HC Deb 06 August 1909 vol 8 cc2104-25

Order read for Second Reading.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The PRIME MINISTER: (Mr. Asquith)

Perhaps I ought to say a few words by way of explanation of the purpose of this Bill, to remove some misconception which seems to exist as to its object. The necessity for the Bill arises from the fact that, possibly by an oversight and possibly by a failure to anticipate the number and importance of the duties that would be cast upon the Board of Agriculture when that Board was constituted in 1889, power was given to appoint only a single Secretary, namely, a permanent Secretary, who is a member of the Civil Service. As time has gone on, Parliament has cast constantly increasing responsibilities on this Department, and it has been felt on both sides and in all quarters of the House that it was desirable that it should have the same facilities as the Board of Trade, the Local Government Board, and the Board of Education, and should have a Parliamentary Secretary, particularly when, as at present, the head of the Board sits in the House of Lords. Nothing could have exceeded, as I think hon. Members in all quarters of the House will acknowledge, the assiduity and ability with which my hon. Friend the Treasurer of the Household has discharged the duties of representative of the Board of Agriculture, but it is not fair to him and it is not fair to the Board itself that it should be represented in this House on questions of great importance by a Minister who is not himself a member of the Department, and necessarily and naturally not conversant with its everyday work. Therefore, I have been pressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite in interested in agriculture, and by hon. Friends of mine on this side of the House—I have been pressed frequently in the course of the last two years—to get rid of this anomaly, and place the Board of Agriculture on the same footing in this respect as other Departments of the State. This Bill is introduced for that purpose, in pursuance of pledges I have given more than once to that effect. I hope it will pass without any serious opposition, for on its merits I am certain experience has shown it, not only to be justified, but necessary. I see an Amendment down in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro Ferguson), and I think an identical one in the name of another colleague from Scotland, which, as far as I can see, are not conceived in any hostile spirit to this Bill, but which propose to ask the House to affirm, "That no reconstitution of the Board of Agriculture would hi satisfactory that does not provide for an effective Scottish Department of the Board."

I entirely agree with that proposition, and I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government, although they have not been fortunate enough to pass their Scottish Land Bill, yet have drafted and ready for introduction in another place a Bill which will deal solely and exclusively with this particular point, and which will substantially create for purely Scottish purposes a Scottish Department of Agriculture. That is drafted, and will be introduced very shortly in another place, and I do not think it is likely to meet, when the provisions come to be examined, with anything in the nature of serious opposition, if at all. I hope, therefore, that this Bill will be passed into law, and in these circumstances I trust my hon. Friend will allow the English Board to obtain that additional assistance so eminently needed, and permit this Bill to be read a second time.


It is quite true that this is not an occasion for offering any opposition to this Bill, and I doubt whether anyone in the House entertains any feeling of opposition to it. Still, it is an occasion when one may usefully offer one or two observations. When the Bill of 1889 was before the House I was one of those who tried to have a separate Department of the Board set up for a specific purpose. Since then we have had the Irish Board of Agriculture constituted, and we have had some experience of the working of the Board in Scotland which points to there being need for separate provision for that country also. Certainly a Secretary and Under-Secretary should be appointed for the Board. Although nothing could be more effective than the manner in which a Member of the Government with a practical knowledge of agriculture has represented the Board in this House, yet all who are interested in agriculture feel that the Board of Agriculture ought to be put on the footing of a first-class public Department in order to meet the requirements of that great industry. As the Bill stands it effects very little. It simply makes a Member of the Government, under another name, represent the Board of Agriculture in this House. My Motion on the Paper, which I do not intend to press, represents some of the realities which we have to face. English agricultural interests are already well represented in the House. English administra- tion and legislation have been excellent. Some are of opinion that if we had a Joint Committee of the Board of Agriculture and of the Education Department to take charge of the technical instruction required for agriculture we ought to be perfectly satisfied. I think that link is very much wanted. Apart from that, however, I think England, when she gets this Bill, will have every reason to be content. In Ireland the creation of a separate Board, such as has been foreshadowed, by the Prime Minister, for Scotland, has been a conspicuous success, and I think it will continue to carry out that economic and social revolution in Ireland which has been so happily begun. I notice some of my Welsh colleagues have put down a Motion with regard to Wales. Wales is not so badly off as Scotland, because the President of the Board of Agriculture is almost an adopted son of the Principality. But Wales has its distinctive form of agriculture, and I should be the last to deny that such a demand should not be granted to her.

In Scotland, agricultural control, so far as the Government is concerned, is in chaos. They fall between two stools. There was a proposal in the Scottish Small Landholders Bill, but that was for a Board which would have been of very little use as constituted under the Bill. It really exposed Scotland to this great disadvantage: there has been a rupture of the intimate relations which formerly existed between Scottish agriculture and the Board of Agriculture, and that is one of the reasons why this question has become so urgent, and why, therefore, I put down my Motion in respect to this Bill, which does nothing for Scotland, unless the new Secretary to the Board were, indeed, a representative of Scotland. But that is not a substantial point now, after what the Prime Minister has said. There are Resolutions put down by myself and my colleagues which present two real alternatives. In Scotland we should be better off with either of them. One alternative is that there should be a Scottish Under-Secretary for the Board of Agriculture, with a Scottish sub-Department. The other is that there should be a separate Board of Agriculture for Scotland under a Minister responsible to Parliament. The first is the more effective and the cheaper method, and the one most favoured by Scottish agriculturists. The general staff of the Board is exceedingly good, and could be used by both countries. There is the difficulty of administering the cattle regulations under the Diseases of Animals Act, if you have separate powers for the two parts of the island. It would save unnecessary duplication by having the change made in the form of a sub-Department of the Board of Agriculture.

The second alternative is to have a Board like the Irish Board, fully equipped and really responsible to the agricultural industry, with a thoroughly scientific staff. Opinion in Scotland is divided about these methods, and I think the hon. Member who represents the Board of Agriculture (Sir E. Strachey) would bear me out in saying that the depth of agricultural opinion, so far as he is aware, is in favour of the change as laid down in the Motion which I have put on the Paper, that is, in favour of a sub-Department of the Board. All that I would do further is to remind the Prime Minister and the House that the third and impossible alternative would be to add another ordinary hide-bound Scottish Board to the number of Boards which are already in Scotland. I lay stress on this point because that was the solution offered by the Scottish Small Landowners Bill. You cannot have agriculture put under a Board of Agriculture, because those Boards—as they stand now—are entirely out of touch with the public opinion of the country, and the different branches of public interests which they represent. We will not have another Scottish Board. We have got too many of them already. They are too well known and we want to get rid of those that we have. We are better as we are than we would be with another such Board as it was proposed to give us a couple of years ago. Therefore I think under those circumstances it is not unreasonable to put this Motion on the Paper. I for one take no exception to the tone in which we have been met by the Prime Minister who is a representative of a great agricultural constituency, and is well aware that Scottish agriculture is not a negligible quantity, even although it may have been neglected in the past. The Bill, as it stands, is a mere change in name. I would ask the Government and the Prime Minister and the agricultural representatatives of the Government to consider the two alternatives I have mentioned. I admit public opinion is divided, but I believe the bulk of public opinion is in favour of the course laid down in the Resolution I have put on the Paper. I trust this matter will receive very earnest consideration before the Bill is introduced.


I am sure we all welcome the extension of the Department, and that it is desirable that it should be brought up to date. There are features in the agricultural situation which are very disquieting. There is the diminution in the number of those engaged in agriculture, whether as farmers or as labourers. To compare that with the situation in Europe generally, we find that in Europe there has been a great advance in agriculture, while this country has rather gone back within the last 25 years than gone forward. It is only within the last two or three years there has been this movement in the direction of the establishment of Boards of Agriculture. In a short time they have become almost universal, in Europe, in America, and in our Colonies. In this matter we have been left far behind, and we want an effective Board of Agriculture, which, with power and discretion, would do great good. It would enable our agriculture to take its proper place, and to increase the produce. I believe this desire is universal. I would particularly desire to urge a Department of Agriculture for Scotland itself, and to put the case for an effective Department for Scotland, properly manned and properly equipped, and properly represented in this House.

I may say that public opinion in Scotland has very much ripened in regard to this matter. In the last Parliament some five or six hours only were spent on agriculture. Hon. Members will remember that we have had a good deal of time devoted to agriculture in this Parliament. We had the Small Holdings Act, the Small Landowners Bill for Scotland, the Agricultural Holdings Act, another Act dealing with ground game, and the Report of the Small Holdings Departmental Committee. All those attracted great notice in Scotland, and in addition we have had some very interesting reports from officials and Committees of those who are interested in agriculture in Scotland. Farmers, land-owners, and labourers have visited several countries, including Denmark, Ireland, and Canada, and we have had their reports. Each of those favoured a properly equipped Department of Agriculture, with an able man at its head, and ample resources. This Department would aid the farmers and stimulate agriculture, and help those engaged in it to obtain proper education, to get capital on easy terms, to get the latest scientific knowledge, to get the cheapest foodstuffs and manures, and last, but not least, help them to market their produce. Agriculture has wakened up very much in Scotland. The Chamber of Agriculture, which not long ago was behind on this question, recently passed a resolution in favour of a Department of Agriculture. When that resolution came up for general discussion before the members, opinion was not absolutely unanimous as to the form of the Department, and as to whether it should be absolutely and completely independent of the Board of Agriculture, but opinion was unanimous that something should be done, and that Scotland was claiming very special consideration, and that the time had arrived when those demands could no longer be deferred—I was interested to notice that the "Scotsman," at the close of an article on the subject, sincerely hoped that the Government would on no account say that as the resolution was not unanimous nothing should be done—and that Scotland was demanding that action should be taken in this direction. I know that hon. Members on the other side, who are not present to-day, have rather suggested that there was no demand for this, and that it was not backed up by agricultural opinion. In the Chamber of Agriculture a gentleman to whom they referred with the greatest respect and deference during the discussion on the Small Landowners Bill, and who was, they stated, the only agriculturist present at the great gathering in Perth on the occasion when a separate Department of Agriculture was demanded in the Chamber of Agriculture, supported the demand. I can only say, on the question whether it should be a separate Board or one in connection with the existing Board of Agriculture, that the great success of the Irish Department and the immense want of success of the present state of things, have led public opinion to ripen in favour of a separate Board of Agriculture for Scotland. The present conditions of agriculture support this conclusion. I know the idea prevails in the highest quarters that Scottish agriculture is perfect. The Leader of the Opposition, in the discussion on the Small Holdings Bill, asked, "What is wrong? Why make any change in the admirable system in Scotland?" And he was backed up by others in that attitude. If hon. Members will examine the question they will find that their confidence is not well placed. The East Lothian Farmers' Club strongly supports the establishment of a separate Board. Another society which is not suspect on the other side, the Agricultural Organisation Society, in their first manifesto pointed out that whilst Scottish agriculture was at one time leading the way, it has now fallen on evil days. But we need not go to authorities; we must go to the facts. Every interest in Scotland connected with agriculture has decayed, and reached figures which demand the serious attention of statesmen who value the character, permanence, and vigour of our people. We find that in all Scotland there are only 79,000 separate occupations, while in Ireland there are 516,000; Denmark, which is half the size of Scotland, has 250,000; and in the German Empire there are 5,200,000 occupations under 50 acres. Even that does not represent the full extent of the evil, because while there are 79,000 separate occupations, a great many of those occupations are not separately occupied. There are only 53,000 farmers in Scotland, and the number is rapidly dwindling, it having fallen in 20 years by no less than 1788. We want a Department to tell us how this has come about, whether it is a satisfactory state of things, or whether it does not admit of some remedy. In regard to labourers, the position is even more unsatisfactory. In 20 years we have lost 42,000 labourers, or no less than 31 per cent, of the total number engaged in agriculture. The figures are really most startling. It is suggested by the Leader of the Opposition that it is only in the Highlands things are bad, and that in the lowlands it is all right. An examination of the facts will not support that conclusion.


The hon. Member is not entitled to take the opportunity of a Bill to enable a second Secretary to the Board of Agriculture to be appointed to range over the whole question of agriculture tenure in Scotland. That is rather far from the Bill we are now discussing.


I was endeavouring to show the serious condition of affairs in Scotland, in order to support the contention that more care and attention are required there. Emigration from Scotland has, for the first time, exceeded that from Ireland. Land is going out of cultivation to a very great extent. The cattle of Scotland are the smallest in number of any country of Europe. The rental of Scotland is 50 per cent, less than the rental of Ireland. These figures, I think, show that Scottish agriculture is greatly in need of help. Scotland finds herself between two highly organised countries. With Denmark on the one side, having an agricultural output of £20,000,000 per annum, and a not superior soil, and Ireland on the other, also organised and rapidly improving her agricultural methods, Scotland feels that she is entitled to consideration. In every other part of the world Scotsmen are assisting to organise the agriculture of other countries. The heads of the agricultural departments in Canada, the United States, and many of our Colonies are Scotsmen; they are doing good work, and we believe that if they had an opportunity they could do equally good work in Scotland, provided they were given the necessary equipment and proper resources. Agriculture is an industry which must be practised on the spot for each particular country. Agricultural conditions differ so enormously in different countries that experiments which are successful in one country may not be successful in another. A nation must, particularly in agriculture, work out its own salvation. We need the aid of a Department to organise experiments and agricultural education. We have in Scotland only three agricultural colleges, and 300 farmers' sons taking a four weeks' course. Denmark has 3,000 agricultural students while in France there are 300,000 farmers receiving a course of education in agriculture every year. We are far behind other countries in these matters. We want an agricultural intelligence department, in order that what other countries are doing may be brought to the knowledge of farmers. In France the best scientific men are properly organised, and matters are so arranged that they give their aid to the development of agriculture, with the result that farmers have £4,000,000,000 invested in agriculture, yielding an admirable return. The attempt to deal with agriculture in Scotland from London has entirely failed. Only last year we had a, most serious outbreak of disease. We want to protect our stock and plants from animal disease and insect pests. We have had outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in Midlothian, which were dealt with in a manner that caused the greatest dissatisfaction. Scotland was absolutely cut off from England. We contend that if we had a Department of Agriculture we should be able to keep out disease, as it has been done in Denmark; in any case, we should be able to deal with these matters far more effectively if we had a Department on the spot. An enormous decrease has taken place in the value of stock in Scotland, and we want to remedy that state of affairs. We believe it is necessary to have on the spot an authority to which the farmers can go, and one which will win their confidence by its good work. It is impossible for farmers to come to London, at great expense and delay, to get their matters dealt with. There should be an organisation, such as there is in other countries, by which farmers might benefit through information being brought to their door by itinerant professors. We want agricultural education to be co-ordinated and improved. We want it developed in accordance with the needs of the country. I only appeal to the Prime Minister—and that appeal must be met with sympathy, for the Prime Minister is the doyen of Scottish Members. He has some 4,000 agriculturists in the great constituency that he represents. That part of Scotland is proud to have him. Great as are his present duties, he still has a warm corner in his heart for the needs of Scotland. I urge this case very strongly upon him.


I am not going to discuss Scottish agriculture, or any agriculture. I wish to say a single word to remind the House of the danger, however much we may approve of this particular Bill—which I do not intend to oppose—of creating a continually increasing number of new Ministerial appointments. There has been an inquiry into the overlapping of the work of the Departments, and that inquiry has only led to the Bills which stand on the Paper today. We have already infinitely more Ministers than any other country in the world. If you look at Parliamentary countries like France, or at Federal Empires like Germany, you will find they have an average of one-fourth or one-fifth as many Parliamentary Departments as we have. There is no country in the world that is anything like us—I doubt if the average is more than one-third. I do ask that in the consideration of these new Departments we should have in view merely the efficiency of the service—best promoted in most of these cases by separate Departments under common Parliamentary heads; and that we should not meet every pressure for improvement by continually increasing the Parliamentary Departments in both Houses instead of by a more scien- tific arrangement of the duties that have to be performed.


I desire, as an agriculturist myself, and as representing an agricultural Constituency, to give a hearty support to the second reading of this Bill, on the general ground that the carrying of it will tend to strengthen the representation of agriculture in this House. Those who are interested in agriculture feel that the strengthening of that representation is needed. Undoubtedly, the comparative position of agriculture in relation to the whole of the other industries of the country is a diminishing one. Mining, railways, shipping, manufactures, and all rival industries, are continually increasing in this country, whilst agriculture barely retains its stationary position. The fact is that agriculture, which, a century or two ago, was far and away the leading occupation of this country, is now relegated to a back place. That fact leads to the tendency to have the voice of agriculture not represented in this House to the extent that it is worthy that it should be. We may claim that as a single occupation. Agriculture is still the largest of the whole group of industries. It seems a very unsuitable thing that, that being so, it should be without an official head in this House. The President of the Board of Agriculture is in another place. That we may be able to attain permanent representation appears to be a most desirable object; it commends itself to agricultural people because it will not be inimical to the interests of any other body of persons. I say, further, that the position of agricultural representation in Parliament has been greatly altered by reason of the Reform Bills and great changes which have taken place in the character of the population and the employments of the people in the last century. Time was when almost all the Members of Parliament were landowners or connected with land. Agriculture had quite an undue voice in this Chamber. That, more and more, has ceased to be, because even Members for country divisions are often not directly connected with agriculture at all. There is considerable danger that in the pressing claims of all other occupations agriculture should be omitted, and its one interest left out. I therefore heartily support this Bill. Matters in agriculture now are quite different to what they were in the days of the old Corn Laws.

There was then great controversy as between those who wished to retain the Corn Laws and those who wished Free Trade in corn. That great battle was long since decided—I have no doubt, in my own mind, finally decided. Our interests now as agriculturists are in the general prosperity of the country. We want to see our great industry flourish, and therefore wish that it shall have a full official voice in the counsels of Parliament. I am very glad to know that though for many years past we have been in a period of great and deep agricultural depression, we are steadily lifting out of it. I rejoice that there is upon the earth this year a prospect of one of the finest and most abundant harvests that we have had for many years past, and, please God, we get nice, bright, hot weather to ripen the corn, we shall rejoice still further. We may—I trust will—be fairly encouraged by the fact that whereas for many years past prices have not been remunerative, the prospect is that the farmer will be rewarded this year for the capital and toil that he has put into the land. Human laws have not brought this about. It has come about in the natural course of events, and I think that those who have suffered from the depression will, after the harvest has been gathered in, find that good prices will leave them a surplus profit. One word, before I sit down, in respect to the speeches of our Scottish friends. They know their own business best. I suppose there is no country in the world that is better farmed than the Lothians and certain other parts of Scotland. Indeed, the agriculture of Great Britain, as a whole, is at the head of the agriculture of the world in the average produce obtained. But I should have thought that the Board of Agriculture, representing Great Britain as a whole, would be more effective than dividing the thing in two in the matter of dealing with cattle diseases, and so on, which are easier to deal with as a whole than by separate Departments. While I hope that this Bill will obtain a second reading, and that agriculture will have an important representation in the Government in the House, I think our Scottish friends would be wise to make that representation one and undivided instead of having representation for different parts of Great Britain.


I am sure the Prime Minister fully understands that in putting down the Motion which I did on the Paper it was not intended in any way in opposition to the interests of agriculture, or in opposition to the Government, and especially it was not intended in opposition to Lord Carrington, who understands agriculture and knows its work well. As far as I am personally concerned, I am only too anxious to assist the Bill. I should like to ask the Prime Minister what is to be the salary of the Secretary? The attitude of Scotland towards this Bill is this. While we are anxious that all the affairs of the United Kingdom should be looked after, we want, without regard to party, that Scottish local affairs should be better looked after than they are. Although Scotland is the most loyal and law-abiding part of the United Kingdom, and pays proportionately the highest share of the general taxation of the country, she is most shockingly neglected by the Government in regard to her local affairs. We have been able to get little done in the last three years, and now we have lost the Secretary for Scotland from this House, so that our position is worse than ever. We have been often told in the last three years that questions which we raised will be considered, but we want more than that—we want that something shall be done. I am not committed to whether we should have a special Department or only the English Board, but personally I think it better we should have separate Boards, but if we are to have a Board for Scotland we want to have an effective Board that will look after Scottish agricultural interests. The Scottish farmer is in advance of his English brother; he gave up Protection in the main, while unfortunately the English farmer still maintains it, and sends Tory Members to represent him in this House. And, as the Scottish farmer is in advance, we want his affairs to be managed in advance as well. What we really want is Home Rule for Scotland in regard to her local affairs. I will give an instance. Take the case of tobacco-growing. We had a Bill for Scotland to enable tobacco to be grown, and I at once asked the Secretary for Scotland whether the Government would be prepared to assist tobacco-growing in Scotland as the Irish Board of Agriculture had assisted it in Ireland. I was referred, in reply, to the Treasury—the very Department which was opposing the Bill altogether. Of course, that branch of agriculture has gone out from Scotland for the last 100 years or so, and one can- not exactly say at present what can be done in that direction, but we want the Government to take a leading part in starting that enterprise, which, so far as we have any evidence, may be of great use to some parts of Scotland, and not only useful to Scottish farmers, but to Scottish workers also. The growing of tobacco gives a great deal of labour upon the farms. I went a little further in this matter, and I asked Lord Carrington, and he at once expressed his wish to assist in every way he could, but unless backed by the assistance and the pressure of the Government, Lord Carrington cannot do much. I desire to take this opportunity of thanking him, especially after the opposition of the Government, for assuring me that he would do all he could to push the matter forward. I, of course, plead more especially for the Highlands of Scotland, where, with a view to preventing the depopulation of the country of the able-bodied working classes, something could be done to enable the people to take the land to cultivate it and to pay a fair rent for it. While, as I say, I am not pledged to any particular Board of Agriculture, we do think in the Highlands that at the same time that something is being done for the rich English agriculturists something ought to be done for the Scottish agriculturists. The Prime Minister sits for a constituency where agriculture is carried on in a very advanced way, and where tobacco was grown in years past, and can be grown again if the Government will allow it. In the Highlands we are anxious that the country should be cultivated in the very best possible way in the interests of the whole community. We have got plenty of room in the Highlands for double the population we have there now, if we were only let work the land, and if we had an Agricultural Department that took an interest in the matter. I assure the Prime Minister that I am not speaking in any way in opposition to the Bill, but my object is to look after the interests of the Scottish agriculturists, and I hope that something will be done before long to assist these people in getting a living, in the interests of the whole country.


I am glad to know that we are to have a Board of Agriculture for Scotland. I was not present sufficiently early in the Debate to hear whether we are to have a representative of that Board in this House, but we do need someone in this House to represent us directly. I am not so much concerned whether we get a branch of the English Board of Agriculture or whether it is a Board of Agriculture of itself in Edinburgh. I am, however, anxious that there should be a representative of that Board in this House who can initiate legislation, and this is all the more necessary since we lost the Secretary for Scotland in this House. There is no one we can consult here to whom we can put questions who can answer us with authority. It is true that there are the law officers of the Crown, and they answer our questions with great courtesy and ability, but they give us the idea that they are speaking according to their brief. [Cries of "Oh."] At any rate, it has always occurred to me that when the law officers are answering questions in this House they are answering on behalf of the Secretary for Scotland. We want someone to represent us in this House with local knowledge who can initiate legislation, with a knowledge of the conditions of agriculture in Scotland. The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that in Scotland we have different laws and different methods of leasing land, and such a representative would be able to deal out of the abundance of his local knowledge with more sympathy towards the congested districts and all other matters appertaining to agriculture. I hope, if we are not to have the Secretary for Scotland in this House to initiate legislation, the Prime Minister will see that the head of the Constitutional and Parliamentary Government, so far as Scotland is concerned, will be in this House. I have often wondered whether the Prime Minister has considered if the sending of the Secretary for Scotland to the House of Lords has been a success.


I think someone on this side of the House should express our gratitude to the Prime Minister for the very kind way in which he has brought forward this Bill. As a member of the Central Land Association, which has taken a great interest in this particular matter, I thank him on their behalf and on behalf of the many agriculturists whom I have the honour to represent. I feel quite sure that this change will be for the benefit of agriculture, although on this side of the House we fully appreciate the great work and certainly the great knowledge which has been brought to bear upon this particular subject by the hon. Member for Somerset (Sir E. Strachey), who has had control of this Department in this House. We feel strongly that if there was a more responsible official in this House representing agriculture, who could approach the Treasury and the Prime Minister with more authority, and demand legislation for the benefit of agriculture, it would be far better for the agricultural industry of this country. I am quite sure that if we had an entirely separate official for Scotland in this House it would not be beneficial to agriculture generally throughout the country, because it would lead to a great deal of friction in many cases. There must be one central control in this matter, and that control should be exercised by one authority who can be depended upon to act in this matter for the benefit of the agriculture of the kingdom as a whole, and not on behalf of one particular part of it. I have much pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, and I again thank the Prime Minister for affording us this opportunity of passing this measure.


I desire to say a word of welcome to this Bill, and to support the Second Reading. In doing so I for one wish to say that I recognise the good work which has been done by the Board of Agriculture, and also the way in which we have always been able to get at the representative of the Board of Agriculture who sits on the Treasury Bench, who has always been willing to take up the cases which we have from time to time brought to his notice. I have always felt that the hon. Baronet the Member for South Somerset has always been handicapped by other officials whom we could not get at. There are three or four cases I have brought up in connection with the working of the Small Holdings Act, which have proved to me conclusively that there is need of having someone on the Treasury Bench in authority who we can really get at and, if necessary, be able to challenge his salary, because in connection with the cases which I have brought forward I have felt that the hon. Baronet has not been able to do what he would like to have done. Take the New-borough case as an instance of what I mean. Here are a number of men who have been fighting for two years for the land. The council there appointed their committee, with full power to act. They recommended that a certain farm should be taken for these applicants, the valuer was sent down, and everything was agreed to, but when the matter came before the county council they refused to ratify the recommendation of their own committee. When this matter is brought to the attention of the Board, what happens? The men who have been fighting this case on the spot are invited to interview the Board of Agriculture, but I am not sure whether the President of that Board saw them or not. I think I may safely say that the present representative on the Front Bench did not see them; they were interviewed by the officials, who preferred the case of the council against that of the men. I wrote to the President, not days but weeks ago, urging that a petition I had had from the men should be presented to him, and that their ease be put to the Board. The hon. Member who represents the Board in this House knows nothing at all of what is going on, and the case of the men has never been put to the Board at all. We cannot get at the officials except just to get a sight of them under the Gallery in this House. I want to know, as representing these men, and to save the expense of dragging them up to London, why some of them could not be interviewed by the Board, so that their case could really be put to it. The last answer I got from the hon. Gentleman with regard to this case was that out of 30 applicants, all of whom had been passed by the committee, seven had been accepted by the council. This, of course, appeared in the papers, and I received a letter from the applicants only last night saying they have heard nothing at all about the seven. They know nothing about any movement being made to take any land at all.


Order. This is not the proper time to go into these eases. This is a very simple Bill, and contains one proposition. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is entitled to go over the ground he is going over now.


I have no desire to break the Rules of order, but I am anxious to emphasise the real need for a paid official on the Front Bench representing agriculture, and for the Board having the same standard as other Departments, so that when we go to him in cases of this kind we may feel we are really going to a man in authority who has some power and control over the Board. When we go to the hon. Gentleman who at present represents the Board he has to run to somebody else. That weakens the whole position. I am anxious to get a man who has power the same as other men on the Front Bench, so that if there is any complaint we can move to reduce his salary and call the attention of the House to the work necessary to be done.


I rise, as one who was born and brought up on a considerable farm, who still retains his interest in it, and therefore has had occasion to practically consider this question, and also as the representative of perhaps one of the best farming counties in Scotland, the county Forfar, to say that in my judgment it is essential, if justice is to be done to Scottish agriculture, that it should be separately considered from English agriculture. The conditions are entirely different; the soil is different; the climate is different; the people are different: the land tenure is different; and the law regulating the relations between tenant and landlord is different. Scottish agriculture, in my opinion, is greatly in need of all the assistance it can get to enable it to meet effectively the competition it has to meet, partly from England, partly now from Ireland with its more effective administration, and very largely from Denmark, France, and even Russia. There is therefore a necessity, from the practical point of view, for having a Department whose sole business would be to consider and advance the interests of Scottish agriculture. I have not been long in the House, but, in my opinion, if the interests of Scottish agriculture are to be effectively promoted they must be represented by someone who is familiar with Scottish conditions, with our land tenure and our agriculture generally—someone who can understand the difficulties, and can provide remedies by legislation for overcoming those difficulties. I am therefore strongly in favour of a separate Department of Agriculture for Scotland, represented in this House by some Scottish Member. It does not, to my mind, seem to be a matter of great importance whether it is the Secretary for Scotland or one of the law officers, but it ought, I submit, to be someone who is acquainted with Scottish conditions.


I desire to congratulate the Government on bringing in this measure, which is somewhat over- due; and I also desire to associate myself with what has been said by Scottish Members on this question. I think it is always advisable, in the interests of administration, to have a Minister to represent the three or four divisions of the British islands. We all know there is a considerable difference between English and Scottish agriculture. Land tenure generally is different; I think it would be a good thing, therefore, to have a Scottish as well as an English Minister of Agriculture. There is a great deal more work now entailed upon the Board of Agriculture than formerly. The Small Holdings Act has thrown a vast deal more work upon the Board. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that under the Small Holdings Act there are certain conditions and requirements which must be carried out by the Board of Agriculture which have not yet arisen. I allude to the administration of the Act by the Boards in cases where the county councils refuse to do it. There are cases quoted in this House at Question time, and we all know the time is coming, and very quickly, when the Board of Agriculture, if a Liberal Government remains in office, will be called upon to administer to some extent the Small Holdings Act, and it seems to me it will be quite impossible to see that that Act is really carried out unless we have got a representative of the Board of Agriculture in the House of Commons. I desire, of course, to associate myself with what has been said as to the way in which questions have been answered by the hon. Member for South Somerset, but we all know he is merely the mouthpiece of the Board, and has no control over it. We want that altered. We want to see a man in this House representing the Board and invested with some control over its officials and administration, so that when he has heard the opinion of the House he can go to the Board and see that the policy which the House demands is actually carried out. That, I think, would be a good thing for agriculture and for small holdings generally, and it would also ensure the carrying out of the spirit and intentions of the Small Holdings Act. I feel strongly that the time has come when we should have a direct control over the Board in this House. I think it is time we had a great industry like agriculture directly represented in the House of Commons. We know from the suggestions made in the course of the Debates on the Budget agriculture is in future going to profit considerably by the Development Grant. That must throw a lot of extra work on the Board of Agriculture, and that is an additional reason why we should have in this House a Secretary specially representing the industry. I congratulate the Government on bringing in this measure, and I hope that it will speedily pass into law.


I wish to express-, on behalf of the Central Chamber of Agriculture and of other organised agricultural bodies in this country, their deep satisfaction that this Bill has been brought in, and our gratitude to the Prime Minister for the prompt way in which he has met our requests. I do not propose to go into details. I only wish to say one thing. The Prime Minister has given us no idea what will be the form of the Department to represent Scottish agriculture. I hope that whatever form it takes it will be under the same head as the English Board. It is absolutely necessary in the interests of both countries to ensure uniformity of administration of such Acts as the Diseases of Animals Act, and that could not be secured if there were entirely separate Boards representing agriculture in the two countries. I should like to assure the hon. Member for South Somerset that the anxiety of the Central Chamber of Commerce and other organised agricultural bodies for this Bill is not inspired by the least want of satisfaction with the way in which he has carried out his duties, but I think he himself will feel that this change is necessary.


The only drawback to this Bill is that of the expense. Everybody who knows anything about agriculture in this country must feel it is essential we should have in this House someone who can devote his whole time and powers to the interests of agriculture. The hon. M ember for Suffolk (Mr. Everett), in view of the optimistic views he expressed in regard to the state of agriculture, must surely have given up his practical interest in farming. He took a bright view which, I think, is not borne out by the light hay crops and the thin crops of oats in that county. It is the privilege of farmers to grumble; I have done so ever since I have been a farmer, and I hope I may continue to do so. One of our causes for grumbling has been the feeling that this vast interest of agriculture has not in the past received the consideration it is entitled to. This has especially been the case in connection with experimental stations like those at Rothamsted, which have received a mere pittance from the Treasury. We want to see that changed. We believe that farming could be greatly improved if sufficient grants were made from time to time to those who are willing and able to carry out experiments of all kinds in connection with agriculture. But we are not likely to obtain that unless we have in this House a paid Secretary responsible to the House for the interests of agriculture. I gather from what has been said that the Prime Minister has promised that Scotland shall have an organisation of its own in this matter. The hon. Member for Dumfriesshire has alluded to Scottish agriculture as a declining industry, but I notice that when Scottish farmers come South they do exceedingly well. That I know to be the case in Hertfordshire, a portion of which I represent here. Possibly the fact of their deserting Scotland may be the cause of the decline of the Scottish industry. I think that when we have in this House a man like the hon. Baronet the Member for South Somerset, with his thorough knowledge of the interests of agriculture, prepared to devote his whole time and powers to forwarding the interests of that great industry, the prospects of agriculture will brighten. They are overshadowed at the present moment by heavy burdens of taxation. We do not know whether the result of the Finance Bill will be to substitute scorpions for a less severe form of chastisement. Still, I think the House is to be congratulated on the introduction of this Bill, the only drawback of which is the expense involved.

Mr. F. W. VERNEY (Bucks, N.) I also desire to congratulate the Government on the introduction of what is indeed a belated measure. Twenty years have elapsed since the first Bill was introduced for the creation of a Board of Agriculture, and anyone who looks at the work done by the Board of Agriculture and the work it is intended to do, must be gratified with the results of that measure. There is, however, just one point which I should like to say a word on, and only one, and that is the question of the educational work of the Board of Agriculture. That part of its work is, I think, of a very important kind, and of a growingly important kind, and deserves the fullest attention of the Government, and I have no doubt will receive it. The appointment of a second Secretary, I hope, will give an impetus and importance to that work which it has never yet possessed up to this time. I can only say, as representing an almost purely agricultural Constituency, that education in agriculture has been steadily growing in our county, and has taken a prominent position. It has been very much assisted by the county council, and its officers, and I sincerely hope that the immense importance of agricultural education, as connected with the Small Holdings Act, and with the great increase in the number of small holdings and of allotments which has been so fortunately going on year by year, I hope that part of the work of the Bill will receive every attention, and will prosper in every county, as I think we may safely say it will prosper.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say what the salary is to be?


The hon. Member has already spoken.

Bill read a second time.

Resolved, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next."—[Mr. Joseph Pease.]