§ Captain NAYLOR-LEYLAND,
Member for Colchester, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely,The recent Report of Mr. Hunter Pringle upon the Agricultural Depression in Essex, and the measures which that Report recommends as being immediately necessary, and the desirability of the Government giving legislative effect to the recommendations of Mr. Pringle without delay;but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. Speaker called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen:—
said, he would make no apologies whatever to the House for bringing this Motion forward, because, in the first place, the Government had taken possession of the whole time of the House, and there was no other way open to Members to call attention to the subject; and, in the second 815 place, as all impartial men would admit, the state of things in Essex was serious and urgent, and demanded the instant attention of Parliament. He might be told that the same argument would apply to agriculture generally, but his reply was that he intended to deal specifically and specially with the County of Essex, and to ask the House and the Government to treat the county as if it were a congested district, such as they sometimes heard of in Ireland. And in so doing he hoped to have the support of County Members generally, because it was obvious that if special legislation were not applied to the County of Essex no other county, however deplorable its condition, could hope to be able to get any relief since Essex was the worst of the whole. It would be in the recollection of hon. Members that last year the Government appointed an Agricultural Commission, and one of the first acts of that body was to appoint Commissioners to visit the various counties in England with a view to investigating their agricultural condition. The gentlemen selected to perform that duty in the County of Essex was Mr. Hunter Pringle, and being a recognised agricultural authority he was eminently well qualified for the task. In fact, he enjoyed the confidence of the agricultural world at large. He had made a Report to the Commission. The Report had been laid before the House in the form of a Parliamentary Paper, and that Report and its recommendations would constitute the theme on which he intended to address the House. He would not tint anything; he would colour nothing; he would embellish nothing: he would give nothing but Mr. Pringle's plain, unvarnished statement, and upon that he was content to rely. He was not preferring any indictment against the Government; he had no desire to bring this forward as a Party question; it was too grave for that. The present Government had been in Office for two years, and they had done nothing for agriculture; the late Government were six years in power, and they did not do much for agriculture either, so that it might be said to be six to two in favour of the Liberal Party. Mr. Pringle went down into Essex on the 19th of October last year; he was engaged in his investigations until the 11th of November, and he concluded his inquiry 816 in the constituency which he (Captain Naylor-Leyland) had the honour to represent. It had been suggested that the boroughs in Essex were not affected by this agricultural depression; but he submitted that they felt it even more than the rural districts, for when the landlord received no rents, the tenants made no profits, and the labourers got reduced wages, less money was spent in the adjoining towns, and the labour market there was soon over-stocked. Mr. Pringle divided his Report into four parts. In the first place, he indicated the circumstances which led up to the present state of things; in the second, he described the existing condition of affairs; in the third, he indicated the causes; and in the fourth he suggested the remedies; and had he not, in clear, specific, and unqualified terms, named those remedies, this Motion would not have been submitted to the House. But he having done so, it surely was the duty of the Government to act upon his recommendations. If they did not do so the responsibility would rest not upon Essex Members, but upon the Government. The time was when Essex was one of the most prosperous agricultural counties in the whole Kingdom; it was one admirably adapted for corn growing; but the years since 1875 had been a period of accumulated decline, 19 years in which not one year had been a good one, with the exception of 1887. Even in that year the farmers did no more than pay their way, and then on the top of all came the worst season agriculture had ever known, to wit, the year 1893. In 1879, according to Mr. Pringle, the land in Essex might be described as being farmed by three classes of agriculturists. First there were the good tenants of long standing, then there were the new tenants with insufficient capital; and finally there were the landlords farming their own land. The season of 1879 severely crippled the old tenants, it ruined many of the new ones, and it inflicted a heavy loss on the landlords farming their own land. And as he had said, every year, with the exception of 1887, had proved a period of accumulative decline. How rents were to be paid next Spring and how the inevitable expenses of farming were to be defrayed were questions which no one in Essex could answer; and, indeed, it was 817 generally asserted, according to the Report, that this year would prove the ruin of many farmers. That was what had happened during the last 25 years, and it faithfully described the condition of Essex at the present moment. If hon. Members would turn to Mr. Hunter Pringle's Report they would see a map of the county, and that a certain area of it was coloured black. That area had absolutely gone out of cultivation. It was practically useless even to graze a bullock or feed a ewe for any considerable portion of the year. Essex was a county with an area of 987,000 acres, and a population of three-quarters of a million, and yet within half an hour by train of the House of Commons there were no less than 28,222 acres out of cultivation, or 45 square miles of country. He would venture to read one short extract, but still a typical example of the condition of that area of 45 square miles. It conveyed a description of a farm of 360 acres, and of it Mr. Pringle said—The farm in question occupies an area of 360 acres, and has been for 10 years out of cultivation. It used to employ six teams of horses, six horsemen, six labourers, and boys. It was commonly relied on to grow not less than five quarters of wheat to the acre, and often the average was six quarters. It yielded five to six quarters per acre of barley, and has been known to give an average of 13 quartets of oats. It carried about a score of milch cows and weaned and fattened calves, besides rearing young stock. The farm, therefore, was capable both of producing good crops and of employing a considerable amount of labour. To-day the abomination of desolation seems to have settled down upon the place. The fields once under the constant dominion of the plough have covered themselves with a coarse profitless herbage. The hedgerows, formerly neat and tidy, are now straggling and unkept, suckers from the thorns have grown up a dozen yards on either side of the fence, and what was once a trim, straight hedge is now a broad belt of tangled brushwood. Irregular gaps, with an occasional rotten post, standing like a forgotten sentinel, show where the gates once were. The drains are choked and useless, and the ditches instead of carrying off the water allow it to stagnate and to invade the land, thus fostering a worthless growth of sedge and rush. The buildings, commodious and substantial in the days of a thriving agriculture, are rapidly succumbing to the decay induced of neglect; doors of which the fastenings have disappeared creak idly in the wind, the weather boarding piece by piece is falling away, and there is no hand to replace the tiles, the constant dislodgment of which renders even larger the holes in the roof through which the rain pours to carry on the work of destruction within. The stables are tenantless, the byres: are unoccupied, and the farmyard is empty, neither waggon, plough, nor any other imple- 818 ment being visible. The house is deserted, save, indeed, for one room occupied by an aged caretaker, whose shambling gait, as he moves about the desolate premises, seems scarcely out of accord with the air of solitude which reigns over all.The serious point about this was that when the land had once gone out of cultivation it was practically irreclaimable, and for this reason: Land might now be bought in Essex at £6 10s. an acre; but, if it were allowed to go out of cultivation, it would cost £17 an acre to reclaim and bring it into cultivation again. Another serious point was that if they allowed the present state of things to continue, and if the Government did nothing, the area of uncultivated land would rapidly increase, and by this time next year there would be three times as much land out of cultivation as there was at present; and if occupiers acted upon the notices they had given, many more thousands of acres would be left tenantless, because it was hopeless to expect that new tenants would be found, and every class now connected with the agriculture of the county was now on the verge of ruin. The Report dealt specifically with every class of the community—with owners, with occupying owners, with tenants, with labourers; it showed that rents and values were sinking to nothing at all, that a large proportion of every class was on the verge of ruin, and that the population were migrating to West Ham and the Metropolis. And this was going on in spite of all efforts that had been made to arrest the general ruin. Landlords had acted with generosity; arrears of rent had been blotted out; large sums had been expended on buildings; every mortal thing that human ingenuity could devise had been done, and trials had been made of large farms, small farms, poultry farms, stock farms, and dairy farming. A number of canny Scots had been introduced, and he believed that even they found they could not make farming pay in Essex. It was not because the people of the county had been in fault, had been improvident, had lived beyond their income, or did not know how to farm that they had been reduced to their present condition; but they were the victim of causes beyond their control. He now came to that part of the Report in which Mr. Hunter Pringle indicated the causes of this state of things. These causes he divided broadly into two—first, 819 falling prices; and, secondly, burdens placed upon land by Parliament, which had been increased in an extraordinary manner during the last two years. No Government could legislate to increase the price of corn; nothing could be done immediately to bring corn back to the prices at which agriculturists would like to see it; but there were two recommendations which might be acted upon. The first had reference to the City of London Grain Duty of 3–16ths of 1d. per cwt. on wheat, barley, and oats grown at home, while grain imported from abroad was not liable to duty. This, as Mr. Hunter Pringle pointed out, was a glaring injustice which might be remedied. Why should a London miller be able to import corn from abroad free of duty, while if a Maldon merchant sold him home-grown corn, it would be subject to the duty of 3–16ths of 1d. per cwt.? Why should the English article be taxed and the foreign be allowed to go free? He was confident that the Government would see the injustice of that, and would promptly provide a remedy? The Report further showed very clearly that farming in Essex must fail under the old system of three crops in rotation; and that if it was to be made to pay, an altogether different system must be adopted. Mr. Hunter Pringle held that the only way to apply that remedy was for the Board of Agriculture to take some of the derelict land, to set up a model farm, and to show Essex farmers how farming could be made to pay. It was of no use to theorise and dogmatise, they already had schools of instruction in Essex, but if a practical example were set the farmers would follow it. Now he came to matters a great deal more important and feasible from the point of view of the Government itself. He referred to the heavy burdens on land, and he proposed to show how enormously those burdens had increased in recent years. First came the tithe. In Essex the commuted tithe amounted to £250,000. Essex paid as much as the six wealthy counties of Lancashire, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham, Westmoreland, and Rutland. In Essex the tithe amounted to 6s. 4¼d. per head of the population—men, women, and children; in Lancashire it was 4½d.; in Cumberland, 3s. 0¾d.; in Durham, 1s. 1½d. In Essex the tithe amounted to 820 6s. per acre of cultivated land, and to 5s. 0¾d. per acre if the uncultivated land were included. Under the old system of the payment of tithe in kind, as Mr. Hunter Pringle told them in his Report, the tithe-owner suffered with the cultivator; but with tithe converted into a fixed money payment, which had to be paid under any conditions, tithe was a burden which was driving land out of cultivation and helping to destroy our industry. This was a very important and serious statement—namely, that a charge continued by Parliament upon land in Essex was having the effect of driving thousands of acres out of cultivation. Surely if the landlords were losing their rents, their tenants their profits, and the labourers their wages, the tithe-owner ought to bear his share of the general depression. That was a matter on which the Government might well introduce legislation. He knew he might be told that under the Act of 1892 the tithes were largely a landlords' question. He dared say it was. The landlords had got to pay it, and therefore the tenants were not in a worse position. Then, as to the Commutation Act of 1835, that was passed when they were living under a high protective duty, so that the tithe-owner to-day was being paid under the assumption that wheat was 56s. a quarter. Was it not perfectly obvious from that that the remedy was to amend the Commutation Act of 1835? Was there anything to prevent their having a re-valuation based on the prices of corn during the last seven years? Mr. Hunter Pringle told them that in Essex opinion was in favour not only of a re-valuation, but also of the nationalisation of the tax. He did not press for nationalisation, but he did urge the Government to grant them a re-valuation. He had shown that every acre in Essex paid a tithe of 6s. a year, while if it were let for as low as 1s. per acre it would ruin the occupier to cultivate it, and therefore so long as the tithe was continued on its present basis they would have an enormous premium in driving land out of cultivation. He passed from these to the Land Tax. He had now got up to 6s. an acre for tithes. The Land Tax in Essex was lid per acre, whereas in Lancashire it was 2¾d., in Northumberland 2½d., in Cumberland ½d, and in Westmoreland Id. The remedy for this was again stated 821 clearly. Let them divert the Laud Tax in Essex to the relief of local rates. Now he came to local burdens. He had shown charges for tithe and land tax to the extent of 6s. 9d. per acre on land in Essex. Mr. Pringle told them that the highway, rural sanitary, School Board, and other rates in Essex were higher than in any other county in England. The average in Essex was 3s. 9d., in Kent it was 2s. 9d., and in Lancashire, Northumberland, Cumberland, Durham, and Westmoreland it was only Is. 8d. The fact was, that the average burden per acre of land in the unfortunate County of Essex was 10s. 8d. How, under such circumstances, could agriculture be made to pay? It was to be borne in mind that the whole of the derelict land in Essex was assessed to the rates as if it were producing rent, for if that were not so the burden on the cultivated laud would become still more intolerable. What he urged the Government to do was to make grants in aid of local rates until affairs in Essex came round. They would thus do something at least to retard square miles of country going out of cultivation year by year. This state of things existed within half an hour of where he now stood, in the midst of what was reputed to be one of the richest countries of the world. In Essex they had 45 square miles of land worse than the land of an American prairie, with the strong probability that this time next year they would have a much larger amount of land in a similar condition infinitely worse than any congested district in Ireland. This was brought about to a great extent by the heavy burdens thrown on laud by the Legislature. Everyone connected with agriculture in Essex had experienced the worst of all experiences; having been once well off they were now face to face with practical destitution and despair. In the face of these facts, he hoped it would not be said that his Motion was brought forward with any obstructive or factious end in view. He had laid the facts before the House, and he submitted that the people of Essex had a right to expect not merely sympathy, but practical aid and assistance from the Government. He begged to move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Captain Naylor-Leyland.)
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I should be the last person to complain that any Member of that House connected with the County of Essex should desire to impress upon the public mind the unfortunate condition in which the agriculture of the county stands. No words shall fall from me in condemnation of the spirit in which the hon. Member has laid the subject before the House. At the same time, I am bound to point out to the hon. Member the extreme inconvenience, and perhaps he will allow me to use the word inconsequence, of the action he has taken. He has talked of the Report of the Commissioner. First of all, Mr. Pringle was not appointed by the Government. In the next place, Mr. Pringle has not reported to the Government or made any recommendations to them. He has made recommendations to the Commission appointed by the Government, whose duty it is to consider the facts and the recommendations laid before them. Anybody who reads the Report will see that these recommendations are not submitted to the Government at all. On recommendation after recommendation he says, "I do not know what the Commission will think of this suggestion." It is not for me to disparage the Report or the authority of Mr. Pringle. What we have to deal with are the recommendations of the Commission. I find in Mr. Pringle's Report that the central cause of this distress in Essex is the incapacity of the land to grow corn. He says—There can be no doubt that the cultivation of corn on the London clay cannot be successfully prosecuted unless the price of wheat rises at least 45 per cent.The hon. Gentleman makes a point of the raising of the price of wheat; but there is not very much in that, because he must know that even if we desired to bring that about, which we do not, it would be entirely beyond the power of any Government to raise the price of wheat 45 per cent. It is doubtful, indeed, if, upon Essex soil, however fertile, corn could be grown which would be worth that standard of price. Then Mr. Pringle goes on to say—Concurring as I do with these opinions, it is by no means easy to see or recommend any-speedy course of action.823 This is the opinion which is laid down by Mr. Pringle, but it is the purport of the hon. G3utleman's Motion that the Government should take this speedy action, which Mr. Pringle says he cannot recommend. Then he goes on to say—The main hope lies, I think, in the possibility of laying more of the land down to grass and farming it on some rotation where the extent under the plough is kept at the lowest economical area. It cannot be denied and must not be forgotten that many unsuccessful attempts have been already made in the direction of temporary and permanent pasture in Essex.And then he adds—My thoughts incline towards an increase of the gross area and the extension of stock-breeding, rearing, and feeding, accompanied with a decrease in corn growing and farming expenses.Now the hon. Member says that what the Government ought to do is to set up model farms in Essex to teach the Essex farmers how to farm. Is that reasonable? We heard in the old days in France of the ateliers nationaux where artisans learned their industries, but we cannot set up an atelier for Essex farmers. Are there no farmers in Essex who can start model farms in order to show the other farmers what they ought to do? I must say that I am extremely surprised that there should be a demand for Government farms in Essex, and I shall be more surprised if, when the Royal Commission comes to report, it is found that they recommend anything of the kind. Then Mr. Pringle goes on to say—It is a much more difficult thing to say what steps would be taken to remove the present depression.Well, I think everybody will concede that. Then he says—I have endeavoured to lay before the Commissioners in the Body and Appendix of this Report the case of the Essex agricultural ratepayer,and he expresses the hope—that they may be convinced of the injustice of the burdens now resting upon a class of land which was cheaper 20 years ago at 40s. per acre than it now is at 10s.Why, this Commission was appointed in order that they might consider this very matter, and we are waiting, and anxiously waiting, to hear what are their views upon it. Then I see that Mr. Pringle says— 824These appear to me to be the two most serious features of the present position, and I cannot help thinking that if Essex men had only looked ahead 10 or 15 years ago neither would have arisen. They stuck to the very system of farming and persisted in growing the very crops which gave every indication of giving way before the weight of foreign competition, and in so doing they courted and invited their own ruin. This fatal attachment has not yet died out, but that I attribute more to ignorance of any other system than blind prejudice in favour of the dog that bit them. If, then, there be some new system calculated to work well in Essex, what is it, and how might it be introduced into this country? So far as I can see, and so far as I did hear, the three-horse cloys cannot be cultivated to profit with wheat below 45s. per quarter. Grow as small an area of unprofitable crop as possible. Reduce the acreage under the plough, and till what land must be tilled in the best possible manner. Let stock, whether it be cows, cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, or poultry, become the sheet-anchor, and fix attention more than ever upon grass farming in so far as it relates to temporary pastures.The hon. Member has enumerated eight remedies which he calls upon the Government to carry out, and I will endeavour to deal with them in the order in which he mentioned them. First of all he made a recommendation with reference to the Corn Duty in London. I am not very familiar with that subject, but I am sure the Commissioners will investigate it, and see what can be done. I do not say that the hon. Gentleman has not made out a good case in that respect. The second point of the hon. Gentleman is that the Government should establish model farms in Essex. I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any encouragement in regard to that. I think it would be an extremely dangerous and inappropriate thing for the Government to undertake to teach farming to the farmers of Essex. No Government Department could undertake to do it. Besides, I think that the landowners know their own business, and the result of their experiments is available for everybody. Then, I see, Mr. Pringle says—If I am right in these recommendations, it is certain that Essex-born farmers stand in need of instruction, for it means a complete overturn of their native custom and ideas. In my Report I referred to the field open to the Board of Agriculture for the establishment of experimental farms, where the treatment of grass lands might be demonstrated and taught. I have, however, lately been supplied with particulars respecting the sum placed at the disposal of the County Council for purposes of technical education, and have had the opportunity of reading the Reports on the subject. 825 Essex County Council have over £16,000 a year to devote to technical education, and even the half of such a sum would, if wisely devoted to demonstration and experiment, be sufficient not only to thoroughly test the best grasses and management of pastures for the prevailing soils of Essex, but also to conduct lectures and give practical instruction in the manufacture of butter and cheese.He follows that with the observation that—The Reports received last year from rural stations in Essex are unfavourable to the continuance of agricultural instruction by lectures alone. Few of the farmers attended, and such as did attend were not favourably impressed. This is merely a repetition of what has taken place in other counties. Agricultural instruction must be accompanied by demonstration, or it falls flat and finds no friends.I am afraid that in this case the hon. Gentleman cannot expect to receive very much encouragement of his suggestion that the Government should set up model farms in Essex. Then the hon. Member went to the subject of tithe. He said it was a thing that could be dealt with tomorrow to reduce the tithe by one-half. The hon. Member evidently has a high opinion of the powers of the Government. I do not think he was in the last Parliament, or he would not have thought that the Government could reduce the tithe by one-half to-morrow. If the hon. Member had had the experience hon. Gentlemen opposite had of dealing with the tithe question, he would realise that that question could not be dealt with in a day. The hon. Member objected to the Tithe Commutation Act. How many to-morrows would it take to alter that Act? I have never heard that tithe was regarded as other than a hereditary burden. So far as I know, it had been on the land since the days of Melchisedec. Does the hon. Member really believe that if he succeeded in placing right hon. Gentlemen opposite in power, the tithe question could be settled to-morrow? I shall be very glad to hear the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford on that subject. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell the hon. Member what the successors of the Government are going to do in that matter. Then the hon. Member raised the question of the corn average. There was a Committee sat some time ago upon this point, but I have not a very accurate recollection of the result of that Committee, though as far as I can recollect it was very neutral. If any advantage was 826 to be obtained by a fair system of com averages, I see no objection, and I have no doubt the Commission will consider what can be done on that subject. One of the complaints recorded in Mr. Pringle's Report is the complaint of farmers that they suffer considerably because sporting rights are leased to gentlemen who have no real interest in the affairs of the farmers of the locality, and the suggestion was made that in future when a landlord desired to part with his sporting rights the option of acquiring them should, in the first place, be given to the tenantry. The Report also says that the tenant-farmers, as a rule, preserve rabbits for their own sport and benefit. It strikes me as a remarkable thing that a distressed and ruined people should preserve rabbits for their own sport, for I never yet heard that the preservation of rabbits was beneficial to the cultivation of the soil. At all events, if the Government were to set up a model farm hon. Gentlemen may be sure they would not preserve rabbits upon it by way of improving agriculture. The hon. Member suggested that the Land Tax should be diverted and applied to the purposes of local taxation. I would point out to the hon. Member that if a policy of that kind was to be adopted it must be adopted as a general policy applicable to the whole country. When the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, dealt with the subject of local taxation he might, had he thought fit, have diverted the Laud Tax to the purposes of local taxation; but for reasons which he believed were sufficient and proper the right hon. Member did not think that that was the proper course to adopt to relieve local taxation, and he granted relief from the general taxation of the country, from the Probate Duty and other sources. Then the hon. Member referred to the question of rates. That is undoubtedly a very great question, but it is one that cannot be settled on the Report of a Sub-Commission, however able. The hon. Member can hardly expect the Government to review the whole subject of rates and to attempt to equalise them on such a ground as that. The subject is not one that can be dealt with satisfactorily in a moment. In my opinion, this Report hardly constitutes a sufficient foundation for a Motion for the adjournment of the House. A Motion 827 of the kind might be made every evening if the House were to encourage such a practice as this, for there are other distressed trades in the country besides agriculture, trades that have suffered almost to annihilation. It is surely a novelty to propose a Motion for Adjournment for the purpose of calling upon the Government to adopt the views and accept the recommendations of an individual Sub-Commissioner. I fully sympathise with the anxiety felt by hon. Gentlemen connected with Essex, for the distress in that county is a matter of deepest regret to the Government and to everybody. A Commission has been appointed to inquire into the subject of agricultural depression, and the Government await with anxiety and hope the Commissioners' Report as to the measures which, in their opinion, may in any degree tend to alleviate the distress. The Government, however, cannot anticipate that Report, and any attempt to do so would, I submit, be premature.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
said, he would like to say a few words in support of the contentions of his two hon. Friends. He would confine himself to a few words only, because he had not forgotten that some weeks ago, with the indulgence of the House, he was permitted to move the adjournment on the question of the depression of agriculture generally, and conceived he had not now any right to occupy the time of the Government or to stand in the way of other hon. Gentlemen who desired to speak on this subject. His desire was to make some remarks on the conciliatory and sympathetic speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for which those who were concerned with Essex were very grateful. The right hon. Gentleman fell foul of his hon. Friend upon the question of the appointment of the Commissioner. His hon. Friend naturally supposed that the Commissioner was appointed by the Government. As a fact, the Commissioner was appointed by the Commission, but the Commission was appointed by the Government, and it seemed to him to be a distinction without a difference to say that the Government had nothing to do with the appointment of Mr. Pringle. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had suggested that they ought to wait for the Report of the Commission. Quite so, but then the Commission would not report until the end of 828 this year, and the needs of the agriculturists of Essex were imminent. They had waited a considerable time already, and did not want to wait any longer. That, he thought, would be agreed upon by anybody who had read Mr. Hunter Pringle's Report. With regard to the suggestion as to the price of wheat, he was not a Protectionist, and he did not say that wheat could possibly be got up to a price 45 per cent, higher than at present, the prices now paid being 22s., 21s., and even 19s. 6d. a quarter; but he might point out that low as was the price the agricultural labourer got very little change out of it, because he was now paying 4½d. for his loaf when, according to the price of wheat, he ought to be paying only 2d. for it. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, taking another part of the Report, said they ought to lay down Essex land under pasture. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must know that you could not gather grapes from thorns nor figs from thistles; and Essex land, if laid down in pasture, would not carry stock or sheep for more than two months in the year. With his wide agricultural experience the Chancellor of the Exchequer must know also that if land in Essex was laid down in pasture it only employed a third of the agricultural labourers that it would if it were arable land—[Cries of "One-fourth."] Next the Chancellor of the Exchequer advised them to cut losses and take up profits.
§ MAJOR RASCH
said, he understood that at all events the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in favour of the suggestion.
§ MAJOR RASCH
said, that at all events if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would teach the farmers in Essex how to cut losses and take up profits they would be deeply grateful to him. Although he admitted that it might be almost impossible to cut down tithe by a half as his hon. Friend had suggested, yet the Government might practically achieve that object if they would only agree to lend money to tithe-owners at 2½ per cent, only, so that the capital sum might be paid off. The Chancellor of the Exche- 829 quer took exception to their raising the question of Essex at all, and said that everybody who had a grievance might equally as well move the adjournment of the House. In answer to that objection, he would point out that the welfare or the starvation and ruin of a million of people was a large order; and he thought that, under the circumstances, they had some reason for taking the action they had that day. He should not have ventured to intrude in this Debate were it not for the fact that he lived in the very midst of what was called the congested district of Essex, and could absolutely endorse every word which his hon. Friends had said, as well as of Mr. Pringle's Report. The abomination of desolation pictured by his hon. Friend was true in every particular. Gates were falling off their hinges, hedges were straggling into the middle of the roads, and an aged caretaker was looking after a farm of 400 acres which not a dozen years ago employed a considerable number of agricultural labourers. Members who desired to obtain information on the subject could not do better than read an article which appeared in The Times on the 19th of May called A Derelict Farm, and also an article which appeared on Saturday, entitled Unfortunate Essex. The cause of depression was the fact that the selling value of the article produced did not reach the cost of production, and the effect was that something like 200,000 acres of land were already derelict and out of cultivation. Landlords were being driven out of the country, farmers had lost the whole of their capital, and agricultural labourers were, in the month of June, when work ought to be plentiful for everybody, absolutely applying for outdoor relief. He could not help thinking that if the conditions of the country were the same as they were 60 years ago there would almost be reason to expect repetitions of the rick burnings which then took place. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt), speaking a few weeks ago, said the agricultural Members were not homogeneous; that they were always asking for something, but did not know what they wanted. The right hon. Gentleman was hardly the man to throw stones at them, because the Party behind him was not on every occasion absolutely homogeneous. Certain false impressions appeared to have 830 prevailed in the House with reference to the unfortunate condition of agriculture in Essex. During the Debates on the Budget Bill two or three hon. Gentlemen had alluded to the Essex land as having gone out of tillage. His hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles) was one of them. His hon. Friend knew a great deal, but he did not know absolutely everything. He was an expert on the rule of the road at sea, but he did not know much about agriculture. It used to be said of the late Master of Trinity (Dr. Whewell) that science was his forte and omniscience his foible. He (Major Rasch) hoped he might without offence say much the same about his hon. Friend. His hon. Friend did not believe the land in Essex was worth nothing. If his hon. Friend went down to Essex and bought land there he would find it would cost him £10 an acre to clean it. When he got tired of it, and gave instructions to somebody at Token-house Yard to sell it, he would only get from £3 10s. to £5 an acre, and, inasmuch as he would have spent £10 an acre upon it, it might be said that that land was practically worth £5 less than nothing. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke) had expressed the belief that land in Essex had gone out of cultivation owing to the incidence of the tithe. That was not the case. Land had gone out of cultivation simply because it cost 40s. a quarter to grow wheat, and farmers could only get 24s. or 25s. for it when it was grown. When Mr. Pringle's Report came out he (Major Rasch) was discussing it with an hon. Friend who represented a rich agricultural constituency in the centre of Ireland, and his friend said, "The reason why your laud goes out of cultivation is that your farmers have to pay so much rent." Rent absolutely did not enter into the question at all. Rent was the very last thing a man asked about when he wanted to let land, or thought about when he had an idea of taking land. Within a few hundred yards of his house there was a farm of 400 acres which was now let at a rent of 5s. an acre tithe free. The landlord had to pay a tithe of 6s. an acre, so that he really had to pay his tenant is an acre for the pleasure of allowing him to run some sheep over the land once a year. With reference to the remedies for the present state 831 of things, a good deal was said about the incidence of local taxation, and he believed his hon. Friend was right in stating that the local burdens upon land in Essex were something like 9s. 2d. an acre. The Secretary for India (Mr. Fowler) the other night endeavoured to prove that the farmer was much better off now with reference to local taxation than was either the urban dweller or the farmer 10 years ago. Theoretically, the right hon. Gentleman might have been right, but practically he was wrong, because it had been shown that the farmer paid local taxation amounting to 10 per cent, on his income, whereas the dweller in town paid only 5 per cent. He believed there was something in the idea of constructing light railways. Of course, it would be rather expensive to carry out this proposal, but desperate cases required desperate remedies, and he thought that the Government might well take the question into consideration. Mr. Albert Pell, speaking the other day, said he could not conceive why there should not be equalisation of rates in the counties. If such a suggestion could be carried out, the result would be a reduction of rates in poor counties, while rich counties would bear some of the burdens which now pressed upon the shoulders of those who were quite unable to bear them. There was an opinion prevalent in the minds of Essex men that the Government should suspend the Land Tax in Essex for 10 years. He did not suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take this proposal into his favourable consideration, but he thought it his duty to mention it as one of the proposals which the broken-down and long-suffering farmers of Essex were in the habit of making. It showed that there was something very rotten in the State, and our political economy could not be worth very much if a tract of land 2,000 acres in extent was to be allowed to become derelict whilst farmers were being ruined, and agricultural labourers were starving within 20 miles of the Palace of Westminster.
§ MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had remarked with very good reason that this was a most inconvenient mode of raising the question of agricultural depression, and the apology of the Essex Members must be that they had no other time at 832 which to raise it, inasmuch as the whole of the time of the House had been taken by the Government. As an Essex man, it was impossible for him to remain silent when he knew that Mr. Pringle's Report of the state of affairs in Essex was not exaggerated, but was even in some respects toned down. As Mr. Pringle stated, a large number of tenant farmers were absolutely ruined, inasmuch as their business had become unprofitable. Mr. Pringle stated that the opinions of the Ongar farmers were embodied in a resolution, unanimously agreed to, to the effect that the laws which were passed for Ireland, and which were beneficial to the Irish farmers, should be immediately extended to the whole of Great Britain, whilst the Chelmsford agriculturists were in favour of the establishment of Land Courts and valuers. When the farmers of Essex passed resolutions of this kind it was very strong evidence that they were at their wits' end and scarcely knew where to turn. It was, however, hardly to be wondered at that nothing substantial had been done for the farmers when Members opposite, and some Members even on the Ministerial side of the House, were prepared to spend millions on making a railway to Uganda. If the country had so many millions to dispose of, he thought that some of them might be very well spent in our own country for the benefit of our own people. Mr. Pringle, in his Report, referred to a suggestion which had been made that each county should have its own market in London, and that an arrangement should be made under which the produce from each county should go by one particular train to the county market. He thought that if the Commission now sitting were to receive evidence on the subject of markets as well as of railway communications it might be able to formulate some system which would be of some use to the agricultural counties. If the produce from a particular county could be sent in large loads instead of being broken up as it was now into small portions it could be carried as cheaply as the produce which came from foreign countries was carried. With reference to the burdens on land, there was but one opinion in Essex, whatever might be the politics of the farmers—namely, that burdens upon the land were greater than Essex could possibly bear. 833 He was of opinion that some share of the common loss must be borne by the parochial clergy of Essex. If the amount now payable to the clergy had been rent instead of tithe there was no doubt that long ago the clergy would have cut it down. He did not think that, under the present conditions, they would be able to cut it down themselves, because individual clergymen did not like to grant remissions for fear of making it difficult for their brother clergymen in the neighbourhood to obtain their tithes. Under these circumstances, he thought that Parliament ought to cut down the tithes for them. He regretted the length of time the Committee had occupied in getting together these facts. He would only say he hoped the result of its labours would show that the time had been well spent; that their recommendations would be drastic and useful; that they might be the foundation of a cheaper system of carrying agricultural produce to market; that they might do something towards the promotion of more satisfactory markets, and that they might lead to the cutting down, to some extent, of the burdens upon land, more especially the burden of tithe. As to the Land Tax, he must say he was very much at one with what had been said on the other side of the House. All Members representing agricultural constituencies—though those constituencies might not all be in the same distressed condition as those of Essex—would agree that the Commission would have done good work if it was able in any way to relieve the present depression in agriculture. In asking the Government to assist them in this matter they were only asking them to do what other Governments had done for the agricultural industry. He found in a Report of great value—"Commercial, No. 3"—published in 1894 from our Representatives abroad, statements as to the organisation of departments of agriculture in foreign countries. They saw from this Report that the Belgian Government had been finding money to assist in the construction of light railways, so that the transport might be more ready and cheaper. With the object of facilitating the circulating of agricultural produce the Belgian Government was continually making efforts to obtain reductions in the price of transport, and during the past 12 years, through the 834 goodwill of the Railway Companies, most important results had been obtained. There had been a diminution of from 30 to 50 per cent, in the cost of transport of all produce. In England, however, during this period not only had there been no decrease in the cost of transport of agricultural produce, but in many oases there had been an actual increase. Turning to France, he found that not only was the Government assisting in the construction of light railways, but in the case of the existing railways it was making efforts to bring about a reduction in the cost of transport. Notwithstanding the strictures of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Essex would be grateful to those hon. Gentlemen who—a little out of season he admitted—had directed the attention of the House to the serious condition of things prevailing in that county.
MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, he ventured to intrude for a few moments, because, although not a Representative of Essex, it fell to his lot some year and a-half ago to preside over the largest assemblage of agriculturists—at which Essex was very fully represented—which had ever been held in the country. He agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Mr. Pringle's recommendations would, if accepted, practically do very little for the County of Essex. A model farm conducted by a Government official he should regard as a very undesirable experiment. It would be bound to fail. As to the other suggestion—the abolition of the Land Tax and the question of rates and tithes—speaking broadly, though tithe was an important matter deserving the attention of the Government, as regarded the other points his own opinion had always been that the subject of local taxation was a mere flea-bite to the great agricultural question, and that subventions in aid of local rates would lead but a very short way towards a solution of the difficulty. He desired to draw the attention of the House to the Resolution passed at the Conference of agriculturists to which he had referred and at which Mr. Gray, then Member for Essex, was present. The resolution set forth—That the unfair competition of untaxed foreign imports with home produce and manufactures, which are subjected to heavy internal taxation, is an anomaly and an injustice, and by 835 causing a diminution of the demand for home labour and the contraction of the purchasing power of the community adversely affects every trade and industry in the country, and this Conference is further of opinion that all competing imports should pay a duty not less than the rates and taxes levied on home productions.That resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the largest agriculturist gathering that had ever been held in the Kingdom. Reference had been made to the Royal Commission. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had asked them to wait until the Royal Commission had reported. But he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that that Commission did not contain a single individual representing the opinions embodied in the resolution which he had just read, or, at any rate, who was prepared to carry that resolution to its logical conclusion by the imposition on competing imports of an adequate duty which would enable home products to hold their own. Many of his own personal friends for whom he had the greatest regard were members of that Commission, but from the first he had questioned the wisdom of the appointment of that body. The original proposal of the Government was to appoint a Committee of the House. He had himself put down on the Paper a Motion objecting to that step and had declined to remove it under any condition whatsoever. He said at the time that this Select Committee was asked for that this House was perhaps the worst body on the face of the earth to enter into an inquiry of that kind, because very few members of it had much practical knowledge of agriculture, and of those who had the great bulk were afraid to state their opinions. That was the ground on which he opposed the appointment of the Select Committee, and he was bound to say that while the Royal Commission did not come under the condemnation which he presumed to pass upon the never-to-be-appointed Committee, he did complain that the Government had carefully excluded every single Member who could be suspected of having any sympathy whatever with the one true remedy which everybody, in the privacy of his own conscience, knew perfectly well was the only practical remedy to employ. Mr. Pringle said at the very-outset of his Report, in the words quoted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that unless some steps could be taken to bring 836 wheat up to a figure of not less than 45s. per quarter, it could not, with profit, be cultivated in the County of Essex. If the Government appointed a Commission from which they excluded everybody who was prepared to adopt any practical step in that direction he thought they were entitled to look with great suspicion at its Report whenever it made one. The question as it affected the County of Essex, near as it was to the Metropolis, was one of great concern for the nation at large. The effect of throwing large areas of land out of cultivation tended to throw large numbers of the rural population into the Metropolis, and into, all large centres of population in this country. It increased the struggle for existence in these centres of population; in its turn it had an effect upon all the manufacturing industries of the country, causing a diminution of the demand for manufactured articles, and in that respect it was not merely a question affecting the County of Essex, although the condition of affairs which had been revealed to them to-day in regard to that county was deplorable in the extreme. He might be told, perhaps, that the Government could not be expected to-morrow, as his hon. and gallant Friend suggested, to go in for any practical remedy in the direction he had suggested. He must, however, remind the House that it was not a question of to-morrow but to-day. They had upon the list of Orders for this day's deliberations an opportunity afforded to Her Majesty's Government of dealing practically with this subject. The Finance Bill would enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state, as the result of what he had heard this afternoon, that the Government were prepared to introduce into that Bill, or at any rate to listen with care and attention to any suggestions which might be made in the course of the discussion regarding any proposal for at one and the same time relieving the agricultural community of Essex and other counties of the burdens that were imposed upon them, and on the other hand placing in the Finance Bill some provisions which might enable a profitable return to be yielded to agriculture in this county by making persons outside these realms contribute in a legitimate way towards the financial exigencies of the State. He hoped the Government would not allow this discus- 837 sion to close without some assurance being given them that they would seriously consider this very great question. To tell them, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer did, that the mind of the country was made up, and that none of the remedies which he (Mr. Lowther) had suggested were capable of adoption was, he ventured to say, entirely untrue. He hoped, therefore, some assurance would be given that this serious question would be considered, because the House might rely upon it that all this tinkering with rates and all these petty devices would have no practical effect at all, and unless they were prepared to face the question in all its bearings it would be almost as well to leave it alone.
§ MR. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
thought the Essex Members would be of opinion they had received cold comfort indeed from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although he dared say they did not expect much else. He only wished to make one observation. He was glad to note the expression the Chancellor of the Exchequer used with regard to tithes—that they were hereditary burdens, and that for generations past land had been bought and sold subject to the imposition of tithes. He thought that admission might be of subsequent use to them. The Essex Members who had spoken on this subject had advocated the views of their constituents with very great ability, but they very curiously, though unintentionally, omitted to bring before the House and the Government one of the points upon which the Essex farmers were represented by Mr. Pringle to be absolutely unanimous. Mr. Pringle said—On one point, however, they were unanimous—namely, that the free importation of corn and meat was one of the chief causes of depression. To free trade they traced their present unfortunate position.Of course, by free trade they did not mean what was now called Free Trade, the false system under which they were at present. It seemed to him that the agriculturists were pretty well used to rough treatment at the hands, he regretted to say, of both political Parties, and one reason for his rising was to suggest that the time had come when there should be an end of that system which he could call no other than a system of 838 hypocrisy practised by Members of both political Parties up and down the country, and that was the almost constant assertion by men on both sides on political platforms and at meetings, that they regarded agriculture as the greatest industry in this country and one upon which the welfare of the country depended. If these statements were true, why was it that year after year was allowed to pass by and Budget after Budget brought forward without anything being done to give real relief to the agricultural interests? He must call attention to the unreality of the Debate. They were discussing now the depression which existed in one of the great departments of industry. They knew the depression existed; they knew the remedy; but they ignored the remedy and wasted their time discussing a number of little remedies, all of which, as the right hon. Member for Thanet had said, were as a mere flea-bite to the question, and if every one of these remedies was granted it would hardly touch the fringe of the agricultural depression. How did both political Parties stand with regard to this question of agriculture? He asserted last week that the Party opposite could no longer profess to be friends of the agricultural interest, because they were promoting a Budget the result of which must be to inflict great injury upon that interest. How did the Conservative Party stand? They had recently been told by the Leader of the Conservative Party (Lord Salisbury) that although he knew that agriculture was ruined by unrestricted foreign competition, yet that the only remedy which could really be of avail—that was, an alteration of their fiscal system—could not and must not be undertaken. That view might be right; but if so, he contended that those only could be held to be sincere who, when they professed to regard agriculture as the greatest of their industries, were prepared to adopt the only policy which could save it. He felt that this Debate had already lasted long enough on an occasion such as this. He wished to say, in conclusion, that if any statesman—he did not care from which Party—would make this question his own, and have the courage to advocate opinions now widely held, though seldom expressed, 839 and go in for an entire alteration and amendment of their fiscal system, he believed he would rally around him an amount of support that would surprise hon. Members, and he believed then there might be some prospect of a return to this country of that commercial and agricultural prosperity which she once enjoyed.
§ *MR. ROUND (Essex, N. E., Harwich)
thanked the hon. Member for Kent (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) for coming to the assistance of the Essex Members, but he hoped the House would not be of opinion that the Debate had lasted long enough already, and that opportunity would be given to those interested in the district referred to address the House. He much regretted the absence of two former Members of this House, the late Member for Norfolk (Mr. Clare Sewell Read), and Mr. Gray, the late Member for the Maldon Division, both of whom were practical agriculturists, with full knowledge of the present difficulties of the land. He thanked the Mover and Seconder for the speeches they had made. No one could be in a more fitting position to speak for the agricultural interests than his hon. and gallant Friend who had introduced this Motion and who represented the borough of Colchester, because Colchester was the centre of a large agricultural district, and contained something like 10,000 acres of arable land, some portion of which had in late years actually gone out of cultivation. The Seconder of the Motion represented the centre of the district chiefly referred to in the Report of Mr. Pringle, and no one had done more than he to endeavour to direct the attention of the House to the calamitous state of the agriculturists in that district. He (Mr. Round) in former days used to represent that very district, but at that time all was satisfactory. It was then what might be described as a smiling land, and when landlord and tenant were in very different positions from what they were at the present day. They not only wished to direct the attention of the House to what was patent to everybody, now that it was represented so well in the able Report of Mr. Pringle, but what they were really afraid of was that the whole of the heavy land wheat-growing districts of Essex might before long be placed in the same 840 calamitous position. Already something like 30,000 acres had gone out of cultivation, and it would be a great calamity not only to Essex, but to the country generally, if the wheat-growing districts were to cease being cultivated. Having represented the County of Essex for a great many years, he was very familiar with its northern, eastern, and central portions, and he asserted that it was almost impossible to depict in appropriate terms the state of things which had been going on ever since 1879 in the wheat-growing heavy land districts of the county. It was a very serious thing to see occupier after occupier of these farms, men who were once men of capital, who possessed ability and practical knowledge, failing one after another, and losing every penny they possessed in the world. It was also a very sad thing to see the agricultural labourer turned out of his house and home because neither the landlord nor the farmer was able any longer to find money to employ him. He knew a parish of Essex where there were 60 cottages which were absolutely untenanted. If they could devise the means of bringing about a better state of things it would not only be the duty but he was sure it would be the pleasure of the House to do so. He thanked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the tone of his speech, but what the right hon. Gentleman had said would, of course, give them very little satisfaction. They on that side of the House felt that it was very unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman who represented the great industry of agriculture in that House was in a subordinate position and was not a Cabinet Minister. They all felt sure that the right hon. Gentleman was anxious to help in this matter; he was acquainted with North Essex, which he himself represented; but the right hon. Gentleman could hardly do justice to the present state of things so long as he was outside the Cabinet. The Chancellor of the Exchequer rather sneered at what his hon. Friend the Member for Colchester said about model farms, and he asked why did not the landlords themselves set up a model farm? He ventured to say that the landlords of Essex had done all in their power to cultivate the land which had been thrown upon their hands to the extent of many thousands of acres 841 since their tenants left them, and their object had been, as long as they possibly could, to employ the labourers in these parishes and not to turn them adrift before they were absolutely obliged to do so. But the landlords in Essex had not the resources now from the land which would enable them to live in any sort of tolerable position. With regard to model farms, if the Government could set up one experimental farm with the object of showing what grasses could be best laid down on the derelict farms to which Mr. Pringle referred they would confer a great benefit on the agricultural community. Their difficulty had been that Essex was not adapted for growing grass. At the present time they could not grow wheat, the cost of production being found to be too great, and when they had sown grass they had found the result equally unsuccessful and unprofitable. With reference to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said as to rabbits, no doubt rabbits had increased in some places since the depression in agriculture had set in. He believed that was partly owing to the seasons and partly owing to the great number of acres that had been thrown upon the landlords' hands. With regard to remedies, what the said was this: that much of this land might have been kept in cultivation if it had not to bear the excessive burdens which had been thrown upon it by Imperial and local taxation. He thought they might fairly ask for facilities for the redemption of tithes. Of course, the landlords knew they had bought or inherited the land subject to the tithe, and that they must pay tithe so long as land was in cultivation; but it was rather hard that those landlords who could not farm their farms at a profit should have to hand them over to the tithe owner, and if facilities were granted for the redemption of tithes that might be a considerable alleviation. Again, he thought that in these depressed districts they might fairly ask that the Land Tax should be remitted, and the Land Tax generally should be given up towards the alleviation of local rates. They on that side of the House had no objection to the division of rates between owner and occupier so long as the owner was properly represented in the expenditure of such rates. Whenever they had endeavoured to fight the battle of their constituents in the agricultural dis- 842 tricts they had been met with little favour and great opposition by the present Government. He had always considered it a great grievance in agricultural districts that those who used the roads should not pay for them, and when the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, endeavoured to bring about legislation which would throw the onus of keeping the roads upon those who used them, or, at all events, make them pay their fair share of the cost, they were opposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and defeated in what was a just and reasonable proposition. That was the one difficulty they had always had in this House. Whenever they had endeavoured to get a fair share of local taxation borne by other' descriptions of property than real property they had been met with great opposition, and often with defeat. Whatever income was made from the land the owners would be ready to pay from it their fair share of local and Imperial taxation; but they objected to the taxation of the land itself, which was only the raw material, with the result that when they had paid tithe and rates and taxes there was no margin left. Under these circumstances, men had been involved in a terrible struggle for existence, which had driven many to the poor-houses, and some even to suicide, and all the time they had been bearing burdens altogether disproportionate to their ability to bear them. He contended, therefore, that no time should be lost in applying a remedy to this condition of things.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. H.GARDNER,) Essex, Saffron Walden
I can assure the House that I do not rise for the purpose of making a long speech, nor to deprecate in any way the introduction of this subject by hon. Members who come from Essex; but, at the same time, I would venture to make an appeal to the House whether, after having debated the subject in a very exhaustive and interesting manner for some time, it is not very nearly time that we should proceed to the other business of the evening? I am the last man in the House to minimise the Report of the Sub-Commissioner which has been made to the Royal Commission, because not only in my position as Minister, but also in my capacity as a Member for 843 Essex I have watched with great anxiety the state of the depression which has existed in that county not only since the issue of Mr. Pringle's Report, or during the last year, but, I am sorry to say, for some years past. With regard to the Debate that has taken place to-night, I would venture very respectfully to say to the House that we have been discussing not what the Government should do, but what the Commission should report, and though the Debate may be of worth, so far as the general question is concerned, I venture to point out that for us to debate what the Royal Commission appointed by the Government to consider this subject should report—not, I hope, at a very late date—is not the best way to spend our time. I have myself very little to add to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House on this question. Remedies have been pointed out by various speakers and by Mr. Pringle, but the meaning of this Motion, if it has any meaning at all, as set forth by the Mover, is that the Government should to-morrow or next day, or at any rate within a short number of weeks, bring forward instant measures of relief to deal with the depression in Essex. What were the remedies suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman and other hon. Members? Light railways was one. I have considerable sympathy with those who advocate light railways, and I hope the Royal Commission will consider and report upon that matter, but does the hon. and gallant Gentleman consider it is possible to put down light railways within the next week or two, because if it is to be the instant and immediate relief of the agricultural distress that is the meaning of the Motion. The hon. and learned Member for Maldon made the suggestion that each county should have a market of its own in the Metropolis, and that each county should have a line of railway apparently of its own from that county to the market in the Metropolis. There, again, I venture to point out that to suggest that as a remedy for the agricultural depression in Essex is to make a suggestion which it is a little difficult for the Government to undertake, or, at any rate, to accomplish within the limits of the next few weeks. Then my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet suggested what he has on 844 many former occasions advocated in this House as the one remedy for agricultural depression—namely, protection; and he laid it down as a grievance against the Government that there was no Member of the Royal Commission inclined to his views on the subject. I have no information on the subject; I have no particular reason to believe there is no such Member on that Commission, but I understood it was perfectly open to the Commission to consider any remedy put before it with a view to alleviating agricultural distress. Hon. Members have spoken on the subject of tithes. I always took a great interest in the subject of tithes, and the opinions I held in the last Parliament I hold in this. But hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will know the difficulties that we had to fight against, not on one side of the House, but on both, on this question, and how impossible it is for the subject of tithe to be taken up in this offhand manner. That is a subject for the Commission to consider, if it thinks it necessary to consider it, in relation to agricultural depression. It is quite obvious to the House that it is a subject it is impossible for the Government to take up at a moment's notice. I venture to think that there has been an initial mistake with regard to Mr. Pringle's Report, and in this I expect the Commission will agree with me. Mr. Pringle's Report is merely evidence placed before the Royal Commission for them to consider. The whole subject is sub judice, and the Royal Commission will undoubtedly hear other evidence. I know myself, at the present moment, a gentleman in Essex, who has some evidence to give on the subject, and who does not entirely concur with the general conclusions in Mr. Pringle's Report; and the Royal Commission, who are appointed as judges to determine this subject, will view Mr. Pringle's Report as portion of the evidence placed before them which it is their duty to consider as a whole, and having so considered, to found upon it the Report which they will, I hope before long, make to the Government. Before I sit down I would like to point out that the Government is not to blame because the Commission have not yet made a Report. It is quite open to the Commission to make an ad interim Report. I have not the slightest doubt 845 that when the Report is laid before the Government they will give it that attention and consideration which this most serious subject demands, and I hope they will be in a position to adopt some measure which will be of benefit to the agricultural interest in this country.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
I can assure both my hon. and gallant Friend who has moved and the hon. Gentleman who has seconded the Motion for the Adjournment that they have our sympathy in their endeavours to place the position of the County of Essex before the House of Commons. There is no doubt in the world to anyone at all conversant with the present position of the county that the agricultural condition of Essex is critical in the extreme, and what is perhaps even of more importance is this, that it is steadily going from bad to worse at the present moment. Under these circumstances, with which, I am sure, the Leader of the House must be to some extent acquainted, I am not surprised and I was very glad to hear that he had no complaint whatever to make of the Mover of the Adjournment in endeavouring to direct the attention of Parliament to this very important question. There was one note of murmur which I detected in his speech when he observed that it was all very well to talk of the County of Essex, but still, if other hon. Members adopted that course, any other subject might be discussed by private Members in the same way. The right hon. Gentleman must not forget that he has taken, for his own purposes, the whole time at the disposal of Parliament, and it is by this means, and this means alone, that we are able to call any attention whatever to any subject, however important or urgent or pressing it might be. I must also remind the House that the condition of Essex is only a symptom of what is going on at the present time in all parts of the country. I admit that, with regard to large districts in Essex, the character of the soil is worse than it is in many other parts of England, and the difficulties, no doubt, in that district have been more urgently felt than elsewhere. But there remains the fact that, at the present moment, agricultural depression prevails throughout the whole country, and is practically universal, and, in my opinion, we have reached a stage with regard to 846 this question when it not only claims, but must demand, the attention of Parliament, and that attention will necessarily, in my judgment, have to be given to it before any further period of time has elapsed. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down appeared to be under the impression that the Mover of the Motion considered that Parliament could give instant measures of relief, such as the provision of light railways, and matters of that kind. But I do not in the least understand that to be the view of my hon. and gallant Friend. What I understood him to say, and what I think he pressed upon the Committee with great force, was that one of Mr. Pringle's recommendations for dealing with the depression was with regard to the making of experiments in Essex by the Board of Agriculture, and although I am prepared to admit the force and weight of all my right hon. Friend has said as to its being necessary for the Commission to make their Report upon the general question, in the first instance, yet I do think that this recommendation of Mr. Pringle's is deserving of the attention of my right hon. Friend, and for this reason: No doubt the character of the soil in Essex is specially suited to the growth of wheat; in fact, those districts to which Mr. Pringle refers grow practically very little else—but, at the present price of wheat, that has become absolutely impossible. And Mr. Pringle being asked to consider this question, and devise some means of cultivation in that county, as a last resource, expressed his opinion that it was possible that something might be done by laying down more land for grass. It is not suitable for grass, it is exceedingly difficult to make grass grow to any advantage, and Mr. Pringle suggested that, under all the circumstances, it would be wise and desirable for the Board of Agriculture—(which, after all, I suppose, was appointed for some purpose of the kind)—to take into its hands the conduct of experiments on this particular point, so that if they proved to be successful other people in Essex might follow their example. I do not think there is anything unreasonable in that suggestion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out with perfect truth that the central cause of the depression in Essex was the incapacity to grow corn at the present time. There he stopped. 847 He ought to have gone further, and pointed out that anything else than corn cannot be grown to advantage so far as the researches of our Commission extends, and I do wish on that point to call the attention of the House for one moment to a single paragraph upon that subject. This is what Mr. Pringle says, at page 28 of his Report—On the three-horse lands the difficulty of growing grass and roots has prevented the spread of dairy farming"—(he means exceptionally strong clay)—"and the alteration of system which has accompanied the introduction of cows on many mixed farms cannot, therefore, be related of this peculiar variety of soil. Nature has apparently decided that three-horse land shall be suitable for one style of farming, and that one unfortunately the least suited to the present prices of agricultural produce.He points out that these large districts comprising thousands of acres, will not grow anything else, as far as we know at present, except wheat. Something was said with regard to the farmers of Essex upon which I do desire to say a word in their defence. It was said that really they ought to have looked forward to this state of things 15 years ago.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I care not who says so, and I wish to defend them on this point. I think it is equally reasonable to have expected farmers in any part of England to have foreseen 15 years ago the crash which is coming upon them at the present time, especially in the wheat-growing districts. On the Commission, of which I also was a member, 10 years ago, presided over by the Duke of Richmond, two of the most practical agriculturists in England, who were Members of this House, were commissioned to go out to the United States of America, which at that time was our chief competitor in wheat, to examine the whole question and to give indications as clearly as they could as to the course of the prices of wheat in the future. What was their Report? They went into the question most minutely, and they placed it upon record that it was impossible to expect the United States of America would be able to send wheat to this country, at a profit, at less than 40s. or 42s. per quarter, and when these experienced men, with all their knowledge, studying the question on the spot in America, and being desired to consider 848 the same thing with regard to other parts of the world, came to this conclusion, it is impossible to blame the farmers of England for not having foreseen this. I will say nothing on the question of model farms, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred, excepting this: that I do not agree that it would be a dangerous expedient for the Board of Agriculture—which would be, I suppose, a Government Department in this case—to make experiments in farming for the benefit of agriculture in this country. It is done in almost every other country in the world, and although I do not think it was necessary in this country at all during the days of our great prosperity, I do not think it ought to be put on one side altogether as a thing beyond the reach or purview of the Government. With regard to the question of tithe, I have this to say: An hon. Member said that the clergy ought to bear some share of loss in that respect. I am under the impression that the clergymen have undergone very great loss already. It appears to me that in these large districts, of which we hear some 30,000 acres have gone out of cultivation altogether, the tithe is also gone to all intents and purposes, and there are no people who are suffering more heavily than the clergy in that respect at the present time. I am afraid that the depression in these districts goes far beyond the question of tithes, and that, even if the tithe were abolished to-morrow, it would not be the means of relieving the agricultural depression. I will not dwell upon the question of rabbits raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer further than to say this, and I merely say it as an indication of the state of things to which I really believe we are going in the near future. It is not 150 years ago since the whole of what is known as the Lincoln Heath, which, I suppose, in its days of prosperity was perhaps more celebrated for the superlative excellence of its farming, was one vast rabbit warren, and it is as certain as I am speaking to the House at the present moment that if prices continue to fall as they are falling now, and if the present condition of agricultural depression continues, not only will all the vast sums of money which have been expended in reclamation of that great district be thrown away, but in all human probability it 849 will be destined to go back to the uncultivated state it was in in former days. What we have to consider, in my opinion, is what is the real cause of the depression? On that question I have not the shadow of a doubt that the real cause, the chief cause, of agricultural depression to-day is the great fall which has occurred in agricultural produce of all kinds and descriptions, and the fact which is more important than all, that that fall has been and still is progressive. I am well aware that at this moment there are many subjects deserving the attention of agriculturists, and I am quite prepared to consider them all, and I have no doubt the Commission will do so. But they are none of them the cause of agricultural depression, nor will any alteration with regard to any one of them prove to be anything in the nature of a remedy for agricultural depression. I must say one word with regard to what the hon. Member for Maldon said about Land Courts, because he was very much mistaken. It was not the case at any meeting of farmers in the County of Essex that they were unanimously in favour of the appointment of Laud Courts. He omitted a sentence which he ought to have given, and which followed immediately upon the one he read. The sentence is this—Before consenting to this resolution" (that is, in favour of Land Courts) "several farmers submitted that Arbitration Courts for fixing fair rents should be optional, and not compulsorly, and this opinion was shared by all who were present.
§ MR. DODD
said, the passage the right hon. Gentleman quoted did not follow the passage which he (Mr. Dodd) had read to the House. The resolution he quoted was with reference to a meeting at Ongar, and which was exactly as he had read it, the sentence now quoted by the right hon. Gentleman referring to a meeting at Braintree, which was quite different.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I quite admit the accuracy of the quotation which the hon. Member made. He can put whatever interpretation upon it he pleases, but I think I must be allowed to do the same, and I think this does not show that the farmers in Essex are unanimously in favour of Land Courts. But what I want to call the attention of the House to is this, and I do desire to Impress it most 850 earnestly upon the mind of Parliament, and through Parliament on the mind of the country. The position in the County of Essex, which does not differ very materially from other districts in other counties in England, at the present moment is this: vast areas of laud are gone out of cultivation already, more and more land is going out of cultivation every day, and, concurrently with this, employment for the agricultural labourers is daily and continually disappearing, and, as a matter of course, agricultural labourers are continually being driven into the towns. You will read in this Report for yourselves that vast numbers of farmers are bankrupt, landlords are ruined, and the payment of rent has ceased altogether. The depression, as I have already said, is progressive, and is getting worse every day. What is to be the remedy for this state of things? I must admit, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and with my right hon. Friend opposite, that until the Royal Commission has reported it is difficult for the Government to do more than a very little. But I cannot say that I regret the Debate which has arisen upon this occasion, because it is most desirable that the extreme gravity of the agricultural situation should be impressed upon the mind of the public whenever the opportunity occurs. I do not think there Las been anything so serious in past times as that which we see to-day. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is fond of talking of the days when Mr. Henley used to tell him that large districts in Oxford-shire and other parts of England were all out of cultivation too. That was true. There was a wave of great passing depression at that time in England, due, I believe, to nothing but the contraction of the currency which had occurred In those days, owing to causes on which I need not enter now. But that was temporary and passed away. The present state of depression, on the other hand, has lasted now at least 15 years, and instead of showing the slightest signs of passing is getting worse from month to month and from year to year, without the slightest prospect at the present moment of anything like amelioration in the future. There is only one cause for this, and there is only one remedy. I repeat to the House of Commons that the cause of this has been the constant fall in the 851 prices, and the fact that that fall has been progressive, and unless and until Parliament can make up its mind to do something to arrest this constant and further fall in the future, then it is idle and useless to profess sympathy for agricultural depression. I hope that this Debate will have the effect of calling public attention to the extreme gravity of the situation. It is well that Parliament should have an opportunity of considering it, and I hope the result will be that before many months have passed Parliament will make up its mind to do something in earnest to deal with this question, and to deal with it in the direction upon which my own views are well known—that is, that this general state of things is due to currency causes, and that it is only in dealing with them that real and permanent relief will ever be found.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said, that he thought that Her Majesty's Government were to blame for two things in connection with this matter—first, for the way in which many of their candidates during the last Election led the labourers and farmers to believe that if they were returned they would be able to take measures to en sure prosperity; and, secondly, in the present Budget it was absolutely beyond doubt that, instead of relieving agricultural burdens, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was chastising agriculturists with whips of a heavier material and imposing heavier burdens. Various remedies had been suggested for the present state of depression, but the two principal ideas brought forward were the theory expounded by the right hon. Member for Sleaford, and also the bare fact of Protection. He did not wish—even if he could—to argue the question of Protection now, but one thing they must allow was this: that even if the premisses upon which in old days the argument in favour of Protection were founded were false, the logical deduction drawn from them had been absolutely verified. Those who so argued said that if such measures as were adopted were taken agriculture would be practically ruined. Without pledging himself to their premisses, he said their deductions had been logical and true. He should not have intervened in this Debate, even as a Member for part of the scheduled district, 852 unless he had a remedy to propose. His plan was probably full of faults, and he put it forward with all humility. It was that the Government should acquire an estate of 6,000 or 7,000 acres in one of those scheduled districts, which they could now obtain at a ridiculously low price, and form a Crown colony. Englishmen went to far-off countries to colonise, and surely it would be easy to induce them to colonise within a mile of railways and twenty miles of London. He had no doubt that objections could be raised to the experiment he proposed, but if it were attempted it could at least be said that the Government had shown more than sympathy with depressed agriculture, and had done something practical and in the right direction to relieve the present deplorable condition of things.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 163; Noes 205.—(Division List, No. 86.)