§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ 11. "That a sum, not exceeding £141,648, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the salaries and expenses of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, including certain Grants-in-Aid."—[NOTE.—£200,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir Harry Verney)
I must ask the indulgence of the House for the first time it is my privilege to present the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries Estimate. I do not propose to make a long speech, partly because I do not think the House wishes to hear either praise or criticism of the normal work which the Board of Agriculture has undertaken, and partly because I know there are a number of Members who wish to reduce my salary. But it is due to the Committee I think that something should be said of the many activities of the Board since the War began—activities which in their way are quite as important as those of any other Department. I venture to say that the officers of the Board have done as useful work as any set of Civil servants in the Government 1120 service. I should like for a few moments to put before the Committee something of the effect which the War has had upon agriculture as a whole, not merely on the farmers or on the labourer, but on the whole industry. The Committee will see at once that no industry has been more affected, both as regards buying and selling. All the accepted standards of value have been upset. Farmers may now have a good year and now a bad year—generally a bad year. But this year has been both very good and very bad. I suppose in some directions farmers never had such a bad time as they have had this year, and in other directions they have never had such a good time. That is why I venture to say all accepted standards of value in agriculture have been upset. Entirely new conditions have arisen. It is the greatest mistake in the world to think that farmers have made their fortunes this year. It is just as great a mistake for people to pretend that farmers have had ka uniformly bad year. It has been neither. The Board of Agriculture and Fisheries has had as well as their normal work, which has not diminished in any way, to try and help these new conditions, and they have had to do this with a greatly reduced staff. It is the proud boast of the Board that 178 out of 860 members of the staff, indoor and outdoor, are serving with the Colours. That is over 20 per cent. of the staff of the Board.
I do not wish, and I am sure the Committee do not wish, to go through all the different activities of the Board with regard to the War, but I should like to say one word or two upon the position of labour. Our view, which I ventured to put the last time I addressed the House, has not changed. It is simply that the work of cultivation must be done, that the maximum amount of food must be produced from the land, and that the work on the farms must be done somehow or other. With those ends in view, and those being our sole objects, it was the duty of the Board to investigate the question of the shortage of labour. We at the Board are convinced that the shortage exists. We are convinced of it by the innumerable reports we have received from the Small Holdings Commissioners and from the branches of special inquirers engaged to assist the Board in all parts of England and Wales, by the mass of correspondence received from all those interested and concerned in agriculture, and by returns received 1121 from the Local Government Board, and many other sources. The Committee is entitled to ask for further evidence of the shortage than that. The two obvious tests as to whether or not there is a shortage of labour are to be found, first of all, in the Labour Exchange, and, secondly, in the question of wages. At the risk of wearying the Committee, I should like to put before them once more the case as regards the use of the Labour Exchanges. We, and I think all farmers would admit, and the Labour Exchanges themselves would admit, that in the past they have been quite useless in helping to find men to work on the farms. It has never been necessary for the agricultural labourer to register his name at a Labour Exchange. If any have registered they are only the bad labourers. It has never been necessary for the farmer to make use of the Labour Exchange to find him labour.
The whole point rests upon whether or not there is a shortage. If, as I believe, there is a shortage, then it is no use the farmer complaining if he does not get agricultural labourers from the Labour Exchange. Of course, he does not. If he could, then the shortage would not exist. It is because the labour does not exist, and because there is a shortage that we asked the farmer to go to what, in our opinion, is the source from whence he is most likely to get the most efficient unskilled labour for agricultural purposes. If the Government are asked to take any part in this question of labour, clearly they would refer the farmer to the organisation they have set up for dealing with the shortage of labour, namely, the Labour Exchange. We admit that there is a shortage of agricultural labour, and that the agricultural labour does not exist. The farmer knows he will not get what does not exist. He goes to the Labour Exchange in order to get the best substitute he can for the skilled labour which he is accustomed to use, and which does not exist to-day. What we have found, and what hon. Members have found to be the case, is that the farmer is quite willing to give a trial to the Labour Exchange. If one farmer goes to a Labour Exchange and asks for a man and no man is forthcoming, he goes back and says to his neighbour, "It is no use going to the Labour Exchange; I went, and they had no one there to give me." I would venture to remind the Committee of what happened when the small holdings movement was first inaugurated. People were 1122 inclined to disbelieve in it. In one village a man might say, "I will put the matter to the test." That one applicant went to the county council and said that he wanted to have land. The applicant never got his land, and he said the Act was no use. But in another village not one but fifteen, twenty, and even thirty men came forward and said that they wanted land, and in an incredibly short time land was forthcoming.
If I may take another homely illustration, it is this: A man might go into a village shop and ask for some outlandish thing never heard of before, and naturally he would never find it there, but if fifty or sixty people go to a shop and ask for something it is worth the shopkeeper's while to get that article and supply his customers' demand. I put it to the Committee and to the farmer that it is no use one farmer going to one Labour Exchange, and because he is not able to get the one man he wants to say that the Labour Exchanges are of no use. I will give figures proving that if a whole body of farmers go to the Labour Exchanges and state their demands, the demand which is made will create the supply—not, perhaps, the supply which the farmer wants, because that is not available, but a supply which the farmer can get at the market value. What we ask is that the farmers should register their needs at the Labour Exchanges in order that we may understand the magnitude of the problem that has to be faced. Agriculturists in the Committee will be surprised to hear how much the Labour Exchanges have been able to accomplish already. I have been supplied with figures by the Board of Trade tins morning which show that, taking the period of eight months since the War began, a total of 19,000 vacancies have been notified to the Labour Exchanges, of which the Labour Exchanges have filled 10,000. That means that 10,000 vacancies have been filled out of 19,000.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
Yes. In an industry which has never before resorted to Labour Exchanges as many as 10,000 have been filled out of 19,000 vacancies. Those figures are swelled by taking the whole period of the War, because they include such vacancies as hop picking.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
All classes. In order to bring the matter down to more likely dimensions I have the figures for the last three months, which do not include any extraordinary demands for labour, such as hop picking and fruit picking. During the last three months the total number of vacancies was 5,159.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I believe it is only for England and Wales, but of that I am not quite sure. The vacancies were 5,159, and of these 2,162 have been filled. It is no good the farmer saying that the Labour Exchange does not provide labour. If farmers will go in numbers, not individually, and put before the Exchanges the information they have, at least we have these figures to go upon showing that out of 5,000 vacancies notified 2,000 have been filled. I come to the second point in regard to the shortage, namely, the question of wages. It must be quite clear that if a shortage exists, then the market value of those who do remain doing the work of agriculture has risen, and their value as agricultural labourers to-day is greater than it was when the War broke out. If the shortage exists it should have shown itself in an increase in wages. The question of an increase in wages is always a difficult matter and easy to contradict. Our information at the Board shows that since the War began there has been an average rise of from 10 to 15 per cent. in the wages of agricultural labourers—that is in England and Wales. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that a cash rise?"] Yes, a cash rise in England and Wales since the beginning of the War. That estimate has been very much exceeded by some people. All those interested in agriculture have read the articles which appeared in the "Times," by the author of "A Pilgrimage of Farming." There the writer gave it as his opinion that a general rise of 5s. a week would have been justified throughout the agricultural community. It is a good deal more in any case than the 10 per cent. or 15 per cent.
When one says a general rise of 5s. a week would have been justified, one is bound to remind the House that if, according to this writer, 5s. a week would have been justified out of the profits the farmers have made, the dairy farmer should be excluded from that estimate. Anyone who knows anything about dairy farming, the enormous cost to which feeding 1124 stuffs have gone up and how infinitesimal has been the rise in the price of milk, will see that, practically speaking, no dairy farmer who gives his time entirely to dairying can show a profit for last year on the working of the farm. These two estimates, the estimate of 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. and the estimate of this distinguished writer in the "Times" of 5s. a week, are, in a sense, clinched by what the House will probably agree is the most authoritative body which could give an opinion from the farmers' point of view as to the question of wages. The Agricultural Consultative Committee have, since the beginning of the War, rendered great services to the Board of Agriculture, and through them to the country, and I should like, on behalf of my Noble Friend Lord Lucas, and myself, to thank them for all the encouraging help they have given. They have helped us on an immense number of points, and our debt of gratitude is increased by the document which they have sent forth to the Press, which has received less notice than it deserves, with regard to agricultural labour. These gentlemen are presided over by Sir Ailwyn Fellowes, the late President of the Board, and it would be difficult to find a more representative body of farmers collected together to give an opinion on agricultural subjects. I should like to read a short paragraph from what they say in regard to this question, which has appeared in the Press. Dealing with Labour Exchanges, they say:—The failure of farmers to make use of this source of supply has given rise to the belief in some quarters that the alleged shortage of agricultural labour does not exist, and that complaints to that effect are due mainly to an unwillingness on the part of farmers to offer an adequate wage. The Consultative Committee are pleased to think that the latter contention has been disproved by the fact that since the commencement of the War circumstances have in most districts justified an increase in farm wages, averaging 15 per cent., in addition to the rise of from 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. which took place during the twelve months prior to the War.So, in the opinion of this body, the rise of wages which has taken place, or which will be justified, has amounted in the last year to 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. I think, at least as regards the question of wages, a case has been made out that a shortage exists. It is this shortage that has raised the wages, and where the wages have, not been raised they ought to have been raised, and justification has been made out that they should be raised anything from 15 per cent. to 25 per cent. since the outbreak of the War. I think all who have looked into it carefully must agree as to the shortage of labour. It then became the 1125 duty of the Board to consider the methods which could be found for meeting the shortage, and, what is most important, to meet the shortage in the corn harvest and the hay harvest, and the Board have been considering the possibility of using partially disabled soldiers and making use of the soldiers in the country at the time of harvest; and also making use of German prisoners. These matters are still under consideration. Then there was the scheme suggested by an hon. Member on this side, that perhaps it would be possible for clerks and such people during their holidays to give help at harvest time and to help their country and agriculture in that way. Of course, it sounds rather fantastic, but it has this one advantage which should not be lost sight of, that if anything in the nature of a set of people of that sort were willing to give up their holidays to do work of this kind you would get over the housing difficulty, because these people are prepared to house themselves by taking their own tents, and, the housing difficulty being a very real one, a scheme of this sort should not be rejected without consideration. A second point in regard to any scheme of that sort is that the farmer would have to pay, as he would be prepared to pay the market rate for any such work as was done.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
No, I am speaking of the case of men who get a fortnight or three weeks' holiday. Certainly in the Civil Service there are people who take their holiday at times, within limits, which are convenient to themselves, and it might be possible to get a certain number for the corn harvest and the hay harvest. Then the question of the employment of boys over school age has engaged our attention. We have circulated golf clubs with a view to the better use of caddies, to do work on the land rather than carry the clubs of hon. Members and others. We also, in co-operation with the Home Office, sent a circular to reformatories and industrial schools to see whether more use could not be made of the boy labour which is to be found there. We have also been in communication with General Baden-Powell to see whether the 1126 elderly scouts could not be used for this work also. There, again, the great advantage would be that the housing problem would not arise, because these young men carry their beds along with them. There will also be the question of Irish labour, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that, up to about a week ago, in rough numbers, 1,000 Irishmen, who would have come anyhow, have come a month or two months earlier than they otherwise would have done, and so helped us in our shortage. Then we are also in communication on the question of the employment of Belgians where it is either possible or feasible. All these things that I have mentioned are with a view, not to flooding the market with labour which is not wanted, but to supplying, or helping the Labour Exchanges to supply, labour when the farmer has made his demand. The Board would not be doing their duty if they merely found labour on the chance of the demand coming. They are bound to wait until the farmer definitely puts forward his needs and then the Board, with the co-operation of the Labour Exchanges, can do something to meet him and find the labour he requires.
There is one sort of labour which we have dealt with on rather a different principle, and that is the question of the employment of women. We are still unrepentant on the matter, and think that the employment of women would be more useful than the employment of schoolboys and far more beneficial. We attach great importance to that. The ideal would be that all the cows should be milked by women. It seems to me a great waste that men should be employed in doing work that is better and probably more quickly done, and is in every way suitable to be done, by women at this time of national crisis. There is tremendous prejudice against the employment of women in agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) is at the head of this movement for helping to get women to do the work of milking and other light work in agriculture. The further south you get the worse this prejudice becomes. That is why I am so glad to have the appreciation of the hon. Member for Kent, and I hope he will convert his constituents to the right way of thinking. While in the North—Scotland, Northumberland, and Durham—women are employed almost universally, the further south you go the less they are employed, and therefore we thought it was our duty to try and demonstrate what 1127 could be done in regard to women milkers. It was not, as has been represented, a far-reaching scheme that we thought of. It was simply a demonstration. We undertook to train just a few women here and there, at our different agricultural colleges, to milk in order to show the farmer that after quite a short and cheap training a woman might be so well equipped that she would be able to be of real use to the farmers. The length of training varied from two to three or four weeks. The difficulty, of course, has been to find the right kind of woman to do the work. This, as far as possible, has been done by the Board of Agriculture in co-operation with the Agricultural Colleges and the Labour Exchanges. We had an immense number of applications from women wishing to be trained, some very suitable and some not suitable. We had one case of a woman who wrote that she had a delicate husband and five young children and wished to get away from them. Of course, that sort of case we put on one side. I think, on the whole, the women who have been selected are suitable, and the scheme, so far as it has gone, has been a success. We have at this moment twenty-two women actually at work on the farms engaged in milking. These women are being trained at our agricultural colleges. There will be another sixty-nine women ready in the next few weeks. Of course, the numbers are trivial. Hon. Members may say what is that among so many, but we do not wish to deal with the labour question as a whole. Our object is to make the demonstration and show that it is possible, and that if the farmer will spend the very small sum of money necessary in order to train these women he may get a really useful worker to do the milking on his farm. Hon. Gentlemen will, perhaps, be interested in the conditions, particularly as regards wages, under which these women are working. I have been able to get figures, which I give with some reserve, but I believe them to be accurate, because I have taken all the steps I could to make them accurate. I will give figures in regard to typical counties. First, I will take Cheshire where the wages paid to women milkers are from 15s. to £1 a week. Then I will take Dorset where the wage in many other cases is extremely low, but for this particular class of women milkers it was suggested by the Farmers' Union to be 15s. a week for a day from six or seven in the morning until five in the evening.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
No, these figures are without lodging. In Gloucester the wage suggested was 2s. 6d. a day, or if the woman is living in 8s. or 9s. per week. I come last to the county which I think shows the best record, and which the hon. Member who interrupted me (Mr. Mount) represents, namely, Berkshire. There the women milkers are receiving 14s. a week and living in furnished houses which have been provided. I think the House will see from, the facts I have given that there appears to be a demand for the women who have been trained in this class of work. Compared with the old wages of 1s. a day the House will see that these wages are a considerable improvement, and although we have not yet reached a standard in agriculture which may be a high standard or the right standard, at least an advance has been made when these decent wages are being paid for this particular class of farm work.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
What is the cost of giving a woman two or three weeks' training and teaching her how to milk?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
This has been an experiment by the Board of Agriculture, and the cost has been borne out of moneys provided from the Development Commission. The cost is very small. I think about 30s. a week, or, say, £3 for a course of a fortnight will be all that is required. We hope that this demonstration may result in the farmers taking up the matter themselves.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I will just finish dealing with the point raised by the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Lonsdale). The idea is that if the farmer will take the woman and train her himself the cost will be infinitely less. The woman herself will not expect to get a high wage at first, when she knows that a wage approaching 14s., 15s., or £1 a week is going to be paid to her when she is fully trained. Supposing the wage which is going to be paid after training is 15s., I think it will be perfectly fair for the farmer to say. "I will train this woman, but only give her 14s. a week for fifty weeks, which would give me 50s. for her training, and then I will give her at the end of that period 15s. a week." We hope in that way the cost will be infinitesimal to the farmer, and the experi- 1129 ment will be very useful and valuable. With respect to the point raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Alden), we could go on training the women, but that is not in any sense our intention. I do not think it is the business of the Board of Agriculture to train women in order that the farmer may get women ready trained. I do not think any Member would advocate that. All we desire to do is to give a lead.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
Of course. In our colleges we give the dairy course. The ordinary work at the agricultural colleges will go on. I understood the hon. Member to ask whether we were prepared to go on doing this very elementary work. All we wish to do, as I have said, is to demonstrate that it is possible for the farmer, after a very short course and at a small expense, to train women who will be of real use to him in doing milking work on his farm. I hope the House will think that so far as we have gone we have succeeded.
Supposing any number of farmers come forward, say, with sums of £2 or £3 for training women, are you willing to undertake to train any number of women if they are paid for?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
Why should the farmers come forward? Why should not they train the women themselves? We have not had much experience of farmers coming forward in the way the hon. Member suggests. If they do, we will give the matter our consideration. The House will like to know how far the women who have been trained are proving satisfactory. The scheme is very young. The training did not begin until the end of March, and the scheme is in an elementary stage. However, I have here one instance which is extremely satisfactory and encouraging. There is a, farmer in Berkshire who has already taken five women milkers, and is asking to have two more as soon as they can be trained. This is a farmer milking, I think, 300 or 400 cows, and he has found the trained women so satisfactory that he is paying them 14s. a week and giving them a house to live in. He has got five of the women working for him and he is asking for two more. I hope that the example of that farmer will be followed far and wide by farmers.
There is one other point in regard to labour which calls for attention, and that 1130 is the question of labour-saving machinery. We had a conference in one of the Committee Rooms of this House the other day as to whether it was possible to do something in the way of demonstrating with labour-saving machinery. It was suggested that by means of advisory centres or counties such demonstration could be held. This scheme is only in its infancy. Northamptonshire has begun well. They have had a demonstration before a large number of farmers. A motor plough, a two-furrow implement, was at work; also a universal motor, a three-furrow implement, to be used for harvest. There was also a milking machine. The House will see that in regard to the labour question, which is a matter full of difficulty, we are alive to the possibilities of what may be done, and the situation as far as we can grapple with it is well in hand.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
Will the hon. Baronet state how far the labour difficulty has been dealt with by the use of children of school age?
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
Can he also tell the number of boys and the number of Belgians who are coming forward? Can he give any indication?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education will be able to answer any questions when his Vote comes along. I am afraid I have not the figures asked for in great detail as to the particular classes that have been supplied. If I take the total as over 10,000 for the eight months, of those 5,400 were men, 4,300 women, 651 boys over school age, and 479 girls. If desired I will try to get more accurate detailed figures.
§ Sir J. JARDINE
Can the hon Baronet say whether the 1,000 Irishmen who have come over have been sent for by the Board of Agriculture or have they come of their own free will?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
The attractions of the Board of Agriculture were irresistible, and they also came of their own free will.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
Yes. I now come to another important question, and that is the question of horses. That question is, of course, of very great importance to agriculture. I am speaking now of light horses. We have had a good many critics of our light horse breeding scheme, but I think if the War has done nothing else 1131 it has at any rate routed these critics who thought that money had been wasted which was spent on light horse breeding. I maintain that every penny spent in that direction has been worth its weight in gold. Without that scheme the supply of horses, short enough as it is, would have been totally inadequate. The scheme has been increasingly successful. I believe the standard of stallions shown at the shows has been increasingly better and better. The right hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) was at the recent show, and I think he will bear me out that this year the standard of stallions is better than ever it has been at any previous show. That is important; but we are still confronted with a great shortage of mares in this country. Three schemes have been inaugurated by the Board, none of them very far reaching, but each of importance and likely to grow and become very important in the future. In the first place, the War Office most gladly co-operated with us, and I should like to pay our debt of gratitude to them for their co-operation in this matter of horses. They are co-operating with us, and have undertaken not to impress any mare whose owner will give an undertaking to breed from her. If the owner will give an undertaking to breed from that mare the War Office will give an undertaking not to impress the mare.
The second scheme has been one of great difficulty, but I think of fair success. That has been a scheme for bringing over from France mares that can be spared, and bringing them back to this country for breeding purposes. We recognise that the needs of the War Office must come first, and therefore we do not expect, and we do not try, to get the best mares. What we try to get are the mares that are decrepit or wounded, but which might be of use in this country for breeding purposes. Since the beginning of the War 109 mares have been brought over from France and have been sold in all parts of England, Scotland, and Wales.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
Is the hon. Baronet aware that questions have been asked in this House, a considerable number of times, of his right hon. colleague as to sending mares over to Ireland?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
My right hon. colleague, no doubt, will deal with that when his Vote comes on. I understand we are quite ready to co-operate with Ireland, but, on the whole, taking into consideration the trouble they had after the South African war and the risk of disease, the mares were refused by Ireland. These 100 mares, spread over England, Scotland, and Wales, fetched an average price of £32. There has been a great demand for them. We hope that another ninety mares will be coming over in the course of the next few days. The third scheme is a scheme for demobilisation, for preserving for this country all the best horses which come back after the War. There is another scheme which has been taken in hand, which also affects the produce of the farmer, as well as horses, and that is what we call the Farm Produce Scheme, by which an attempt is made to bring the farmer, as a seller, and the War Office, as a buyer, into close contact with each other. That scheme was inaugurated and has been dealt with up to now by Mr. Cheney, of the Board of Agriculture, to whom credit must be given. By setting up county committees for every county or group of counties it has been possible to sell to the War Office, at prices which have been considered good by the farmers and reasonable by the War Office, no less than £1,000,000 worth of produce, chiefly hay, but also oats and straw. The purchasing officer of the War Office does the buying. The committee do not attempt to buy. They just give their advice and suggest what the price should be; but, as I have said, the purchasing officer does the buying; £1,000,000 worth of produce has been bought in this way, and the taxpayer has been saved a large sum of money.
There is one other activity, which I hope will be useful to agriculture. That is a new branch, called the Special Inquiry Branch, who send out inspectors, and supply most valuable and full reports as to the condition of agriculture and its requirements, and this is linked up with the work in charge of Mr. Rew, of the Board of Agriculture, in reference to the prevention in some cases, and the regulation in all cases, of the export of feeding stuffs. This is of enormous importance to the farmer. It is done entirely with a view to supplies in this country and to keeping down prices. In some cases the export has been prevented, and in all cases there has been regulation. The result, I hope, 1133 has been satisfactory, and the prices of feeding stuffs, high as they are, would have been much higher but for the action which has been taken in this respect. I suppose that there are few Members of this House who have not received some of the numerous special leaflets which have been published, especially in view of the War. There again the Consultative Committee has been of the greatest help in advising us as to what ought, or ought not to be said to the farmer at this particular time. Over a million copies of twenty-nine special leaflets have been distributed, and the demand for them has been greater than the demand for any leaflets in the past. I hope that they have been of use, both to the large farmer and to the small holder in the special emergency work which they have to carry on owing to the War.
There is only one other subject as to which I must say a word, because, interesting as is the subject of agriculture, no less interesting is the other branch of the Board's activities, the Fisheries branch. The hon. Member for Wilton (Mr. C. Bathurst), who represents an inland constituency, smiles at that. Those who were born by the sea, as I was, or who like fish, as I do, will agree as to the importance of this branch of our work. In reference to the work done for the Admiralty it is-desirable not to say much as to what has been done both by the branch itself and by the fishermen, but when the history of the War comes to be written the part played by the fishermen will be found to have been no mean one, and those who have studied their papers carefully must have been grieved to see the loss of life which has been caused to the fishermen in many cases. In addition to that the House perhaps does not realise so readily that the other fishermen who are not engaged in this particular work of the Admiralty have been carrying on their work in spite of great difficulties and dangers. I have only one figure which I can give this afternoon, but I think it instructive. During the three weeks ending the 31st of March last 1,200,000 hundredweight of wet fish were landed in England and Wales. When hon. Members eat their fish this evening perhaps they will remember in what difficulties and dangers these fish were caught, and what a debt of gratitude is due to the fishermen for this all-important supply of food, which has been secured for the country without interruption in these difficult and dangerous times.
1134 In this review of the activities of the Board at this time I am afraid that my speech will be more remarkable for what I have not said than for what I have said. Those who know anything of the work of the Board will realise what an immense number of activities there are of which I have made no mention. Perhaps, in common fairness to the Department, I may end on the note on which I began. I have been there continuously now since the 10th of August, and having seen the work done I think that the Board can boast of considerable achievement. Of course that achievement is due to the permanent stall of the Board. I would like, before I sit down, to bear testimony to the ungrudging service which they have given, the long hours of overtime which almost all of them have worked, the leave to which they were entitled which many of them to my knowledge have given up willingly; and, lastly, I would beg the Committee not to judge the work done by the Department by the inadequacy of the spokesman chosen to represent the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in this House.
§ Sir JOHN SPEAR
I beg to move, "That Sub-head A (Salary of Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture) be reduced by £100."
I would like at once to say that I do not propose to move a reduction of the hon. Member's salary because I question in any way his work. I do so merely for the purpose of raising some questions connected with the office which he fills. I would like to congratulate the hon. Member on attaining the important position which he now fills. I hope that he will be as successful in co-operating with agriculturists as was the late President of the Board of Agriculture. I feel that while the great question, which we all wish to keep constantly before us at present, is how to provide the men, the munitions, and the money to bring to a successful conclusion the War on which we are engaged, yet I need offer no apology for urging upon the Committee the importance of doing all that can be done to promote an increase of the food supply of the country. I was a little disappointed that the hon. Member did not deal with one or two matters connected with the agricultural industry. I refer to those cattle diseases which cause so much loss in the matter of food, especially swine fever. The alarming increase of this disease causes a great loss to agriculturists and a very serious reduction in the food supply of the people, especially, 1135 that of the poorer members of the community. In the year 1905–6 the number of outbreaks of this disease was 897; the amount of compensation paid was £7,306; the cost of administration was £36,967; the salvage was £761; and the net cost of administering the Act was £43,520. Last year, namely, 1914–15, the number of outbreaks of the disease was 4,509; the compensation paid was £76,000; the cost of administration was £73,235; the salvage was £14,854; the net cost was £134,385. In the ten years there was an increase of 3,612 cases in the number of outbreaks in one year; the compensation paid increased by £68,690; the cost of administration increased by £36,168; the salvage by £14,093; and the net cost by £90,873.
These figures indicate an alarming development of this disease. I would ask the hon. Member if he cannot hold out some hope of the application of a method of dealing with this disease that will do something to check this great development. A Commission was appointed ten years ago to consider the question of how to deal with this disease. I would ask the hon. Member has that Commission presented its final Report? On 26th January, 1914, the Commission presented an interim Report, in which they said that inoculation of serum afforded too brief immunity to be of practical benefit, and they rejected inoculation of serum, which we had been led to think might prove a means of checking this disease. The Commission closed their Report by saying that further experiment is necessary with a view to finding a form of vaccination that will give an active remedy, without risk of further loss and the dissemination of the disease. Has the Parliamentary Secretary yet received the final Report of this Commission, and if so, does that Report reveal any system of dealing with the disease that will afford any better results than any that have been obtained during the last ten years? The enormous increase in the number of outbreaks, and in the expenditure entailed, shows that it is a matter of urgency to find some other method of dealing with this question. In passing, may I point out that the application of the Act causes very considerable inconvenience to the producers of pigs, and unless, as a result of that inconvenience and the expenditure of these large sums of money, better results are shown in future, I shall be driven to the conclusion that it is better for us to abandon the 1136 treatment altogether. I can remember that before this treatment was applied, there was not nearly as much swine fever as there is at present. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will give this his earnest consideration, and I hope that if we are to go on with this system, we may be able to discover some more effectual preventive of this disease, which is causing so much loss to the agricultural community, and is diminishing the food supplies of the country.
There is another matter to which I wish to direct the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary, and that is to the disease of epizootic abortion in cattle. The hon. Member mentioned just now the expense of carrying on dairy work, and this disease forms a very important item. A large amount of the expenditure has been due to the enormous cost of purchasing cows to replace those lost. In Devonshire, in consultation with the late President of the Board of Agriculture, we induced the county council to pass an Order segregating animals affected by this disease, and I am able to report that it has had a very beneficial effect. But here comes the difficulty. Though Devonshire has adopted this system, Somerset, Cornwall, and other counties adjacent have not done so, with the result that, while we are carrying out the principle of segregation and doing much to reduce the disease in Devon, we are subject to its recurrence from cattle brought in from Somerset, Cornwall, and the other counties. I trust the Parliamentary Secretary will consider the importance of the desirability of approaching all the county councils in England and Wales, and of endeavouring to bring them into unison with Devonshire in trying the principle of segregation in order to stamp out this fell disease. This disease of epizootic abortion causes more loss to the British farmer than all the other cattle diseases put together. I do hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give his earnest endeavour to trying to get the county councils to join in dealing with this disease.
In passing I should like to congratulate the hon. Member on the freedom of the country at the present moment from foot-and-mouth disease. Hon. Members will recollect last year and the year before the great alarm that was caused, and the loss to which we had to submit in resisting this disease. I should like to know whether the Report of the Committee that 1137 went, to India for the purpose of studying the origin and the necessary and best treatment of this disease has yet been completed, so that if there should be an outbreak we may be ready to meet it in the best possible way. It has been suggested to me by some of my Constituents whether it would not be possible to avoid the wholesale slaughter of animals by limiting the slaughter, where outbreaks occur, to only those animals that have been in contact with the affected beasts. This wholesale slaughter of animals is a serious matter, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will consider this question of confining the slaughter to those animals which have been actually in contact with the affected beasts. Perhaps the hon. Member will not readily depart from that system which served a good purpose last year and the year before, but, if he can limit the amount of destruction, then I think he will render a great service to agriculture and do something to promote a fuller food supply. The hon. Gentleman knows quite well that in pedigree herds it is a matter of very serious consequence to have all the animals destroyed, and if he could safely limit the destruction to animals that have actually been in contact, I think it would be a step in the right direction, especially if expert advisers could assure the hon. Gentleman that it would be effective in preventing the spread of the disease. Just one word with reference to the Tuberculosis Order I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary if we are now under the 1914 Order or the 1913 Order. Has the 1914 Order been suspended until the 1st October, when the Dairies Act comes into operation?
§ Sir J. SPEAR
All I can say is that I hope it is only suspended, because the 1914 Order was a very great improvement on the 1913 Order. The figures show that the latter-named Order was much more effective than that of 1913. Of one thing I am certain, that we want to effectually grapple with this disease and to banish tuberculosis from our cattle, if possible, in the interests of health and in the interests of the food supply. We shall never see that result until we provide a very much more liberal system of compensation than is provided under the Order of 1913. With reference to anthrax, I should be glad if the hon. Member can tell us whether the burning of carcases of animals that have died from that disease has proved more 1138 successful than the practice of burying them which had hitherto prevailed. It is a most insidious disease, and I should be glad if he could give us some information as to whether it is brought to this country in foreign hay, straw, and other substances imported from abroad. We are in the dark in dealing with this disease, and if he can give us any information that we can apply to its prevention we, as agriculturists, would be grateful.
I agree with a great deal the hon. Gentleman stated with reference to the scarcity of agricultural labour. I was pleased to hear him say, in answer to a question by an hon. Member below the Gangway the week before last, that there has been a very considerable increase of wages among agricultural labourers. We all know that there has been a great diminution in their number. First of all, in recent years, there has been a great demand for our best young men to join the police or to act as railway porters. A large number recently have joined the Army. There is, indeed, a very serious scarcity, and part of that was brought about by the inability of agriculturists to give as much encouragement, by an increase of wages, thirty years back as they could have wished, because of the great depression in the industry. The result was that some young men left the agricultural calling and went into the towns. Now a better time has come, and though there are some difficulties in the farmer's position, there is no doubt that, with these improved times, we may hope that better conditions for agricultural labourers will follow. The year 1879 was a very difficult one for agriculture, and again in 1895, when wheat sold at £1 a quarter, less than half the cost of producing it, and when other agricultural produce was at similarly low prices, there was such a depression in the industry that farmers were unable to employ as many men as they desired to do, or pay them the wages that they would have liked to give them. We may now hope that a better state of affairs is coming about. I am bound to say that the loyalty with which the agricultural labourer stuck to the farmers during the time of depression entitles him now to liberal treatment at the hands of the agricultural classes. The figures which have been given to-day and last week show that the farmer is only too willing and glad to remunerate his men well when he is in a position to do so.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and the Government for what has been done with 1139 reference to liberating suitable boy labour to help the agriculturists. I do not believe it will be abused for a moment, and I am bound to say that the boys are very anxious to engage in the work, and their parents are very desirous of getting what they earn to help them to meet the bills which we all know are considerably increased owing to the advance in prices. I am sure it will do the boys no harm whatever. I worked on the farm when I was ten years of age; I was in my father's garden morning and evening, and I went to school during the day. At fourteen and a half years of age I was at work regularly, and I am sure I am no worse man for it. I must point out that farmers do not want to place any embargo on boys born in country districts if they think they can better themselves by going into the towns, but they do say that in the present prospects of agricultural districts the boy who is well fitted for the work would be better off by staying in the country than he would be by going into the towns. He would have a life that would interest him, and lead him to realise the importance and dignity of the cultivation of the soil. I hope, therefore, that we may get more of the rising generation to settle in our rural districts. It will be helpful to us if the hon. Gentleman will impress upon the Education Department the necessity of interesting the lads in our rural districts in the scientific and technical aspects of agricultural matters to a greater extent than is at present the case. If he did that, I am sure he would succeed in leading some of these lads to realise the importance of a life spent in the cultivation of the soil, and thereby induce them to remain in country districts.
I am not as sanguine about the result of the provision of women labour. I certainly should support any effort in that direction, but I can only say that in the West of England women have ceased to milk the cows; all of them have given it up. I do not think there is much prospect of bringing them back to re-engage in that work; but, at any rate, under the exceptional circumstances in which we now live, I think an effort should be made in that direction. The hon. Gentleman stated that the women who are training for this work begin at six and leave at five o'clock. In the big dairies the milkers have to be up at four o'clock to do the milking in order that the milk may be sent away by the early trains. The men who milk 1140 the cows attend to them during the day, and, of course, if women milk the cows, we shall be able to do with a less number of men engaged in attending the cows. At the same time, I hope all will be done that can be done in that direction. It is a fact that a great part of the scarcity is due to women engaging as domestic servants, and we shall not get a very great number to come back and work on the land. In regard to what the hon. Gentleman said about Labour Exchanges, I would urge, as far as I have any influence, that fanners should do what they can in applying to the Labour Exchange for any help they may require; but I am sorry to have to say that the class of man we get from the Labour Exchange is not of very much value on the farm.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
Well, he is generally the class of man that has failed to get work under Free Trade principles, and so has been driven to the Labour Exchange. I know that some have the idea that any fellow would do for an agricultural labourer. That is a great mistake. The avocation of the agricultural labourer is much of it scientific, while calling for skill in various kinds of work. However, we will do what we can to train some of these men from the Labour Exchanges for agricultural work, but I am afraid they will not be very effective. I am sure the hon. Member is doing his best to meet the case in that direction, and in other ways. I will not now go into greater detail, but I will emphasise again that he should try and foster agricultural education, to train lads in rural districts to realise the ambition of tilling the soil in order that, at least, we may have in future generations some of those lads who have been in the habit of leaving us in days gone by.
Let me say a word about the milk supply which is a very important matter. Last week the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) in a question to the President of the Board of Trade complained that the wholesale milk sellers were pressing the retail milk sellers of London to raise the price of milk from 4d. to 4½d. per quart, and he asked the President to endeavour to interfere and prevent that. I hope something will be done to prevent any coercion; but I will appeal to the hon. Member to avoid any fussy interference with the relationship which 1141 exists between the wholesale and the retail purveyor of milk because, at the present time, the dairy industry is barely profitable. The high price of food-stuffs and the difficulty of getting men to milk and the very considerably increased wage which they receive, and the high cost of renewing cows, and the extent of epizootic abortion places the dairy industry in a very critical position. Along with a partner I keep 250 cows under the most improved conditions, only fourteen miles out of London, and we send 200 tins of milk into the city daily. Only last autumn because of the difficulties I have mentioned, my partner suggested giving up the dairy, and I think it would be calamitous for all interests if there were any interference in the relations between the wholesale and retail dealers of milk, because men might be driven out of the business, and you might thereby cause a reduction in the amount of milk available for the people, and thus indirectly penalise the poorer classes by the scarcity thereby caused, since the price will rise. It is a very difficult question.
As one of those who believes that an abundant supply of pure and clean milk is absolutely of first-rate importance to the general consumer, I do ask the Parliamentary Secretary to be careful before he interferes with the relationship between the wholesale producer and the retailer. We sell our milk at 10d., 11d. and 1s. per gallon, and the retailer has been able to retail it at 4d. per quart. He must have a pony and trap, and men and lads with which to do the work. It is far better, if it should be necessary in order to encourage the continuance of the supply of sufficient milk, that a fair price to attain that result should be paid rather than that people should be driven from the industry by any interference. The result of that would be that milk would become scarcer and therefore dearer to the general community. I feel that agriculturists are in safe hands as far as the hon. Member can help them. After all, the farmer has to look to himself and to his perseverance, and to co-operation between landlord, tenant, and labourer. It was only that co-operation in the twenty-five years after the disastrous year 1879 that enabled the agricultural community to keep its head above water and to go through that time of terrible depression with success. The same pluck and perseverance will, I am sure, be forthcoming to-day to do what we can, and it is incumbent upon us to produce 1142 the utmost amount of home food supply or land capable of producing it. I am satisfied that the British farmer will do his best and that the hon. Member will co-operate with us in that object, not merely in the interests of the agricultural classes, but also in the interests of the development and increase of the food supply of the country. The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, do what he can to help and sustain us as regards the labour question, and I think he can depend on the farmers doing their part of the work.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I listened with extreme interest to the speech which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture made in presenting these Estimates to the House. He spoke with that grace and persuasiveness which we now habitually associate with him. But I was myself very greatly disappointed that, in the very able review which he gave us of the steps which his Department took to deal with the scarcity of labour created by the War, no reference whatever was made to any action taken by his Department with regard to the employment of children of school age. I could not help thinking that the hon. Baronet was scarcely entitled to the vote of thanks accorded to him by the hon. Member who last addressed the House, and who spoke of the indebtedness that was felt for what had been done in permitting and extending the use of the labour of school children. I was the more disappointed that the hon. Baronet made no reference to this question, because on the last occasion, or, if my memory serves me right, on the last two occasions upon which the House debated the question of agriculture and the measures to be taken, my hon. Friend interposed, and, representing the Board of Agriculture, gave us a constructive policy aimed directly against the employment of school children, and he led us to think that whatever was done by the Board of Agriculture they would be very hostile indeed to what I think many of us in all parts of the House feel to be one of the least wise of all the steps that might conceivably be taken, namely, the employment of children of ten, eleven, or twelve years of age to meet the scarcity of labour. I realise what has happened. I realise that my hon. Friend is not a free agent in this matter, and that some concession has had to be made in this connection. I think that perhaps it was only reasonable that he should leave the further handling of 1143 this question to the President of the Board of Education. But I cannot for my own part allow this opportunity to pass without expressing my regret that the condemnation expressed on a former occasion against the employment of children in agriculture was not repeated to-day by the representative of the Board of Agriculture. And especially I should have liked to have heard what the statistics were with regard to those children, because the hon. Member told us that he had special officers employed dealing with every part of the country and sending his Board complete and exact reports regarding the steps taken to meet the scarcity of labour. I conceive, amongst other details dealt with in those reports, this question of the employment of school children could not have been overlooked.
I desire once more to affirm my belief that the employment of school children in agriculture at this crisis is not only unsound from a social and economic point of view, and not only fraught with disastrous results to the children so employed, and therefore fraught with disastrous results to the national welfare, but I affirm once more that the employment of those children is wholly unnecessary. The hon. Member himself mentioned some of the alternatives to this policy. He mentioned those alternatives on a previous occasion and he mentioned those alternatives to-day without quoting them as alternatives to child labour. He mentioned other methods by which this shortage could be met. I want to carry his suggestions a step further, if I may, and to deal with at least one of the points that he only just mentioned. There is one source of labour which has not yet been adequately tapped in this country, and which still remains at the disposal of the farmers if they care to organise its use on scientific lines. I refer to the very considerable army of youths and men of all ages who are employed in what always appears to me to be a somewhat parasitical form of industry, namely, that of golf caddies. The hon. Member was alive to this source of labour, and on behalf of this Department he sent a few weeks ago, in pursuance of a pledge which he gave in this House, a letter on behalf of his Board to over a thousand golf clubs in England alone. I should like to ask the House to remember how vast is the number of caddies employed by the clubs of this country. The Census returns were not able to give the hon. Baronet any definite figures with 1144 regard to the number of caddies employed, and he said so in answer to a question. But there are well over a thousand large and important clubs in this country. A great number of them employ as many as fifty caddies and some employ many more on busy days of the week. Those numbers have certainly fallen since the War, but here there is a very vast field of labour which could be diverted into the service of agriculture with very great gain to the nation. No one I hope will suggest that the duty of carrying those clubs is a duty which should come before work in agriculture. I would ask the Committee to listen to what I think are very striking figures. The hon. Baronet sent that letter on behalf of the Board of Agriculture to rather more than 1,100 clubs, and, sending it on behalf of a great Department of the State in a very vital crisis, he received replies from, eighty-six only of those 1,100 clubs. Eighty-six clubs only gave any sort of reply whatever to the communication sent by the President of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. That communication, I should say, was to call the attention of the clubs to the serious shortage of labour in agriculture, and it asked the clubs to inform the Board as to what steps they had taken, or could take, to induce their caddies to take up agricultural employment. Over 1,000 clubs treated the communication with entire contempt. Of the eighty-six which responded, twenty-five promised to carry out the suggestions which were made; four promised consideration; five stated that the few unfit men and boys they employed were already engaged in agricultural work; fifty stated they no longer employed caddies, or, if they did, they were of school age or a little over; one stated they employed occasionally one or two men who might be influenced to take up agricultural work if spoken to by a representative of the Board; and one club said they were already in touch with a Labour Exchange. That, I venture to submit to the Committee, is a very singular state of affairs, and one that calls for grave comment in this Committee. I am entitled to say that so long as there are 1,000 golf clubs in this country who, at a very moderate estimate, employ 50,000 persons eligible for work in agriculture—
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I only wanted to know why the hon. Member thinks they are eligible in agriculture, and what experience they have had?
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I am dealing with the question of the employment of children of school age. What experience have they had, and how are they eligible? What, during this crisis, gives the children of school age preference over this vast army of labour engaged in this wholly unnecessary pursuit? I think I shall carry the sympathy of some at least of the Members of this Committee when I say that a state of affairs stands revealed to us to-day in the details I am giving which suggests that the case for employing children of school age in agriculture no longer exists. The hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House spoke in warm terms of the services of these children in agriculture. Why does not he, and those he represents—why do not the representatives of agriculture for whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon will presently speak, instead of raiding the elementary schools and taking children of eleven and twelve years of age totally from school, and bring to a sudden, and probably a final, end their education, not raid the secondary schools? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am very glad indeed to acknowledge with gratitude the applause which comes from the Opposition Benches to that suggestion, for these children have at least reached a more mature age than the children in the elementary schools, and the interruption of their education would not be attended with those harmful results which follow in the case of the elementary school children. For I want the Committee to understand that it is not a question of taking these children away for a week, or a month, or for half a year. Probably these children began to be withdrawn as early as last August, not only for agriculture but for other industries, and I think I am not unduly pessimistic when I say that when they were withdrawn from their elementary schools they were withdrawn for ever. There are few of those children who have been withdrawn who will return to their schools. I rise to emphasise what I believe to be the gravity of this matter. I rise to protest against the attitude of the Government in any way allowing the employment of these children to continue so long as there is a considerable sea of labour which has not yet been tapped, and which is used, I consider, very selfishly. The representatives of it have treated 1146 rudely, and with great lack of courtesy, the representations made to them on behalf of the Government. I trust that the Board of Agriculture, in co-operation with the Board of Education, will not cease their efforts to prevent the employment of school children, but will build up some of those other constructive schemes which have been outlined to-day, and some of which I have now dealt with, so that we may hope to bring to an end as speedily as possible what I believe to be a very grave social scandal.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
The hon. Baronet who represents the Board of Agriculture commenced his observations this afternoon by putting before the House the effect of the War, either for good or for ill, on the fortunes of farmers in this country. On this subject I have no difference of opinion from the hon. Gentleman. I am glad he made this statement. Some farmers have done exceedingly well, perhaps, and others have not been so fortunate; they have not made great fortunes, nor have they suffered very heavily. I believe, in the main, that the statement of the hon. Baronet was a true statement. Many hon. Members, perhaps, who are not so thoroughly acquainted with the matter, may be surprised that while wheat has been making larger prices than it has done for a very considerable period, the farmers have not made more money. Hon. Members do not realise that an enormous quantity of this wheat was sold after the last harvest, as is always the case, and long before the date when it reached the extreme price. As a rule, farmers always want money after the harvest. They have to pay great wages. They are generally pretty short, and as soon as their wheat is in marketable condition, and as soon after the harvest as possible, they put it on the market and sell it without further delay. The hon. Gentleman then dwelt with the shortage of labour. This is a fact that, in my humble opinion, was long ago established beyond all possible doubt. So much so, indeed, that at one period of the year, during the spring, grave doubts were entertained by many people thoroughly conversant with the subject, as to whether or not, without that assistance of additional labour most promptly given, the spring sowing in this country would be carried out at all.
Inquiries have been made by the Government upon that subject and by various people, and we have just had the advantage of listening to a speech from the hon. 1147 Member opposite (Mr. Whitehouse). He has told us, among other things, that the case for boy labour has been absolutely destroyed. He said that he objected altogether to what had been done—with the sanction of the Government—because it was injurious to the boys and wholly unnecessary, and that it was his belief that boys who had been recently employed on this occasion would never, in all probability, go back again to their schools. With great respect to the hon. Member, I do not believe that there is the slightest shadow of foundation for his apprehensions. The hon. Baronet who represents the Board of Agriculture referred the hon. Member to a later reply from the hon. Member who represents, or will represent this afternoon, the Board of Agriculture. I think I, myself, can give him some little information. Since the intervention of the Prime Minister himself in one of our Debates in which, I venture to think, he made a most patriotic, a most able, and a most broad-minded speech on the subject, the difficulties which had previously existed in the employment of boy labour at a very critical period for the production of food in this country have practically disappeared. According to my information from different counties, boy labour from the schools was forthcoming and with the happiest results. I am told, in addition, that in spite of the disadvantages of the season, the water-logged condition of the land, of the late period at which it was arranged, that, on the whole, the spring sowings, owing mainly to that assistance in labour, have been very satisfactorily conducted indeed. What am I to infer from the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite? Is what has been done in any way injurious to labour on the land? Is it in any way harmful to any class of persons in this country? What in our recollection is the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite when they want to go to an election? Is it not a cry of "Back to the land?"
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt him? It is not for children to go back to the land from school.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
Boys I was talking about, not children! Hon. Members on that side persist in calling it child labour as if children of tender years had been employed in agriculture. I am speaking of boys of fourteen years of age. What harm is there in their doing agricultural labour?
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
No, I will not give way to the hon. Member. He has had his opportunity and he can speak again if he likes. I say that speeches of the character of that which has been made by the hon. Member who last spoke are utterly inconsistent with the cry of "back to the land." The hon. Member dealt with the question of wages. It is very satisfactory to learn that, in spite of everything else, in spite of this additional labour that has been supplied, that the wages of agricultural labour have steadily gone up, and has been raised, not on one or two, but in some cases on three different occasions, and at comparatively recent dates.
The next question was the employment of women in agricultural labour, as another specific for lessening the great difficulty of the shortage of labour at the present time. In common with everybody else, we all appreciate the efforts which have been made by the Board of Agriculture and the Government in this direction. In a humble way, I have myself been endeavouring to assist in this matter. I have no doubt that much good and useful assistance in certain branches of agriculture can be obtained in this direction. The hon. Baronet referred to myself. I have been instrumental in forming a strong agricultural committee on this question. It has commenced its operations already in Gloucestershire, and almost within the last few days there have been applications for women labour, and, I believe, women will be forthcoming in sufficient numbers.
Then the hon. Baronet went on to deal with a totally different question. He referred to the Stallion Show the other day. He reminded the House of what had been done by the Government for the assistance of the industry of horse breeding in this country, and it is beyond all question a matter of the most vital importance to this country, especially at a time when the Government is engaged in a War like that in which we are unhappily engaged at the present moment. He took great credit, I observed, to the Government for the improved character of the show stallions the other day. I quite agree with him. I think they were one of the best lots I have seen for a great number of years. But why? This is what the judges themselves told me:—We have got this year a number of new and first-class young stallions, and we have got them solely for 1149 this reason, that, owing to the War, the agents of foreign Governments have not been able to go round the country and buy up all the best as they usually do, and have done for the last thirty or forty years.Now that is a very serious statement, and it leads me to make some criticism on the action of the Committee appointed to carry out and administer the Grant given by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I refer to that I wish at least to say this: he is the first Minister for a vast number of years who has ever come forward subtantially to aid and assist what I regard as a most important industry in the Kingdom connected with agriculture, and also for the benefit of the nation as a whole. What has been done by this Committee, and what has been omitted? I am sorry to say I have not with me the Reports, which I have read with some attention, for what I found in one of these Reports is that great complaints are made that there are not forthcoming sufficient good thoroughbred stallions in this part of the country. What is the reply given in the Report by the Committee? That they would be only too glad to supply horses of this character, but they cannot find them; they are not in the country in sufficient numbers.
Then I come to the question of methods. I find in one paragraph of another Report that either £5,000 or £10,000 had been spent in the purchase of mares. Some of them, they said, were quite good, but a very considerable number, unfortunately, were so indifferent, and so bad, that they were to be got rid of altogether as soon as they could. That does not sound businesslike or quite a proper arrangement. Is the money that has been so liberally given for that purpose being administered quite as well as it ought to be? The excuse, I remember, in the case of a particular local committee, was that it was an added difficulty for them at the time when they chose the mares that the inspectors of the Board of Agriculture were so busily engaged with foot-and-mouth disease that they could not get their assistance. I fail to see the connection between the judgment which ought to be exercised in the purchase of a mare and the knowledge of swine fever which makes an inspector of the Board of Agriculture specially desirable and advantageous for that purpose. It seemed to me one of the most extraordinary excuses I ever read.
Let me say just one word more upon this question of country stallions and country mares, because it is a matter of vital importance to this country at the 1150 present time. If it had not been for the descendants of thoroughbred sires that are bred every year for racing, and if it had not been for the markets provided by hunting for the horses especially adapted to Cavalry, we should have been in a deplorable situation. I have been told, and I believe it to be true, that in their first levy the War Office obtained 170,000 good horses for their purposes, and I take upon myself to say, as I have said before in public already, that was due to the good old English sport of fox-hunting, and that alone, that we were saved at that time. What is the moral I ask the House to draw from this? That in future we ought not to be ashamed to take a leaf out of the book of foreign Governments. What have they done in the last forty or fifty years? I raised the whole question in this House so long ago as the year 1875. I have preached it in vain ever since as a member of the first Royal Commission appointed on Horse Breeding without effect, and I am going to repeat it again to-night in the light of what we all know is going on at the present time. The agents of foreign Governments for all these years have bought up the best and most suitable of our country stallions year after year to go into their own depots in Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, Italy, and latterly, I believe, in Russia also. They swept the United Kingdom for all the most useful mares. How, then, can we expect to keep up the breed of horses in this country for which we have been famous for generations so long as that practice is continued, and we are to be deprived of the material which is absolutely necessary if we are to go on breeding the same class of horses in the future as we have done in the past? I came down absolutely unprepared to speak on this subject, but this question of horses is one with which, if I understand anything at all, I believe I am as conversant as any Member of this House, and if I have been longer than I ought I make my apologies.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
I believe everyone would have been disappointed if the right hon. Gentleman had not made the speech he has just delivered. Certainly he always imparts great interest to these discussions. Though I do not intend to repeat the speech I made on the subject of boy labour a short time ago in this House, I quite appreciate that the hon. Baronet in his survey of the work of the Board of Agriculture this afternoon was bound to give prominence to this 1151 labour question. Personally, while I am not going to discuss that phase of the problem at any length, I want to say that I should regard as extremely undesirable any further relaxation in this direction. It is all very well to say that it is merely a temporary expedient, but the effect on the boys so released from school is permanent. I have during the past week-end moved amongst a number of agricultural labourers, and I have sought their opinion on this question. They are patriotic; they are anxious that everything should be done that is possible in order to carry the country through this grave crisis. But they recognise a tremendous disability in their own lives attributable to the lack of education, and they feel that, whilst they are willing to make every individual sacrifice, the nation ought to regard the general employment of boys as the very last expedient that ought to be resorted to.
The hon. Baronet has justification for the position he took up in our previous Debate. The organisation of labour in agriculture was the first essential, and I think that the value of Labour Exchanges has been thoroughly proved this afternoon. I venture to think that farmers generally now will make much more use of these institutions than they have heretofore. I have sat on the East Anglian Advisory Committee of the Labour Exchanges, and I am able to attest to the fact that previously the farmer was indifferent, not only to the existence of these Labour Exchanges, but also to their possibilities, and I feel that one good lesson that will have been learnt by the farmer is the advantage that may ultimately accrue to him by making use of those institutions. The hon. Baronet informed the House this afternoon of the more extended use being made of women labour. I agree with him that in dairying there is a very wide scope for the employment of women labour. Like him, I have been unable to account for the very strong prejudice that exists in the southern parts of the country against the employment of female labour. I know there is a very strong objection on the part of the husbands, not that there is any real objection to the employment of women, but because they are apprehensive that the employment of women may be utilised for the purpose of further depreciating the male standard.
I have no sentimental or other objection to the employment of women generally 1152 in suitable industries, always provided that they are not utilised for the purpose of lowering the male standard. I had a case brought to my notice the other day—I have not had time thoroughly to authenticate it—of a woman driving a pair of horses and being remunerated at the unhandsome figure of 1s. a day. I Naturally men have the fear that if that sort of thing continues they will have extreme difficulty after the War, not only in preserving the standard they have established, but in effecting what is so generally admitted, the much-desired elevation of their standard. I endorse generally what the hon. Baronet has stated, and he seems to me during the occupancy of his present office, to have a very good understanding and grasp of this Labour question. In the ultimate it becomes a matter of wages, and the hon. Member representing a Devonshire constituency was perfectly right in observing that farmers are now suffering for their lapses in the past, for if they had been prepared to pay better wages they would not have driven so much labour into the towns.
It is no good making sweeping charges against the present generation, and this only proves that whatever sin or failing is committed in one generation it has to be remedied by succeeding generations. In my opinion, if farmers desired to attract more labour they will have to be prepared to pay better wages than they have paid hitherto. I do not make the sweeping allegations that all farmers are piling up fortunes during this crisis, although I believe that some of them are doing extraordinarily well I am aware of the fact that in the dairying industry and farming it is not true to say that the fanner is making great profits. I heard a friend of mine make a sweeping statement of this kind, applying it to all farmers, and I was invited by a farmer to go carefully into his circumstances and conditions as a dairy farmer. He has no feeding-stuffs of his own, and he has to buy them in the market at inflated prices. After a careful investigation of this case I am bound to admit that that man was entitled to an advance in prices, but unfortunately public opinion is strongly opposed to it, Speaking generally, I think it would be a lamentable thing if there was an increase in the price of milk, but I have to confess that there was an element of justification in the case I investigated for an advance in price, and if that case, is a fair sample—and I have no reason to think it 1153 was an exceptional one—then the dairy farmers are not making extortionate profits during this crisis.
There are one or two questions to which I desire specifically to direct the attention of the hon. Baronet. I have to express regret that operations under the Small Holdings and Allotments Acts are completely arrested. I am not charging the hon. Baronet with the sole responsibility for this. The Government has, perhaps, perfectly correctly, decided that national concerns require that they shall conserve all our national finances. Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) referred to the question, and complained that the Government had not gone far enough in that direction; nevertheless, I am inclined to think that it is not altogether a wise proceeding, for I believe that operations under the Acts I have mentioned, and money invested in the acquisition of land would stand this country in good stead in the after-war period. If there is one question more than another emerging from this national crisis it is the desirability and absolute imperativeness of this country supplying itself more and more from its own soil, and not placing so much reliance upon foreign countries. I have been for some time, and I am still giving such consideration as I can to this problem, because I want to see agricultural prosperity restored, and I want to see that we have additional means of supplying ourselves with more wheat and meat. Apart from the purely agricultural aspects of this problem, there are also great industrial considerations. The fact that we are importing so much flour means that we are lessening in this country the production of offal, which is so necessary for the production of meat. In my own part of the country amongst people with whom I most frequently move and amongst relatives and friends of my own engaged in small pig keeping and poultry breeding, I find that they are killing off their stock because they cannot afford to pay the greatly inflated prices which are now being charged for food-stuffs, whereas if we produced more grain in this country, we should have the by-products for sale here, and in that way we should very largely solve this great problem. The fact that we are importing every year thirty four million quarters of wheat seems to me to be a question of very grave concern.
I know that we are now able to keep open our Trade routes and we cannot pay 1154 too high a tribute to our Navy in this respect. Consequently, we are not yet feeling the pinch so much as in my opinion we probably shall next year. During the Crimean war the price of wheat rose to 75s. per quarter, and it is dangerously near that figure at the present time. In this respect we must bear in mind what is happening on the Continent. We find Belgium unable to produce for herself, and a great slice of France cannot be cultivated. A great mass of labour has been drawn from agriculture into the army in Russia, and probably this means that Russia will only be able to supply her own needs in the future. Some people estimate that there will be a very large deficiency in supplies during the course of the next season. If all these countries which have hitherto been mainly self-supporting come into the open market and compete for corn, I am gravely apprehensive that the present high prices will not be greatly reduced. I understand that the Government are in negotiation with our various Colonies for the purpose of directing Colonial supplies by arrangement into this country; but I am certain that the Government ought not to lose any opportunity for securing control of regular supplies of wheat for the sustenance of our own population. That, of course, is a temporary phase in the matter, and if we allow these war experiences to pass and do not give full consideration to these questions, then some valuable lessons of the War will have been lost. That perhaps is an incidental reason, and I know it does not affect the cultivation of cereals, because small holders can only make a small contribution in that direction. Nevertheless, it has a direct bearing on the production of meat. In my opinion the small holder is a very valuable contributor to the meat supply of the country, and if the prices of food-stuffs are so abnormally high he cannot make it profitable. In this way not only are we destroying our supplies of feeding-stuffs, but the industry will suffer for many years.
There is one practical question that I want to put to my hon. Friend who represents the Board of Agriculture. I have had communications from a number of small holders in the Wisbech area, where they are getting rather anxious with regard to facilities for transporting this season's fruit crop of strawberries, raspberries and apples. This is a very large industry and one that deserves encouragement and ought to be fostered. They fear that the movement of troops 1155 may prevent their produce being carried to market. I do not know whether the hon. Baronet is able to assure me that this question will have the attention of the Board of Agriculture. Perhaps by a little railway organisation the anxiety of these people may be allayed and the difficulty removed. There are other questions which one would like to have considered, but I know there are other hon. Members who desire to sepak, and therefore I do not intend to occupy the time of the House any further. I feel that there are certain activities under the Board which ought to be closely watched by the House and receive more consideration. I believe that one valuable means of stimulating agriculture in this country is a more widespread adoption of the co-operative principle. The Board which the hon. Baronet represents in this House has done me and other hon. Members the honour of asking us to serve as governors on the Agricultural Organisation Society. I desire to acknowledge the very harmonious relationship which now exists between the Agricultural Organisation Society and the Board of Agriculture. That body and the two bodies working in conjunction with it are doing very valuable work, and I believe that in the principle of co-operation may be found the great rejuvenating idea of agriculture. I express the hope that whilst operations have been suspended under the Small Holdings and Allotments Acts, there will be no such thing acting in respect of the co-operative side of the Board's operations. I trust that the Board will be prepared to encourage the Agricultural Organisation Society and its own officials in prosecuting this work to its full extent. We all agree that the ultimate idea of the Government and this House must be to bring into efficient culture the largest possible proportion of the land, and to make our country produce as much as it possibly can of necessities, because thereby, in my opinion, we are contributing to the national security and to the prosperity of all classes of the community, and at the same time meeting the most urgent needs of a most oppressed class—that is, the agricultural labourer.
§ Mr. BATHURST
I never listen to the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) without feeling that the time is arriving when all those who are genuinely interested in the development of British agriculture should co-operate in this House to advance its claims in a much 1156 more emphatic way than has been done in the past. I believe, as the result of this serious War through which we are now-passing, there may be a greater realisation on the part of all parties in this House of the immense importance to this country of this very neglected industry, and the immediate necessity of looking a little less at the details which appeal to partisans in this House and a little more to our national requirements. I am sure the Committee will agree that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board need not have asked for the indulgence of the House this afternoon. He has shown himself to be such a master of clear diction, of felicitous expression, and of refreshing humour, that even the delinquencies of his Department appear before the Committee in the light of commendable virtues. I never felt more disposed than I do this afternoon to criticise the Department which the hon. Baronet represents in this House, but I never felt more conscious of the impropriety of levelling against a Government Department any criticism of a hostile character. In the first place, it would be somewhat irregular, as I am myself an employé of the Government for the time being; and, in the second place, it might only tend to cause satisfaction to those whose interests are certainly not at one with ours. But I cannot help feeling that when this War is over, if certain Government Departments come under the severe criticism of the country generally, the Board of Agriculture may not be one of those which are altogether omitted from such criticism. The Committee will probably agree with me when I suggest that the availability of human and animal food is only second in importance to the availability of munitions of war, and that, whatever our party or political prejudices may have been in the past, we ought to make every effort in our power to maintain at a maximum the output on our home-grown food supply. The hon. Baronet expressed sentiments of this character, and I was glad to hear them endorsed by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts).
Proposals in this connection have come from the Central Chamber of Agriculture, over which this year I have the honour to preside, and also from the Agricultural Consultative Committee, to whom the hon. Baronet has referred in such graceful language. I should like to say at once, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, that we appreciate very much the words in 1157 which the Board of Agriculture have, through their representative this afternoon, expressed their appreciation of our efforts. Even if it has not been found possible to act upon our suggestions, I hope the Committee will believe that we have always done our utmost to give our best attention and ability to the very difficult problems which the Board have from time to time submitted to us, and that if we have failed to convince the Board, at any rate we have put forward our own conscientious views upon those problems. The Agricultural Consultative Committee have made certain recommendations and issued certain rather important—perhaps I should say very important—Reports. It is true that they are all supposed to be of a confidential character as between the Board of Agriculture and the Committee, but some of them have, I think quite wisely, not been treated on the part of the Board as matter that is not to be published—for instance, the Report with regard to the development of sugar beet cultivation and the conversion of such beet into sugar, and the Report in reference to the shortage of agricultural labour. But there is a far more important Report—the Report on the home production of wheat and other cereals—which, for some reason or other, possibly because the Government think it might create panic if it were published, although I am bound to say that I think it would have just the opposite effect—the Board have decided is not to be published. It would not be proper for me to refer to the subject-matter of the detailed proposals made in that Report, but I do venture to say, and I am sure the hon. Baronet will not contradict it, that had our recommendations been acted upon prior to last October or November—they were made in September—for the purpose of stimulating the increased production of home-grown cereals, the prices of wheat, flour and bread would not stand at their present high level, and we should be far less dependent upon the vagaries of foreign markets and the speculations of none too friendly foreign producers and middlemen.
§ Mr. BATHURST
The hon. Baronet places me in a somewhat difficult position, because it is not open to me, I am sorry to say, to defend that Report in the House of Commons as I should like to do. In any case, dependent upon foreign sources as we are to the extent of something like 1158 five-sixths of the whole of our wheat supply, it stands to reason that there is little or nothing, certainly very little, that the Government can do which will tend to bring down the cost of food so long as we are to such an extent at the mercy of foreign producers and foreign dealers; whereas if, without any additional cost to this country—and had our Report been adopted it would not have involved the outlay of a single penny of national money—it had been possible to increase the acreage of our wheat and oats by at least 33 per cent., not only would the Government have had a largo supply over which they could have exercised control, but the very fact of home production on so large a scale would have insured a diminution in the price. All I can say in this connection is that I would urge the Board of Agriculture, although they have not found it possible to act upon those recommendations as regards the corn about to be harvested in the coming summer, to consider very seriously whether it is not advisable to act upon those suggestions as regards the corn that will be come to be sown next autumn. The problem of the food supply, as the hon. Member for Norwich has pointed out, is likely to be far more serious, whether the War goes on or not, in the course of the next winter and the following months than it is at the present time, or is likely to be in the early future, particularly if it is found difficult, if not impossible, to open the Dardanelles, or if, as is possible, the anticipations as regards Indian wheat are not realised. As regards the home production of sugar, the hon. Baronet, in reply to questions in this House some three months ago, seemed to display some sympathy with the suggestions made by the Consultative Committee, and said that the matter was being investigated on behalf of the Board of Agriculture, and that when that investigation was complete he would report further to the House upon the matter. I would like to ask whether that investigation has been completed; and whether the hon. Baronet has anything to say to the Committee on that subject?
§ Mr. BATHURST
May I suggest that before the season becomes much more advanced the production of that Report should be accelerated, so that something may be done to increase the production of home-grown sugar and thereby reduce the 1159 price? The other question is the shortage of agricultural labour, which I propose to refer to presently. In the meantime the hon. Baronet will agree with me when I suggest that the price of bread—which, after all, is what the consuming classes, particularly in time of a great war, mostly consider—depends upon the price of flour; the price of flour, of course, depends upon that of wheat; and the price of wheat depends, first of all, I am sorry to say, upon the adequacy of supplies coming from abroad; secondly, on the extent of speculations and "cornerings" on the part of foreigners; and, thirdly, on the restrictions upon the export of home-grown foodstuffs from Great Britain. The hon. Baronet claimed some credit to himself and his Department in this connection. He told the Committee that the Board had been employed upon the prevention or the regulation of exports of home-grown foodstuffs. I have in my hand a copy of the Trade and Navigation Accounts for March last. I would like, before referring to these figures, to endorse everything that the hon. Member for Norwich said as regards the importance of preventing immature and female live stock from being destroyed owing to the incapacity, particularly of the smaller stock-owners, to feed that stock. There is no doubt of that. The special weekly reports to the Board of Agriculture as regards the conditions prevailing in various districts—which the hon. Member very rightly commended, for most valuable they are—will, I am sure, show that there is an increasing tendency, particularly in the north of England, to destroy immature stock, and in some cases female stock, owing to the lack of sufficient food.
I find that, as regards the export of produce of the United Kingdom, the quantity of rice passing through this country and eventually exported in March, 1915, was 102,900 cwts., as compared with 48,253 cwts. in March, 1914—a very valuable food for all classes of stock. As regards wheat, meal, and flour, the exports in March last were 212,781 cwts., as compared with 107,608 cwts. in March, 1914; that is just about double. I am bound to admit that the restriction upon the exportation of offals last October, I think it was, has shown much improved figures during the last few months in regard to that commodity. I was referring then to produce produced in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. BATHURST
Yes. I do not know why rice should appear in this list; it is curious. Oh, it is included among the manufactures. It is treated in this country, and it is therefore included amongst the output of this country. It is, no doubt, dealt with as manufactures. Then we come to exports of foreign and Colonial produce, and we find very startling figures indeed. As regards wheat, last March there was an export of no less than 57,341 cwts. as compared with 19,000 cwts. for the same month last year; wheat meal and flour 56,600 cwts. as compared with 15,317 cwts. last year, something like three times as much; barley 36,805 cwts. last March, as compared with 5,000 cwts. only last year; and maize—may I draw the hon. Baronet's attention to maize in particular—310,000 cwts. as compared with 45,000 cwts. for the same period last year, a most valuable feeding-stuff for nearly all kinds of stock, increased by six times the normal amount of its export. The total, in fact, comes up to no less than 810,000 cwts. of various kinds of agricultural produce in March, 1915, compared with 250,000 cwts. only, or something like one-quarter in March of last year. I should like to ask why, in the middle of a great war, it should be permitted for food-stuffs of any kind to be exported from this country?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
The simple and short answer is in order that we may receive from the countries to which it is exported produce—take the case of Denmark: bacon, butter, and eggs—required in this country.
§ Mr. BATHURST
I agree with the hon. Baronet, that is a very short answer, but it is not altogether a convincing one. If the hon. Baronet tells me that in order to secure the importation of bacon and of dairy products from Denmark it is necessary for four times the normal agricultural produce to be exported out of this country—
§ Mr. BATHURST
I ask: Does it go to Denmark? I have reason to believe that a very small proportion of that increase goes to Denmark. I quite agree that an arrangement such as that which I understand the Government have made with Denmark is most desirable, but let it be limited to a case like that and do not extend it to other countries from which we are not getting similar benefits. 1161 Why should there be any export of foodstuffs at all? If there ever was a time when it was necessary to retain within this country all the food supplies that we can, both for man and beast, surely that time is now, and nothing would have a more useful effect in bringing down the prices of these commodities, which are essential both for men and for farm stock.
I do not want to continue unduly the discussion, because we have heard a good deal on the subject this afternoon, as regards the shortage of agricultural labour, except to say that I think some hon. Gentlemen who are concerned with regard to the employment of schoolboys have not altogether, under existing circumstances, a proper sense of proportion. Under normal conditions, I should agree with every word that has fallen on that subject from the hon. Member opposite. In fact, as he maybe aware, I myself gave evidence to the very same effect, although I was there as representing the farming industry, before the Inter-departmental Committee which sat some six years ago. These are not normal times. The conditions are not normal, and surely we can do at least as much as our Allies are doing on the Continent of Europe in turning to national account the useful labours of our boys who are old enough for the work and who are not likely to be injured by it, as well as of women and others whose employment, under ordinary circumstances, we should all deprecate.
I am very glad that the Board of Agriculture are taking such pains to instruct young women in certain light agricultural processes which they can perfectly well carry out without detriment to their health, and, in fact, as I venture to think, with very great improvement to their physique. The efforts of certain ladies connected with the Labour Exchanges are worthy of all commendation. In this connection I wish briefly to refer to Miss Deane. Miss Deane has lately been travelling in the south-west of England, making, if I may say so, most admirable and most convincing addresses to farmers which have impressed upon them not only the uses to which they can put woman labour of the right kind, but the necessity of paying the women adequately according to present market conditions if such women are employed. It is valuable work, which could not be better done, that Miss Deane, of the Central Labour Exchange, is doing. I think some commendation is also due to Lady Wantage and Miss Gertrude 1162 Elliott, to the Reading College, and to the Harper Adams College in Salop; all are doing most useful work in promoting the supply of well-instructed woman labour.
I was particularly glad to hear the hon. Baronet say that some effort was going to be made to secure the services of Territorial soldiers during the hay harvest and corn harvest in helping to get in those crops. Many of those men, as we know perfectly well, are by occupation agricultural workers. No one could do it better, and most of them are in such a fit state physically at the present time that I have no doubt they may carry it out with an unusual amount of energy and success. I hope that the representations on this subject to the War Office may be entirely successful. How about the old age pensioners? Could they not help us in this connection? At present they cannot give their services, however much they may desire to do so, without losing their pensions. Many of them in the country districts are quite capable of helping at light agricultural work, and of earning a little more to enable them to pay the enhanced prices for the food which they have to buy; and surely this embargo on their labour for the time being might be removed! It is, at any rate, a suggestion put forward by the Central Chamber of Agriculture, and I hope that the Board will give it their consideration.
We have, as the hon. Baronet knows, endeavoured to give him all the support we can in the Labour Exchange scheme of the Board of Agriculture. The Labour Exchanges have not in the past provided the labour which the farmers require, but that the Labour Exchanges are going to fail to help in that connection now I do not believe. They are going, if I may say so, the right way about it. They are asking for the confidence of the farmers, and I agree with the hon. Baronet in saying that they deserve to receive that confidence and that the farmers ought to register their requirements with the Labour Exchanges in their districts if they mean to obtain such help as the Board and the Government are prepared through that agency to offer. I should like to endorse the appeal to the farmers which the hon. Baronet has made. There is gradually coming about a serious shortage of horses for agricultural purposes. I hope that the Board of Agriculture will do something to impress upon the Government the undesirability of commandeering a largely increased 1163 number of our own agricultural horses, which in certain districts will be absolutely essential if we are to get in our harvests satisfactorily. After the harvest is over possibly more of these horses might be spared, but in the meantime it is very difficult to see how harvest operations are to be carried through if a greater drain is made upon our farm horses.
The hon. Baronet will agree when I say that if the production of meat is to be maintained at home it is absolutely necessary to secure our live stock against the possibility of importing disease from abroad, and I cannot sit down this afternoon without asking for some explanation of a very extraordinary course which the Board adopted during last autumn as regards the importation of Friesland cattle. It is undoubtedly contrary to the spirit, if it is not contrary to the letter, of the Diseases of Animals, Act, 1896. Previously no bovine animals could be imported alive to this country unless they were required for some very special purpose which the Board of Agriculture were authorised to approve. That special purpose had never been interpreted in the way in which it was interpreted last year. No less than sixty Holstein animals were imported in August into this country, and remained in quarantine for something like three months without any of the farmers of this country having any knowledge of their being here. They were, as the hon. Baronet is aware, falsely described in the document to which I have just referred, the Trade and Navigation Returns, as "animals for food," which they were not, and eventually they were sold by public auction under the auspices of the British Holstein Society to the breeders of British Holstein cattle.
During the time I have been connected with the Central Chamber of Agriculture I have never known a matter cause greater consternation among its members than when the announcement of this importation was made. Above all things, we rather resent the secrecy which was maintained with regard to the importation of those cattle. Surely some stops ought to be taken, other than mere publication in the "London Gazette," a document which farmers do not as a rule read, for acquainting the farmers in the country generally with the fact that the provisions of the Diseases of Animals Act are not being complied with, and that a large number of foreign cattle are being imported which 1164 may spread disease. Holland is a country with a bad name in this respect. It may be that in the particular district from which these cattle came there was no disease, but Holland has a bad name, as my hon. Friends from Ireland, whose serious losses three years ago undoubtedly originated from the importation of cattle from Holland, have reason to know. Why select that particular breed for this favourable treatment? There is no breed more tuberculous than Friesland cattle. They are, it is true, good milkers, but they are very tuberculous cattle, and it is ridiculous, when you are putting into operation the Tuberculosis Order and the Milk and Dairy Act in order to secure a pure milk supply free from all disease, that you should authorise the introduction into this country of this large number of cattle with that unenviable reputation.
I am reminded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) of one question which I should like to put to the hon. Baronet, and that is whether he has taken any steps to trace these Friesland catle to their present destination, and to keep the authorities acquainted with their whereabouts. I also want to ask the hon. Gentleman whether something can be done to ensure greater accuracy as regards the Board's weekly market return. The hon. Baronet must be aware that the Government are now requisitioning hay for military purposes, and the prices of hay, as they appear in the weekly market returns are, as a rule, far in excess of those which can actually be obtained in the wholesale markets, and certainly far in excess of the prices the War Office are prepared to authorise their representatives to pay. The result is quite unnecessary disappointment on the part of the owners of the hay as to the prices the Government are prepared to pay for war purposes. For instance, the price of hay, as shown in the last weekly report in the case of London, is 106s. 6d. per ton. As a matter of fact, that is hay which is being sold in very small parcels, and of a very special quality. It does not apply in the least to the ordinary hay that is sold wholesale in London. The same high prices are to be found in connection with the returns in all the large towns, particularly in the North. They are prices which it is quite impossible to get when the hay is sold wholesale, and they are certainly prices which the War Department are not prepared to pay. All this is causing discontent; I hope the hon. 1165 Baronet will take note of it, and I may point out that, if these quotations must be given at all, they are not a fair guide to the basis on which War Office contracts are made.
The Board of Agriculture does not appear—I am sorry the hon. Baronet smiles—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is smiling at another joke!"] Jokes are too plentiful on the Front Bench, and I, at this distance, am unable to appreciate them. The point I wish to deal with arises in connection with the national food supply. I am not referring to the position as it exists to-day, but to that which may obtain in six or twelve months' time, and I should like to ask the Government whether the possible gravity of the situation has been considered by his Department. Is anything serious being done, in face of the possibility of a shortage of food, by taking steps to increase the production of the country, and thereby to prevent the possibility, before the ends of the War are achieved, of causing the War to be put a stop to, to our own eternal disgrace, through an outcry on the part of the working population as to the very high prices of the necessaries of life?
§ Mr. DELANY
I must congratulate the hon. Baronet on his presentation of these Estimates, and on the manner in which he has introduced them. The hon. Member for the Tavistock Division of Devonshire (Sir John Spear) has brought forward the case of the county he represents and has put several points before the Government in a very reasonable manner. I have a point especially affecting Ireland, to which I would draw the attention of the hon. Baronet and of the Vice-President of the Department for Ireland (Mr. Russell). It is in reference to the detention of live stock on this side of the water, particularly in the case of lambs. It usually takes a few hours to convey the lambs to the Irish port of embarkation, but when they arrive on the English side they are detained for a further period of ten hours, and that is a very serious matter, seeing that lamb is a perishable article. There is a cry for cheap food in this country, and the worst thing that can possibly be done is to insist on this period of detention, as the lamb may become unfit for human food. A year or so ago, when there was a panic in regard to the prevalence of foot-and-mouth disease in Ireland, the authorities were bound to take the best precautions they could to prevent its spread, but at the present 1166 moment there is no foot-and-mouth disease in Ireland. What is more, when certain cases were reported in the North of Ireland, they were found to be cases not of foot-and-mouth disease, but of foul mouth. Now there is no panic. The cause of it has passed away. Ireland has a clean bill of health, and I appeal to the hon. Baronet and to the Vice-President to at once withdraw this regulation involving the ten hours' detention. The fact is, at present you are not giving Ireland a fair show in the matter of this trade.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I should like to congratulate the hon. Baronet on his first Ministerial speech. He evidently realised that he omitted more from it than he gave in explanation, and, therefore, he has probably anticipated my remark. I wish him to understand that I am not actuated by any feeling of animosity towards the Government, or by antagonism to himself personally or in his official capacity. My only reason for putting down this Motion for a reduction of his salary was to call attention to the repeated refusals which he has given to inquiries which have been made purely in the national interest. The hon. Gentleman spoke in a very laudatory manner about his Department. I quite agree with him. But the other day he even went the length, in defending his Department, of attacking another Government Department, and I am sure his colleague did not appreciate that. It is within the recollection of the House that on Thursday last I asked him, with regard to certain purchases of wheat, whether the same objectionable features obtained in them as characterised the purchase of timber, and his answer, by inference or deduction, condemned the Board of Works. I see that the reporter in the Gallery has been so inaccurate as to place the hon. Gentleman's answer in the mouth of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, and I am sure the Secretary to the Board of Trade has quite sufficient shortcomings of his own without being called upon to answer for the indiscretions of the hon. Baronet. Whenever a Member asks a question in this House that is likely to embarrass a Minister, or to expose the mistakes of his Department, he invariably gives the stereotyped reply that it is not in the public interest to give the information, and sometimes when I meet a Minister, and, as a matter of ordinary courtesy, ask after his health, I expect to receive the reply that it is not in the public interest to give an answer. 1167 The hon. Baronet carries this practice to a very great extent. The one question I wish to refer to is the price of wheat, and consequently the price of flour and bread in this country. That question was touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire (Mr. Bathurst), but he did not refer to one aspect of the subject, and that is the very large and mysterious purchases of wheat by the Government which have had the effect of alarming the importers of wheat into this country.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I rise to a point of Order. I recognise that this question has to be discussed, but I submit there is no money in the Vote we are discussing now for dealing with the matter the hon. Gentleman is raising. He is speaking of a policy which has not been initiated by the Board of Agriculture, and therefore his remarks are not in order on this Vote.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
If that is the view of the Chair, of course I will submit to its ruling, but I think I am entitled to ask on what Vote the question can be raised?
If the hon. Member has nothing to say on the point of Order, I will give my ruling. I understand that the Minister in charge of this Estimate to-day is not responsible for the policy connected with the purchase of foodstuffs by the Government, and therefore it is not a matter which arises on the Vote for his Department.
§ Mr. BATHURST
May I point out that the question whether encouragement should be given to produce more foodstuffs at home must depend very largely on the amount of food-stuffs the Government are obtaining by purchase from other countries?
That is so, but the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries is not in charge of the policy on which these purchases depend, and therefore he is not in a position to answer questions.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I do not know if I am to reply to that point, but I would remark that no money appears on this Estimate for any purchases of that kind.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am afraid I do not quite know what the Estimate is, but if it is for the salary of the Minister we can 1168 discuss on that any action of his which we think justifies legislation, and, therefore, if purchases are made by him I submit they would be open to discussion.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
If I am out of order in dealing with that question, may I ask another question of the hon. Baronet? He has already given several answers which are not complete, and I assume that I am not out of order in asking him some further questions on that, because the matter has a distinct bearing on the question already raised, namely, the production of wheat in this country and the encouragement of wheat growing in this country. The hon. Baronet has already told the House, in answer to a question put by myself, that the Government commenced purchasing wheat in December, and he has further informed the country that they have now ceased purchasing wheat. The mysterious silence which has surrounded the transactions has created the wildest rumours and prevented the importation of wheat into this country, with the result that the price of food has gone up considerably.
I think the hon. Gentleman is going beyond my ruling. He is entitled to criticise the Department from his point of view for not taking such steps as he thinks fit for developing the home supply. That is quite in order. He is not entitled to go into the action of this Cabinet Committee in making purchases from abroad. There will be other opportunities for doing that. I will not express the opinion as to what they are, but probably the proper opportunity will be the Vote of Credit, when the Cabinet Ministers responsible will be able to deal with the whole question of policy. That would be the time for the hon. Member to raise the question he desires to bring before the Committee now.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
May I ask upon which Vote I can raise the question, because there has been evasion, and every Department shifts the responsibility on to another Department. I have repeatedly asked upon which Vote I could raise the question as to the policy of the purchases.
An hon. Member has handed to me an answer given by the hon. Baronet on 22nd April. As I understand it—the hon. Baronet will correct me if I am wrong—the Board of Agriculture was employed on the instructions of the Cabinet Committee. The Board was the instrument in carrying out the instructions of the Cabinet Committee, therefore the whole question of policy which arises on that must be dealt with by those representing the Cabinet in the House of Commons. The hon. Member (Mr. Houston) asks me upon which Vote he can deal with the matter. I do not exactly know now, but I am quite confident that this is not the right one. I should think it would arise on the Vote of Credit.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
This is a very important matter. As I understand it the effect of your ruling will be, if the Parliamentary Secretary had made some purchases through his Department, that those purchases could not be called in question because they were made by an order given to him by the Cabinet. Would it not be possible for the President of the Board of Education, when criticisms are made on his Estimates, to say, "Oh, that is not my fault, I was acting by order of the Cabinet"? I submit that all Ministers are, or ought to be, acting upon the order of the Cabinet. The only chance the Committee has of criticising a Department is when the Votes of that Department are before us. If the hon. Baronet has bought the wheat in question, then I submit it is in order to discuss the action of the Department in buying that wheat.
I am obliged to the hon. Baronet for his assistance, but it does not affect the judgment I have arrived at. There is nothing in these Estimates that has anything whatever to do with these purchases. A Committee was formed for the special purpose, and the Board of Agriculture is not responsible for the policy of that Committee. I see there are other Departments represented on the Committee, including the War Office, the Treasury, and the Board of Trade. Obviously, if I were to accept the suggestion now made to me, this question could be raised on every one of the Estimates of those Departments. Since 1170 the Debate began I have had sufficient time to consider the matter, and I am quite clear that it cannot be taken here.
I will hear but one more hon. Member on this. I give notice that I will not hear more.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Is it not a fact that the salaries of the President of the Board of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary are under discussion to-day, and that any point affecting their conduct can be raised? If the members of the Committee are of opinion that either the President or the Parliamentary Secretary have not sufficiently protected the interests of agriculture in their dealings with this matter, and have not stood up for the interests of agriculture before this Cabinet Committee, surely their conduct in not taking a greater part can be called in question?
That will immediately land the Committee in the whole policy of the Cabinet Committee. The action taken by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries is purely action taken on the instructions of that Committee. It is perfectly clear that once the Committee launches into a discussion on that subject it will be extremely difficult for it to balance itself as to whether it was not infringing upon the whole question of the policy of the purchases.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
If I am not entitled to go into the question of the policy of purchasing these large supplies of foreign wheat, I presume I am entitled to criticise the methods adopted in carrying out the instructions. If that is so, I am entitled to ask the hon. Baronet for further information on this point: He has already told us that he commenced to purchase in December. I want to know why he did not purchase earlier, and who he employed to make the purchases, because there is a great feeling of public discontent with regard to the agency employed. I have already asked in this House whether the agents who were employed while they were purchasing wheat on account of the Government were also dealing on their own account.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I cannot disagree with your ruling, Sir, but I am very sorry to hear it. There has been a conspiracy of evasion in this House to answer questions of great public interest. The hon. Baronet has repeatedly refused to give information which the public demand. I understand that the public have been in communication with the hon. Baronet, and we are entitled to know what his answers to the general public are. I am entitled to ask the hon. Baronet why he failed in his duty in carrying out the instructions of the Cabinet in not purchasing earlier, and also why he did not charter his ships earlier, with the result—
The hon. Member is persisting in disregarding my ruling. I am sure he is doing so unconsciously, but I must call his attention to the fact that he is doing so.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I am extremely sorry. I would not for one moment attempt to transgress your ruling. Am I in order in asking the hon. Baronet whether he can account for the price of certain articles of food in this country, and whether he can explain why bread is very much cheaper in France than in England, while the freights are much higher to France than to England? I maintain it is the action of the hon. Baronet in blundering in carrying out his instructions given to him by the Cabinet. If you, Sir, say I am not in order, I will not follow that line of argument further, but will raise the question on another Vote, if I am entitled to do so. As I could not get information from the Front Bench, I put down a Motion for a reduction of the Vote, only to be met by your ruling that I am out of order. I suppose that the next time I put down a Motion for the reduction of the salary of someone else, say, the President of the Board of Trade, I shall be met with the same ruling, and if I go on to the Home Department I shall again be met with the same thing. It seems to me that all these Departments are interlaced. All these Gentlemen belong to these different Committees which have been purchasing sugar, wheat and timber, and we are kept entirely in the dark as to the methods adopted. It is perfectly clear that these ineffectual and unbusinesslike methods have raised the price of wheat, sugar and everything else in this country. If I am not entitled to prosecute inquiries as to the names of the agents who purchased under instructions from the hon. Baronet, nor to ask whether they are carrying on their own private 1172 businesses—if these questions are out of order, I should like to know what really is in order?
§ Mr. HOGGE
On a point of Order. Would you mind giving some guidance to the Committee. I have in my possession a number of letters written by the Board of Agriculture with regard to the arrangements for the selling of wheat. Presumably they were written by servants in the Board of Agriculture and appertained to arrangements which were made, and which the hon. Member is trying to raise now. Are we not entitled in this discussion on the Estimates of the English Board of Agriculture to raise all matters which are dealt with in correspondence from that Department to the outside public?
My reply is that if there is a more proper occasion for dealing with this question, that is the occasion for dealing with it and not such a one as this, because these acts on the part of the Board of Agriculture are related to a policy for which the Minister tells me he cannot answer; so what is the use of going into them? The thing appears to be useless. It seems to me that as the Minister cannot answer for it I have no alternative but not to allow the discussion to go on.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Let us put aside the question of policy as you suggest. The Board of Agriculture, through its paid servants, of whom the hon. Baronet is one, is carrying out a public policy and is concealing from the public, who are concerned, facts which the public are entitled to know. This is our money that we are voting. We are paying some people for certain dealings in wheat which, we maintain, are affecting the price of bread. I submit that it is within the province of the House of Commons to discuss that policy on this Vote, and, if not so, might I suggest that it would be very acceptable to those who want to discuss the question if you could tell us what is the more favourable opportunity on which we can raise this point.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I ask if it is not the fact that the policy of the Meyer contract was discussed upon the Estimates for the Office of Works, which was only acting as an agent for the War Office in dealing with that contract? If, therefore, it was in order to discuss the policy of the War Office on the Vote for the Office of Works, it is just as much in order to discuss the action of the hon. Baronet on his Vote 1173 with regard to the question of wheat. The two things seem to be identical. The Office of Works bought some timber and the hon. Baronet has bought some wheat. They did not buy them for themselves, but for other Departments.
The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN
The answer to that is perfectly simple. The Office of Works accepted the responsibility for the policy. The hon. Baronet in charge of these Estimates says—and I accept what he says—that he is not responsible for the policy. Therefore, it seems to me clear that the discussion is futile. As to who is responsible, it is clear from the answer which the hon. Baronet gave on 22nd April—and I express my indebtedness to the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench—that the responsibility lies with the Cabinet Committee, for whom a Cabinet Minister will answer. It is not for me to say, but I should think that the proper occasion is on a Vote of Credit, and there are many other opportunities, of course, which hon. Members can take, and of which they are as well aware as I am, of raising those questions and bringing the attention of the Government as a whole to them.
§ Mr. CAVE
Would it not help you, Sir, and the Committee if we heard exactly what part this Cabinet Committee has taken in the matter, because, as I understand it, it can only be this: Members of the Cabinet consult together as to what their colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, shall do, and when they come to a decision he acts upon it and he is responsible to the House. If so, surely he and no one else must answer here for the decisions which are taken, otherwise there is not anyone who is responsible! The whole Cabinet is responsible for everything that the Cabinet does. But when a Minister has the decision of his colleagues he must answer in the House for what he does on the advice and on the decision of the whole Cabinet.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
Is it not the case that the so-called Cabinet Committee was a Committee appointed at the beginning of the War to deal with the relief of distress?
I am not at all unsympathetic towards the attitude of hon. Members. We have the statement of the Minister in charge that his Department is not responsible, and I must take that reply. I wish to do whatever I can to assist the Committee, but I would suggest 1174 that further questions with regard to this had very much better be addressed to the Prime Minister. I have given my ruling, and I must now ask the Committee to allow the Debate to proceed.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I will not question or discuss your ruling, but I should like to move the adjournment of the Debate, because we are really in a very unsatisfactory position. I do not want to discuss the ruling for a moment or to cast any doubt upon what the Chair has done, but at any rate we ought to have a Cabinet Minister present who could say what is the proper opportunity for discussing this question, and what actually-the Cabinet Committee has done. We are prevented from carrying on a discussion on a point which apparently everyone on every side of the House desires to have some information upon, and if the hon. Baronet will not give us that information and shields himself behind the rules of the Committee, with the consent of the Committee it would be quite possible for the hon. Baronet to answer the question.
I do not think I ought to allow that to pass. It is a matter for the Chair to decide what are the Rules of Order.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Certainly, but as a rule I think the Chair, if it sees that the House or the Committee unanimously desires that certain steps should be taken, gives way to the generally expressed wish of the House. But I am glad to see that the Prime Minister is present. If it is impossible to discuss the matter it is useless going on this evening. In order to give the Prime Minister an opportunity of making a statement, I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I have not had the advantage of hearing the discussion, but I think I know the point sufficiently to be able to deal with it. The Government are most anxious that this subject should be discussed. I can assure the hon. Baronet that there is no indisposition on their part that it should be discussed by the House of Commons, but it must be done at the proper time, and in proper order. I should have thought, and I understand the Chairman has so ruled, that it would be most inappropriate on the Vote for the Board of Agriculture to discuss a matter which does not fall within the administrative purview 1175 of that Board. When the salary of a Minister and the officials who are under that Minister come under discussion in this House in Committee of Supply, according to our inveterate and most excellently well-adjudged practice, debate is strictly limited to matters which fall within the administration of the Department of which he is the head, and they are the officials. That is not the case here. Whatever was done here was not done by the Board of Agriculture, but by another body. If the hon. Baronet says "give us an opportunity of discussing it," I say I will. There is nothing to conceal. But let us not do that at the wrong time and in violation of our established principles. I am sure that is an appeal which goes straight to the heart of the hon. Baronet, and I hope he will not persist with his Motion.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
As I understand the Prime Minister will give a day on which this question can be discussed, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am grateful for what the Prime Minister has said, but before we agree to the Motion being withdrawn I should like to put this further point, that the day should not be too long delayed. There have been quite a number of questions put on the Paper about this particular deal. They have all been answered, or rather they have not been answered, because the reply has always been in the negative by the hon. Baronet who represents the Board of Agriculture, the idea being that this is a Board of Trade matter which is being sent on to the Board of Agriculture to deal with. We are in that state of ignorance because the Board of Agriculture will not say anything. The price of food is rising daily and the trades, other than those concerned, are considerably agitated about the conditions, and we are entitled to discuss it at a very early date.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
When we have this opportunity given us to discuss the whole of this question will it be possible for the Minister answering the question to shelter himself against any criticism which may be offered as to the methods by which the Board of Trade carried out the instructions of this Committee? For instance, I take it that the Board of Agriculture had no limit placed to the prices paid for wheat, as to where it was to get it from, save from over-sea; and, further, as to 1176 how it was to be brought to the country. If these points will be included by the Prime Minister in the discussion which he has so kindly promised us the whole thing can be thoroughly gone into.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am surprised that my hon. Friend should ask that question. It is quite obvious that those points must be considered. Everything relevant to the transaction from first to last will fall within the purview of the discussion and be legitimate matter for criticism either by way of adverse or favourable comment. I cannot give any undertaking precisely when the Debate will take place.
§ Motion to report Progress, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for his appearance, because his presence is always helpful. I am in a great state of fog. I have been quite unable to follow your ruling, as I am suffering from deafness accompanying a cold. I was rather under the impression that you said this was a question I ought to address to the President of the Board of Agriculture, but seeing that be is in another place and I am not a Member of that other place, I have to fall back upon his representative here, who has kept me at arms length on every occasion on which I have addressed him. I am 6ure the Prime Minister will relieve my difficulty by telling me to whom I am to address this question and upon which Vote. I understand the Prime Minister has made that unnecessary and has given a day. Would the right hon. Gentleman give me any indication of when that will be?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I said I could not at this moment, but would consult the general convenience of hon. Members.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that the whole House will agree with me that it is far better that this air of mystery, which is causing a great deal of doubt and trouble and mischief, should be removed. I thank the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I should like to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture to the 1177 terrible condition of a large area of land in Norfolk which has been flooded for some three months past. Owing to the breaking of a river dam in the Isle of Ely a great deal of land has been covered with water to the depth of six or seven feet since the middle of January. Although pumping operations are going on incessantly I am afraid that there is no chance of this water being got off the land for some two or three months to come. Farmers and small holders have not only lost a good deal of their last year's crop, but they are not going to get a crop in the present season. The water has been upon the land so long, and during the stormy weather, that practically most of the houses and homesteads have been washed out. It is a terrible I condition of affairs in this part of the country, and one that I have never witnessed before. I do not think the House can appreciate the devastation which has been caused in that corner of England. These fens belong to five or six parishes. They are all of them under sea level, and owing to the river being at a higher level than the land and the bank breaking, all the water, amounting to millions of gallons, has to be pumped off.
The Development Commissioners have come to the assistance of the Drainage Boards that control this area. There are three or foul Drainage Boards in the area instead of one. The Development Commissioners are assisting them by lending them money without interest for the purpose of pumping off the water, and now the question comes, what is to be done at the end of the two or three months when the waters has been cleared from these 10,000 acres of land? The land is very suitable, most of it is arable land, and splendid wheat-growing land. Many of the small holders are ruined. They have lost a great part of their last year's crop. I believe there are 500 acres belonging to the Norfolk County Council, purchased for small holding purposes. The tenants on this particular land have only just got into possession, and have only had one previous harvest. I have no doubt they will be able to get assistance from the county council, but there are many other small holders who have suffered, some of them small freeholders, others small tenants of private land, and others who are small holders.
It is quite evident that this is a national question, because we want these 10,000 acres of land to be brought back into 1178 cultivation at the earliest possible moment. We shall find, I am afraid, when the water has been pumped off, that not only will the houses and buildings collapse, but that the ditches for draining the land are filled up. Therefore, a great work of reclamation will have to take place. Money will have to be found to reinstate these tenants and money will have to be found to rebuild the homesteads and farm buildings. I know we have the sympathy of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, because he has visited the district, and we have the sympathy of the permanent Secretary of the Board of Agriculture. For that sympathy I am sure that all concerned are very grateful. The question of rebuilding is urgent. At the present time these tenants, small holders and others, are living crowded together in two or three surrounding parishes, occupying church schoolrooms, chapel schoolrooms, council schools, and any buildings they can get. While I am hopeful that this water will be got off the land within the next two or three months, it seems to me that no time should be lost by the Board of Agriculture in coming to the assistance of the sufferers. I raise this question in the hope that the hon. Baronet will be able to give such a satisfactory reply as will put courage into these people, who have lost their all for the time being, who are honest, thrifty folks, and are anxious that all assistance that can be given to them should be given at the earliest possible, moment.
§ Mr. PATRICK WHITE
I cordially agree with the remarks of my hon. colleague as to the harshness of the action of the Board of Agriculture in regard to the hours of detention of Irish livestock in this country. I would refer specially to the ten hours' detention of lambs. The hon. Baronet's predecessor, the former President of the Board of Agriculture, immortalised himself in the eyes of every Irish agriculturist by stating from that Front Bench that lambs two months old fed on their mothers' milk, and the tenderest of grass, will gain in weight as the result of ten hours' detention on landing in Liverpool. That was a remarkable statement for a responsible Minister to make, and I dare say it will never be forgotten by Irish agriculturists. I would ask the hon. Baronet whether it is fair or reasonable to detain these animals ten hours on landing? The Lord tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, and surely the President of the Board of Agriculture might act a little 1179 humanely towards the gentlest of animals, iambs two months old. I would ask him to consider seriously and sympathetically whether this ten hours' detention in the case of lambs is necessary. I believe, if he would take into account the views of experts and the views of experienced agriculturists he will find that such detention is totally unnecessary, and I hope he will give the House some assurance that this ten hours' period will be no longer necessary.
There is another point upon which I should like some information. There is a great desire expressed by Farmers' Unions in Ireland for some of the mares brought back from the War for breeding purposes. I understood the hon. Baronet to say that the Department in Ireland has refused sanction to that proceeding. I would like to know whether any of the mares brought to this country from the War have shown signs of disease. If so, what was the nature of the disease, and is it of an infectious or dangerous character? Are the mares examined by veterinary surgeons in France before they return here? What is the procedure of getting them back? Does the Board of Agriculture arrange with the War Office for the distribution of the mares among farmers, or do the farmers deal directly with the War Office? This is a matter of considerable importance, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will be in a position to answer it. I should like information upon another matter. Never in the memory of anyone living in this House has meat fetched such a high price. I should like to know whether the Board of Agriculture in conjunction with the Irish Department, or whether the Board of Agriculture alone has held any inquiry or made any inquiries on the subject, whether the slaughter of immature heifers suitable for breeding purposes, or cows in calf, is likely to affect the supply of meat in future. If the hon. Baronet has any statistics to give to the House on this matter I should be very much obliged.
There is another matter of which he is fully cognisant. Last year an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease occurred in Liverpool. The disease spread to Cork, with the result that the ports of this country were closed against cattle from Ireland. That action inflicted serious loss upon the farmers and stock dealers in Ireland, because for several months the Irish cattle trade was held up. We, in this House, 1180 speaking on behalf of the cattle traders, and the cattle traders themselves all over Ireland, asked the hon. Baronet's predecessor last August to grant an inquiry, with the object of finding out whether any modifications of the existing regulations could be effected without endangering this country in the least. Negotiations took place between the hon. Baronet's predecessor and the hon. Member for Waterford, who acted on behalf of the Irish people. It was arranged that an inquiry should be held, the scope of the inquiry was fixed, and everything was arranged, so far as I know, except the constitution of the Committee, which was to make the inquiry. At that time the officers of the counties where the outbreak took place could not be spared to make the inquiry. Then the War broke out, and all men's minds and energies were bent upon securing a successful termination of the War, and it was considered not an opportune time for the inquiry. I want to know if a favourable opportunity occurs during his tenure of office, will the hon. Baronet carry out the promise which his predecessor made to the hon. Member for Waterford, as to granting an inquiry into the regulations which in time of disease could and might exist between Great Britain and Ireland?
§ Mr. H. HOPE
The Parliamentary Secretary in his interesting speech this afternoon asked the Committee to grant him the large sum of £341,000. Although that is a large sum, I am one of those who think that money can well be spent on the development of agriculture, and that probably in future years this Committee may think that a still larger sum might be spent. When I, as a Scottish Member, see this £341,000 given to the Board of Agriculture for England, I cannot help thinking what a niggardly sum has been given to us in Scotland. Whereas the English Board's estimate is only £2,000 less than last year, the Scottish Board has been docked of £177,000. I am not, however, going to carry that part of the discussion any further. The hon. Baronet referred to the labour question. At this time no more pressing matter could be brought forward. I hold that in considering what we can do to assist the agricultural industry with labour owing to so many men having been taken away, we must, in the first place, see that adequate wages are paid in the agricultural districts. If men are, to be got it is necessary that an adequate wage should 1181 be offered by the farmers. Undoubtedly, in the past, in some of the southern counties, the wage has not been sufficient to induce men to go upon the land. The hon. Baronet has referred to one or two means of supplying the necessary labour. He has referred to women's labour. I think he is doing good work in establishing farms or institutes and teaching women dairying. Undoubtedly, women who are taught in these schools will be very useful for milking, and not only will they be of great service to the country by assisting the dairy industry, but they will be provided with lucrative work themselves. As regards the Labour Exchanges, I am not quite sure that much good will be got for the agricultural industry through them. Agricultural work is skilled work, and the men to be got from the Labour Exchanges are not skilled. Some few skilled men may be obtained there, but, on the whole, I am afraid that the Labour Exchanges cannot be of practical service to agriculture in this matter.
As regards boy labour, undoubtedly boys over twelve years of age, whose parents desire them to work on the farm and whose future is to be in agricultural districts, can render useful service at the present time. I think that they will be qualifying themselves for profitable work in after years, and with the higher wages that are now being paid in country districts I think that if those boys are encouraged to begin this work at an early age they will never regret having taken to an agricultural occupation. One subject upon which I thought the hon. Baronet touched too lightly was the question of the export of grain offals. I think that the English Board of Agriculture have made a grave mistake in allowing these offals to leave the country during the past winter and spring. In Scotland the export was prohibited, but in England it went on under special licence. The result was that the grain offals which, as the Committee knows, are a by-product from barley and maize after malting has been carried on, have been going from Scotland to England and have been exported. The result has been that grain offals and all feeding-stuffs have risen in price very considerably. Generally, I think that they average from £2 to £3 a ton higher this season than in normal times. That has a great deal to do with raising the price of milk, as the cost of production has been raised so much, and 1182 it has also had an effect on the question of young stock. I think that the Board is open to a very grave charge for having allowed those articles to be exported. The export has gone on under special licence since last October, during all the winter and spring, and this has had a very serious effect. Scotland is under the English Board of Agriculture as regards foot-and-mouth disease of animals. Last August they allowed into this country, contrary to Statute, a considerable number of Friesian cattle from Holland. Holland we know has been a hotbed of foot-and-mouth disease for many years. Yet after all the lamentable experience of foot-and-mouth disease which you had some years ago, when Irish cattle were prohibited from landing in Scottish and English ports, we find the Board of Agriculture sanctioning the importation of these Friesian cattle. I only hope that the result of this Debate and of what has been said about their action in that matter will result in no more cattle coming in from those countries of Europe in which foot-and-mouth disease is so rife.
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
I understand that each Department has received instructions from the Treasury to spend as little as possible at present. That instruction has been very well followed out, in fact too well followed out in the case of Scotland, but too little regard has been paid to it in England. For instance, there is an increase for salaries in England under this Vote of £6,236 and in Scotland of £913. Travelling expenses in England are the same as last year; for Scotland there is a decrease of £1,315. I would ask the Secretary to the Board of Agriculture why it is that the travelling expenses in England bear the relation of about one-third of the total salaries while in Scotland they bear the relation of one-sixth. Travelling in Scotland is much more expensive than travelling in England, particularly as the officials have to cover a far greater area. Therefore, I would like to know if the explanation is whether the allowance in Scotland is calculated on a different scale from that which obtains in the case of England.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I shall have to look into these figures, but offhand I should say that the difference is due to the Special Inquiries Branch, which involves a great deal of travelling and does an immense amount of useful work that is not done to the same extent in Scotland as in England.
§ Mr. PRICE
That may be the explanation, but it is only a guess, though a very good guess. Take another item, the collection of statistics. In the English Vote there is an increase of £1,925; in Scotland there is no increase at all. In another Vote, agricultural dairies, that is for education; in England there is a decrease of £19,500. For agricultural research, that is, Grants-in-Aid, there is a decrease of £950. That is a decrease in those two Votes of £20,500. In Scotland you have a decrease of £12,250, which is a far bigger proportion than it should be, for it means that the decrease in Scotland is more than half the decrease in England.
§ Mr. PRICE
Whether the Scotsman needs it as much, at all events he likes to have the money paid for it. What is more, if we in Scotland value education very much, that is all the greater reason why there should be no reduction. While there has been a decrease in these items far greater in proportion in the case of Scotland than that of England, there has been a tremendous increase first of all in agricultural research of £7,235, and there is a new Vote—that is, for vegetable drying, fruit preserving, and so on, of £20,150. That involves a total increase in those two Votes of £27,385. If there had been a corresponding increase in the Scottish Vote, there would be no cause for complaint. But my point is that I know, as a fact, that there has been issued from the Treasury to the Scottish Department and the English Department this direction to do something to reduce those Votes. We in Scotland have carried out that instruction loyally. But in the case of English Departments there has not been anything like the same reduction. Therefore we have very great reason to complain. Under the Agricultural Vote we have as far as England is concerned a combination of the Agricultural Board and the Fisheries Board. In Scotland we have them under separate Votes. Take the Vote which comes on this afternoon. If the hon. Member will look at the English Vote he will find one item which has not appeared in that Vote for this year or last year, that is under the letter E. You have North Sea Fisheries International Investigation. That is the English section. I find that there is no Vote there at all now. There used to be that Vote. It is evidently transferred 1184 to some other Department. I cannot trace it. On the other hand, for precisely the same subject in the Vote of the Board of Fisheries, under G, there is transferred to us £5,579, so that the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in England and Wales is exempt from this particular charge, while it appears in the Votes as far as Scotland is concerned, giving Scotland relatively a bigger proportionate Vote than it really ought to have. I shall be glad if the hon. Baronet will give me some explanation of that, because it is scarcely fair if he transfers the Vote from the English Board to some other Department and he does not do a similar thing in regard to the Scottish Vote.
Take, again, the Fishery Vote. I find that the Grant for the development of fisheries in England is £2,790, showing a decrease of £250 from last year. In Scotland the Grant is £760, showing a reduction of £685. That is, you make a reduction of nearly 50 per cent. in the case of Scotland, while in the case of the English Vote you make a reduction of only about 10 per cent. If you take the total Votes for the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries so far as Scotland is concerned, there is a reduction of £180,000, while in the case of England the reduction is only £2,379. The reduction on Scottish Fisheries Vote is greater than the total in the case of the English Agricultural and the Fisheries Vote. I think that is scarcely fair, and it is in order to get some explanation that I desire to move the reduction of this Vote by £100. I recognise the principle that at this particular time the various Departments should be asked to economise as much as they can. But when that direction is being given by the Treasury to the various Departments the reduction should apply all round. I could go over other Votes if I desired to occupy more time and make the case much stronger, but I content myself with making this protest against asking Scotland to make this great reduction of the Vote, while in the case of England the reduction has been so exceedingly small.
§ Mr. CAVE
I have a grievance, which I would not bring forward at this time if it were not very urgent. It concerns men who are serving their country in the War. The case is that of gardeners in Kew who were engaged for two years. When the War broke out they were invited to enlist. They were told by notices posted up in the gardens that their places would be kept open and that their civil pay 1185 would continue, subject to certain deductions. I think that anyone would have understood that to mean that their civil pay would continue during the War and until they resumed their places. A number of them, very much to their credit, enlisted, and some of them are at the front. Now they are told that the civil pay will be stopped. The reason given is that the two years have run out, and that the civil pay can only continue during the remainder of their two years' engagement, and that they must then drop to the ordinary military pay without anything extra, and may come back when the War is over. I do not think that is a fair reading of the invitation which was addressed to these men; I do not think that faith is being kept with them.
I have had a conversation with the hon. Baronet on this question, and he received me in a very courteous manner and promised to go into it. I understand that he puts the blame on the Treasury. I do not care what Department is to blame, but I do very strongly say that it is not fair play to these men, who are serving as soldiers at the front. I say, most strongly, that what is being done is not within the real meaning of the invitation addressed to these men, nor of the promise held out to them through the Board of Agriculture and the heads of Kew Gardens, before they enlisted. I press the hon. Baronet not to be put off by the Treasury. The Treasury have their own construction of this notice, and they want to save a few shillings on this particular Vote. It is wrong; it is not fair treatment of the men, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to exert his influence and stand up for his Department, and insist that the men employed shall have fair treatment. I have stated my grievance, and I strongly urge that it shall receive attention at the earliest possible moment.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
I endorse every word that has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman with regard to the employés at Kew Gardens. We are living in extraordinary circumstances, and old traditions are going by the board all over the country. In this case the Treasury, I think, might break through its regulations and pay the men the wages they were receiving at the time they enlisted. There are different classes of employés in the gardens—gardeners, labourers, park constables, porters, and others. The gardeners receive 28s. a week; the labourers receive 24s., and, after five years' service, 1186 their wages are increased by one shilling. The park constables are paid 27s. for a seven days' week. Occasionally they are allowed a Sunday off, so that they work six days and a fraction of a day per week. A wage of 27s. a week is a starvation wage in present circumstances. The labourers are compelled to live in houses rented at from 8s. to 9s. 6d. per week. Take one of these who gets a maximum wages of 25s. a week—and 50 per cent. of them get that wage. Deducting 9s. from the 25s., the amount of 16s. is left on which to maintain a family. It is a very simple question. The wage is 25s., and if you deduct 9s. there remains 16s., upon which the man has to maintain himself and his dependants. I am told that many of these men have families, ranging from five children to nine children. Take a family of seven. The 16s. amounts to 2s. 3d. a week for each member of the family to live upon, or about 4d. a day.
That amount will nothing like maintain a family in comfort—nay, I will not say comfort; it is not sufficient to maintain them in a condition of physical efficiency. Therefore I do hope the hon. Baronet will do his utmost with the Treasury to get an increase of wages for these men. I may point out that the Kew District Council have either permanently increased the wages of their labourers or have given them a bonus which will last until the end of the War. I feel satisfied that when the War comes to an end the district council will not dare to go back to the old wages. That being so, I hope that the hon. Gentleman's Department will not be behind the district council in dealing with these men. They are extremely badly paid; there is no doubt about that. I feel certain that if the hon. Gentleman will only use his persuasive powers with the Treasury he will be able to obtain an increase of wages for these men. He informed me himself that if the heads of Departments recommended an increase of wage it would be granted, and I believe the head of Kew Gardens has recommended that these men should have their wages increased. The least the Government can do at the present time is to increase the 24s. to 27s., and the 25s. to 28s. I hope something will be done in that direction. This question is a hardy annual which has been brought up for years, and I feel sure that the Committee will agree with me that only 4d. a day for each member of the family is far too little, and it is a disgrace that so low a wage should be paid.
§ Mr. TICKLER
I want to direct the attention of the Treasury to another branch of agriculture, and a very important one—one which provides a staple food in this country, I allude to the branch which includes the fruit growers. At the present time they are very much concerned as to their ability, under the present condtiions, to get their fruit to market in the coming summer. We all know how the railways are congested, as they are in the hands of the Government, and it is of first importance that when the Government and the War Office require them for military stores and the moving of men, that they should be used for that purpose. The district to which I allude is South Lincolnshire and the borders of Cambridgeshire—Wisbech. There are only two stations in that neighbourhood — the Great Eastern and the Great Northern, from which 40,000 to 50,000 tons of fruit are sent in the season. As hon. Members are aware, it requires a very considerable amount of labour to dispose of it. It is of the highest importance that this fruit, which is very perishable, should be delivered at a station next morning. We know well that there are great delays on the railways at the present time, and should delay occur in the delivery of fresh fruit it spells ruin to hundreds of people in that district.
A very great number of these fruit growers are small holders, and the district to which I allude is an illustration of the success of small holdings, the greater number of these fruit growers being holders of the land. We know well that these men owe interest and other charges in regard to which they look forward to the fruit harvest to pay the amounts which are becoming due, and, should they fail, they are absolutely ruined; they have nothing to fall back upon. There has been already a deputation to the Board of Trade to seek their assistance in arranging a good service of trains to the various markets, and I appeal to the hon. Baronet to use his influence to secure, at any rate for the month of July and the last week in June, a regular service of trains, if that can possibly be accomplished. I say the last week in June and the whole of July, because that is the time growers are putting their strawberries on the market, and it is of importance that those strawberries should be delivered the next day. Wisbech is a long way from any of the large towns; therefore, it is imperative that these trains be sent away regularly in order that the 1188 goods may arrive by the first morning train. I, therefore, appeal to the hon. Baronet to use his influence with the Board of Trade and see that some arrangement is made by which these people may be enabled to get their fruit to market. It is a very important branch of trade. It is one of the staple foods of the country, and it is the more important, now that we have arrived at a time when all kinds of foods are increasing in price, that these people should be able to get their fruit quickly to market.
I desire to say a few words about the fisheries. The fishing town of Grimsby is in a very bad way at the present time. No doubt it is well known to the House that there has been a very great loss to the fishing trade. Up to the present time, I believe over forty vessels have been lost—blown up by mines. At the beginning of the War the enemy allowed fishing vessels to go free and did not molest them, with the exception of a few instances where they took them for their own purposes. But lately the enemy have issued orders to their submarines to blow up at sight every fishing vessel they find on the high seas. No doubt you have seen in the newspapers to-day that certain vessels from Hull and two from Grimsby have been blown up in this way. The loss of life up to the present has been about 300 from these fishing vessels, and it is becoming a very serious matter indeed to the owners of these vessels to secure crews who are ready to take the risk of going to sea and following their vocation of fishing. As fish is a very important article of food to the people of this country you will appreciate the necessity of keeping this trade going. As the House well knows, from Grimsby alone there have been taken about 600 steam trawlers for mine-sweeping. There has been no lack of volunteers among the men to become mine-sweepers.
Each vessel carries ten men, so that you have about 6,000 men who have volunteered to serve on those mine-sweepers. In considering the claims of these men, the Government have already promised, and I hope they will carry their promise into effect, to inquire into their conditions and pay, so that some provision may be made for the wives, families, and dependants of those men who lose their lives in following the dangerous work of mine-sweeping. This is a very important matter, and one which I know affects Grimsby very much. They are under very 1189 great difficulties indeed, and if any protection in any shape or form can be procured to those employed on these fishing vessels, in getting out to the fishing grounds and back again, it will be very highly appreciated by the people engaged in this trade. Things are coming to such a state that unless some great alteration takes place in the near future they will have to give up fishing entirely, and because of the very great danger, they have difficulty to secure men who are ready to go out and fish, because the boats are fired upon by the submarines and have nothing whatever to protect them. Therefore, if the Minister in charge can see his way to provide any kind of protection, it will be highly appreciated by the people of Grimsby.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I rise for the purpose of answering some of the many points that have been raised, and I desire, in the first-place, to thank the Committee for the very courteous hearing they gave to me before, and for the very friendly criticism which has been passed on the Board. I will refer first to the questions as to Kew, mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Kingston (Mr. Cave) and the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Tyson Wilson). The hon. Member for Westhoughton told us that his point was a hardy annual. I am afraid this is not a time to bring up hardy annuals, but is a time for extraordinary procedure, and for extraordinary difficulties rather than for hardy annuals.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
The hon. Member will realise that on the Debate on the Post Office Estimates exactly the same point arose, and the decision announced as far as it went was this, that you could hardly call on the State just now to pay more unless more work is being done by the recipient of the wage.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I think the hon. Member will see that it is reasonable that until the Post Office arbitration has 1190 been settled it is not possible to give a decision on the, Kew question. The hon. and learned Member for Kingston was good enough to tell me, privately, of the point which he raised. I do not think the case is quite as strong as he put it. The whole House will agree that those who have enlisted should be treated with the utmost generosity, but I almost think that the suggestion of the hon. Member amounts to lavishness rather than to generosity. Here are men who enlisted from Kew, and the hon. Member states that they were receiving civil pay. They were receiving subsistence allowance of 21s., and they were appointed for two years, and two years only. Some of those men, perhaps, had already served for eighteen months, and during the two years they are to receive the subsistence allowance. The hon. and learned Member's point is that they should receive the subsistence allowance not only for the two years for which they had been engaged, but until the end of the War. I think I am right in saying that that would be lavish. The present position of those men is that they receive the subsistence allowance that they were receiving at Kew. They have been kept by the War Office, and at the same time they have been getting 21s. civil pay, and the shilling as well. Even when the civil pay is done away with they are still better off than they were at Kew, because they are still kept by the Army and have the shilling, too. I think the strong case of the hon. and learned Gentleman is as to how far a promise was made to those men, because if a promise was made the promise must be kept. I do not want to cavil about words, and I do not want to give any decision now, but I am not convinced that any such promise was made. I think the way they have been treated is extremely generous in giving them subsistence allowance as well as keep and the shilling, with the further promise to take them back after the War is over for the remaining time. I think the only question that remains is, has a promise been made to then, and if so, has the promise been kept. If the promise has not been made, then I think we would be hardly justified in treating them with more generosity as it would amount almost to wasting the taxpayers' money; but we will look into the question again as to the promise.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I shall be most grateful to the hon. and learned Member. I now come to deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for the Tavistock Division (Sir J. Spear). He asked when the Report of the Committee on Foot-and-Mouth Disease, that went out to India, would be printed. It has already been printed, and, perhaps, I may hand the hon. Gentleman my copy so that he may have the opportunity of reading it. With regard to the slaughtering of animals, animals are not necessarily slaughtered because they are on the same farm. In the Deal case I went down myself, and it was quite a small affair of a dairy farmer. All his cattle in one field were slaughtered, but there were two young cattle two fields away, and they were not slaughtered. They had not been in direct contact—
§ Sir H. VERNEY
What I stated was, that it does not follow that all the animals on a particular farm are slaughtered. If it is shown to the satisfaction of the Board that there was no sort of risk of the animal having been in contact with the animal which had foot-and-mouth disease, it does not follow that those animals will be slaughtered. The hon. Member also raised the very thorny and difficult subject of swine fever. I confess, I think, swine fever has been the most unsuccessful of all the attempts of the Board of Agriculture in dealing with disease. It is extremely difficult. It is very easy to criticise and very difficult to suggest any better alternatives. But ever since the War has begun, the Board have done what they could to preserve pig life with a view to maintaining the supply of food, and not to destroy more than is absolutely necessary. We hope that the anti-swine fever serum will prove a great help in preserving pig life in the future. The Report of the Committee on the subject is awaiting a report from the chief veterinary officer on some comprehensive experiments, and then the official Report will be published. Meanwhile, the Board are dealing in an experimental way with the serum treatment. I have got particulars here of one case of an outbreak in the South of England where there was a herd of 121. Six of the pigs died of the disease, and ten affected pigs were slaughtered on behalf of the Board, and if 1192 nothing had been done it is more than likely that the remaining 109 would have caught the disease and died. Three days after confirmation of the disease, the 109 remaining cases were injected with anti-swine fever serum, and nine of those were suffering from the disease when the injection took place. The officer of the Board examined the herd fourteen days after injection, and thirty-two days after. He reported that 100 pigs which were apparently healthy when the serum was injected were thriving, and of the nine pigs affected, eight subsequently recovered, and one was destroyed. I think those figures are encouraging, and I trust that the remaining figures will be as encouraging. I would not venture to prophesy, but I think the hon. Member will agree that those figures do lead us to hope that we may have found something in this serum which will solve an almost insoluble problem.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
It is the hope of the Board that before very long it will be generally followed, but it is at present in an experimental stage. We are anxious to widen the scope of the experiments. We had some experiments in Essex.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
In a good many instances, and very extensively in some counties. The hon. Member for Tavistock also asked me a question about anthrax. I may perhaps tell him that the carcasses are almost invariably burned now, and that has been found to be the more satisfactory method. Although the number of animals affected last year showed an increase, I am glad to say that there is a decrease in the first quarter of this year. I agree with the hon. Member that the disease is one of the most difficult with which we have to deal, but we hope that experiments will enable us to do so more satisfactorily.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
Perhaps the hon. Member will refer to the question of epizootic abortion, and as to getting all the county councils into line.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
The Orders which were imposed in Devon and Cornwall were imposed at the request of the local authorities, and I think it is 1193 extremely doubtful whether it would be possible to impose by Statute on all local authorities Orders which they were unwilling to adopt. The hon. Member's point was that Dorset and Somerset, neighbouring counties, had not got an Order of the kind, and that we ought to apply to them the same Order that was applied to Devon. For the moment the Board are not prepared to follow that policy. The hon. Member for Meath, N. (Mr. P. White), raised the very thorny, often-debated question of the ten hours' detention. As the hon. Member knows, I have not been at the Board very long, but I have made it my business to go into this question of animals arriving from Ireland partly from my affection for that country. I have been round all the landing stages except, I think, one. I have seen the animals arriving and landing. I have seen the ten hours' detention, and I have looked into the matter night and day in England, Scotland, and Wales. The conclusion I have come to is this, that from the disease point of view, which, of course, is most important, it is an immense safeguard to have the ten hours' detention in English ports. The veterinary inspector is then able to inspect the animals twice—as they leave the ship and after their rest. I do think it is an immense safeguard against the importation of disease to have the ten hours' detention. That being so, the House will understand that the Board are not prepared to relax the ten hours' detention. Apart from that, we come to the question of how this affects the animals themselves. I wish the hon. Gentleman would come with me to Birkenhead, or Stranraer, or Glasgow, or anywhere he likes, and see for himself what happens when those animals come, and the way they settle down to their food, and the way it improves them to have the ten hours' detention. It is most humane. The hon. Member also raised a question about lambs, and put rather an extreme case, which is a difficult one, of a lamb just taken from the ewe. Let him take a normal case of lambs three or four months old. The tests to which the President of the Board of Trade referred were taken in the presence of others. The lambs were weighed at the beginning of the ten hours' detention and at the end, and the results proved, I think conclusively, that the lambs not only did not suffer, but actually increased in weight during that time.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I will consider the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman about it. The hon. Member raised a number of important points, to which I take no objection, among them being the question of an inquiry. I must ask him to excuse me from giving a definite answer at the moment on that matter. I rather think that the present time of war is not the best time for an inquiry, and that we must wait until the War is over. Another important point raised was with regard to the slaughter of immature stock. It is possible to make a very long speech on that very important subject, but I will only say that the Board are watching the matter, not from week to week, but from day to day. They are receiving reports, in some cases disquieting, in others normal, as to the slaughter, not only of calves and lambs, but of in-calf cows and breeding stock generally. As the Committee will remember, the Board have powers under the Slaughter of Animals Act of last Session to prevent slaughter of this kind, and the use of those powers is engaging our very earnest consideration. I will just say in a word that those who know anything about agriculture will know the extraordinary difficulty of enforcing anything of the kind. A great number of difficult questions immediately arise. What is an in-calf cow? What period would you fix beyond which the cow is not to be killed? The Committee will see at once that a number of very intricate points arise. We are watching the case most anxiously, really from day to day, and on the whole up to the present we think that, while the matter is serious, there is no call for such drastic action as we could take under the Slaughter of Animals Act. I would appeal to those who represent agriculture to help to form public opinion on this matter. I think the matter has only to be put before the farmers, not only as to their patriotic duty, but as to the advantage to their pockets, as there can be no doubt that if, in a light-hearted way, farmers are slaughtering their breeding animals because the price of meat happens to be high and food is dear, they are serving neither the best interests of the country nor their own interests either. I hope that the result of the raising of this point will be that farmers will reconsider the policy of slaughtering breeding stock, and 1195 that public feeling will be so much against it that it will not be necessary for the Board of Agriculture to adopt any violent method for dealing with the matter.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
If my hon. Friend will not interrupt me I shall be able to give voice more readily. The hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Price) raised a point with regard to the Estimates, and complained that, whereas the Scottish Board have been willing to reduce their Estimates at the request of the Treasury, we have only inflated ours. First of all, the hon. Member knows as well as I do the enormous value of the English fisheries as compared with the Scottish fisheries. Therefore it is possible that the increase in regard to the English fisheries may appear out of proportion to those who do not realise the enormous increase of the English fisheries over the Scottish.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
No, I cannot, but I will communicate with my hon. Friend on the matter. With regard to the fruit and vegetable drying, I would only say that, whereas the Estimate appears as £20,000, there is also an Estimate that £17,000 of that will be recovered by the sale of produce, and that produce will, in many instances, be given to the Army and be of national value in that way. One or two other points were dealt with by the hon. Member for Wilton (Mr. C. Bathurst) and others. On the question of feeding-stuffs, without wishing to misrepresent the facts, the hon. Member for Wilton quoted figures which did, as a matter of fact, mislead the Committee, because, when dealing with exports, one should deal with net exports, and not with goods which have been already imported into this country. Take, for instance, the particular question of maize. Whereas in the three months ending 21st March, 1914, five million hundredweights 1196 were imported, in the corresponding three months in 1915 fourteen million hundredweights were imported. Therefore the exports which seemed inflated are explained by that figure. On the general question, we receive more than the equivalent from the neutral countries to whom we export any feeding-stuffs. For example, in the butter, margarine, and bacon which are coming from Denmark, we get more than the value of the small amount of feeding-stuffs which is allowed to go to them from this country. The question of whether or not the export of feeding-stuffs should be allowed is governed entirely by the price in this country. It is only when the price in comparison with other feeding-stuffs is low that any export is allowed at all. The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts), whom I would like to thank for his extremely interesting speech, made a number of suggestions which we shall consider very sympathetically. With regard to the carriage of fruit, a fortnight ago my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs introduced a deputation to the Board of Trade on this subject. What we are pressing for and what I hope it will be possible to arrange—the season for it has not yet arrived—is that fruit shall be on the preferential list after Government stores. If that is accomplished, the question of the carriage of fruit will be provided for.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
Would that apply to the railway system generally? An enormous quantity of goods come from Cornwall, and it would be of great value if we could make such an arrangement with the railway companies.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
We shall do our best to deal with the matter as regards Cornwall as well as regards other areas. Another point raised by the hon. Member for Norwich upon which I must comment was the question of small holdings. I am as sorry as anyone that it was necessary, as I am afraid it was, to curtail the purchases of land on the Small Holdings Account. But I would point out to the Committee that leasing in connection with small holdings can go on, and is going on. Those councils which take the interest which the hon. Member for Norwich takes in the question of small holdings and are willing to take action in this direction can do a very excellent work by leasing land for small holdings and carrying on the small holdings movement in that way. But if less is being done in regard to small holdings, more is being done for the 1197 co-operative movement. The energies of the Commissioners and of the staff of the Board are being directed towards the assistance of small holders in the direction of co-operation. The Board and the Agricultural Organisation Society welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Norwich has been good enough to become a governor of the latter body. In that way the work of the Board and of the society will make progress and this all-important question of co-operation receive due attention.
§ Mr. P. WHITE
Can the hon. Baronet give any information with regard to the condition of the mares returned from France for breeding purposes in this country?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
They are free from any hereditary or infectious disease; but they all have some blemish, or they would not have come back. We put them in quarantine, and as far as possible isolate the danger.
§ Question, "That a sum not exceeding £141,548 be granted for the said Service," put, and negatived.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.