first instance. It had been entirely borne out by the quotation from the right hon. Gentleman's speech which he had since been enabled to read to the House. If the Government had desired to appoint a Committee, the whole matter might have been got over in a single evening. He believed, however, that the whole thing was a sham put forward to delude the agricultural population. The Minister for Agriculture had referred to the Bill he hail introduced as to swine fever. But the right hon. Gentleman had been urged in the House day after day and week after week to introduce the Bill, and strong representations had been made to him outside by the Central Chamber of Agriculture to deal with the matter, so that the Bill was only put forward now under pressure at the end of the Session. It was not for him, as an agriculturist, to look a gift-horse in the mouth, and, if the Bill wore a good one, he hoped it would be passed into law. It was said that the late Government were responsible for passing a very bad Bill dealing with railway rates. That subject, however, was dealt with by a Commission, who took evidence and appointed the various rates; so that the House had no opportunity of discussing them beforehand. It was said that the number of rates were some millions. It was a matter with which the House could not cope, so that it had to be entirely left to the Commission to fix the rates. He wished to point out that the extraordinary low prices which now prevailed in agricultural produce were not due to overproduction. The acreage under wheat, for instance, had during the last 10 years decreased by 865,000 acres. He would remind the House that during that time the population bad increased by 3,000,000. Last year the United Kingdom produced 7,000,000 quarters of wheat, while 14,000,000 quarters were imported. That was a matter for very grave consideration, not only by the House, but by the country. We had to import twice as much wheat as we produced, and if by any evil chance Ave had to go to war the country would have reason to regret very much that wheat had gone out of cultivation to such an extent. It was said that the labourers were not feeling 845 the depression. But they were how beginning to feel the depression. He could assure the House that, owing to the failure of the hay crop, labourers could not get the high wages they hail been getting. There were now a great many of them out of employment, even in the midst of the summer, and they were willing to harvest the crops at a lower rate than he ever remembered. The hon. Member for Devonshire had said that the owners of laud were in a better position than the tenant farmers. He did not hold that opinion. The owner of the laud had to stick to the land, but the tenant farmer had only to give a notice to quit and out he went. The landlords were endeavouring to farm the land themselves. He himself farmed as much land as anyone in the country. The tenant farmers, finding that they could not make a living out of the laud, were naturally leaving it, were taking up other occupations, and it was a great loss to the landlords to lose these tenants, who had always been considered the backbone of the country. Another matter of great importance to agriculturists was the question of the reduction of the burdens on land. That question had been before Parliament, off and on, during the whole Session; but the Government did not attempt to do anything in that way. It was suggested that they should bring in a Bill to distribute the rates equally between owner and occupier; but that would be no good, for the rates would still have to come out of the land. What they did want was to have the rates reduced. Under the late Government the Chancellor of the Exchequer had reduced them by giving large contributions in aid of local taxation. Why could not the present Chancellor of the Exchequer do the same? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman, if he had a surplus, would devote it to reducing the rates. He wished to show the House how unfairly agriculturists were rated. A doctor or shopkeeper in a country town making £500 a year merely paid rates on his house, which was probably assessed at £50 a year. A farmer to make £500 a year had to farm 500 acres—he was sorry to say that many farmers did not make £1 an acre—and not only did he pay on his house, but on every acre of his land, and if the 500 acres were assessed at only 10s. an acre he would have to pay on £250 a year, though only making the 846 same income as the shopkeeper. That was to say, he paid about five times as much in rates as the professional man earning the same income. That was surely most unfair. The hon. Member for Norfolk bad suggested as a remedy the cutting up of large farms into small holdings. Every landowner would gladly do so if he could, but where could he find the money for the necessary buildings? If the Government said that large farms ought to fie cut up into small holdings they ought to advance the money at a low rate of interest, as they had advanced it to Irish agriculturists, and then the landowners would most gladly do it. The Minister for Agriculture during the late Government was continually urging the redemption of the tithe rent charge on an equitable basis. But since the right hon. Gentleman had got into Office nothing had been heard of the matter. The fact was that the whole of the time of the House had been so taken up by one object that agriculture had been forgotten. He could only hope that some good would come out of this Debate, that it would not be a pure waste of time, and that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had a surplus he would give some relief to distressed agriculture.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Mr. Speaker, when I have a surplus I shall be extremely happy to give it to everybody, especially to anyone in such a deserving position as the agriculturist is acknowledged to be. I beg the hon. Member to believe that I am not without sympathy and feeling for the great agricultural distress, which has this year been aggravated beyond even what it was before. But I have been watching during the Debate, as in former Debates, to find what were the ideas—I will not say the proposals—of hon. Members who are intimately connected with agriculture as to the best way of dealing with the depression. The hon. Member who has just sat down complained that there has not been time enough given to agricultural discussion this Session. But one night was given during the Debate on the Address; and now a second night has been taken; yet I confess I failed altogether to ascertain what hon. Members opposite desired on the first occasion. What are the measures which hon. Members would propose if they were in a position to do exactly as they liked? 847 Nobody has stated them to-night. With reference to minor matters, such as swine fever, the Government have entertained proposals; and though the hon. Member complained that steps have been taken very late, they are in abundance of time; for the proper time to deal with swine fever, as was stated in the Report, was at the end of the year. The hon. Member has spoken of railway rates. Is there any complaint against the Government for their conduct in this respect? The hon. Member said, "Oh, that was referred to a Committee"; but all the questions with which you have proposed to deal have equally been referred to a Commission or to a Committee. Then what did the hon. Member say ought to have been done? He referred to the redemption of tithes. If that was a good thing, why did not the late Government deal with it in their Tithe Bill? The hon. Member also referred to the reduction of burdens. That is one of the principal questions we desire should be inquired into by a Commission or a Committee. Great light has been thrown on the question of the burdens of the land. Many hon. Gentlemen do not concur in the conclusions contained in the Report which has been published by the President of the Local Government Board; but if those conclusions are disputed, they must be inquired into. It is impossible to call upon the Government to act upon the assumption that the statements in that Report are unfounded. I am very much surprised to find in Hampshire that the rates in this hard year have been higher than ever before. That is the result of the policy of subsidy which has taken from the Imperial Exchequer £7,000,000 a year. Yet the Government are asked to proceed further in the same direction. If more money is to be found, where is it to come from? Who is to pay? The Exchequer? But the Exchequer is supplied by taxation, and who are you going to tax in order to give this additional relief? The hon. Member said that he envied the lightness of rating and taxation of professional men. Is it, then, from the professional men that this money is to be raised? Will hon. Gentlemen place that before the country as their policy? I do not wish to argue the question in a controversial manner, but I think the Government have a right to ask what are the proposals which they have not adopted? The only hon. Mem- 848 ber who has made a really definite proposal was the hon. Member behind me, who has profound convictions, knows what he wishes, and says what he means. But he must forgive me for saying that I do not share my hon. Friend's convictions altogether. He said the only time when there was real prosperity was in the time of a great war, when we are furnished with printing-press money. My hon. Friend thinks that if only enough money could be manufactured, if money could be made a friend instead of an enemy—which might be done by the printing press, everything would go well and there would be high prices. The question is, does the country want high prices? For my own part, I do not. The weather has also been referred to, and this year, it was said, in consequence of the weather, many labourers have been thrown out of employment. Would they have been better off if, in addition to their other misfortunes, prices had been higher? I have seen labourers who remembered the days of high prices; and did they get high wages? When wheat was 120s. a quarter wages were 1s. a day. Those were the days of 7s. or 8s. a week. It is, therefore, deluding the labourer to tell him that by making prices high you would give him high wages. Remember that it was immediately after the repeal of the Corn Laws that the great rise in the wages of the people of this country took place. Since 1845 the wages of the agricultural labourer have increased by nearly 50 per cent. Where they then got 9s. a week they now get 12s. or 13s. I believe that the fall in the prices of agricultural produce has been due to the great competition that has been brought about by the increased facilities of intercommunication between all parts of the world. I do not think the beneficence of Nature has become the common property of the people of this country. That is the cause of the lower prices, not only of the produce of the earth, but of all common commodities. The labourer gets not only his bread cheaper, but also his sugar, his tea, his clothes, his lights, his fuel, and everything that is necessary for his existence and for the comfort of his life. These things are 20 per cent. cheaper than they used to be. When you consider that, and also bear in mind that there has been an increase of 50 per cent, in the purchasing power of the labourer's 849 wages, you will understand what has been the improvement in the condition of the masses of the people in consequence of the policy which began with the repeal of the Corn Laws. What is it you wish to be done? I know my hon. Friend wishes bi-metallism; but the majority of the House have pronounced against bi-metallism, and the Government cannot be blamed for not introducing a policy which the House has condemned. [Mr. CHAPLIN: No.] I know that the right hon. Gentleman avoided the word bi-metallism—["Oh, no; we never mention it!"]—but the House quite understands what is meant by the Resolutions which are associated with the right hon. Gentleman's name. Well, if you do not mean bi-metallism, do you mean Protection, and if you do will you say so? If I were to ask the Leader of the Opposition how he means to raise prices as against the consumer, the right hon. Gentleman would tell me that bimetallism would raise prices. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: No; but it would prevent their fall.] Then right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite are satisfied with prices as they are, and all they desire is to prevent their fall. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: That is not my view.] I admit that with my less intelligent mind I ought not to attempt to develop any scheme framed by the right hon. Gentleman. One ought never to attempt to expound a creed in which one does not believe. I, therefore, will not attempt to explain the creed of bi-metallism. But how do hon. Gentlemen who say that low prices are the bane of agriculture propose to raise them? I have heard no suggestion from hon. Members opposite on the point, and I think it extremely hard that they should condemn the Government for not making a proposal for raising-prices when they do not explain themselves how it is to be done. If there are matters like the question of rates which hon. Members think can afford relief, the Government are perfectly ready to consider them, and it is, in fact, for that very purpose that we propose a, Committee or Commission. It has been said that the Committee ought to be confined to two or three particular questions. What are they? Ought bi-metallism to be one of them? Or Protection? [Cries of "No!"] Then what are the subjects which, according to hon. Members opposite, ought to be 850 inquired into with a view to relieving the agricultural industry? If any remedy should be suggested that could be adopted with fairness to the rest of the community, no man would be readier to welcome it than myself. We are fully conscious of the sufferings of the agricultural interest, which is almost the greatest interest of this country. The whole community are deeply concerned in the prosperity of this interest, by which I mean the landowner, the labourer, and the farmer. If there be any palliative measure that can be propounded the Government will be most anxious to consider it. I do not regard this as a Party Motion at all. ["Oh!" and "Hear, hear!"] An hon. Member interrupted me. Oh, it is you (indicating Mr. Jesse Collings)—then I am not surprised.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
rose amid loud cries of "Order, order!" and said: I rise to a point of Order, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman says, "It is you—I am not surprised." I beg to say that statement is absolutely untrue. I made no sound whatever. At the time—
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Member can have all the advantage of the statement he has made. The right hon. Gentleman has wasted time, but I will not waste any more. All I can say is that if any practical suggestion be made from the other side of the House the Government will be most desirous to consider it.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman, while professing the greatest anxiety to allow me a few moments, has succeeded, with singular skill, in allowing me, I think, exactly five minutes. Amid the gloomy surroundings of agriculture at the present moment, there has been, at all events, one feature in the course of the Debate which I think both sides will recognise, and that is the admirable speech in which this Resolution was proposed, and those among us who had the good fortune to remember the career of Sir Massey Lopes in this House during many years—he being one of the most prominent and distinguished of the agricultural Representatives—will be glad to see that many of the qualities of the father have been 851 transmitted to the son. In the few minutes at my disposal it is difficult to know exactly to what part of the Debate to turn. The right hon. Gentleman closed his observations by asking what remedies hon. Members on the Opposition side had to propose. I think we are entitled to ask again, even if it be for the last time, what the Government had in their minds as a remedy when with great pomp and circumstance, at the commencement of the Session, they announced the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into agricultural distress? The hon. Member for the South Molton Division referred to the fall in prices as a cause of agricultural depression. I admit that is a great cause. But the hon. Member asked whether those on the Opposition side of the House wished to see a change in the level of prices, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer argued on much the same lines. The Government and their supporters told the House over and over again that they knew that the fall in prices is the main cause of agricultural depression. What an unmitigated sham, then, is the inquiry they are proposing! We now know what the Government mean when they express sympathy for agriculturists. The result of the Debate does not depend on the Opposition side. We are in a minority in the House. It might do much for agriculture if the Resolution were successful; but the result depends on two things. It depends, first, on the conduct of Liberal agriculturist Members; and, in the second place, it depends on the Irish vote. If Liberal Members, representing agricultural constituencies, who have always been so loud in their professions of sympathy, will act up to them now, then the agricultural interest will he strong enough to override the Irish vote and teach Her Majesty's Government a lesson they will not easily forget. But if they continue in their adhesion—I will not call it slavish adhesion—to the policy of a Minister who has been prepared to sacrifice every English interest at the bidding of his Irish supporters, the agricultural interest, like every other interest in this country, will be overridden by the Irish vote. At least, it shall not be said of us that in this time of great trial we did not do our best, on one of the few opportunities left open to us, to press and urge on the Government the claims of what is the greatest and, 852 undoubtedly, so far as the Government are concerned, the most studiously-neglected interest in the country.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 161; Noes 137.—(Division List, No. 252.)
§ Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SUPPLY—Committee upon Monday next.