§ Resolution reported, "That a further sum, not exceeding £8,895,000, be granted to His Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charges for the following Civil Services and Revenue Departments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1912."—[For details of Vote, see OFFICAL REPORT, 14th June, 1911, cols. 1525–1528.]1686
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House cloth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. WARDLE
I desire to raise certain matters in connection with the Board of Trade, but, first of all, I should like to say with regard to the general administration of the Board, that so far as it applies to the hours of railway men, we have very little or no complaint to make on this particular occasion. Indeed, I think we may compliment the Board of Trade upon the 1687 fact that, since they have prosecuted a more vigorous policy in this direction, there has been a great improvement. There is one point, however, I should like to make with regard to this question. We feel that, instead as previously of a standard of twelve hours being taken, the time has now come when all hours over ten per day should be considered excessive. When we consider that the intensity of work has increased, and that the bigger engines and longer trains have added to the work of the men, it is surely time when ten hours should be considered a long enough day upon the railways, and when any period above that should be called excessive. It is impossible to pay the same compliment to the Board of Trade with regard to accidents. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that this question of accidents upon railways is still a very serious one, especially so far as the servants are concerned. During the last ten years no less than 4,659 servants have been killed and 182,750 have been injured. That is a terrible state of affairs, and it is time the House of Commons took further note of this grave question. It will be remembered that in 1900 a Bill was passed through this House with regard to the prevention of railway accidents, and the carrying out of that Bill was put into the hands of the Board of Trade. Certain powers, not in our opinion sufficient, but still certain powers were conferred upon the Board of Trade, and I am glad to say there has been some improvement so far as fatal accidents are concerned, but it is a serious thing indeed to see the non-fatal accidents mounting up as they are doing year by year.
In 1901, the year after the Bill to which I have referred was passed, the fatal accidents were 565 and the non-fatal 14,740. In 1910 there was a reduction in the fatal accidents to 420, but the non-fatal accidents had mounted up to the very serious total of 25,137. That is an enormous increase, and one for which there seems no adequate explanation. When I say that, to-day one out of every 470 employés upon the railways is killed and one in every twenty-four injured, I think it will be realised it is time this House took further notice of the matter and that the Board of Trade put their powers into more effective operation. The Board of Trade do not seem to me to realise what their powers are, or they are very slow in putting them into effect. There are on the whole of the 1688 railways only ten inspectors. There is the chief inspector, three inspecting officers, two assistant inspectors, and four sub-inspectors. When we compare the number of inspectors employed under the Home Office to deal with factories and with mines, we find an enormous difference. Yet there are in this country over 600,000 railway servants and the number of miners is probably not much in excess of 1,000,000. There are 165 factory inspectors and forty inspectors of mines. It is impossible for these inspecting officers of railways, however they may desire to do so, to carry out the number of inquiries which ought to be carried out. I have already pointed out that the number of fatal accidents was 420 so far as railway servants were concerned, while the number of non-fatal accidents was 25,000. If we take the year 1909 we find there were 24,095 non-fatal accidents and 372 fatal accidents. Yet in that year, according to the latest return I have been able to get hold of there were only 857 inquiries held in regard to a total of nearly 25,000 accidents. It seems to us that this is not sufficient; it seems to show that there is great need for further inspection of the railways. Again, under the Act of 1900 it is our opinion that the Board of Trade are not carrying out the full provisions of that Act. There is the greatest possible difficulty in getting the Board to realise that it has the power to inspect dangerous places on railways before an accident occurs. They seem either to think that they have not got power or they minimise the importance of it. In connection with the society with which I am associated we have been in correspondence with the Board in regard to a proposal to move a signal-box on the Midland Railway near St. Pancras. We asked the Board to inspect that place as a possibly dangerous spot, which might give rise to accidents to men. The answer was that no accident had occurred, and therefore they saw no reason to make an inspection. Our point is this, that prevention in these matters is much better than cure, and we hold that the Board of Trade should take the opportunity of inspecting all dangerous places on railways before accidents do occur.
Again, as showing the need for some further efforts on the part of the Board of Trade to deal with this question of railway accidents, may I draw attention to certain anomalies which appear in the latest report on these accidents. The report deals with the accidents in the year 1689 1910, and from it we learn—and this shows the necessity for some more effective action on the part of the Board of Trade—that out of 2,174 accidents which are said to be due to the failure of coupling apparatus no fewer than 620 occurred on one railway alone. That was on the North-Eastern Railway. There were only 137 accidents attributable to a like cause on such a large railway as the North Western, and therefore there does seem need for action on the part of the Beard of Trade in regard to this particular matter. Let me take another instance. Let me take the case of accidents attributable to the moving of trains. Under this heading there were 296 killed and 4,104 injured, and out of that total no fewer than forty-three were killed and 813 injured on one railway alone. That was the North Western Railway; and it shows that the Board of Trade should have its attention fixed upon this matter. If it is going to do its duty in regard to railway men, it ought to see that the railway is inspected and the attention of the company should be drawn to the fact that the accidents attributable to this cause on this system are out of all proportion to those on other railway systems. I might cite many other examples. For instance, on the North Eastern there were 239 accidents during the year 1910 due to broken rails. Surely that is a very serious question. A broken rail may cause an accident not only to railway people but to scores of passengers. There were no less than sixty-six cases in one year on the North Eastern in which broken rails caused accidents. Therefore there is every reason why we should attempt to take this question into more minute consideration with a view to the powers of the Board of Trade being exercised not merely on behalf of the general public but also in the interests of railway servants. I have many more examples, but I do not propose to weary the House with them, as I intend to draw the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to them in another way very shortly.
We believe that the Act of 1900 gave the Board of Trade powers which they are allowing to slumber. These powers, in our opinion, ought to be put into effect at once, and we are of opinion that thereby the accident list might be greatly reduced. For instance, the Board of Trade have the power to appoint more inspectors. They have the power to inspect railways before accidents occur. We believe, at any rate, that the Act of 1900 confers on them that power. I do not say that we are satisfied 1690 with that Act entirely, but we do think that the Board of Trade should take advantage of the powers conferred upon it and should put them in full force, and if they will do that we are satisfied there will be a greater reduction in the number of accidents on railways compared with what has occurred during the last five or six years. This especially applies to the case of non-fatal accidents. There is another aspect of the question to which I will make allusion. We who belong to the trade union movement are concerned with the protection of men, and we want inquiries to be held by the Board of Trade into all accidents which have occurred. The Board of Trade can send inspectors, without holding formal inquiries. When these inquiries take place we want to have a trade union representative present. But it is too often the case that when such a suggestion is made the railway company insist that the inquiry shall not take place on their premises because they will not have a trade union representative thereon. There have been cases where, in the interests of the injured men, it has been desirable to view the scene of the accident, and the company has refused to permit it. We know, however, that on the whole the Board of Trade representatives are fairly reasonable men, and do desire that the trade union representatives should not be prevented from attending these inquiries. We do not see for a single moment why a railway man, because the railways belong to great corporations, should be treated as the pariah of industry and should be dealt with on totally different lines from men engaged in any other industry. Therefore, we submit to the Board of Trade that they should, when such an inquiry is about to be held, advise the trade unions of the fact and ask that a representative of the union shall be sent to attend it.
I should like to ask the Board of Trade what is their intention with regard to the report which has just been issued respecting working agreements between railway companies. We have, in my opinion, come to a very serious crisis in the history of the relations of our railway companies with the Board of Trade. The question of agreements between companies has been reported upon—we do not say in a satisfactory manner, but we do think that the result must be that new legislation must eventually be brought in in order to bring about changes in the railway system. We 1691 should like to know what is the intention of the Board of Trade with regard to that aspect of the matter. I have one other complaint to make, and that is that we think the Board of Trade has been a good deal too lenient with these great corporations in regard to the question of conciliation. The Board in a sort of compulsory manner brought about the establishment of conciliation boards. We are very dissatisfied with the position as it stands today. We are dissatisfied because the Board Of Trade has failed to assume sufficient responsibility for what they have done, seeing that in 1907 they brought pressure to bear on these great railway companies to establish these Boards. I desire the right hon. Gentleman to look into this matter which concerns a very large body of the working classes of this country and see if he cannot do something to bring about an improved state of affairs.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I desire to associate myself with the appeal Made by my hon. Friend to the President of the Board of Trade to seriously consider the points he has raised. There was a question whether the Board of Trade would help the seamen and firemen in the establishment of conciliation boards. I can only say that, much as I welcome conciliation, and keenly as I have supported the principle of conciliation and arbitration, I have no hesitation in asserting the general experience of railway men in this country has been such that to-day they would abolish the present system. When you remember that some of us have had considerable difficulty in fighting for this principle I think this House ought to seriously recognise the gravity of the situation and encourage the Board of Trade, if they think they have not the power to compel railway companies to recognise their side of the bargain, to come to this House and ask for additional powers. It is perfectly true that working agreements are becoming a danger. Last year the railway companies of this country carried millions of tons more merchandise and millions more passengers and added over £1,000,000 to their revenues as compared with the year before.
Last year there were thousands less railway men employed in handling the traffic than were employed twelve months before. As a matter of fact, from the returns that we have obtained it appears that in the railway service to-day there are nearly 10,000 less men employed than were em- 1692 ployed ten years ago. That is exclusively brought about by the working agreements and amalgamations between railways which have taken place, and which, in our opinion, are contrary to public policy. Therefore we say that if we are to be face to face with one huge monopoly run in the interests of dividend earning exclusively, then we stand for the complete State ownership of railways.
I want to ask the House to notice the difference of treatment that railway men receive as compared with any other class of worker. As was pointed out just now there was an accident on the Metropolitan Railway some three or four months ago. The driver was burned to death, and with that same engine within five years three other men also were burned to death, and two were maimed for life. That was all with that one class of engine on one railway. We felt that there must be something seriously wrong in this matter. We felt that here was a position that was dangerous to these unfortunate men who have to work that engine. The result was that we asked the Board of Trade to hold an inquiry. One was sanctioned and I myself attended to represent the interests of the men. But immediately I got to the premises there was a notice from the general manager to the local superintendent to say that I was not to be allowed on them to examine that engine although I was a practical man. It is the practice, however, in the case of an accident in a mine, for the Government mines inspector to allow all representatives of miners the privilege of attending the scene of the accident. In another case, in which twenty-two passengers lost their lives, I attended the inquest and the Board of Trade inquiry, but although serious issues were involved in that inquiry, not only to the men but to the travelling public, I was not allowed to go and see exactly what took place, and I had to get there in the night in order to be in a position to defend the interests of the men at the Board of Trade inquiry. I submit that that is something which this House should not tolerate. Can hon. Members conceive for a moment the position of the engine driver or signalman or guard who is involved in an accident? The man may lose his job, because it invariably happens that he will get the sack, but notwithstanding the fact that he is to be punished in this manner and that, further, a question of manslaughter may be involved, yet someone to represent hint is not allowed to be present.
1693 We claim to be in attendance as representing the men, and being practical men ourselves we are then in a position to put questions and bring out evidence that materially assists the interests of those whom we represent. The Board of Trade are powerless in this matter, although they are repeatedly called upon to give privileges and powers to railway companies; and the attitude which some of the companies take up is that even when the Board of Trade inspector arrives and he finds us there the railway company object to our presence, and they immediately ask the inspector to engage a room at a hotel in order to conduct an inquiry. I urge upon the Board of Trade, if it is not possible to bring the railway companies to realise the seriousness of the position and the strength of our case, then legislation should be introduced which would give the Department power to interfere in a question of this kind. My hon. Friend has pointed out that there were 420 railway men killed last year, and if there were only half that number of passengers killed neither the Board of Trade nor any other Department would hesitate to take action, and surely because it happens to be a humble worker, a signalman or a guard who happens to be mowed down, it is not right that no particular notice should be taken of these accidents. But I come to a far more important question than either of those to which I referred. Up to 1907 I think it was recognised that the railways of this country were practically the safest places to be on. Railway accidents, so far as passengers were concerned, were practically at a minimum, and the general assumption was that this was due to the efficiency of the railway servants, and I entirely agree with that. But following 1907 we have had three or four very serious railway accidents. There was the terrible Ormskirk disaster, the Hawes Junction disaster of last year, and we had the Pontypridd disaster.
The remarkable thing is that, although there was a large number of people killed in those railway accidents the Government inspector who inquired into their causes without exception attributed them to the failure of a particular rule. He said the cause of those accidents is the result of the railway men themselves failing to observe what is known as rule 55. I am going to submit that whilst it is true that the strict observance of this rule 55 might have averted these accidents still it is impossible under modern conditions of railway life to give effect to that particular rule, 1694 I am going to submit that that rule is not only obsolete but is absolutely impracticable, and the result is that following these accidents the railway companies have so harassed and intimidated the railwaymen that the men themselves do not know what to do in order to save their own positions, and it is a most remarkable thing that the Government inspectors themselves are not very clear on the point. Major Pringle, who investigated the Hawes Junction disaster, said that in his opinion the rule required further elaboration, although he condemned the men for not observing it. Then again at Ormskirk, where a large number of people were killed, what happened? Colonel Drew there said that as far as he is concerned he is satisfied that the rule is perfectly clear and well understood. But when you find two inspecting officers appointed by a Department paid out of public funds to investigate and inquire into accidents of this description, and such a serious difference of opinion exists between them, then I do submit that it is too much to expect the humble railwayman to understand what even the Government inspectors are not agreed upon.
Further than that there is considerable difference of opinion even amongst the railway officials themselves. I had drawn to my notice a case only a few days ago where on one of our Scotch railways, following this Pontypridd disaster, an inspector was sent round to the signal cabin to inform the signalman that any man who, as driver or fireman, failed to observe rule 55 was to be immediately reported. The signalman turned to the man who was giving these orders at once, and said, "Will you tell me how long a man is to stay at the signal before he sends his mate, to warn the signalman?" And the inspector said, "I do not know." To which the signalman replied, "No more do I." And that is really so, and it is the fact that neither railwaymen nor inspectors are unanimous on the point, and while this rule is supposed to govern the safety of the travelling public it is not really understood, although it is always held that the railwaymen have not observed it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will the hon. Gentleman read the rule?"] It is rather long to read, but I will explain it. The rule was introduced following the Norton FitzWarren accident, which was a very terrible one, and it was attributed to the signalman forgetting for a moment that there was a train on his road. The result was that this rule 55 was introduced, which made 1695 it compulsory on the part of either the fireman or the guard, immediately their train ran up to a signal, to proceed to the signal-box at once, in order to act as a reminder to the signalman that they were there, the ostensible object being that the fireman or the guard should go into the box and say to the signalman, "My train is here," and this would prevent the signalman from letting another train through which might run into the rear of that train.
The object of the rule was to act purely as a reminder to the signalman in that way. In the Pontypridd disaster, which I have already mentioned, the Government inspector draws attention to the fact that there was in this signal-box just prior to the accident one of the railway inspectors, and this inspector was somewhat interfering with the signalman doing his duty, and the Government inspector, in his report, says, that he condemns the practice of the inspectors going to the signal-box at all, because, to use his own words, he says, "It is beyond human nature to expect that the signalman would not talk to the inspector, and therefore he would have his attention detracted from his work." That is what the Government inspector says. With regard to the carrying out of this rule, I had a letter less than an hour ago, and a signalman in one of the most responsible boxes on the Midland system says that only last week, between the hours of two and six there were over thirty men in his box carrying out this rule, and at one time there were ten in the box together. A Government inspector says it is dangerous for the signalman to be interfered with in his duty. He says it must detract from his work, and here we have a rule in operation which enables ten men at one given moment to be in the signal box interfering with the signalman in his work. I went to Pontypridd myself in order to conduct the case for the men, and here again this rule came up, and under cross-examination the signalman of one box admitted that it was possible for him to have nine men in his box at one moment, and the signalman at the other end admitted that it was possible for him to have seven men in his box at the same moment, all interfering with the signalman doing his work, and, therefore, I submit that while this rule was instituted for the purpose of aiding signalmen, under modern conditions, not only does it not aid them but it is a danger to them and to the travelling public.
1696 I go further than that, and I say it is dangerous in another way. The very man who was burned to death on the Metropolitan Railway a few months ago last November was running a passenger train on the Metropolitan Railway loaded with passengers, and he told me he had a, young lad with him as fireman. It was a bad foggy day, and they ran up to a signal box and he had, according to this rule, to send this young lad to the signal box. In order to get to it he had to cross five sets of rails, three of them live rails, which if he had stepped on he would have been a dead man, and rather than carry out this rule and risk the life of this young lad he refused to allow him to go to the box, but ran the risk of punishment instead. I could mention hundreds of places on every railway in the country to-day where any fireman or guard who has to proceed to the signal box in foggy weather or in the night time, crossing dozens of metals to get there, risks his life, and any rule which compels a man to expose himself to that danger cannot be justified. But let me take the other point. On the Great Central Railway, near Barnsley, following one of these accidents which I have mentioned, the men decided strictly to give effect to this rule, although they knew it would cause delays and so on. One of the men arrived at a station, and he was ordered into a siding for the purpose of picking up some waggons. He said, "No, I must carry out Rule 55." He went to the stationmaster, and said, "I want you to carry out Rule 55, because I have to leave my train on the main line, and either I have to proceed to the signal-box myself or do the shunting. You tell me you will carry out Rule 55 and I will do the shunting." The stationmaster reported him, and he was punished for awkward working, simply because he knew perfectly well that he would cause delay. He had to run the risk of making himself objectionable to the stationmaster, and was punished because he was endeavouring to give literal effect to the rule. All this shows the absolute absurdity of the whole position, and I think it shows that it is for the Board of Trade to see that some alteration takes place.
One other point. Here we find a railway man who has to choose between breaking one or two rules. In the Pontypridd disaster the men by a rule in the rule-book were forbidden to do anything to their engine while the train was in motion. It meant that they simply had to do what work they had immediately the 1697 train stopped. They had to choose then between breaking the rule which says they must not do it while they are running in order to give effect to this Rule 55 when they stopped at a signal-box. All these things show that some alteration is necessary, and I am going to submit that the alteration that is necessary and what the Board of Trade ought to do is to immediately abolish this rule and compel railway companies to adopt one of the many mechanical appliances which are in operation to-day. It is no excuse to talk of the enormous cost. Cost in life is more important than cost in money. Since this particular disaster the men have been harassed and punished and dismissed, and they are in that state that they do not know what any day will bring forth; and in this state of mind, with this continual harassing and this pressure from all quarters, more accidents are likely to arise, and, therefore, again I say in the interests of the travelling public it is necessary for the Board of Trade to take action. I may have spoken very plainly on the matter, but I know the circumstances, I know how the men feel, I know how they suffer, and I believe there is a real danger, not only to the men but to the travelling public as well; therefore I ask that the Board of Trade in this matter shall not hesitate to press for fresh legislation. If railway companies will not do their duty in this matter, if they will not place the high value on human lives that they ought to do, it is for the Board of Trade to come to the House and get additional powers in order to compel them to do so.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Buxton)
I am obliged to my hon. Friends for the way in which they have spoken of the action of the Board of Trade. They have in some respects criticised the action of the Board of Trade, and in some cases what they are pleased to call its inaction, but generally I think they feel, and the first speaker appreciated, that in these matters the Board of Trade is endeavouring to bring about a better state of affairs and conditions of service under our great railway companies. My hon. Friend who spoke second seemed to think that the remarks of himself and other hon. Members representing the constituencies that he does would not bear great weight. I can assure him that that is an entire mistake, and I am quite sure, not only speaking as President of the Board of Trade, but as a Member of the House, that the House, and certainly the 1698 Government Department which I represent, attach very great weight to the observations and criticisms and remarks of hon. Gentlemen like the two who have just spoken, having an intimate knowledge as they have of the particular matters with which they are dealing. I can assure them that I welcome very much the observations that they have made, and that in this matter, as in all others, it is not only the duty of the Board of Trade, but it is certainly generally to the advantage of the country that we should give due and adequate weight to their representation. My hon. Friend (Mr. Wardle) raised the question of hours, but he did not dwell on it, because, as he said correctly, there has been and is still continuing, a gradual reduction in the hours of our railway servants. That is from every point of view a most satisfactory feature, and I agree with him that as the complexity of the working of the railway companies increases, so side by side with it there ought to be a gradual reduction of hours, because it is obvious that the more complicated the work, the greater the pressure during the hours of labour, therefore I am very glad there has been this reduction of hours and that it is proceeding. Both hon. Members dwelt on the question of accidents and pointed out the very serious position, and they quoted some figures, showing the number of fatal accidents and the number of non-fatal accidents. Though I do not wish in any sense to depreciate what they said or to minimise the importance of the question, I should like to point this out, and I think it will be satisfactory to the House, that, as regards fatal accidents, at all events, there has been of late years, especially in the last ten years, a very substantial reduction. I find that the average in the years from 1895 to 1904 was one fatal accident for every 665 railway servants employed. In 1909, the last year for which we have returns, the number was one in 1,093 persons. That is a substantial reduction. My hon. Friend said while there has been a reduction in the fatal accidents there has been an increase in the non-fatal accidents. I am afraid that is so to a certain extent, but the figures he quoted are not quite germane, because the basis on which these returns are made has been altered of late, and a larger number of smaller accidents are brought in now than before, and though I do not deny that there has been an increase, I do not think the proportional increase is quite so great as he represented. But I say emphati- 1699 cally this matter of accidents, and the large number of non-fatal accidents as well as fatal accidents, is one which requires the careful attention of the House and the careful watching and attention of the Board of Trade, and I am sure such representations as we make and such improvements as we suggest to the great railway companies will be adequately and sympathetically considered.
My hon. Friend made one or two suggestions. The first was that the number of inspectors should be increased, and he compared the number of inspectors in mines and factories. I do not think the position of mines and factories, regarding inspection, is quite the same. That is inspection quite as much from the point of view of seeing conditions carried out as from the point of view of the prevention of accidents. But so far as we are concerned at the present moment we have not found that our staff of inspectors, assistant inspectors, and sub-inspectors is insufficient to cope with the work.
We receive returns showing the number of accidents which take place, and in regard to many of the accidents reported to us inquiry is made and the circumstances are investigated. So far as our present position is concerned, we do not think that an increase in the staff would be justified. We do not think that there is really enough work for additional inspectors to do in the matter of examination into the accidents which occur. This is a matter which I shall bear in mind, for it is one which ought to be considered with the greatest care. If we should find that it is necessary to increase our staff of inspectors, I should not hesitate for a moment to ask the Treasury to sanction such an increase in the personnel. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) in his final remarks dwelt upon what is called Clause 55. I agree with him entirely with regard to the importance of that Clause. Roughly, as he explained to the House, it is this. Rule 55 is a general rule of the railway companies. It is not a rule made by the Board of Trade. It is a general rule agreed to by the various companies in consultation, and it is one which they enforce under their own regulations. The Board of Trade has no absolute control with respect to it. Under this rule it is the duty of the fireman or guard of a train against which there is a danger signal to remind the signalman of the 1700 position of the train, the object being that the signalman should not forget about it, and that he should send it on at the proper moment. The rule as it exists at present, broadly and roughly, lays down that in any such case either the fireman or guard of a train should go to the signal box and inform the signalman of the position of the train. Another point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby is one in regard to which I agree with him, namely, that the wording of the rule itself is somewhat obscure. Rules of that sort are drawn up, perhaps, by some legal person, and are not easy to understand, especially by persons who are not highly educated. My hon. Friend has said that the language of that rule is obscure. I have had the rule under careful consideration for some time past, and I have made representations to the railway companies on two points to which my hon. Friend referred.
In the first place there is the difficulty which was pointed out of observing the rule at crowded places and at places which are great distances from signal boxes. It has been pointed out that this might lead to endangering the fireman or guard who has to go from his train to the signal-box. Without professing to have technical knowledge of these matters, I would say further that I was also impressed with the statement that in many cases where you have a signal box at which there are a good many of these trains you may have a number of men in the signal box at a particular moment. It seems to me that that is not the best method of ensuring that the signalman is carrying out his duties and giving proper attention to the trains. Now, fortunately, there are great improvements in mechanical, telephonic, and electric communication, and it appeared to us that more might be done by the great railway companies to avoid the necessity of these firemen or guards going to the signal boxes. There ought to be, or might be, mechanical communication with the signal man instead of the fireman or guard having to go to the signal box. I am glad to say that some of our railway companies have already set a very good example in this matter and have done a great deal to get rid of the objections by themselves providing in various parts those mechanical appliances. But in some cases they have not done so, while in other cases they might have done more than they have done. Having considered the matter very carefully from the point of view of the safety of the public and also 1701 from the point of view of the safety of railway men and the great advantage which these improvements would give to the service, I communicated with all the great railway companies, pointing out two things. I will read two paragraphs in that communication which are really germane to this point:—I am directed to suggest that the companies would do well to consider whether there are not many places where, owing to the frequency of detention, or to the distance of the signals from the signal-box, it would add to the safety both of the travelling public and of the companies' employés, if mechanical or electrical appliances were introduced so as to render it unnecessary for the fireman or guard to proceed to the signal-box….It would also appear to be for consideration whether the wording of Rule 55 could not usefully be made more precise in certain particulars, so as to remove so far as possible all chances of misunderstanding.We have had replies from some of the companies. I know from these communications that, having had their attention drawn to the matter in this way, they are anxious to meet us as far as they can, and I am sure that the communication sent to them by the Board will lead to satisfactory results. That communication was sent on the 12th April last. I would point out that in the case of the Board of Trade the actual letter sent is often a very small part of the actual communications which have taken place with the companies. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby said the Board of Trade ought to compel the companies to carry out this proposition. Of course he knows that we have not at present any power to do so. I hope it will not be necessary even to consider the question whether power should be asked for that purpose. So far as I am concerned, I am pretty confident that, attention having been drawn to the matter, something will be done. A debate of this sort is always useful in connection with these questions. I hope we shall be able to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Reference has also been made to the position of the men's representatives at the various inquiries which take place. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby especially complained of what had occurred in one instance.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I only cited cases where our representatives were not allowed the facilities which we think they ought to have.
§ Mr. BUXTON
There is an opportunity for the men to make representations. I think my hon. Friend said that there was a particular class of engine which had been an exceptional cause of accidents, and he 1702 wished to have the opportunity of representing the men as an expert in this matter. He wished to have, an opportunity of seeing this engine, and he was refused that opportunity.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
No, it is a much broader and more comprehensive question than that. Here is the position. If there was an accident to-morrow, even with twenty people killed, and if, presumably, railwaymen were involved, they should be represented at the inquiry. If a Board of Trade inquiry is held, the representatives of the company can be there. They can have legal representatives there. The men have the right to go to the Board of Trade inspector and say that they wish to have representation at the inquiry. They appoint me to attend the inquiry. Immediately I attend, if the inquiry is held on the company's premises, or on the other hand, if the Government inspector desires to examine the spot, where the accident happened—as in the Shrewsbury case, where the whole train was derailed, and the whole thing depended on what was seen after the accident—the railway company can say, "No, we will not allow the representative of the men to come on our premises." In hundreds of cases the Board of Trade inspectors have to engage and pay for a room at a hotel in order that the representatives of the men may be able to attend. The railway companies cannot object to our being present at an inquiry, but they cover their refusal by objecting to our being on their premises.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BUXTON
My hon. Friend has spoken on broader grounds, and perhaps it is better that the matter should be discussed on the broader grounds. If the members of the union, or the representative of the union, wish to be represented at an inquiry, our inspectors are always willing that they should be so represented. As regards the statement that the men are objected to when an inquiry is held on the premises of a railway company, I should like to make some further inquiry, for I am informed that objection is not taken so generally or broadly as my hon. Friend seems to think. It is a matter which I shall certainly inquire further into in order to ascertain what is the attitude of the companies in regard to it. Another matter was raised by my hon. Friend (Mr. Wardle), namely, the, pressure on the men. He said that the number of men employed has not increased in proportion to the reduction in the number of hours of labour, and that therefore the 1703 pressure was increased upon them. My hon. Friend knows that a Departmental Committee has been sitting for some time under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for South Shields. They have presented a report, which we are now considering, and I think my hon. Friend will not expect me at such comparatively short notice to make any communication to the Committee as to how far we accept the report as to the lines on which we should go. But I can assure him that it is not the case that the report is being given the go-by, and though we cannot deal with it exactly in this Session, I hope that later on we shall be able to make certain proposals to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby referred in only a sentence or two to the question of the Conciliation Board which was established some years ago. If he will allow me to say so, I regret the terms in which he referred to that Board, because he said it is believed that the men themselves regret that this Board has been set up and that they would like really to get rid of it. I hope that that really is not the attitude which after further consideration and further experience they will take up when the matter comes up for revision, because, while it is outside our responsibility, I think it really has been of considerable value to the men from the point of view of improving their condition and giving them a voice and a certain control in matters affecting them, and I should be very sorry indeed to think, while undoubtedly parts of it have not come up to expectations and there has keen a certain amount of friction in regard to it, that it should not be considered as an experiment in the right direction; and I hope that as opportunity serves of improving it, they will accept it, at all events, as a basis for a fuller settlement of their claims. As my hon. Friend is aware, when the Conciliation Board was established it was clone necessarily under terms of great urgency, and the fact that it was not so complete as it would have been if it could have been done after longer preparation and under circumstances of less pressure, is no condemnation either of the scheme or of those who carried it through. I hope that my hon. Friend, on reflection, will feel that it is a scheme which should not be readily condemned and which both sides should cooperate in the future in making as workable as possible. I have endeavoured to 1704 deal with the various points raised by my two hon. Friends. I listened with interest to the speeches they have made, and within the limits of the Board of Trade and the desire on the part of the great railway companies to deal with these matters in a friendly spirit, we shall certainly endeavour as far as it is in our power to carry out the duties that devolve upon us.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I have listened with very great interest to the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Trade, and I fully appreciate the efforts he is making with regard to the matters which have been brought to his notice by my two hon. Friends. There is, however, one important point upon which he has said very little and upon which I should like to have more information. The Railway Prevention of Accidents Act of 1900 was passed for the purpose of safeguarding life and limb in many important respects. There was an effort made, and made, I believe, with great industry and great interest, by the Board of Trade for a considerable time with regard to brakes upon wagons and with regard to couplings. I should like to ask the Board of Trade whether their interest in the matter has ceased or whether they are continuing to press it forward. I remember that we had one or two cases brought before the Railway and Canal Commission on this important question and I believe that a great deal of good accrued therefrom. About two years after the passing of the Act all the energies of the Board of Trade apparently ceased, and since that time we have been left with brief reports from a departmental Committee as to what has been done. This afternoon it was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) that in the Report of 1910 there were reported 2,172 accidents due to failures in couplings. This in itself at least ought to have been prominently before the State Department. One important matter dealt with by the Commission of 1899 which reported to Parliament in 1900 was the question of an improved system of coupling. This question is being revived now by accidents actually occurring.
No doubt a large number of them have been breaks away due, of course, to the changed system of loading trains, owing to the larger engines used; and the larger freight train naturally involves a greater amount of strain not only upon the coupling but upon all the draw gear of the 1705 traffic. Undoubtedly here we have one of the causes. But this in itself, which is in the Blue Book and which gives us the statistical position respecting the accidents which occur ought at least to alarm the Board of Trade Department. Owing to the evolution of a system of traffic manipulation upon our railways by the larger type, commonly known as the Atlantic type of engine, which takes anything from fifty to 100 wagons on an ordinary train, as against a previous maximum of fifty, the old system of coupling is subjected to such a great strain that accidents are the natural sequence to the alteration. I would ask the President of the Board of Trade what the Department really intend doing in this matter. We have at the present time something beyond what might be termed a very expensive system of automatic couplings in this country. We have had on the east coast now for some time what is commonly known in engineering parlance as the buck-eyed coupling. It has been in use between Edinburgh and London for a number of years. It is quite true that it has changed in its phases of mechanism, but it is there in actual use. It is also true that we have a class of waggon coming into existence in railway traffic to-day which has, I think, a carrying capacity of from seven and eight and ten tons up to fifty tons and even a greater carrying capacity. It is natural that the old class of couplings will not meet the requirements in these cases.
I wish to point out there is greater necessity to-day than there was in the year 1899 for considering the whole matter of a changed system of couplings. Those of us connected with railway lines who have been through the arguments and sat upon commissions and inquiries into this matter know that the one obstacle, and the only obstacle, in the way of a new invention of coupling to-day is the matter of cost, and they, the companies, have admitted that over and over again. I ask the President to look at the number of accidents of this character, 2,172, which occurred during 1910, and to consider whether it is not advisable to push this matter with greater energy than was displayed by one of his predecessors who set up that Commission is 1899. I think that also the question of "both-side" brakes has to some extent been passed over in a way that seems to satisfy the railway companies, but you have got to satisfy both sides on this question. You have not got the uni- 1706 form pattern that was strongly recommended by the Commission that reported in 1890. You have not got that uniformity in system throughout the country that is desirable. Accidents upon our railways and to the men employed there to a considerable extent occur in the shunting yard, and in the case of men employed as guards and brakesmen they are often due to the different type of waggon that is continually moving between one company and another by the interchange of traffic It is not at all unusual to have in one of our shunting yards waggons belonging to almost every company in the United Kingdom at one and the same time, and all of different standards. And I think we should look at the matter from the point of view from which the Americans looked at it a number of years ago, and that is in reference to the question of standardising. That which was still spoken of in 1899, under what is called Lord James's Commission, which in itself would do a great deal to minimise the accidents that occur, and if working agreements, which are very near to amalgamation, are to be allowed to continue really there should be a much greater responsibility placed upon the companies in this respect than has hitherto been the case.
Only a few years ago it was stated in the Press by a railway manager that the time was not far distant when you would not know where one company ended and the other began. If that is to be our experience, we should have a distinction made as regards stock which tends and would tend to the well-being of those who work. With regard to the question of inspectors, I was very glad to hear that the President of the Board of Trade was so willing to lend an attentive ear to our representations on this matter, and that if he saw the necessity of augmenting the number of inspectors, he would willingly approach the Treasury for the money necessary in order to do so. At the present time I think there are in the railway department of the Board of Trade three chief inspectors, two assistant inspectors, and four sub-inspectors. I have not the least doubt that they are fully engaged in their different classes of inquiry into accidents, but one of the obstacles in the way of getting inquiries as to the laying down of lines, and generally looking into matters so as to prevent accidents, is that the department has not got sufficient men to discharge the duty of making inquiry. In the case of altering the boxing-in of points, and altering what 1707 we term the loose levers of points, it is quite true that after 1900 there were some inquiries made by the inspectors, but since that time such inquiries apparently have ceased altogetheer. It is an old axiom, and I believe a very good one, that prevention is better than cure. We had better have an inquiry in order to prevent an accident, rather than an inquiry after the accident. This is the old story that we have brought forward, I know, for a number of years, but, except in an intermittent sense, we have never had any adoption of the principle of inquiry. I think it might be taken up in real earnest, for I feel sure that a great deal of good would be accomplished by the institution of such inquiries as I suggest. I Was indeed pleased to listen to the right hon. Gentleman on the question of what is known as rule 55, which, as he truly says, is the railway companies' rule, and has the sanction of the Railway Clearing House. It is one of a uniform character adopted by all the railway companies of any importance in the United Kingdom, a circumstance which in itself makes it even more difficult to obtain a reform.
No removal of obscure language from the rule would cure the root-cause of our objection. There must be a substitution of something of a different character to meet the situation. I believe the circumstance which gave rise to the framing of this rule was what is known as the Thirsk accident of 1894; and since then it has grown into what it has now become— namely, a general rule affecting all railway companies, and sanctioned by the Railway Clearing House. It appears that nothing short of some mechanical appliance will obviate the necessity altogether of responsibility resting either on the driver, the fireman, or the guard for carrying out this rule. As has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, at large and important junctions it is practically impossible to carry out the rule. I do hope that this matter will be taken up very earnestly by the Board of Trade, not with a view to seeing how the rule can be made more clear to the men, because the men already understand it, but in order that the impracticability of carrying out the rule may be obviated. That is the difficulty which is now experienced in regard to it, and it is not the misunderstanding of it. We want something as a substitute for the rule, in order to remove responsibility from the driver, the fireman, or the 1708 guard, in the case of trains. I suggest that the position might be met by the introduction of some improved mechanical appliance, which I think is not beyond the ingenuity of man. Indeed, there are many signal-boxes which have the electrified rail and which contain various devices which could be usefully substituted for our present method, which at its best is a most clumsy one. I would urge the President of the Board of Trade to press this view upon the representatives of railway companies. After all, it is only a question of cost, and the cost would not be very great, while it would mean a great deal for the safety of all concerned. It is not merely a matter of saving life and limb among the men employed, but it is a matter of saving life and limb among vast numbers of the public who use our railways.
In some instances, even now, we have indicators at work in various signal boxes, and there is an electric apparatus in use as well. I am sure if representations were made by the Board of Trade to the representatives of the railway companies through the Railways Association, something could be soon devised which would meet our requirements in this important matter. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the sympathy and help that he has given us so far, and I do hope that he will still further assist us by pressing these matters on the attention of those concerned. On the question of Conciliation Boards, I do not think it is necessary that I should assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am in favour of the principle of conciliation. We have had four years experience of the Board of Trade scheme of 1907, and we are very desirous that the companies should show themselves more amenable on their side than they have hitherto been in regard to the working of it. That has been one of our greatest difficulties. All parties if they are desirous of giving practical effect to the principle of conciliation should see, before the next three years expire, the necessity of amending this scheme to such an extent that it will be made truly practicable and workable. One of the greatest sores which naturally irritate the men is that, from the time the scheme was adopted, it has taken about two years to get a case before the Conciliation Board. It is impossible that conciliation can give satisfaction under such conditions. I do not blame the Board of Trade for all this. There is lack of knowledge on both sides, probably, with regard to the handling of the concilia- 1709 tion scheme, and then there is the unwillingness of the railway companies to fail into line and make the best of it. It must also be clearly seen that the whole scheme, with all its routine, is a cumbersome and slow process, and the whole matter, indeed, requires revision from top to bottom in order to produce what is a real and honest system of conciliation. If action be taken from that point of view, I believe there will be no difficulty in getting the men to fall in with it.
§ Sir FORTESCUE FLANNERY
I think it would be a pity if the very clear, the very lucid, and very sympathetic statement of the right hon. Gentleman were passed over without a word of agreement from this side of the House, and without some indication of what I believe to be the very general acceptance by the House of the ideas to which the right hon. Gentleman gave utterance. As regards the first point to which attention was called by the hon. Gentleman opposite, namely, the question of Rule 55, when I interrupted him to ask him to explain the rule to the House, I did so in no spirit of antagonism towards him, but because I felt that it would help to elucidate the point he was bringing forward if he gave some extracts from the rule itself. I wish to endorse what the hon. Member has spoken of, namely, that it is quite possible at no immoderate expense to organise a system of signalling which might enable the driver or guard to communicate with the signal-box so that there would be a permanent or passing record there of the presence of his train. I feel certain that with the quick progress of mechanical development it would be found that even now there are more than one proposal of a mechanical kind which will enable that method of warning to be carried out. I am sure the House will be glad to hear that the matter is receiving the full and immediate attention of the right hon. Gentleman.
As to the other point raised by the hon. Member for Derby, namely, as to access by mechanical advisers or representatives of interested parties to the machinery, I do not think that there is really any desire on the part of railway companies to obstruct the proper investigation on the part of interested persons. There is no doubt whatever that it is the right of those who are injured, or the survivors, to have a thorough mechanical investigation and to know all the circumstances which would throw light on the cause of any 1710 accident, and which would prevent accidents occurring in the future, not necessarily in the capacity of a trade union official, but in the capacity of mechanical and expert advisers upon the subject. I feel certain that the inspectors of the Board of Trade will, under the instructions of the Board, assist in obtaining those facilities in the future. I think it is very much to the advantage of proper inquiry and investigation that the hon. Member for Derby has called attention to that subject. The right hon. Gentleman, whilst he expressed sympathy as to the two points to which I have just referred, did not, if I may venture to say so, deal in a similar manner with the point that occupied most of the observations of the hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate. I refer to the maxim that "Prevention is better than cure." I refer to the fact, which the figures of the right hon. Gentleman confirm, that whilst in the eight years from 1901 to 1909 the number of fat al accidents has decreased, yet the number of minor accidents, non-fatal accidents, has enormously increased. There were less than 15,000 minor accidents in the year 1901, and, according to the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Derby, more than 25,000 minor accidents in the year 1909.
§ Mr. BUXTON
Those were calculated on a somewhat different basis, and the number is not quite so much as represented by those figures.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
The right hon. Gentleman did say that there was a difference in the mode of tabulation, but he does admit that the difference is great, and, not having the data before him, he is not able to explain the enormous increase from less than 15,000 to over 25,000 in the annual number of minor accidents. What do these figures point to? They point to the fact that there is not enough inspection on the part of the Board of Trade independent of the companies, of our railway systems. The right hon. Gentleman is the head of the system of precautions against accidents on railways, and he is also the head, through the Board of Trade, of the system of precautions against accidents in steamships. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to compare in a general way, even with the information which he has in his mind at the present moment, without necessarily referring to his Department, the number of inspectors, or surveyors as they are called, who are under the Board of Trade in regard 1711 to steamships, and the number of steamships there are as compared with the amount of traffic on the railways. He will find that the number of inspectors in the Marine Department of the Board of Trade relatively to the amount of passenger traffic and goods traffic is enormously greater with regard to the machinery and structure of ships than it is on railways, having regard to the railway system. In other words, the railway companies have permission under the system of the Board of Trade to deal with their own mechanical appliances very much more than the British shipowner has.
The British shipowner has to undergo an examination of a ship carrying passengers once a year, and an examination of the most detailed character. The whole difference between the railway system and the steamship system in relation to the Board of Trade is that the steamship owners are under tutelage and inspection and Government guidance through the Board of Trade every twelvemonths in almost every detail of the structure of their ships, whereas railway companies have no corresponding amount of inspection. Rather is the system with the railway companies a system of inquiry after accidents for the purpose of finding out the causes and, no doubt, with the object of preventing similar casualties in the future. The system in the steamship companies is a system of prevention rather than cure. The result is, excepting accidents from dangers of navigation, the safety even at sea of both passengers and officials from accidents owing to machinery, or from defects in the structure of ships is proportionately very much less than in the case of, I was going to say, all the railways, but certainly some of them. The House received with extreme satisfaction the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that if more inspectors were required he would do his best to make representations to the Treasury, and that if the House would sanction an arrangement such as that to increase the inspectors it would have his sympathetic consideration. I believe more than that is required. I believe what is required is that this all-powerful Government, which initiates every movement in the country and in the House, should initiate a movement with regard to this. I believe what is required is not, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that the House should desire more inspectors, a desire which he would willingly meet, but that what is required 1712 is that the right hon. Gentleman, through the Board of Trade, should take the matter fully into consideration, and raise the number of inspectors under the Board of Trade to something like what is required to give a proportionate amount of inspection, and ensure prevention rather than cure, and making sure of the removal of defects rather than inquiries into the cause after the accidents have taken place.
One word about the observations of the hon. Member for Stockport, who, I am sorry, has left the House, about the Conciliation Boards. He said that he would prefer to destroy the whole system of conciliation as shown by the existing Boards. I dissent altogether, and I believe the great bulk of the railway men dissent, from a sentiment of that kind. I believe that in some of the railways, at all events, and I speak from some experience as a regular traveller on the Great Eastern, that the desire is to improve and to elaborate the system of Conciliation Boards, rather than to destroy that system. That system was established by the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman at the Board of Trade, and it has worked on the whole extremely well. It has saved many disputes and it has very largely fulfilled the object of conciliation between employer and employed. What is required, as the hon. Member for Newcastle said, is to improve the details of that system rather than to have its destruction. I believe the public generally and the railway men desire to continue that system and to improve it instead of destroying it. Something was said about working agreements between railway companies. I think it was stated by the hon. Member for Stockport that there were 10,000 men less employed on the railway now than there were at some other period that he named, though the traffic had increased. That in itself is something to be deplored since one desires to see as much employment on railways as elsewhere as one possibly can; but, after all, the great object of railways is the convenience and safe service of the public, and no one can deny that working agreements between railway companies, some of whom hitherto worked in antagonism to each other, is desirable. In the interests of the public, for the convenience of traffic both passengers and goods, in order to economise, which, after all, is in the interests of the public, and generally to avoid waste those working agreements of which we have heard so much are desirable and should be supported. I feel certain that on fuller consideration the hon. 1713 Member for Stockport will see that working agreements are a convenience to the public, and in the long run are in the interests of the men themselves. I end, as I began, by expressing the great satisfaction with which hon. Members on this side of the House have heard the sympathetic statement of the President of the Board of Trade, and with the hope, which I believe is general throughout the House, that he will give effect to that sympathy at the earliest possible moment, and that he will carry out the undertaking which he has been good enough to give.
§ Mr. PIRIE
I wish to take this opportunity while the memory of the recent discussion is still well before the House, to call attention to one or two points affecting the administration in Scotland. I had a question on the Paper to-day to the Prime Minister, in which I asked whether he could hold out any hope of a change in the system whereby in the discussion of Estimates under the present Government Ministers not directly responsible for the Departments about which the discussion takes place reply. He did not answer directly that question, but his answer more dwelt on the possibility and the hope that he might be able to give another day to the discussion. I thank him for, I cannot say the promise, but the hope, although I have very little anticipation of its being able to be carried into effect. What is at fault at the present moment is not so much the few hours we get for the discussion of the Scottish Estimates, but the fact that even of the few hours we get we are not able to make that full and ample opportunity which we could were the system on which they are discussed slightly altered, and were also the Minister directly responsible for the Department under discussion in this House. With regard to the treatment of these questions by the Lord Advocate, I have no hesitation in saying that his treatment of the questions brought before him this year added insult to injury. He actually declared that the Scottish system of Government was an excellent one. I, in common with many other Scotch Members, was absolutely astounded to hear any Member of the Government say that, when they are seeking for a complete change of the system of the Government of Scotland. How could he say it was an excellent one? I do not know whether the Lord Advocate approves of what was laid down with regard to the Government of Scotland by no less a person than the Member for Clackmannan (the Rt. Hon. 1714 E. Wason), Chairman of the Scottish Members of Parliament, who declared not long ago in this House that so long as the Scotch Members had the Prime Minister, the President of the Board of Trade, as he was then, and the Minister for War, all Scotch Members on the Front Bench, all the other Scotch Members had to do was to keep their tongues quiet, to say as little as possible, and they would get all they wanted. Perhaps that is what the Lord Advocate was thinking of when he said we have a good system of Government. All I have to say is that, in my opinion, it is the very antithesis of what the Government ought to be and is a model distinctly not to be followed. Therefore, mainly on account of the treatment which the Lord Advocate meted out on Tuesday, I make this protest against his whole attitude and his speeches.
I do not intend on this occasion to bring up the special personal grievance as regards my own Constituents on the question of trawling in the Moray Firth. I will not weary the House again, because it has heard a lot about the question, beyond saying this, that it is not so necessary to bring it up because the Lord Advocate, when the question was discussed, abandoned his former position without even waiting for attack. He made a complete capitulation of his former position and his former words and actions with regard to the question of prohibition and the effect upon the prevention of trawling in the prohibited waters. He admitted what he formerly denied, that the Act was not a success, that it did not prevent the foreign trawlers fishing. He abandoned his citadel. He did not defend it; he did not even wait to be attacked. I do object to one statement he made, and I will answer it now because I had no opportunity of answering it before owing to the lack of time. He called some of the trawlers "riff-raff trawlers."
§ Mr. PIRIE
The hon. Member says "Hear, hear," but; I ask him this—because I know he is a fair, impartial man—does he think it is a fair thing to call men "riff-raff trawlers" when one is a ship captain who has spent fifty-two years of his life at sea, and Captain Perry is sixty-one years of age, and has been fifty-two years at sea and master of a trawler forty-five years, during the whole of which time he had never yet been in a court of justice. Is that the class of man you call riff-raff?
Mr. CATHCART WASON
May I explain. I think the Lord Advocate was not referring to the poor men who were imprisoned, but rather to those disreputable people who sent out these poor men to the trawling.
§ Mr. PIRIE
I do not disagree so much with that, but the Lord Advocate very often, in his extraordinary flow of oratory and his method of oratory, is not quite so careful of the words he uses as he might be. I am sorry he is not here to hear me say this, but he is sometimes carried away by the exuberance of his verbosity, and in my opinion there was an example of that last Tuesday. Another point is that we have him again as the mouthpiece of the Secretary of Scotland making a statement with regard to loans for fishermen which proves to be erroneous. He declared that representations on that subject had not reached the Scottish Office. That error was pointed out by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Cowan) whilst he was in the House, and another Scottish Member produced a letter from Lord Pentland acknowledging that these representations were made, and yet the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had not the courtesy to acknowledge the error. These are facts which I find it very unpleasant, owing to my friendly relations with the Lord Advocate, to have to call attention to, and I only do so from a sense of duty to my Constituents. I deplore that this manner is increasing in the Lord Advocate of often speaking with utter irresponsibility with regard to some questions. I will not dwell upon the Moray Firth question. I shall be able to prove on another occasion by question and answer in much more detail that the Lord Advocate's answers have been completely at variance with his present attitude, and that he is completely in error in that matter. What we desire is more latitude. H we are going to have this system of giving us opportunity of Debate for only a few hours, more latitude ought to be allowed, and a general discussion should take place on the salary of the Secretary for Scotland. Much the same question arose last year as we have had this year, and I understood, after that, that there was an agreement and a promise that what took place last year would not be repeated this year, and by that agreement it would be so arranged that on the salary of the Secretary for Scotland a general discussion should take place, in order that at least on this, which is the only oppor- 1716 tunity the Scottish Members have of bringing forward their grievances, we should he allowed to make the most of it. That is surely not asking too much. But instead of that less time has been given this year than ever before. It is suggested to us, and it has been said to-day, "The remedy is in your own hands; put down the Vote you want for discussion." But the Scottish Estimates consist of twenty to twenty-five Votes. What is the use of putting them down in the order in which you want them discussed when you know that only the first one will have any chance of being discussed? The thing is ridiculous. There are votes on the Scottish Estimates which have not been discussed in the memory of any living Member of this House, and we are expected to go on under this system of mockery and deception, and deceiving the constituencies without any protest.
Some time ago I likened the whole thing to a pantomime. I was not allowed to complete my simile, but I think I may now be in order and be allowed to complete it. I likened this sort of discussion to a pantomime in which the Scottish people were the dupes, and the fools were the poor Scotch Members of Parliament, the harlequin was to be found here, and the only man absent was the clown, who was chuckling behind the scenes. We want the clown to be present here in this House, so that we could find fault on a Motion for a reduction of his salary. This is almost my last point. It is the only opportunity we have of calling attention to these questions, and I feel it quite unusual not to be called to order so far in making a speech on these matters. If that is allowed, we will be able to make more use of these occasions. Before we broke up for the holidays there was a discussion so far as the Scottish Estimates were concerned, and in my opinion what was out of order was ruled to be in order, and what was in order was ruled to be out of order. I do not blame anyone for that. It is impossible for anyone to be entirely familiar with the intricacies of Scotch business, unless he is a Scotchman himself. My last point is this. I do protest against the Scottish Members being deprived of direct contact with the Minister who is directly responsible on the Votes.
I shall be told perhaps even by some of my colleagues on this side of the House that I am bringing this up for personal motives. That is a very serious point, and I wish to deal with it, and I say this, that if it had not been for personal motives 1717 this question would have been brought up five years ago. If it had not been for personal motives five years ago, on the appointment of the Scotch Secretary to another place this question would have been brought up, and we have reluctantly refrained from bringing it up during all this time largely from personal motives and from personal friendship; but this cannot go on any longer. We are tired year by year of hoping we shall get a responsible Minister to answer for the Scottish Estimates. It is time that this parody and farce were stopped. If we were sitting on the other side of the House with a Conservative Government in power and with a Scottish Secretary in the House of Lords there would not be one of my colleagues who would not protest every month against such an arrangement. My only blame, and I blame myself for it, is that I have waited in a cowardly manner for five long years before bringing this matter up, largely because I did not want to be accused of personal motives. Now, Sir, I am accused by the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Price) and perhaps by some of my colleagues of personal motives in bringing this up now. We have had enough of it, and it is time we had plain speaking. I care not whether I am accused of personal motives or not, because in my own conscience I know that I am doing it from patriotic motives, from a motive of justice for Scotland, and from a motive of calling attention to a gross scandal.
§ Dr. HILLIER
I propose to trespass but very briefly upon the time of this assembly, but I desire to take one of the few opportunities that are afforded to the private Member to invite the attention of the House to what I hope I shall be able to convince hon. Members is an extremely important matter. It comes under the Vote now before us. I refer to the totally inadequate sum which is voted for the important purpose of the investigation of tropical diseases. I have one of those numerous reports which I am afraid it is more than humanly possible for the majority of the Members of this House to peruse, the Report of the Advisory Committee for the Tropical Diseases Research Fund for the year 1910.
I may mention that on this Committee are to be found some of the most distinguished scientists in this country, notably two men who have distinguished themselves in this particular branch of research, Sir Patrick Manson and Major Ronald Ross. 1718 There are various other well-known men connected with the committee, the chairman of which is Sir J. West Ridgeway. In the course of their report for 1910, which was the last one issued, the committee refer to the factthat the annual grant is insufficient…it was necessary to draw upon our balance…it is very important that the stuns at our disposal should be, largely increased in view of the many questions which urgently require further research…The Committee have noticed with interest the steps which have been taken to combat malaria in tropical colonies.I would merely say that the sum actually granted is only £1,000. I would point out what I think will be generally accepted by all parties in this House that there is probably no branch of human industry and scientific research which has brought a richer reward to the nation undertaking it, and to mankind at large, than the wonderful bacteriological researches of the great scientific men of the present generation.
We vote annually— all great countries vote—enormous sums for defence against possible attacks from our fellow-men. I should be the last man to suggest that the sum voted by this country should be cut down by a single shilling at the present time, but I do think that we might at the same time arrange to vote something more substantial than the paltry sum we at present vote to defend our people from the onslaughts of preventible disease. I am glad to say that we have recently had evidence of a desire on the part of the Government to deal with this matter in a Bill which was recently before the House, and which shortly is to be in Committee. But I think, if the Government desire to be consistent in their attitude towards the public health, one of the first things that calls for redress is this miserably inadequate Grant for this particular object. I have been at some pains to ascertain the views of those principally responsible for carrying out the work under this head. But let me point out, before turning to that, what an immense gain, both from a humanitarian and economic point of view, is the very steadily decreasing rate in the deaths from malaria in India alone—a decrease which has gone on very steadily since 1898, the year in which the researches of Sir Patrick Manson and Major Ross established the true nature of that disease. Those discoveries have not only been the means of enabling us to save immense suffering, but also an enormous number of human lives.
They have been the means of enabling similar results to be obtained in all civi- 1719 lised countries throughout the tropics. I think under those circumstances that it behoves us really to deal more generously with the institutions in which the distinguished men of science who have given to the world these valuable results carry on their work. A letter from Major Ronald Ross, of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which he has given me permission to make use of, may be usefully quoted here, if the House will bear with me while I make a few extracts.The amount at our disposal for tropical medicine is £3,245. Of that amount the Imperial Government contribute £1,000, the Government of India £500, from the Colonies we get £1,745.I may say in justice to this country, that while I do urge and hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see his way to substantially increase this grant, it equally devolves upon the Government of India relatively to increase the paltry sum they are giving for this purpose.Out of this total sum the London School received £1,330 and the Liverpool School of Medicine £1,000. The rest of the money goes partly to the University of London, and is distributed over a number of special researches…We received £900 last year for these special researches…This year we have only received about £250 for that purpose.Major Ross's letter later says:—I am strongly of opinion that it would be a good sound national policy to increase the grant considerably to the schools from the Treasury in order to enable the schools to be properly consolidated. So long as we depend merely upon subscriptions which may ultimately dry up to some extent the organisation of the schools cannot be completed. We have in fact to deal with the whole range of tropical medicine and sanitation…also numerous investigations, especially into practical public health sanitation…The cause which we are dealing with is an Imperial matter. It is of consequence not only to individual colonies, but to the whole of the British Empire, just as the Navy and Army are…Our labours influence not only the health of the several populations in tropical countries, but also the naval and military forces there, and already our work has resulted in very considerable saving to the Government.Let me point out that another extract deals with the importance of the health of the school children in the tropics. Another thing in which the schools are sadly hampered is the fact that they cannot provide sufficient funds to maintain public health assistants. All these points, and very many others I could adduce, but I do not think it is necessary to labour the matter. I would strongly express the hope that the Government will see their way materially to increase this grant £1,000 is a totally inadequate sum for the purposes I have named. Moreover, I think we must take this into consideration, that among the great bacteriological work of the present day there is no work of greater value 1720 and importance in the whole world than these particular researches into the nature of tropical diseases, which, to the honour of this country, have been conducted by distinguished Britishers under by no means too favourable conditions. The Government of late years somewhat tardily has awakened to the fact that there is an economic value, as well as a great humanitarian value, in these researches, and have accorded, at any rate, some small measure of support. But we must bear in mind that these researches can only be conducted with success by certain gifted men thoroughly provided with the necessary appliances and equipment. In aiding a cause of this sort we are really furthering the economic as well as the scientific and humanitarian interests of the whole nation. If we bear all these matters in mind I think we shall realise that the time has come when we should deal more generously and more reasonably in this matter. I therefore hope the Government will see their way materially to increase this grant.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Mr. Joseph Pease)
It is no discourtesy to the hon. Member that the Secretary of State for the Colonies is not here this afternoon. Another engagement accounts for his absence. The Government welcomes this subject being raised here this afternoon, and the Colonial Office is anxious that more money should be spent in the direction which has been indicated by the hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State is sending representations to the Treasury, and hopes that further moneys may be forthcoming. But I should like to remind the hon. Member that the amount of money which is voted for this humanitarian, this excellent work, is not limited to this particular Vote. There is money devoted from India for exactly the same object, and my hon. Friend near to me (Mr. Montagu) reminds me that recently a substantially increased sum has been given to this very object in India.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I would just like to add a very few words to support the observations made by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I was glad to hear from the Chancellor of the Duchy that we have the sympathy of the Government, and I trust we shall have its support in knocking at the door of the Treasury. I do not know that I can add anything to what my hon. Friend has said with respect to the services of the School of Tropical Medicine at Liverpool. Its work can 1721 hardly be exaggerated. For its work alone in the discovery of the bacteria mainly responsible for the death-dealing maladies of Sierra Leone and other parts of the Empire, the school is entitled to the gratitude of the nation at large. I can say a great deal on the subject, but the hon. Gentleman who preceded me has put the case so admirably that I would only waste the time of the Committee and the House by going further into it. I only wish to express my own very strong feeling of great admiration for the school at Liverpool, which I think deserves all the support the Treasury can give it.
§ Mr. LYELL
May I add just one word from the point of view of the actual economy— from the point of view of Treasury administration. We are discussing this matter under certain disadvantages at the present time, because, as the Chancellor of the Duchy has pointed out, we have not got the attendance of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. From the point of view of economy, we all know of the sums that are spent for invaliding officers home from tropical countries where the climatic conditions are bad, and of the other expenses in connection therewith, such as special rates of pay, etc. In all human possibility, therefore, in the long run it would be an immense saving to the Exchequer if sums were placed at the disposal of the schools at Liverpool and London, which would decrease the sickness and illness of officers and so save the Colonial Service Vote. It may be a matter of a few hundred or a few thousand pounds, but these will be comparatively small sums compared to the immense amount spent on the invaliding of officers, the provision of sanatoria, and special rates of pay. Such money, I say, would probably be well spent from the point of view of the taxpayer of this country.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
I desire to raise a matter which affects not only the Board of Education but also the administration of the Board of Agriculture. I make no apology for doing so, because it has been recognised as a matter of urgency, and of urgency that becomes greater month by month and week by week. It is a matter in which the administration of both these Boards is concerned. I refer to the want of sufficient grants from the Exchequer towards national education. This is a subject which is exceedingly burdensome upon the ratepayers of the agricultural districts, and I cannot help thinking that the Board of Agriculture might do more 1722 than it has done to press the view of agricultural ratepayers. It has been recognised again and again that this is a proper matter for discussion in the House, because education is a national matter, not a local matter. The children are educated by a local authority, but they do not continue to live in the locality. They migrate to different parts of the country and to different parts of the Empire, so that the benefits of education are not felt in the locality where it is received. This is important to that part of Westmoreland I represent, and the facts may be stated very shortly. It is a locality in which population is widely scattered, and in consequence there are a large number of small schools, and some of the children have to, go a distance of three or four miles from home to school. Inasmuch as the weather is often very bad, the average attendance at school varies considerably.
As we know the grants from the Exchequer are paid upon average attendance, and the curious thing is that although the percentage of children on the register attending school has increased, the average attendance has decreased. I cannot give a reason for this, but such is the fact; I know it is not due to any want of proper administration by the local authority. Not very long ago, the President of the Board of Education in the House complimented the authorities of Westmoreland for the way in which they administered educational matters. He said they were a pattern to other authorities. Such being the position, what is the locality to do? It cannot reduce its staff of teachers, because the number of schools must be kept up, and the children are distributed over a wide area. All the schools are wanted, and yet instead of the burden decreasing it goes on increasing year by year. The position therefore is this: Although the local authority have been complimented by the Board of Education for their administration, their Grants from the Imperial Exchequer year by year decrease, while the expenses continue, and the burden becomes greater over the district. I wonder if the Board of Agriculture has ever approached the Board of Education in the interest of agriculture on a matter like this? I do not know whether the Board would consider it part of its duty to do so, but I respectfully submit that it is.
A remedy might be found by a difference of administration; by changing the base of the Grants. For my part I could never understand why the Exchequer Grants 1723 should be based on average attendance! Why should not an inspector be sent to every school, say at intervals of five years or something of the kind, to see if the school is efficient and properly managed. If that turns out to be the case, then let the Grant continue for a certain interval until the next visit is paid, and so the Grant would depend on the way the school is administered, and in that way agricultural ratepayers would be greatly relieved. Of course the great thing all those who are interested in agricultural districts are most desirous of seeing is an increase of the grant from the Imperial Exchequer, instead of the present method, which really means an increase of the burden month by month and not assistance. Many extra duties in recent times have been cast upon local authorities by new Acts, all adding to the burden of administration, and there has followed upon that an increase in the education rate, and for those engaged in the industry of agriculture it is difficult to make ends meet. I am very glad to see the representative of the Board of Agriculture has returned to his place, and I hope we may have some assurance from him in the direction I have indicated, for this is really a question which the agricultural community consider very pressing. They are always complaining and sending resolutions to Members of this House to put their views before the Government, and I do, therefore, hope the hon. Baronet will be able to give the assurance I have asked for.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I make no apology for raising other agricultural questions, for that was the subject upon which we expected to have a discussion to-day. Yesterday the hon. Member for Norwich took occasion to refer to the increase of rats as an agricultural grievance and as a subject to which the Board of Agriculture should direct attention. Now, if he had varied the spelling and said we suffered from an increase of rates, he would have been much nearer the mark. I quite agree with what has just fallen from my hon. Friend, and I share with him the suspicion that the Board of Agriculture does not stand up to the other Departments of the Government to secure the right of the rural population and of those who are interested in agriculture. It is not long ago that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was supposed to have made a moderate effort to relieve agricultural ratepayers by grants from the Road Board. But the policy of that Board is only to give grants 1724 where the local authority levies a rate to meet it, and so far from agricultural ratepayers getting any advantage from the Road Board's grant for the improvement of roads over which motor-cars race from one end of the country to the other, they really have to pay an extra rate to obtain a grant. I think the Board of Agriculture might have done a good deal more in this matter on behalf of rural districts. Another grievance from which we suffer is a disease which the present Government have assisted to propagate, and that is the appointment of new officials.
In his speech yesterday the representative of the Board of Agriculture made some reference to the appointment of additional commissioners, and we might have expected some justification for this. But he only said that Sir William Hobhouse, a former and much-respected Member of this House, thought that that was rather a good thing to have done, but I scarcely think that was sufficient justification for saddling upon us £2,000 or £3,000 a year for the payment of officials whose necessity has never been justified. The hon. Member for Norwich yesterday spoke of the apathy and neglect of small holders shown by county councils, and I suppose that is regarded as a reason for the appointment of these commissioners. But the hon. Member and his Friend appear to forget the difficulties and the amount of time for county councils to carry out all the duties imposed upon them. At one time the demand of the hon. Member and his Friend was for fixity of tenure, but now their policy seems to be to turn out any farmer for the sake of establishing small holders. For my own part, I have the greatest sympathy for men who desire land for small holdings. I think we are entitled to ask for a little more sympathy from hon. Members on the other side of the House. Remember that you cannot give one man a piece of ground without taking it from another. I think hon. Members might have a little sympathy with the man who has to be turned out as well as with the man they want to put in. They ought to realise that questions of notice and legal proceedings take a good deal of time, and county councils cannot do all these things in a moment. I wish to refer for a moment to the report issued by the Small Holdings Commissioners of the Board of Agriculture. They say in their general conclusions:—We have no hesitation in saving that the provision of 9,000 small holdings in three years is a result which reflects great credit on the various councils concerned.1725 So far from the county councils having been dilatory or even hostile, here you have the Board of Agriculture's own commissioners saying that their action reflects the greatest credit. [An HON. MEMBER: "Some of them."] What do you want these six new commissioners for? I will not say anything now about the composition of this new Board of Commissioners, with £500 or £600 a year, appointed permanently—I suppose with pensions—to do what is not required. I think, however, it would have inspired a little more public confidence if there had not been such a large proportion of defeated Radical candidates amongst them. I am sure the public would have preferred men connected with small holdings and their work and land agency, rather than the people who have been spending their time making political speeches and siding with one particular party. If they had appointed the class of men I have alluded to they would have been much more likely to get on with county councils, owners, and farmers, with whom they have had to deal. I will not go any further into the question of the composition or fitness of these new commissioners, but I want to ask what are they going to do? I read in the report of the Small Holdings Commissioners:—We estimate that if another 60,000 or 70,000 acres can be acquired, it will be sufficient to satisfy the whole of the general demand existing at the present time.I think two commissioners are perfectly well able to make all the necessary arrangements for acquiring 60,000 or 70,000 acres of land. Does it take one commissioner to get 10,000 acres in a year for the carrying out of the Small Holdings Act? Not a single word to justify these appointments has been said by the President of the Board of Agriculture. I do not know whether the hon. Baronet will have anything further to say upon this point, but he did not justify his action in his speech yesterday. It is one of the most scandalous cases of creating unnecessary officials and giving jobs to the friends of the Government that has taken place during the present Government's tenure of office. There is no justification for it; nothing has been brought forward to show that this addition is necessary, and the money required for these unnecessary gentlemen would have been far better spent on agriculture in many other ways, such as experimental research, assisting co-operation, and in many other directions. I notice that the Small Holdings Commissioners recommend more experimental research and co-operation, and I believe 1726 they have got £20,000 from the Development Fund. I should like to have added to that sum the £3,000 which these gentlemen are going to get.
The hon. Baronet talked about the wonderful generosity of the Government in paying the preliminary expenses of these small holdings and in providing £100,000 that has been voted. We were told it was going to be £100,000 once a quarter, making a total of £400,000 a year. Then we were told it was only £100,000, and now apparently it is going to be £100,000 for all time. Out of that sum I can only find in the Report of the Small Holdings Commissioners that £25,000 has been spent. What is going to be done with the other £75,000? We were told it was going to be spent to facilitate the creation of small holdings, and that when that sum had been expended more would be found. What has been done with the money? You are spending this money creating officials to kick their heels around the country looking for a job and trying to make somebody take a small holding who does not want it, or who is not fit for it. You do not want to create an artificial demand for small holdings. You want to give small holdings to those who are fit to have them and who can work them, and you do not want to make a man think he can work a small holding if he is not fit for it. As was pointed out yesterday, you want to encourage the labourer to have a chance to move up from a small holding to a farm instead of going about the town telling people they should try their hand at taking a small holding from the county council. I want to ask a question about the Select Committee which the President of the Board of Agriculture said he was going to appoint to look into the questions raised in the Sales for Agricultural Purposes Bill which was introduced in the House of Lords and discussed there not many days ago. The Bill is one for protecting farmers against frauds in the composition of fertilisers and food stuffs which they may buy, and to facilitate and quicken the process of bringing such frauds to justice. This is a question which the farmers in my Constituency feel very strongly about.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I hope I am not out of order, but I want to ask the representative of the Board of Agriculture to 1727 hasten the appointment of this Select Committee in order to consider this proposal.
If it is a matter of legislation we have nothing to do with it upon this Vote. We are only concerned now with administration.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I thought the appointment of a Select Committee was a matter of administration by the Board concerned, and that it would rest with the Board of Agriculture to appoint that Committee.
If it is a Select Committee to consider the question of administration it is in order, but if it is a Committee to consider a Bill that is a matter of legislation.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
What I wanted to ask was whether this Select Committee would be allowed to consider the whole subject which would include a Bill which I myself introduced here as well as the Bill introduced in the House of Lords. I hope the hon. Baronet will be able to hold out some hope that this Select Committee will go into the subject thoroughly even if it does not recommend the Bill which has been introduced in the House of Lords.
§ Sir JOHN BARRAN
I wish to express my disappointment with the reply which the hon. Baronet gave yesterday on the subject of bee disease. If any apology is necessary for bringing before the House this very small but very useful creature I make that apology at once. In view of the enormous apprehension felt up and down the country upon this subject I hoped for something more encouraging from the Board of Agriculture than we received yesterday. The facts were well set out by the hon. Member for West Perthshire and the hon. Member for Kent. It has been proved that the disease has now crossed from the Isle of Wight to the mainland and has already reached the Midlands, and it is advancing at a pace and to an extent which is causing the gravest possible apprehension amongst all those interested in bee-keeping. What has the hon. Baronet told us? He said that all he could tell us was that investigations are being made. I am all for scientific and methodical investigation on any subject whatever, but if my neighbour's house is burning it is no satisfaction to be told that investigations are 1728 being made. In such a case what is wanted is an immediate supply of water to put out the fire, and it will not be much comfort to those interested in bees to find that the bee parasite has been discovered after the last hive has disappeared from the country.
The grounds upon which the Board of Agriculture told us that they can do nothing beyond investigation are, amongst others, that it is very difficult to control and restrict the movement of bees. If the hon. Baronet has ever moved bees himself he will know that it is by no means an easy thing to move them from one district to another, and if it is a question of moving them out of an infected area into another area the operation is an extremely delicate, not to say difficult, one. If the hon. Baronet has had any experience in this matter he will know that, compared with the moving of swine or cattle, the moving of bees is not one that can be done with ease. I trust the hon. Baronet will reconsider this matter, and see whether some more vigorous action cannot be taken to schedule and segregate those districts in which the disease has appeared, and so protect the districts which are at the present time immune from the disease. I live in a county which possesses tens of thousands of hives which are a source of income to a large number of cottagers, farmers and others where the bees have an effect upon the fruit crops which cannot be estimated, but which certainly is very potent, and the withdrawal of the action of the bees in the spring from our fruit crops would be nothing less than a disaster to many scores of agriculturists in this country.
It was suggested yesterday that one reason why the Board will not move in this matter is that certain interests might be affected. I hope the Board of Agriculture will take the earliest opportunity of showing that there is no foundation whatever for such a suggestion as that. They can not only repudiate it verbally in the House but they can demonstrate by decided action that they are prepared, if necessary, to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and show that they are not afraid of being too tender about any interests that may be affected. If it is a question of the destruction of the bees I urge the Board to undertake, if necessary, whatever compensation may be required in order to deal effectively with this matter. Last year something like £3,000 was spent in this same district of England, the West Riding of Yorkshire, in stamping out an 1729 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, and I think there was general agreement it was a cheap price at which to have got rid of that insidious disease, but a tenth of that amount would compensate the owners of hives in all districts at present touched, and I hope, therefore, the question of expense will not deter the Government from promising a reasonable and liberal compensation in cases where they have to enter forcibly and destroy swarms, stocks, and even whole bee farms. It is very much better that should be done and that even a little temporary and trifling annoyance should be caused in some districts than that we should subject ourselves to the risk of what may become to a great many humble people in cottage homes up and down the country throughout England, Wales, and Scotland, a disaster of the first magnitude. I would, therefore, appeal to the hon. Baronet to reconsider this question and to see whether some decisive action cannot be taken before the matter gets too far.
§ Mr. BARNSTON
There are one or two points in connection with the Board of Agriculture on which I wish to say a word or two and to ask for some explanation. In the first place, I should like to call the attention of the House to the appointment of Mr. Fred Horne as one of the new Small Holdings Commissioners. I need hardly say I do not intend to say anything personal about Mr. Horne. I do not intend to make any personal criticism against him of any sort or kind. My criticism is entirely directed against the Board of Agriculture for turning an ordinary appointment into a party and political job. My attention was drawn to this extraordinary appointment by an announcement which was made in a Radical newspaper which circulates in the district in which I live and in the Constituency which I represent. It announced that Mr. Fred Horne had been appointed, and it gave a short description of his career:—Mr. Fred Horne is the son of the late Charles Horne and brother of the Rev. C. Sylvester Horne, the Member for Ipswich. He unsuccessfully contested the Ludlow Division of Shropshire against Mr. Roland Hunt at a by-election in 1903 and again at the General Election in 1906. He was defeated by Mr. Lane-Fox in the Barkston Ash division of Yorkshire in January of last year, and he again stood for the Barkston Ash Division in December, 1910, without success.The newspaper goes on to say:—The salary of a Small Holdings Commissioner is £1,000, rising to £1,200. Mr. Horne is well known in Cheshire, where he has addressed many public meetings.It is practically openly confessed that this gentleman, worthy though no doubt he be, 1730 has got this appointment owing to the services he has rendered to the party opposite. I do not wish to say anything personal against him, but I think, at any rate so far as the Board of Agriculture is concerned, we may call it simply a political and party job. If the party opposite thought Mr. Horne was worthy of remuneration and of reward for being on these many occasions— I do not say it offensively— such a faithful party hack, and I have no doubt he was worthy of some reward from the party opposite, I venture to say they should have given him that reward out of the party funds, and should not have foisted him on the public Exchequer. There is one question on which I wish particularly to ask for an answer, because I failed to get one at Question Time to-day. Are we to understand there is no official connected with the Board of Agriculture at the present time who was suitable and capable to undertake the duties which have been given to Mr. Fred Horne? However estimable a gentleman Mr. Fred Horne may be, it is openly admitted he got his appointment solely because he has been a keen partisan. Surely it would have been better if some gentleman had been appointed who had done some work for the Board of Agriculture. I just want to ask the hon. Baronet a question which I know is of no interest to the House, but it is of interest to me, and of great concern to my Constituency. The Dutch authorities some time ago promised to mark the cheese sent to this country so that it might be distinguishable from Cheshire cheese. It is assumed there is a great deal of fraud going on. Can the hon. Baronet tell me whether any consignment of cheese so marked has yet arrived?
I only want to say a word on the question of small holdings, which has been dealt with so fully in so many of its phases. The unfortunate small holder, if he pays his instalments for a hundred years, will never become the owner of his own land. This point is rather overlooked by people who advocate small holdings. The inevitable result of the Small Holdings Act must be that in course of years you will raise the rent of all the small holders in the country. Everybody who has studied the subject and has had anything to do with land knows that the rents charged by county councils are, generally speaking, a good deal higher than those charged by private landlords. The county council in the county in which I live are, generally speaking, certainly Charging quite one 1731 pound per acre more than I am charging as a private landlord. The tendency in the future, therefore, if the county councils charge these high rents must be that the rents of all small holders will go up, because no one will expect the private landlord to charge one pound per acre less than the county council charge for adjoining fields. The hon. Baronet yesterday advised county councils to buy land in the open market. I have no doubt that that was good advice, but these many sales in different parts of the county— and in my own county we have had a great many— are causing great worry and anxiety, and I think we must say natural worry and anxiety, to the farmers. The Government, as we know, have appointed a Committee to inquire into the position of the tenant farmers owing to the changes in the ownership of their farms. I would like to ask the hon. Baronet if he can in any way tell us when that Committee is going to report, and also whether he can give us some assurance that the Government really mean business on this question. Many private Members have ideas on the subject, but, after all, the private Member can do nothing. Personally, I should like to see some opportunity given to the farmer to buy his own land on easy terms, but it is idle for any private Member to attempt to do anything while this Committee is sitting on the subject. I hope the hon. Baronet, with his usual courtesy, will answer the few points I have made.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I desire, first of all, to raise a question of particular interest to my Constituents connected. An Order was issued in 1906 prohibiting the importation of foreign straw into this country. The agricultural Members managed to obtain that Order at the time on the ground that foot-and-mouth disease was prevalent in foreign countries, and that, therefore, foreign straw should not be allowed to come into this country. It is quite possible foot-and-mouth disease may have lead something to do with that Order, but I cannot help feeling that at the back of the Order was the desire to protect agriculture in order to secure higher prices to the farmers of this country for their straw. The result of this Order has been to increase the cost, not of food, but of manufactures in this country, and not only in she Constituency with which I am connected, but in many parts of the country 1732 complaints have been very bitter. They have been, for instance, just as bitter in Dundee as in the Potteries. The straw we require for packing in the Potteries has very largely been imported from abroad. It is packed round the crocks and into the crates and sent all over the world. The result of the Order has been to increase the cost of our manufacture and to place a very large impediment in the way of successful trade. We desire to have the Order, if not cancelled, at least modified. The straw is not required for animals where there might be a risk of conveying disease. It is simply required for packing. It is the raw material of a great many industries of this country, and it should be allowed to come in so that we can get it as cheaply as possible and so that the farmer will not be able to get the prohibitive price he asks at present. I urge the Board of Agriculture not to shut their eyes to the fact that there is a very large and growing feeling in this country against this Straw Order, and a very large and growing demand for free trade in straw.
We are quite willing to protect the agricultural industry from foot-and-mouth disease and from the risk of contamination, but we do not see why we should continue to pay this high price in order that they may—well, in the long run, obtain more rent. The present Order can be shown to be perfectly ridiculous. This prohibited straw is coming into the country at the present time in hundreds of tons packed round foreign goods. It is used for packing abroad, and it is sent into this country with the goods with which it is packed, hundreds of tons monthly, and, if there is any contamination, it is going on all the time. The goods that come herein competition with ours are packed in cheap straw, but you only allow us to export goods packed in the dear protected straw of the English farmer. That is an injustice to our industry. We want to get cheap straw, and we say that as long as you allow this straw to come in packed round foreign goods we have an admirable argument for saying we cannot get all the straw we require for packing on the same terms as the foreigner gets his straw. I therefore ask the Board of Agriculture to get rid of this protectionist shibboleth Which is so prevalent in agricultural circles, so that the people who are the backbone of this country may have fair play and free trade and get straw in which to pack their goods cheap- 1733 I want also to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member opposite with regard to the appointment of Mr. Fred Horne. It was expected by all of us on this side of the House yesterday that this question would be raised. At last we have got our chance; at last one of the hon. Members opposite has had the courage to get up and protest against this partisan appointment.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I did not count the number of hon. Members opposite who rose to speak on agriculture yesterday, but there must have been at least one dozen, not one of whom ventured to mention Mr. Fred Horne. But at last the hon. Member has got it off his chest. We know that hon. Gentlemen opposite regard Mr. Fred Horne as a party hack. I suppose men who cannot pay their expenses in full at election times are to be dubbed party hacks by Gentlemen opposite, who, of course, always pay their election expenses in full. But may I remind the House of this fact. Mr. Fred Horne is well known as a practical agriculturist; he has had a farm of his own; he has not lived on an office-stool all his life; he knows something about the demand for and working of small holdings; he knows something about the difficulty of getting small holdings from landlords. I say that a more suitable appointment could not have been made in the interests of those who want small holdings. I wish we had more Fred Homes to take these jobs, for then we would have more small holdings.
The hon. Member also complained of the high rents demanded by the county council for small holdings, and he said it was having the effect of increasing the rents for small holdings everywhere. That is the first indication of grace I have noticed on the part of hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition Bench. They are at last beginning to realise that high rents are not an advantage to the country. I should have thought that the country squires opposite would have recognised that this increase in the value of land which the Small Holdings Act has created was an enormous blessing to them, and that they would be proud of and pleased with it. Personally I do not like high rents. I think the chief blot on the Small Holdings Act is that it has increased the price of 1734 land throughout the country. It has made it more difficult for people to get land. But once we get our valuation complete, I am inclined to think we shall get our land cheaper and that not only small holders, but all people who want land will be able to get it on lower terms than at present.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I am sorry, I was led astray by the hon. Member opposite. I can assure him that in our minds the blot in the Small Holdings Act is to be found simply and solely in the fact that under existing circumstances, the valuation of small holdings is increased to the advantage of the landlords of this country. I therefore ask the Government to hurry on the valuation, so that we may not have to wait four years for a little bit more justice in this country. Four years is a long time. There are many people now wanting land; there will be more in five years' time, and I think the, Government might well put on a few more valuers and surveyors so as to get the valuation complete as soon as possible.
§ Mr. STANIER
Is it in order for the hon. Member to address the House on the question of land valuation?
The question of the valuation of land is a matter which comes within the administration of some of the Departments for which money is asked.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I quite recognise that the hon. Member is justified in calling me to order. I did the same thing to him yesterday. But I submit that it is strictly in order to press the Government to hasten a valuation which depends solely on the administration of the Treasury. I hope, therefore, we may have a little more haste put into the valuation, so that, when it comes to the compulsory purchase of land, we may be able to acquire it at a fair price. One of the chief objections I have to the administration of the Small Holdings Act at the present time is in connection with this question of compulsory purchase, We are appointing seven new 1735 commissioners, and if they are to do their work properly, it must lead to a large increase in the amount of, compulsory purchase. When land is acquired compulsorily, the small holder is immediately saddled with an excessive rent because of the price paid for that land, that price being higher than that which would have to be paid at auction sale in the open market. But that objection, which is put forward by the hon. Member, is only a temporary objection which will not affect the administration of the Act when once we have got our valuation.
There is in that Act, passed only three years ago, a clause which states specifically that the valuer, in estimating the price which ought to be paid under compulsion, should take into account the rateable value of the land. Up to the present, unfortunately, he has not done so. But when we have got our valuation, the valuer ought theoretically to be able to fix a fair price for the purchase of the land in lieu of the excessive prices paid at present. What is the position to-day The valuer is not a public servant; he may act for half a dozen big landlords; very often a land agent is sent down to value a piece of land with a knowledge that on the one hand he has the bottomless purse of the public, and, on the other hand, there is probably one of his own clients or a big landlord, who has the same interest as his client. The result is simply hopeless, so far as the interest of the small holder is concerned. What chance has he against the bottomless purse? The small holder is saddled with rent and rates, and the landlord pockets the swag. We desire to have not a land agent or valuer, but a permanent official, whose business it shall be to value the land for the public authority without having any undue incentive to penalise the public at the expense of the landlord. We say that such an official would be able to put a fair value, based on the present rateable value. When you get a value of that sort you will get land at a fair price, and the small holder will have a better chance than at present.
I want to call the attention of the House to the accumulation of charges put on the small holder at present. The land is acquired by purchase; it is cut up into small holdings. It may be a little money is spent on fencing or putting up a farm house. The small holder is put on the small holding; his rent is fixed so as to cover not only the cost of the land and the sinking fund for 1736 the purchase of the land, but the cost of the improvement and the sinking fund for that improvement. If that were all, there would not be much to complain about. But then comes the county council and says it has to safeguard itself so that by no possibility shall any burden fall on the rates. They have to cover the cost of administration, and they promptly proceed to put 20 per cent. on top of the rent in order to do that, and, having put that on, they say the rent of this piece of land for which the farmer pays 25s. per acre must now be £2 10s. per acre. And that is not all immediately the rent is put up the Assessment Committee comes down on the small holder. It says, "it is true the farmer was only rated at 25s. per acre." As a matter of fact, in many cases the rating would only have been 15s. per acre, "but," says the Assessment Committee, "I know what you are paying; you are paying the county council £2 10s. per acre, and you must therefore be rated accordingly." What is the result? The rates in many cases go up by over 150 per cent., simply because the land has been converted into small holdings.
That is not only the case where there are buildings. There are plenty of small holdings on which there are no buildings at all, and in their case the increase in the rental value has led to the rents being put up. I have here the figures of a farm in Berkshire which has recently been cut up into small holdings, and I want to give the House some idea of the penalising effect of this increase in the rating. On this farm there are no less than six tenants, and their rates have gone up in one case from an assessment of £33 per year to £75 per year, in another case from £32 to £78, and in another case from £6 10s. to £15 15s. This is an inrease of over 100 per cent., and these are cases in which not one penny has been spent on improvements. The whole increase of rateable value is due to the increase in rent demanded by the county council. How can the small holder prosper under a, system like that? So long as you have this unfair system of assessing big farms at a purely fantastically low rate, and coming with the crushing effect of the full assessment on the small holdings, you cannot expect your Act to prosper. What we want to see is a fair system of rating, and that is the only way, in which you can make small holdings successful in this country. The hon. Member for Berkshire yesterday talked in a vague way about the burden small holdings were going to throw on the 1737 county rates. But it is all the other way. Where you get ten people on a farm which used to carry one man, the rate assessment has gone up by about 150 per cent., and that surely is a blessing and not a curse to the county rate. Yet the county councillors come here and complain of the burden thrown on the county rates. There is not a ground or shred of truth in the complaint. The fact is these small holdings are an enormous benefit to the county rate. I am myself a county councillor, and a member of a small holdings committee, and I sometimes think that those people who say that small holders are a nuisance, and are a cost to the county, do not realise the real facts, and do not appreciate the position that, after all, these people are the worse off. We know perfectly well that the reason why the tenant farmer at present objects to the small holder is not so much because he takes his farm and cuts it up into, say, ten holdings, but really because directly you get a bit of land and give the use of it to a labourer, you convert that agricultural labourer into a free citizen. We want to see the labourer a man who is independent, a man who is able to look the farmer in the face and say, "I want a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." Every bit of increase in small holdings in this country does not merely affect the small holder who gets the land; it affects the whole bulk of the social organism of the labourers of this country. It does not only affect the man who gets the holding, but all the others who are ground down to 12s. or 15s. or 18s. a week wages, and they are all more or less able in consequence to look the farmer in the face and demand a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. That is what we want on this side, and that is why we are trying to get small holdings all over England. This Act, it is true, is only a makeshift, and we want something more; but we will get all we can out of this Act, and then we will go on and get more, as they are doing in Scotland. Then we shall go further and see that the people who want land shall get it on fair terms in spite of the landlords and of the vested interests in this country. I hope that the hon. Baronet will do what he can on two points, although I know he cannot do much at present. The first point is to get State valuers instead of landlords being valuers of land. In the second place, I want him to see that the Board of Agriculture realises that the manufacturing industries in this country intend to obtain straw 1738 at cheap Free Trade prices instead of having to pay protective prices to the farmers of this country, the effect of such prices being to put a great deal more into the landlord's pocket. We are a Free Trade community, and we are not going to have the agricultural interests taxing us for the benefit of the landlords any longer.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir Edward Strachey)
I shall on this occasion have an. opportunity of referring to some of the questions which I should have dealt with last night if the discussion on the private Bill had not lasted longer than we expected. The question is raised again to-day as it was last night in regard to the Development Fund, and we are asked why the Commissioners were not approached early enough and a larger sum obtained from them. I say again, as I said yesterday, in spite of hon. Members' complaints, that it is not a small thing to have done, that the Board of Agriculture have already obtained from the Commissioners the payment of nearly £100,000 for the benefit of agriculture. We are not stopping at that, and we are continually asking for more, and instead of agriculturists blaming us, in my judgment they ought to have supported us and recognised that we have done our best to obtain a fair share of the money for the agricultural interests of the country. Then there is the complaint about a fair share of money not having been in the past devoted to agriculture. Why is this? Because no other Government has had the courage to ask for money as we did, and I would remind hon. Members that the money is provided for out of the Budget which they to a man voted against when it was before this House. On the one hand they say we do not give them money, and on the other hand when we bring forward a plan to get money they want to throw the Budget out, and their friends over the way did throw it out, and their friends in the country supported them.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
Then as regards another complaint, that the reports issued by the Board of Agriculture are behind-hand. I quite recognise that it is difficult to deal with matters if the reports in regard to them are a year or more behind-hand, but I would remind the hon. Member who mentioned this matter that they 1739 take a long time in preparation. They are in the main records of the work of the Board and a large number of reports appear either immediately in the journal, or, if there is any pressing necessity, they are circulated to the Press throughout the country so that the agriculturist may have an opportunity of ascertaining what is useful for the purpose of assisting him in his farming. But I agree that everything should be done to expedite every report of the Board of Agriculture and to ensure its coming before the public as soon as possible, and so far as lies in my power nothing shall be wanting to secure that these reports are placed as soon as possible in the hands of hon. Members and of the public. Then as to the question of swine fever and what is going to be done as regards the report which has been presented on that subject. In reference to that question I may say at once that that report has to be very carefully considered, and not only the actual report itself but the whole of the evidence will have to be weighed and examined very carefully by the President of the Board of Agriculture, whose duty it will be to make up his mind as to how much of that report ought to be adopted. I think, therefore, the House will see that it is impossible for me to give them any indication of what action the President of the Board is likely to take in this matter. In passing I may say that it seems to me that a great many of the recommendations are very valuable ones, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Rye, the Chairman of the Committee, for the able and painstaking character of that report, and we have no doubt that it will be very useful to us in dealing with this question of swine fever.
Then the hon. Member for Tavistock referred to the Tuberculosis Order, and it was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Shropshire, who dealt with it at some length and asked why it was not issued at once. I would remind him that although the local authorities, both borough and county, have undoubtedly been asking for this Tuberculosis Order to be put into force in every case where they have asked for it, they have also entered a caveat against there being any charge whatever to the local rates, and at the same time have demanded that there should be the very fullest compensation given for compulsory slaughter. Undoubtedly that is a matter which will have to receive very careful consideration indeed, and there again I 1740 can only tell the House that I will bring all that has been said before the President of the Board of Agriculture in order that he may consider how he can respond to the desire which has been expressed in the country and in the House. I take it it is the unanimous opinion of the House that no charge as regards the tuberculosis Order should fall upon the rates. Then again, there is a complaint in regard to the disease of epizootic abortion and the hon. Member for Tavistock asked what was going to be done with regard to a Report of a Committee on the subject which was appointed a great many years ago by the then President of the Board of Agriculture. I served upon that particular Committee and it has finished its report and has made various suggestions to the agricultural industry. In their report they expressed a wish that there should be some power given to the local authority or the Board of Agriculture to stop the movement of cows imported from abroad and to secure isolation where that operation could be carried out.
That report was very properly put forward to the country, but to my great surprise and to the great surprise of the President himself, instead of it being received as one which it was worth while to discuss and consider whether it should or should not be put in force it was referred by the Central Chamber of Agriculture back to their Committee and they spoke very strongly against the recommendations of the Committee. It is a very strong request indeed to ask the Board of Agriculture to put into force recommendations which a body representing the whole of the farmers of the country say they do not want. On the other hand, in Scotland whose agricultural representatives I am afraid in this case, as in a good many others are a little in advance of us in this matter—in Scotland as far as we know at present they are quite ready to have these recommendations as to the movement of isolation and importation of cows introduced. Indeed, Scottish agricultural opinion is entirely in favour of them, as I am glad to notice is that of the county of Devon. At the present moment the Board of Agriculture have to deal with this matter, and speaking as the representative of that Board and as a member of this committee, I can only say that we are only too anxious to see these recommendations put into operation so far as they can he carried out without interfering with the interests of the farmer and his trade, so that we may in some way stamp out this terrible disease. The hon. Member asks 1741 whether the bacillus has been isolated and whether we know more about it. The bacillus of the disease, I am told, has been discovered, and it is discovered that the disease is due to infection taken in through the mouth. That is the result of experiments made over a number of years, the credit for which is due to the chief veterinary officer of the Department, who has spent an enormous amount of time in cultivating the bacilli of abortion. Experiments are now being made to see to what extent cows can be prevented from contracting the disease by inoculation, and something will have to be done in regard to isolation and removal of cows reported to be suffering from the disease when they are in a proper state.
The question was raised of the importation of Argentine cattle and their being slaughtered in this country. This subject was brought forward by the hon. Member for Liverpool, who sits on the other side of the House, and I certainly was rather surprised to find a gentleman sitting in that quarter of the House coming forward and suggesting a course which might lead to the danger once more of introducing foot-and-mouth disease into this country. The Board of Agriculture are bound to exercise discretion in this matter, and if they are not satisfied that there is no possible risk of foot-and-mouth disease being brought into this country they are bound not to allow that importation. What is the present position? The hon. Member for Liverpool asks whether the organism has been discovered which causes foot-and-mouth disease, and as far as I am aware that organism has not been discovered. That is one of the great difficulties of dealing with foot-and-mouth disease at the present moment, that the separate bacillus has not been discovered by microscopic investigations. The idea that foreign cattle can be brought into this country and isolated for a period of probation and then brought out for slaughter I am perfectly certain it is impossible for us to adopt. Of course, it might be possible to do that if you were to have a sort of fortress erected, with guards, and if there were to be no ingress or egress except under strict regulation. Quite apart from the expense and risk, it is not worth the trouble, and the danger of undertaking it is considerable. The cost attending the slaughter of cattle under these conditions is so great that for all practical purposes it is prohibitive to all concerned
1742 Then, again, the hon. Member referred to the question of meat. I think it is pretty well known that the President of the Local Government Board has done a great deal in enforcing regulations for the proper inspection of meat coming into this country in a wholesome condition. He was the first President of the Local Government Board to insist that car-cases of pigs should be imported into this country with their heads on, so that it could be detected whether they had suffered from tuberculosis, it being known that the disease occurs in the glands of the neck. If the car-case was imported without the head it was not possible to detect, in the great majority of cases, whether the pig had been suffering from tuberculosis. As regards that we may take it that never was the food supply of this country so carefully inspected as it has been under the care of the President of the Local Government Board. Then, again, my hon. Friend (Mr. Bowerman) also referred to this question, and asked why there should be different treatment as regards North America and Canada and Argentina. He said that when an outbreak occurred in America a year or two ago we only prohibited meat from the area where the disease broke out, and not from the whole country. But there is a great deal of difference between Argentina and North America. The population of Argentina is very sparse, and they have not the same control over the cattle as they have in America.
It must also be remembered that in Argentina there is only one port from which all cattle are exported, while in America there are some half-dozen. Once you have the disease in the port from which the cattle are exported you run an enormous risk of other cattle being brought into the port and infected and engendering the disease on board ship, as has happened, unfortunately, on several occasions. That is another very strong reason why we should not treat Argentina in the same way as we treat North America. I rather wonder at the hon. Member bringing this question forward at the present moment. It is well known that foot-and-mouth disease exists practically in the whole of Argentina in a very virulent form indeed, and it would not be possible to allow cattle to be imported from Argentina for slaughter under the present condition of things. As long as I have the honour of representing this Board in this House there is not the 1743 slightest chance that I will be a party to consent to cattle coming from Argentina until I am absolutely convinced that Argentina is free from foot-and-mouth disease and that there is not the slightest risk of it being brought into this country.
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
If it can be proved that over a large area there is no disease, would not the hon. Baronet allow the importation of cattle from that area?
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I have already explained the enormous difference between North America and Argentina. In the first place, the country is sparsely populated and the great cattle ranches cannot be under the same control as in America. And then there is the fact that there is only one port, and you cannot divide the country up into separate areas each with its own port. There was another statement made by the hon. Member (Mr. Bowerman) which requires very serious attention. He said it was almost a crime that men and women should be deprived of this cheap and healthful food. That is to say he thinks that because cattle are shut out from coming from Argentina to Deptford and other ports of slaughter in this country the people here have to pay more for their mutton and beef, and that a smaller amount of beef and mutton is imported than used to be the case when they came in freely. If he had only looked into the figures he would have found that that is not the case. In 1899 the total amount of meat coming to this country either dead or in the form of live cattle amounted to 692,800 cwt., and for 1910 the total amount of dead meat imported was 4,986,000 cwt., so that in ten years' time the actual amount of meat imported into the country has gone up by over 4,000,000 cwt. I very much doubt personally even if cattle were allowed to come in for slaughter from Argentina and other countries more freely than at present, there would be a large increase of importation. It stands to reason that it must be much cheaper to bring dead meat to this country than live animals which have to be slaughtered, sometimes not in very good condition. It seems quite uneconomic to bring cattle here for slaughter rather than have them slaughtered hi the other country and bring the carcases over here.
Then, again, even as regards beef, ever since 1905 2,000,000 cwt. has been brought into this country, and it is a fallacy to think for a moment that either the price 1744 or the quantity of meat in this country has been affected by the prohibition of importation of cattle. As a matter of fact, the amount of beef brought into this country has been very great indeed. I hope I have finally disposed of that statement, which has been too often made without due consideration, that we are interfering with the food of the people of this country. I should be the last to advocate anything of the kind. I personally, though I am an agriculturist, if beef were forced up to 2s. or 2s. 6d. a pound, would be perfectly ready to run some risk in order that the working classes should not be forced to go without the large meat supply they have at present. I am glad to think that we can protect our flocks and herds by keeping out these cattle and at time same time know that the working classes can get their meat in large quantities, and as cheap, on the average, as they ever did when there was free importation. The hon. Member (Mr. Bridgeman) dealt with the appointment of Mr. Fred Horne. I very much regret the attack which has been made upon Mr. Horne, an attack which consider totally unjustifiable and most unfair. What has been his history as regards his agricultural and his political life? He stood for the Ludlow Division of Shropshire, at a by-election in 1904, when he opposed Colonel Kenyon-Slaney.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
That is not quite correct, and I may say that I did not attack Mr. Horne in my speech. I merely objected to him because of his being a rejected candidate.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I did not say the hon. Member attacked him, but another hon. Member called him a party hack, and that I think may be described as a, very unfair attack. Mr. Horne was a candidate at a by-election, and Colonel Kenyon-Slaney, who was his landlord, took an active part in the election. As one would have expected, this caused no ill feeling, and I am informed that Colonel Kenyon-Slaney and Mr. Horne were on perfectly good terms after the election; but there was some little difficulty after another election in 1905. Colonel Kenyon-Slaney then wrote a letter saying he could not dine with his tenants and meet Mr. Horne, on the ground that he was opposing him and attacking the present system of land tenure.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
The hon. Member has a right to put his own interpretation upon what Mr. Horne said, but I know perfectly well that the letter was written, and I think published in the newspapers, attacking the present system of land tenure, and Colonel Kenyon-Slaney objected to that. Thereupon, Mr. Horne wrote to Colonel Kenyon-Slaney and said that rather than prevent him from dining with his tenants he was quite ready to give up his tenancy at once. Colonel Kenyon-Slaney accepted that offer.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Mr. Horne did not give it up. As the honour of a late Member of this House, whom we all very much respected, is involved in this, I claim that any mis-statement made about the late Colonel Kenyon-Slaney shall be allowed to be contradicted by those who know something about it.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I should be the last to say anything unfair to Colonel Kenyon-Slaney, who was a personal friend of my own. We always got on very well together, and I do not think I have said a word in disparagement of him. He gave a statement to Mr. Fred Horne that it was solely Colonel Kenyon-Slaney's desire, and not because Mr. Horne was not satisfied with the farm that he gave it up. Mr. Horne had rented that farm for some fifteen years, and therefore had a large experience of agriculture. When I was President of the Central Chamber of Agriculture Mr. Horne was an active Member of it, and was Vice-Chairman of the Shropshire Chamber of Agriculture and a delegate to the Central Chamber of Agriculture, which shows that anyhow his fellow agriculturists in Shropshire had confidence in him and sent him up to London in order that he might voice the views and the opinions as their delegate of the Shropshire agriculturists. That anyhow shows that there could not have been any feeling that Mr. Horne was not well qualified to voice the feeling of agriculturists in the matter. Then I take exception to a statement by the hon. Member for Eddisbury Division of Cheshire. He said this was an appointment for party services, and that Mr. Horne was a party hack. Nothing of the kind. Mr. Horne has been appointed entirely on his merits as a practical agriculturist. The only thing that can be said is that Mr. Horne happens to be a Liberal. He has spoken strongly against the present system of land tenure, and has also stood at several elections as a Liberal 1746 candidate. I do not think a more ridiculous statement could be made than that that is a ground against his appointment. Surely it should not go against the man who is in other ways qualified to hold the office the mere fact that he happens to be a Liberal and a defeated candidate. It should not be said that he, therefore, should not be appointed. I never heard a more ridiculous argument put forward.
It is said that the majority of these gentlemen are Liberals or men who have done party services. The fact is quite the contrary. It is a well known fact that the two original Commissioners belong to the party opposite, and also that a majority of the Commissioners are either men who have no particular party leanings or, if anything, that they are inclined to the other side. It cannot be said that this body of Commissioners belong to one party. I deprecate entirely the idea of examining whether these men are Liberals or whether they are Conservatives. We ought to look at the matter from the point of view of whether they are qualified. The fact that a practical farmer has been appointed one of the Commissioners ought to appeal to hon. Gentlemen on the other side who say that farmers are not properly considered in connection with this question of small holdings, and that some of their best land is taken for small holdings, or that they are turned out of their farms altogether. I would say that the very men to look after the farmers' interests are men who are practical agriculturists and who have experience as farmers, and who, therefore, have sympathy with them and understand their difficulties and wants. I only regret that an unjustifiable attack should have been made upon Mr. Fred Horne. Speaking for myself as a landlord, I should be quite as ready to have Mr. Horne coming down and valuing any land of mine as ally other commissioner. I am perfectly satisfied that he will do what is right as between man and man in this matter of small holdings. I will now pass from the very unpleasant topic of the attack that has been made upon a man who does not belong to the same political party as those who made the attack. I think these personal attacks are to be deprecated from whatever part of the House they come. I have been asked why it is necessary to have all these commissioners. The hon. Member for West Shropshire referred to some remarks which were made by Mr. Henry Hobhouse when presiding at the annual meeting of the County Councils 1747 Association, and I should like to quote what he actually did say. He used these words:—There have been several discussions in the House of Commons as to the action taken by county councils generally in this matter, and I am glad to say that an important tribute to the activity of the county councils, as a whole, was paid to them by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Agriculture. No doubt, there are black sheep among the councils in this respect, but the black sheep are in a small minority, and, speaking generally, the councils have been ready and willing to carry out, providing they were carried cut with proper caution and proper safeguards, the requirements of the Act. I feel sure that they will continue to do so, however they may be treated by higher authorities. The Board of Agriculture have thought right, responding, I think, to a little outside pressure, to appoint an additional number of Commissioners to look after us. I think that you will agree with me that we shall welcome the appointment of capable men in that capacity. So long as they are willing to co-operate with us, and meet us, and hear the views of men who really understand the local conditions, which are all-important in a matter like this, and are wise and capable men, far from objecting, we shall welcome their co-operation, because, in many cases, it is easier, in some ways, for an outside official to take the necessary action than it is for a council to deal, perhaps, with a member of its own body.It would appear, therefore, that Mr. Henry Hobhouse welcomes the appointment of these officials. He pointed out that these men are well qualified to assist the county councils and that they will be welcomed by them. I have no doubt we shall find that the county councils when they have had the experience of the commissioners, will be ready to admit that they have been of great advantage and assistance to them just in the same way as the special commissioners who were sent down to Lancashire. A member of the County Council of Lancashire told me that the special commissioner who was sent down had been of great advantage to them. Reference has also been made to the question of the £100,000. The hon. Member asked whether that money ought not to be spent at once. I would point out that it is for a special purpose, and that it would be illegal to apply it to any other purpose than that of paying the necessary expenses incurred by county councils in the acquisition of land, and also in paying any losses that may be caused to county councils in connection with small holdings.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I did not think that the hon. Member was anxious that experiments should be made as regards small holdings. Reference has been made to Lord Clinton's Bill introduced in another place, and as to that I have to state at once that the hon. Member 1748 is under a misapprehension as regards the measure. It is not before a Select Committee of this House, or a Departmental Committee. It is before a Committee of the House of Lords, and therefore it is a question I cannot deal with, because it would be quite out of order to do so. An hon. Member referred to the possibility of small holders having their rents increased in respect of the charge for sinking fund. I daresay it is a common misapprehension among Members of this House, and also among people outside, that county councils must charge the small holder for sinking fund. It is entirely optional. Some county councils charge it, and others do not. I would say to hon. Members who object to small holders having their rents increased for sinking fund that they can represent to the county councils that the sinking fund should be paid by the county councils and not the small holders. It is a matter which is entirely in the option and discretion of the county councils. As regards the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood), I did not gather from his remarks whether he was referring to the increase of rents where whole farms are taken and split up, or to land acquired under other conditions.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
May I explain that I was referring to the case where a whole farm is taken and split up.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
Perhaps my hon. Friend will at some other time give me the figures and I will look into the matter. I know that in the majority of the cases where there have been complaints they were either owing to buildings having to be put up, or because better land had been taken, or that the small holdings were in the neighbourhood of a village or town. In these cases the rents may have been proportionately increased, but if you add the two together there is practically no difference so far as regards what the landlord gets. It is not possible for a county council to put on an excessive rent. All that they are allowed to do is to fix a rent which will ensure them against loss. It is not within their right to make a large profit, and I am sure that the only wish of the county councils is to charge a rent which shall be perfectly fair and which at, the same time will obviate any loss falling upon the ratepayers for repairs and the general upkeep of buildings.
1749 The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme also raised the question of the restrictions on importation of hay and straw which were put on in 1908. I remember at the time I inquired very carefully into the prices paid for hay and straw. At that time there was no increase at all in the prices, and it was not correct to say that an exporter was damnified as regards his orders. Only two complaints have been received in respect of this matter. I will look into the question and see whether there is any great hardship at the present moment. There is no straw that comes into the country in which articles have been packed abroad used for the purpose of fodder. On the other hand the hay and straw imported in this country might be used either for fodder or bedding, although it was only imported for the purpose of packing. There is great difficulty in regulating the use of imported hay and straw, and in seeing that it is used for proper purposes. I will look into the question and see whether it would be possible under proper safeguard to allow hay and straw to be imported for the purpose of being used for packing goods which are to go out of the country. At the same time I have to be perfectly satisfied that the foreign hay and straw imported does not involve danger. We must be careful not to run any risk of infection coming in that way. As regards bee disease, I can only repeat what I stated yesterday, that the President of the Board of Agriculture is having a careful investigation made. He is considering how this matter can be dealt with, and if he is satisfied that legislation is required, he will be ready to introduce legislation. At the present moment he is not satisfied that it is desirable to introduce legislation. I cannot add anything further on that particular point.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I think that is a point I cannot deal with at the present moment. I would appeal to the Committee to let us have the Vote now.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
May I ask the hon. Baronet whether the Board of Agriculture will approach the Board of Education on the subject of the undue burden which falls on agricultural ratepayers in respect of education?
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I did not deal with that point. It seems to me that that is a question which the hon. Member should have addressed to the President of the Board of Education, whose salary is on the Vote, just as much as that of the President of the Board of Agriculture.
§ Mr. HUNT
The hon. Gentleman referred to the question of bee disease. I do not know whether he is aware of the fact that bee disease comes from abroad; it comes from the importation of foreign bees. If he wants to deal with it as it should be dealt with it would be better to clear away the diseased stock and do not let any more foreigners in. The old British bee did not get the disease. We certainly should not let things go on as they are going; otherwise we shall not have any bees left in the country. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme is very anxious to have straw imported free. I would remind him that where he wants to get the straw from at the present time is very badly infected with foot-and-mouth disease, and there would be very great danger in doing what he asks. I may now call the attention of the Secretary to the Board of Agriculture to a case in which he might possibly put some pressure upon the county council to do something about providing small holdings. It is the case of an estate where four or five farms have in recent years been let to one man, and the house which many years ago contained a farmer who farmed some of the land has been allowed to go to ruin. Then there is a small holding close by of 20 acres which has got no house, and it used to be let for meadow. A short time ago, I suppose in consequence of the stir about small holdings, this 20 acres of land was let to a man at £3 per acre, with the result that he sold up and went to Canada. It seems to me that this is a case where a small holding has actually been done away with, because this 20 acres has now been let to another farmer away in another parish. I should think that in a case like that the 20 acres might have been kept as a small holding, and I would appeal to the hon. Gentleman to see if he could not do something about it, because my informant tells me that the owner of the property is named Sir Edward Strachey, and that he is a Member of Parliament, and answers for Agriculture in this House.
§ Mr. HUNT
In the parish of Stowey, in Somersetshire. The next time he goes home I thought perhaps he might be able to do something about it. The hon. Gentleman tells us that it is a great mistake to suppose that the tenant on a small holding always pays the sinking fund, but I think he told us afterwards that the county council had to get it out of the rent, so that it really comes to the same thing: whether the small holder pays into the sinking fund or whether the county council pays it has to be taken out of the rent. Therefore as a fact the small holder does pay in extra rent the amount of the sinking fund, and when he has paid it all in, and has actually paid for the land the land does not belong to him, but belongs to the county council. I do not think that that can be either fair or right.
There is another case which I should bring before the hon. Gentleman, the case of a man who farms under 150 acres and who has lived on his farm for forty-seven years, and is now being turned out by the county council. The man's brother and his two sons work on the farm and the farm supports nine people, that is there are less than twenty acres for each person. The man is being turned out, and when asked the hon. Gentleman if he could not find any small holders, the hon. Gentleman said that it was not the business of the Board of Agriculture to find small holdings for these people who were turned out. Surely what exactly they are supposed to do is to find small holdings, and the people who are being turned out of quite a small farm like this have certainly the first claim on the Board of Agriculture, because it is through the action of the county council that this man is being turned out of the farm where he has been for forty-seven years and reared his family. I do think in that case something ought to be done. On the question of the railway rates, which I believe is a matter of administration, I suppose that the hon. Gentleman has seen that in a Report of a Departmental Committee on Railway Agreements, a statement is made that on the general question of agreements of amalgamation they are of opinion that no steps should be taken towards affording further facilities in this direction until the existing laws of railway traffic have been consolidated into one law. Until this has been done it is imopssible for any agriculturist to know how the railway companies serve him after fulfilling their statutory obligation to him, nor to allow for what 1752 would be likely to be the effects of agreements of amalgamation. That, roughly, means that the farmers cannot tell whether the railway charges are legal or not. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can put the matter right by administration.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
Would the hon. Member allow me to interrupt him? I did not gather until this moment that he was making what really was a personal attack upon myself as regards the small holding of twenty acres at Stowey.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
He said that the hon. Member had said that this man had gone to Canada because he had a small holding from me for which he was paying an excessive rent. The true circumstances of the case were that this tenant of mine got into trouble a laundry maid in my laundry at home. Before I knew about it, he came to me and asked to be allowed to give up the farm immediately because he said he could not get on on it. I said, "Certainly, if you cannot get on on it I will take it off your hands at once." When I went home at Easter I found that this friend of the hon. Member had bolted to Canada and left his wife behind him here in consequence of his misconduct. That is the kind of information on which attacks are made on landlords who sit on this side of the House by men like the hon. Member that we do not treat our tenants properly, and in this way charges are manufactured against us. In this case I can say at once that this man, instead of being illtreated by me, behaved most disgracefully as regards his wife, whom he deserted, and also had, owing to his disgraceful behaviour, to fly this country, leaving his wife behind him.
§ Mr. HUNT
I really do not know that that has very much to do with it. I only called the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that this small holding has been done away with, and is now let to a farmer in another parish, so that there is one smallholder fewer at all events on this particular estate. I have no personal motive.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I offered it to the county council first, and the county council was unable to get a tenant, so temporarily I have let it to another smallholder, on the understanding that whenever the county council wants it he is to give it up 1753 at once whenever the county council requires it for a small holding.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
You are supplied with false information, and have no right to use it without knowing if it is true.
§ Mr. HUNT
We do not know exactly what the information is that he said is false. If he has not put any of these farms together then I withdraw what I have said, and am very sorry. If he has not let this former small holding to another farmer, and so decreased the number of the small holdings, then I also accept the statement made, and am very sorry for making the mistake. This Parliamentary Committee also expressed the opinion that the whole question of the law and practice affecting the through rates and charges made by railways on goods exported from or imported into this country is one that requires investigation. It is generally held that in a great many cases the railway companies do charge more for carrying British stuff of the same sort over the same distance than they charge the foreigner. The reason is, to a considerable extent, that the railway companies have to compete with one another at two, three, or more ports, and so while they may carry very cheaply for the foreigner they decline in many cases to carry ours as cheaply. The carriage of beef from Birkenhead to London is a case in point. It costs more to send beef from Birmingham to London than it does to send beef from Birkenhead, which is nearly double the distance.
And, it being a quarter past Eight of the dock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.