§ Motion made, and Question proposed.
§ 11. "That a sum, not exceeding £135,160, 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, 1917, 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 (Mr. Acland)
I think the Committee may require from me some statement of the work of the Board of Agriculture, so that they may judge whether we are doing our proper share of the nation's work during the War. I confess that I attempted to compile a review of the whole of the work of the Board, but I found when I had completed it the volume would have been 1832 so great that it would have wearied and overwhelmed the Committee, and therefore I am asking leave to select certain subjects only, and to deal with them rather fully instead of dealing generally with its work. I thought it would be better I should make a few subjects interesting rather than succeed in making many dull. I think it will be due to the Committee to give some account first of the work of certain committees that have been set up by the Board of Agriculture in connection with our work, and then I will try to say something about the work of the Fisheries and Education Branches of the Board. Then I want to deal with the important work done by the Special Inquiries Branch and by the War Agricultural Committees which have been set up. Then I will try to consider the labour difficulty, which is the greatest agriculture has to face at the present time, and, if I may, I will wind up by attempting to estimate the present position of the agricultural industry with regard to possible further recruiting. I shall not refer to any questions which are not in some way directly connected with the War, but what I leave out I will, of course, do my best later on to supply if hon. Members desire.
I will prefix what I have to say on the subject by the briefest possible summary of the cost of the Board's work and the staff with which it is being carried on. The real saving in expenditure on agricultural services from national funds in this year's Estimate is nearly £100,000—or about one-fifth of the present gross total expenditure. Of the staff, which, including that at Kew Gardens, numbers 860 men, 277 are serving with His Majesty's Forces, and I will ask the Committee to imagine what that means in increased hours and decreased leave for all the staff that remain. I may remind the Committee that besides having to work with reduced money and reduced staff, we are working with a third handicap, i.e., that our central offices are scattered over no fewer than ten different buildings in different parts of London, and just as we were about to move into another building last year so as to get our whole staff under one roof the Minister of Munitions was created, and he promptly commandeered it. I now come to the work of the Committees which have been set up. The Committee whose work I wish to mention, not fully, but simply to afford the Committee pegs upon whic 1833 to hang discussion or criticism are the Wheat Committee, the Fertilisers Committee, and the Timber Committee.
In the case of the Wheat Committee, which is well known, the Board has, under the direction of the Cabinet Committee on Food Supply, taken active measures to ensure that the reserve stocks of wheat in this country were adequate to provide for any contingencies that might arise. In November, 1914, the President of the Board appointed a Committee with executive powers, and the result of their efforts was that the reserve of wheat in this country throughout last year was sufficiently maintained notwithstanding the special difficulties of the season owing to the relative shortage of supplies and the lateness of the American crop. This Committee is still actively pursuing its work, and it is working out a scheme in which the millers of the country generally are assisting in close co-operation with the representatives of the corn trade. The President of the Board desires me very cordially to acknowledge the loyal and patriotic manner in which the members of the corn trade and the millers are co-operating with the Board in carrying out this very necessary scheme of insurance against the risk of the depletion of our wheat reserve in spite of their own personal interests and opinions. Last year, if the Committee will cast their minds back, they will remember it appeared to be held by certain members of the corn trade that if wheat went up or down in price, or if supplies were plentiful or scarce, it was equally the fault of the Government. This year that sort of feeling has practically disappeared. Perhaps the Board has learned something; perhaps we have learned to know one another better, and the increased knowledge has produced increased trust.
During the present year, I am glad to say, another activity of the same Committee has been found possible, and arrangements have been made with our Allies—French and Italian—so that the purchase of wheat for the three Governments, can be made by a Joint Committee, and so avoid the competition which undoubtedly occurred last year. That Committee meets every day at one of the offices of the Board of Agriculture, and it has been successful, in spite of considerable difficulty as regards freight, in securing the supplies required in such a manner as to avoid competition between 1834 them in the wheat markets. The time has not yet come to describe in detail the steps that have been taken, but when the whole operations come to be reviewed it will then be seen, I think, that the object in view has been achieved, which is the preservation of the national security in the matter of wheat supplies.
The second Committee was the Fertilisers Committee, which was appointed in October last year with a view to making arrangements as far as possible to provide adequate supplies of fertilisers for the use of the farmers of the United Kingdom. We bought some nitrates of soda in Chile with a fair prospect of being able to bring them over to make them available for farmers' use.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Yes, at the time we purchased the supplies there was every prospect of getting the ships. I hope the hon. Member and others will remember the position of the nation at that time. From that moment the position as to freights became much worse owing to the large new national commitments, and it has not improved. The Panama Canal closed and has not been reopened, and the supplies we bought were not lifted. That is undoubtedly a failure to do what we had hoped, namely, to increase the available supplies of nitrates for the farmers this season.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I was in process of describing what has occurred. I think I have said clearly the nitrate was not lifted. Up to the present we have not succeeded, but we still hope to do so. But I should like to ask if the judgment of the Committee should be suspended for the time I shall be quite willing to stand in a white sheet if we finally fail to make good. But I ask the Committee to give us the best chance of making good by refraining from asking details as to quantities and prices. I know that certain interested persons are very anxious to find out dates and prices, perhaps more in their own interest than for the good of the Committee and the Government, and I shall be very much obliged if they will refrain from pressing 1835 for these details until the transactions have been finally concluded. As to sulphate of ammonia, I need not describe in detail what has been done. Those who are interested probably know; those who are not, want to know. I claim without hesitation that the action of the Committee has resulted in a considerably increased application of this most valuable fertiliser with the certainty of considerably increased production as a result. The reports that the Board have got completely justify that statement, and also, though it is very difficult to say what the price of everything would have been had the action not been taken which was taken, undoubtedly the price has been kept down to a reasonable point compared to other manures and compared to the prices of the crops which the sulphates will help to produce. Many investigations and inquiries are going on with regard to other sources of fertilisers, but I would rather not say anything about them until I can speak with more certainty than I can now.
Perhaps the most important Committee from a national point of view of these three Committees is the Home-Grown Timber Committee. This Committee was set up at the end of November last. Its object was to increase our supplies of home-grown timber, not by supplanting but by supplementing the efforts of the timber trade, particularly as regards the supply of timber for Government Departments—the clear, outstanding object of its work. To the extent to which this work can be successful there are two gains: First, the State obtains timber at a reasonable price, and, secondly, which is even more important, we save in freight, of which normally a very great deal is taken up by timber imports. The work of the Committee has divided itself into three distinct parts: (1) The organisation of purchases; (2) the organisation of plant; and (3) the organisation of labour. In all three directions the task has been not to take hold of any existing available machinery, but to make available machinery which would not otherwise have been available for this purpose at all. We have had, in fact, to start from nothing and to build up an organisation which, I hope, is now becoming fairly effective. I will simply report results, which are that we have either supplied or purchased, or are in the process of felling and converting, about 11,000,000 cubic feet of soft wood for use as scantlings or sleepers and 1836 in dug-outs at the front, and about 32,000,000 lineal feet of pit-prop and wire-entanglement timber. We have also bought less quantities of certain hard woods. Landowners, on the whole, have been most public-spirited in offering us their timber at prices which, I think, have been fair to them, but which often have been rather less than they could have obtained elsewhere from timber merchants. It is a pleasure to be able to add that the Crown has set an example with regard to the use of the New Forest and the Windsor plantations such as the Committee would expect in a matter of this importance.
As to labour for timber-felling purposes, we have been in negotiation as to, or have actually employed Belgians, Portuguese, Irish, soldiers, Public-school boys, Maltese, Indians, Canadians, German prisoners, and labour found through the. Employment Department of the Board of Trade. Of all these different sources by far the most useful and valuable have been the Canadians. I cannot express to the Committee the energy which was shown by the Government of Canada, as soon as the matter was put before them, and by the officers whom they appointed in raising a Forestry Battalion, which has come over here to work in our woods. The Government and the people of Canada are naturally interested in their own timber, but they realised that the position of the Empire as to freight was so serious that we could not now be expected to supply our needs from Canada if it were possible to supply them here at home. They have shown a true Imperial spirit in helping us to supply them in the most practical manner possible. The only difficulty will be to keep these men with big enough blocks of timber to cut. We, as a Committee, shall do our best, but if any member of the Committee here has a block of, say, 2,000 or 3,000 acres which he would like to see melt away before his eyes under the most expert felling and conversion of our friends from the other side of the Atlantic, I shall be most happy to receive his offer.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Yes, I know. The Committee has made an arrangement for the employment of 500 German prisoners, but we have not yet succeeded in settling with some of the Departments concerned the exact localities in which they may be allowed to work. I have just opened a 1837 note which I have had put into my hand which states that all the difficulties have been removed and that that number will be employed very promptly in felling timber under conditions approved both by the War Office and the Admiralty. In connection with this timber work it might interest the Committee to know that we have had to take the power of requisitioning timber. We do not intend to obtain our main supplies through requisitioning, but we have obtained the powers chiefly so as to make the best use of the timber, plant and labour which are available by concentrating on the best timbered districts, in order to avoid the constant moving about of the plant and labour. The powers we have enable us to do that, and, by so doing, to be fair as between one owner and another. It would be rather hard on the man who is willing to throw his whole possessions into the service of the State if we should have to take nearly all the timber he has got, while his neighbour does nothing. By using in certain cases the powers of requisitioning, we shall be able to ask both of them to make a fair contribution, in spite of any legal and other difficulties which are sometimes found on estates. It is chiefly these difficulties which stand in the way; it has never been a case of lack of good will. Owners have always been willing to sell, but there have been these difficulties, which the power of requisitioning enable us to get aver. We may have to requisition in a case if we know that timber merchants have options on timber, or have made purchases with no possibility of being able to fell or convert either now or in the immediate future. We want the timber now. If the War Office say they want the timber, we shall have to take it, otherwise it would not get converted at all. I want to make it quite clear that it is not intended to use the powers of requisitioning to supply coal mines or railway companies with timber at a rate less than that which allows to the timber owner or dealer a fair profit on his expenditure or work. Perhaps I may be allowed to make one further observation in this connection, which is that the inroads that must be made into our native timber supplies owing to the work of this Committee and otherwise during the War do make the development of a comprehensive national forestry policy at the earliest possible moment after the War a matter of the very first importance.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Yes, a good deal is being done, but it is not easy to get a post-war policy arranged during the War. I wish it were. The Government, however, realise, as the hon. Member does, the importance of getting on. So much for the Committees with regard to which I thought it right to make a statement. There are two Departments of the ordinary normal work of the Board about which I wish to say something, I hope the Committee will be interested in the Sea Fisheries work with which the Board is connected. We are all instinctively attracted by anything that has to do with seafaring, particularly when it makes so large a contribution as do the sea fisheries to our food supply. Normally the weight of fish landed and consumed in this country is fully one-third of the weight of meat, whether grown here or imported. The Committee may have realised this before, but I own it was a surprise to me to find that we made so great a use of our fish supplies in normal times. I confess I have been particularly interested in the work of the sea fisheries because of the contrast there is between the dual activites of the Department. Fish is a home product which costs nothing to cultivate, and an import for which no money goes out of the country, while the capital outlay in proportion to the yield is smaller in the case of fisheries than in the case of any other food-producing industry. From a national point of view, therefore, fish is the cheapest food we can have. Mr. Stephen Reynolds, whom we have the good fortune to have employed for a great part of his time on the Board's work, has reminded me that the contrast between the yield of the land and that of the sea is rather neatly expressed by seafarers themselves in an old song:The husbandman has rent to pay,Blow, winds, blow!And seed to purchase every day,Row, boys, row!But he who farms the rolling deeps,Though never sowing, always reaps.The ocean's fields are fair and free,There are no rent days on the sea.I think perhaps the greatest interest which we have in our fisheries and fishermen arises, or should arise, from the work that they have been doing during the War. No full story of it can yet be told, but we all know in general what has been done. Sea fishing is always a dangerous occupation, but it has been dangerous in a special 1839 degree since the War began. Yet wherever the danger was greatest, there the fisherman went, if his permit allowed him, and perhaps sometimes whether it allowed him or not. Nothing has been able to daunt these men, although about 270 fishing boats have been lost and 500 men have lost their lives at the hands of the enemy. But it is not fish only that they have fished for. Trawlers and drifters have been taken over by the Navy as minesweepers and have done splendid work—sometimes very far indeed from their homes. And I fancy that fishing methods have been applied largely by fishermen themselves against even larger and more important creations of the enemy than mines. However great the danger, and however depleted the fishing fleets and the numbers of the men, fishing has gone on all the time. The weight of the catch of fish last year was nearly 6,000,000 cwt., compared with 15,000,000 cwt. before the War, and though this is a very serious decrease in quantity, the value of the total catch for 1915 was nearly £8,000,000 compared with an average of £9,250,000. Fishermen might well have laid aside their calling as being attended with too great a risk, yet no fewer than 3,500 permits were in operation on 1st April this year. The arrangements for issuing these permits have brought the officials of the fishery division, of the Board into close touch and consultation with the Admiralty. The relations between the two Departments have been very intimate and cordial, and I desire to take advantage of this opportunity to express appreciation of the sympathy which has been shown with fishing interests by the Admiralty and the officers of the Navy, and of the very great readiness with which the necessary restrictive Regulations have been framed and modified to suit the requirements of the industry and to meet the representations made on behalf of the fishing industry. It is also due to thank the clerks and fisheries officers of the several Sea Fisheries Committees, and the several local correspondents at fishing stations in the Thames Estuary, who have carried out duties in connection with the issue of permits which have often been very heavy, and have done it entirely gratuitously in order to help the industry with which they are connected. We have had to lay aside practically thelnternational Fishery Investigations owing to the War. I do not refer, therefore, to scientific work 1840 on this occasion, but I do not want to have it thought that the Board attach less importance to scientific work now than in the past. Members of the scientific staff of military age are either actually serving, of course, or otherwise engaged in war work, but a few of them are engaged in working up existing scientific material or carrying out investigation in estuaries and inland waters. In particular experiments have been going on and are now carried out with regard to the purification of shell fish which have been polluted by sewage contamination, and I understand that this year those experiments will have the effect of bringing back into use very important food supplies which have had to be given up for years owing to sewage contamintion. We are going to publish a Report on this work as soon as we can.
There is one other subject in connection with fisheries that I beg leave to mention, and that is the development of the scheme for installing motors in fishing crafts in Devon and Cornwall. The Committee will remember the conclusion of the Report of the Harms worth Committee of Inquiry, which reported in 1913, and some of whose sentences have become almost classic. They say:In no light spirit we began our investigations, with a deep sense of the tragedy of the present situation we ended them.and they gave a very moving description of what they called the "Dead Boats Graveyard," at Lelant. It seemed then as if the fisheries were dead and could not possibly be revived. There was a loan to Cornwall from the Development Fund of £4,000, for the purpose of installing motors, and a Grant of £2,000 was made to Devon. With the Cornish loan more than thirty motors have been installed in fishing boats, and it has been found that the loan has not only not sapped private enterprise, but has very much stimulated the provision of private motors in other boats. Last August, before the herring season, there were no arrears on the loan, and after the herring season one of the fishermen's societies, through which the loans are made, had paid off, or was paying off in eighteen months, more than half the total sum which had been advanced. The fishery has, in fact, turned the corner, and is on the up grade. There is good ground for hope that the decay of the smaller fisheries and their valuable seafaring population may still be turned into prosperity. We shall lose, if at all, only in picturesqueness. No longer will the 1841 fishing boat beat up against a head wind or he becalmed off harbour, to the delight of artists, while the fish train goes out. A motor fishing boat is able to follow and catch the fish and hustle back into harbour and catch the train, and the fishermen now are often saying they would sooner be without their boats than without their engines. Moreover, the engines in very many cases have enabled old men and lads to take the place of men on active service, which otherwise they would not have had the strength to do.
There is only one thing more, and that is that sound finance in so chancy an industry as fishing is only less necessary than the boats and the fish. The boats and gear are still very perishable, in spite of the motors, and are only sound security if insured. For that reason, the Administrative Committee in charge of the West Cornwall Loan has promoted a co-operative fishing vessels insurance society. There has been the usual difficulty—how insure without a reserve fund, and how accumulate a reserve fund except out of premiums—but this has been largely met owing to the generosity and foresight of a certain Mevagissey firm, Messrs. Dunn, which I should like to acknowledge, and a scheme of insurance is soundly established and should spread throughout the whole of the West of England, and thus not only safeguard fishermen against loss, but render their boats sound security on which to raise money on proper business terms. Access to credit on proper business terms is, perhaps, even more important in the fishing industry than in any other.
I come now to the subject of education, and I believe I shall be able to show that it has a very considerable bearing on the War. The Board brought in a new scheme of agricultural education just about the time when the War began, and, of course, that has been retarded owing to the depletion our staff and the necessity for very stringent economy, but undoubtedly the popularity of agricultural education has advanced and there has been real progress in the use made by the farmers of the facilities which have been offered. To express the development simply, instead of spending, as the State did in the year 1910, about one-eighth as much on agricultural education as Prussia in that year, and about one hundred and fortieth as much as the United States Government spent in that year, we shall spend under our normal scheme about one-third of what Prussia spent and one-fiftieth of what the United 1842 States spent six years ago. Needless to say, in my opinion, that is still inadequate for the importance of the subject. Agricultural education in England has been an instance of the good being the enemy of the better in this way: That we had a high level of farming before the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, and then there were bad times, which checked progress and enterprise, and tempted farmers rather to live on the reputation of their ancestors and not to improve on their methods. Therefore the task of bringing science to bear on the agricultural industry, as it ought to be brought to bear on all industries, was very difficult. Other countries, such as Germany and the United States, where the level of practice was very much lower than here, realised that they could not reach a high level without great schemes of education, so they went in for them very thoroughly, and we were in danger rather of being left behind.
Another reason why agricultural education hung back here was that we did not at first realise perhaps what a difficult business it was. People thought that men who knew a little of the chemistry of soils would teach farmers to revolutionise their business. But they did not stop to find out what scientific facts underlay the high standard of production that we had gradually attained to. They did not take sufficient account of local circumstances. They did not realise that it is only by practice, allied with theory, and not from theory alone, that the farmer can be expected to learn. Some counties, for instance, thought that once they had engaged a few lecturers all would be well. They did not think it necessary to attach their work to central teaching institutions or to centres for research, and so there was a good deal of frothy and poor work. Nothing, I am sure, educates so badly as bad education or holds back good education so much, and there was a good deal of that in the early days. But during the last four or five years the situation has been reviewed, and it has been found advisable to aim at the following things: First of all, much more careful study of agricultural problems and a much greater realisation of their difficulty; secondly, a much closer connection between scientific workers and farmers; thirdly, increased financial aid, so that it should be made worth while for men of real ability to devote long years of study to agricultural questions. I do not think enough has been done as to that 1843 yet, and a man of really first-class scientific ability and powers of application may, by the time he is about thirty, hope with luck to be obtaining remuneration somewhere between that of a chauffeur and that of a coal trimmer. I cannot put it higher than that. Fourthly, there should be much closer touch between the Board of Agriculture and the educational institutions and the local education authorities. This principle led to establishing national research institutes, advisory centres for groups of counties, and the development of local instruction by comparatively liberal grants, and a fairly generous scholarship scheme. This co-ordinated scheme has been started, and there is now, almost everywhere, a proper framework, although it has not been easy, but often impossible, to bring up the standard of all to the standard of the best, but there has, without any doubt, been a great advance in the realisation by fanners of what has been done, and in the fact that it is of direct benefit to themselves. As one of the county organisers recently said, "the education pill coated with war is readily swallowed."
I have recently had the pleasure of seeing reports by some of the men who are doing the best work in agricultural education as to the progress made and the results obtained, and the Committee will be interested in some of them. First of all, Dr. Russell, of Rothamsted, who stands very high as an authority, lays stress on the close interdependence of educational and advisory work and inspection and control, and the essential connection of all of them with research. He says that sensational developments in agriculture are not to be expected, but the best that can be, hoped for is to improve yields by a few pounds per cent. and to reduce costs in a similar way, and he points out that the magnitude of the industry is so great that a 1 per cent. improvement represents in the aggregate a notable addition to the national wealth. He shows how the right use of artificial and the prevention of waste in the soil itself, or of farmyard manure, may just make this little difference which really means so much. Professor Wood, of Cambridge, says the new and unaccustomed conditions in which farmers find themselves have caused them to ask for advice on all kinds of subjects to an extent which he has never known before. Farmers had, before the War, a good knowledge of the standard feeding- 1844 stuffs, such as linseed and cotton cake. During the War these have often gone up to very high prices, while new materials, such as ground nut cake, soya bean cake, cocoanut cake, and palm nut kernel, have come on the market. Professor Wood and his colleagues have been teaching at Cambridge how to judge of the prices of these new materials by comparing the food units present with those in standard feeding-stuffs, and he has sent most useful articles up to the Board's Journal every month, with notes as to how these new materials should be used. That is an interesting point. As a result of a lecture by Professor Wood to the farmers at Northampton, Mr. Green, the county organiser of that county, now works out and posts up a list of the food unit values of the feeding stuffs available in the local market every week, and this is of real use, and is valued by the farmers. Very excellent war work has also been done by Cambridge men in estimating the food values of different kinds of straws and how to make them palatable and digestible. The University also arranged demonstrations of motor ploughs and other implements, which were very much valued by the farmers. They have also done splendid work for the Army by investigating the methods of destroying flies, and thus preventing disease spread by flies. This is excellent work which ought to make some of us revise our opinions of the ancient seats of learning.
Professor White, of Bangor, claims in a most modest way, but quite rightly, that the department of agriculture in that university has had an important effect on the farming practices throughout many parts of North Wales. If there are any Welsh Members present, I should like to give some figures showing the increased productiveness of Welsh agriculture, partly due to its education system, intermediate and agricultural. They are rather striking figures. In the thirty years from 1885 to 1914, the yield of wheat per acre has improved by 4½ bushels, barley by 4 bushels, oats 7 bushels, hay from permanent grass 8½ cwts., while the number of sheep has increased by.840,000, and of cattle by 50,000. These things have a real effect on the safety of the country in a time of war, and are partly, at any rate, due to the education which the Welsh farmers have received. There are a few instances from the counties which I should like to give. An East Suffolk farmer, who farms every year 2,000 acres, 1845 after inspecting the county experimental station, said it was very odd if his visits there were not worth 10s. an acre to him over the entire area he farms. The farmers of the same county have said that the work of testing new varieties of cereals have been worth £40,000 a year to the county. Another farmer—this, I believe, is called a negative instance—from the same county, who is a county councillor, bought 100 tons of fish manure from Hull, of which the guaranteed analysis showed that it was worth 31s. 6d. a ton. He paid £4 a ton for it, and said he had never troubled to read the pamphlets issued by the Education Department on manures, which were sent to him very regularly. Perhaps he is going to read them in future. In Leicestershire the county organiser, in addition to very much more excellent work, has struck out a new line for helping the farmers by giving lectures on Income Tax and how it affects the farmer. He found it was absolutely a new subject to all of them. I am afraid that that blissful state of ignorance will never return. I will give an instance from Somersetshire which shows the cash value to the farmer of education. The whole agricultural education work of that county, paid for by the county, costs £2,000 a year. They make in the county about 240,000 cwts. of cheese. If the value of the instruction given has produced only a rise of Is. per cwt. in price—but an experienced cheese factor estimates it as between 5s. and 10s. a cwt.—it brings in £12,000 a year extra to the farmer, or six times as much as is spent upon the whole of the instruction in all the subjects put together. I will only give two more instances. Mr. Mackintosh, who is the adviser in dairy farming at the Reading University College, has reduced the cost of milk production on four farms on which he has been advising by Id. to 2d. a gallon on all the milk produced by introducing better feeding methods, and this has had the effect of a saving averaging over £50 per herd of cattle on each farm during the four winter months. He estimates that the modification of methods adopted by sixty farmers who have taken his advice has given them a financial benefit of £3,400. An important piece of research work in plant physiology has been carried out by one of the Board of Agriculture research scholars from the Imperial College of Science, which certain hon. Members visited the other day. Golden 1846 tobacco leaves are worth much more than brown tobacco leaves. This scholar, by his piece of scientific research work, has succeeded in raising the proportion of golden leaves from 25 per cent. to over 60 per cent. on the main supply of our homegrown tobacco crop. If I may sum up about education, I sincerely believe that no previous expenditure of money has helped us in this War than that which has been spent in agricultural education. If only we can now and henceforward get the very pick of the young brains of the country to devote themselves to agricultural education so that first-class men may be gradually fitted into the existing framework of our educational machinery, nothing is likely to help us as a country more in the future.
So much for the two permanent ordinary Departments of the Board's work. I now come to two special pieces of work which have proceeded out of the War. First of all, there is what is called the Special Inquiries branch. We started immediately the War began to collect information and to report on the general question of the condition of agriculture and the home-grown food supply. The Committee may remember that the branch did good work directly after the War began by being able to reassure the public as to the existing food stocks in the country. From the outset of the War they have obtained, by co-operating closely with the Scottish and Irish Boards, complete monthly returns of the stocks of grain and meal, meat, dairy produce, oil seeds, oilcake, fertilisers, and other agricultural commodities. They have also, in addition to the ordinary annual returns of crops and livestock, and the weekly returns of prices of agricultural products, obtained periodical returns of the stocks of grains, etc., actually on the farm. By these means, with the help of special inspectors and aided by the power of prohibiting exports which has been entrusted to them, they have been able to watch very closely the state of the nation's available resources of food at any time, and to exercise a certain amount of supervision and control over them. A great deal of work has also been done by the same officials in inquiries as to transport difficulties for which the farmers and dealers have expressed a great amount of appreciation. But I feel that their appreciation is really due not so much to the Board as to the officials of the railway companies and 1847 I should very much like to thank them on behalf of the Board for the immense pains they have taken in spite of very great difficulties in putting matters straight that were reported to them. The difficulties of the railway companies and the way their officials have worked at them, and on the whole surmounted them, are matters which I should very much like to be allowed to acknowledge. As to the ordinary work that this branch has tried to do, I would like to give an example or two. It was alleged that during the last cereal year farmers were holding back their wheat in order to obtain higher prices. That was looked into very carefully, and found not to be in any way true. It was also alleged that they were taking advantage of the high prices to send pregnant cows and sows to the market, and to sell to the butchers an undue number of calves. That was found to be true in many cases, and, as the Committee knows, legislation was passed and action was taken upon it. All the time that branch continued inquiries as to applications for the issue of licences to export prohibited articles. A considerable amount of what I may call elasticity of conscience has been revealed on the part of persons applying for these licences. That has to be checked in certain cases. In that work, of course, it is not possible to please everybody. If we restrict the export of malt we please the brewer, but we injure the maltster, and we injure the country generally, because we want the benefit of all profitable exports that can be kept going. If we allow the export of certain oil seeds we help some of our own dependencies but we injure the makers of soap and margarine, but we see to it that we get back in exchange large supplies of margarine, which are a benefit to many people in this country for whom reasonably cheap supplies are very important. I think I am justified in saying that the work has been as onerous as it has been difficult. The value of the licences for which applications have been made has often averaged more than £250,000 a week, and, on the whole, it has resulted in the steadying of supplies and of prices which could not otherwise have been obtained. Another important piece of work has been done by the War Agricultural Committees. These were set up last autumn in every county in England and Wales, and they were considered at the time a very daring 1848 and doubtful experiment. The people in the counties felt that that they had enough committees, and they were afraid that this new Committee would be a confusing incumbrance. But on the whole most of these Committees, in spite of forebodings, have found their way, more or less slowly, to quite useful work, and there is even a very widespread feeling that in some form or other the committees should become permanent. The county committees are really doing work which could hardly have been done in any other way. If they lack anything it is a realisation of how much can be done by men and women who are really trusted as they are by their fellow agriculturists, and who have been given by the Board an absolutely free hand to do anything they like in organising agriculture, and developing a public opinion in favour of the highest possible standard of food production. They are perhaps a little inclined to refer questions to the Board when if they would tackle them for themselves in their counties they would find that they have very much more influence and power in those counties than the Board can pretend to have. The district committees have not done so well, but we must remember that these are largely composed of busy farmers, and that it can well be urged that a farmer's proper place is now rather working on his farm than talking on a committee. As to the county committees, there are many instances of really first-class work to encourage all to do what some have done.
I take instances almost at random. Surrey has induced farmers to promise to plough up 2,500 acres of inferior grass land. Wimbledon and Isleworth have had much success in securing vacant parcels of land for temporary use as allotments, and perhaps even better work of the same sort has been done at Croydon and in Cumberland. Essex has done excellent work by securing co-operation between its committee and the Great Eastern Railway to the great advantage of local farmers. The Herefordshire Committee has formed a co-operative society for the purchase and use of a motor plough. In Somerset they have pooled the demand of the allotment holders and cottage gardeners for Scottish seed potatoes, and have bought a supply in bulk. In Gloucestershire arrangements were made for supply to farmers of manure from the Shirehampton camp. In Cornwall both the demand and the supply of sulphate of 1849 ammonia has been organised result that farmers have used more and got it cheaper. Norfolk is about the most businesslike and hard-working committee W3 have, as those who know that Sir Ailwyn Fellowes is its chairman would expect. It has done particularly good work in connection with women's employment. The Holland Division of Lincolnshire has established day nurseries for the care of children of women workers, who go to do work on the land. The Northamptonshire Committee has appointed local committees in each parish and has realised the value of publicity by arranging with the local weekly papers to insert news of interest to agriculturists in a definite place in the paper each week.
In Wales, Carnarvon has done good work through parish committees in the distribution of seed potatoes and fertilisers, and Montgomery has been doing good work all round, thanks to a very keen, active secretary, who is agricultural organiser for the county. But I think the best work of all in the present critical times is that in which the Essex Committee have been foremost in the field. They have worked out the scale of minimum labour requirements on farms of varying characters according to the differing agricultural character of the county, and they have obtained the concurrence with their scale of the military representative before the county tribunal. The Board has taken up this very valuable idea by asking the Board's representatives before county appeal tribunals to work out similar scales in consultation with the War Agricultural Committees for the guidance of the tribunals. In summarising the work done by the committees I believe an unprejudiced observer would say that the country owed a good deal first to the President of the Board for his boldness in asking the public men of the counties to set the committees going, and, secondly, to these men themselves for setting to work in the way that I have mentioned and in many others, and for being willing, as I know that they are, to give more continuous attention and watchfulness to the work as time goes on and difficulties become even greater than they are now.
The last instance that I mentioned, of the work of War Agricultural Committees, brings me to the question of labour. I will try to review the present position and prospects. I need not recount to the Committee the arrangements for starring and subsequently reserving certain skilled 1850 agricultural occupations or the exact modifications in the arrangements which have recently been made. Roughly, whereas originally certain occupations were reserved, so that onus of proof that the man could be spared was upon the military authority, now the occupation is no longer reserved, and onus of proof that the man is indispensable is upon him or his employer. In many cases men have never been exempted by the tribunals simply because they were "reserved." Whether reserved or not the tribunal has satisfied itself of the man's in dispensability in each case before they have exempted him. In these cases the new arrangement will make very little, if any, difference to the work of the tribunals.
If I were asked how the operations of the tribunals were actually working, I should find it a little difficult to give an exact reply. According to some of the reports which we receive, it would seem that farms were being absolutely denuded of essential labour, and that tribunals refuse to pay any attention to instructions, to the statement of the Prime Minister, or to anything but their own unaided judgment, which they base not on the needs of the farms but on their personal opinion of the character of the applicant. And I have no doubt that the War Office get a similar set of reports which tend to show that men are exempted almost wholesale it agricultural districts without any regard to the pressing requirements of the Army. I believe that in reality in the vast majority of cases neither of these two positions prevails, and that the majority of tribunals are now using their local knowledge of farms and farmers with much good sense, although it cannot be too often repeated that in the performance of their extremely difficult task, for which the country will in the end owe them a great debt of gratitude, they should remember the duty which lies upon them of making certain where they take men that no part of the food supply of our country and its Armies is thereby imperilled.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The question is, what supplies of labour are and will be available to meet the shortage caused by the loss of those who have left the farms? I will try to review the different possibilities. First, a word as to labour supplied by Labour Exchanges. Some prejudices die very hard, 1851 but I think it is time that the farmer's prejudice against the Labour Exchanges died altogether. I find that between May last year and February this year, in spite of all the difficulties in supplying agricultural labour, nearly 18,000 vacancies were filled—nearly 5,000 men, 10,500 women, and the remainder boys and girls—out of 30,000 notified. This shows, I think, that farmers are at last beginning to use the Exchanges, and that the Exchanges are being of real use to the farmers.
Secondly, there is the possibility of the employment of children. I believe that there may be appreciable relief of the labour difficulties through the employment of girls and boys. But I hope it will rather be by arranging for holiday work and by employing children over thirteen, or at least over twelve, than by any liberation of children under twelve. According to the latest returns of the Board of Education, there are only three bounties, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Somerset, in which any appreciable number of children under twelve have been specially liberated from school. There seems to be no intention that these children, once liberated from school, shall ever receive any more education, and the Board of Agriculture entirely agree with the Board of Education that it would be a grave misfortune if large numbers of children under twelve had their education permanently interrupted. Nothing could really be worse for the future of agriculture.
It is interesting to notice that the Welsh Agricultural Council, speaking for the whole of Wales, have opposed the liberation of children of twelve years old, and there are only twenty boys under thirteen recorded as excused in the whole of Wales. In contrast to this, a War Agricultural Committee in the South of England passed resolutions that they did not think that women's help was of much use in tackling the work that had to be done, and that they greatly regretted the refusal of the local education authority to liberate children of eleven to do this work. I believe that in this matter the Committee will not wish that there should be any departure from the statement of the Prime Minister made in this House on the 4th March of last year:I should be very sorry if the idea were to go forth that there is going to be anything like a large resort to child labour in agriculture. It is an emergency thing, an exceptional thing, a thing which ought to be cir- 1852 cumscribed in every possible way, and ought never to be resorted to unless local authorities are satisfied that neither by the operations of the Labour Exchanges nor by the increased employment of female labour the gap can be made good.Another source of labour to which farmers are looking for very great assistance, and which the Board hope may be of material help, is soldier labour. The number of soldiers employed by farmers during the hay and corn harvests last year under a special arrangement that was made with the War Office was 12,525. This did not reach the number for which application was made by the farmers, which was over 19,000, but it serves to show what an important service the soldiers who could, be spared rendered to the country last year. The arrangements now or recently current are:
- (1) For ordinary work on farms—i.e., work other than the hay and corn harvest—furlough is given for four weeks whenever possible, by application through the Labour Exchange, and for short periods, not exceeding six days, so that advantage may be taken of short periods of fine weather, by application direct to the commanding officers of camps where there are camps near farms. I estimate, on the latest figures, that under this arrangement about 6,000 have been applied for since the middle of October last and something under 3,000 released.
- (2) Special facilities were also arranged for the month of April for the release of ploughmen and horsemen to assist the farmers to overcome the situation entailed by the late seed time and wet conditions of the land through the unfortunate coming of prolonged wet and stormy weather in March.
- (3) We also made arrangements with the War Office to release men used to steam ploughing work. So far it has not been found possible to do much. We named fifty-five individual men, of whom we have only heard of the actual release of eleven. And I am sorry to say that, in spite of all instructions, we constantly hear of other indispensable men of this class being taken away.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Surely not by the Central Tribunal, but even when there is an appeal from the decision of the local tribunal it takes some time to get the matter set right.
Lastly, we are trying to make the best arrangements we can for hay and harvest 1853 this year and hope that they will be announced very soon. I know very well what farmers want in this matter. I heard it all set out very clearly at the Central Chamber of Agriculture, but I fear that a lot of us want things just now that we cannot get and that we shall have to realise that the call of military duty is getting steadily more stringent and that the military authorities with the best will in the world may find it difficult to liberate men as widely as we should all like. After all we must remember that soldiers are enlisted primarily for fighting, and not for agriculture, and as the strain of the war increases we must expect that soldiers may be kept ever more closely to their primary duty.
Another possible source of supply is holiday labour; small or large bands of men or women spending their holidays in going out to the farms at seasons when the work is specially heavy. A strong effort is being made to organise this in good time, and the War Agricultural Committees have been asked to ascertain from farmers the probable demand for volunteer labour and the prospects of a supply of it in their districts. It has been suggested that the committees should work through the Employment Department of the Board of Trade, and should see that proper wages are paid, so that there is no ground of complaint that patriotic offers of assistance have been taken advantage of to the loss of the regular workers. I believe that there is a very considerable amount of this labour available. Last year much was offered, but the farmers declined to use it. This year they can get it, and it will be most useful to them, but they must make their wants known to their War Agricultural Committees in good time.
But, when all is said and done, it is on women's work that we must depend this year very largely, and women's work is very much the best and most hopeful way of supplementing the skilled labour still left. But I want to make a most important point. It cannot replace; it can only supplement and assist. Tribunals would not be justified, if a farmer's men workers were as few as he could manage with to carry out skilled work, and he were then wise and public spirited enough to employ women, in taking away more of his male workers. Women workers cannot be regarded as a substitute for skilled men. They can only be regarded as supplementing male workers.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I think in looking after young stock women can do all that work. I ought to have excluded that specially. It is perfectly true that it ought to be perfectly possible for women to undertake that work altogether.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I do not count that as farming. Women usually do the poultry keeping on a farm. I hope that tribunals will constantly bear in mind the Prime Minister's answer in the House on the 22nd March, the sense of which was repeated by him with emphasis on the 11th of this month:That the Government hold that the maintenance of the highest possible output of home-grown food supplies remains a national object of a most essential nature, and that labour which is indispensable and irreplaceable should be retained on the land for this purpose.Subject to this being understood I think it is not too much to say that the agricultural position may very largely be saved this year by women, if farmers will only meet them half-way. The organisation so far as the Department is concerned is being done by the Board of Agriculture and the Board of Trade jointly, and some of the women organisers of the Employment Department of the Board of Trade have done, and are doing most splendid work. As regards central organisation we are also giving a small Grant to the Women's Farm and Garden Union and to the Women's National Land Service Corps, which has developed out of it. The object of the Women's National Land Service Corps is to organise training and placing with farmers of "movable" women. Even more useful work is being done in selecting from those applying those who are not suitable to be trained than in selecting those who are. For it is very important that the work should not be taken up by those who do not understand what it involves and who will not stick to it. The Women's Farm and Garden Union send selected women to training farms, which they have organised for the purpose, for six weeks' courses, and they put suitable women in touch with the various institutions, landowners, and farmers who are willing to give short training courses. They also help to place the women when trained, and in both directions that work has been excellent and practical.
1855 As regards local organisation, in nearly all the counties the work is being organised by county committees of women, generally in close touch with the War Agricultural Committees. Meetings have been held and canvass undertaken; a register formed of the women willing to work; agreements have in some cases been made with the farmers as to wages; certificates are given to those who register, and armlets to those who have done a month's work on the land; and some most successful demonstrations of women's work have been held, and more are to be held early next month. The trouble that women are taking to get all this organisation going in every county is beyond all praise. They are working early and late and doing the work splendidly. As a result of it, about 35,000 women have registered as willing to work.
I have been asked sometimes what work can women do? While some are asking that question, women are coming forward and doing all kinds of farm work, and doing it well. Many women are ploughing and doing it well, but that is, of course, exceptional, and it must not be taken that women, particularly on land that is at all heavy, can plough or manage horses. Their best work is, of course, in looking after stock and particularly in milking, but they are by now steadily doing all kinds of work. These things are so well recognised by now that it is almost unnecessary to give instances. But I think the Committee will like to know that Mrs. Mildmay, wife of Colonel Mildmay, the hon. Member for Totnes, and President of the Devon Women's War Service Committee, whilst speaking at a meeting, was challenged by a farmer to find women to spread manure over the land. She promptly took his name and address, and the next day and following days took her house party of ladies to his farm and spread the manure, charging the farmer for the work done, and giving the money to the Red Cross Fund. That ought to make a really considerable impression in that county. But here is another instance of a farmer, that of Mr. Whittome, of the Isle of Ely, who farms about 2,100 acres, of which 500 are potatoes and the rest for the most part vegetables and roots. He found himself short of forty-five men through recruiting, and he called women to the rescue. His action was patriotic. He says:I did not have a single man 'starred,' as I thought the State needed them. I may say this has been at 1856 great inconvenience to myself, but I am managing somehow with a great number of women, who have saved the situation.The great need is that farmers should do their share. At present all who have tried women are pleased and swear by them; all who have not tried them do not believe in them, and, it may be, continue to swear at them. This ought to be altered, and there is no time to waste. Farmers should offer to train those who are unaccustomed to farm work, for they cannot expect fully-trained women to float down from heaven on to their farms when at last the need has become urgent. If they want them then, they will not get them unless they take some trouble now. A few weeks' training makes all the difference. You cannot teach them everything in that time. They will simply get accustomed to the life, see what the routine of a farm means, and get their muscles hardened to the work. Women will be of very little use, of course, when they first come, but if they have good intelligence, good will, and good health and strength—and there are plenty who have all four—they will be wonderfully useful after a few weeks spent in adjusting themselves to farm work. Again, farmers should employ as soon as they can those who are already capable of doing useful work. We must remember this: Here are 35,000 women anxious to work. If they are not offered work soon, and given a fair wage for it, they will get discouraged. They will take to munitions work perhaps, at which they can generally make far more than on the land, and the chance of using them to maintain our food supplies will be gone. To summarise the position: It is no longer now a question of saying to farmers, "We think we can get women; we think they may be useful to you; will you try them?" The position is: "The women are here; we know they are useful—that is proved up to the hilt; you must try them. If you do not you are doing the Kaiser's work, not the King's."
It would not be fair to leave the question of labour without taking some note of the wage position of the ordinary male agricultural worker who remains on the farms. We have reports from the Board of Trade that wages have gone up in general, since the war, about 20 per cent., and cost of the articles they have to buy about 40 per cent., or more. That looks rather unsatisfactory, perhaps, but the rise in wage is likely to be more permanent than the rise in prices. I, for one, sincerely hope it will be. 1857 Of course, it is now very easy for all the members of a labourer's family to get work now if they want it. The hours worked, or perhaps I should say, the hours which ought to be worked, are very long, and the practice of paying extra for overtime has increased. In many districts a good deal is given in kind, and where that is milk or potatoes its value has much increased. In other districts there is a customary right of buying so much from the employer at a certain rate, and though the value has gone up the rate to the worker has not been increased.
In this connection I should like to say a word about certain activities of the Agricultural Labourers' Union, which we have recently heard of. No one here will think that I speak as an opponent of this union. I do not. But at a time like this, when labour is so scarce and production in the interests of the country so necessary, I think the union does harm to its own cause if it pushes the doctrine of refusal to work with non-union men. It seems to me, for instance, that labourers, whose requirements as to wages are fairly met, ought not to refuse to work on a threshing day if the employer is lucky enough to be able to get a road-man to lend a hand who is not normally an agricultural labourer, and therefore not a member of the union. I would like to say one other word. It is right that the labourers who have been left on the farms in the interests of the food supply should remember, just as we have asked the farmers to remember, that they are not left on the farms in their own interests, but in the interests of the country. If they are properly paid, properly housed, and properly treated—and that is an important condition—and if they have been so paid in the past that they have been able to acquire the energy necessary for prolonged work—which is another condition—I think they ought to work their very hardest and longest so as to help to the utmost to pull the country through the War. I believe that in the great majority of cases they are doing their best if their conditions are good, just as I think the great majority of farmers are doing their best. But some are not, just as some farmers are not, and I hope that both classes will remember that for the first time in their lives the standard of their work has become a matter of vital concern not only to themselves but to their country.
1858 5.0 P.M.
I have attempted to review some part of the Board's work and its results, and I hope the Committee will draw from my statement the conclusion that the nation is likely to receive fairly good value for the money in the Vote which is before us this evening. There remains, however, a more important question: Is agriculture, as a whole, doing its duty to the nation by maintaining, and, if possible, increasing, the production of essential food supplies? If one bears in mind the fact that not even war alters human nature in general, I think the broad answer is that agriculture is doing all that can well be expected of it. Before the War much of the best labour had left the land, and housing and wage conditions were not such as to attract other labour to take its place. Much of the land was under-cultivated, and farmers had hardly begun to realise what can be done by organisation and co-operation. All classes of the nation had forgotten that it was a matter of first-class importance to the State that each estate should be managed, each farm farmed, and each man employed in the manner which would yield the greatest increase from the soil. None of these things can be changed in a day or a year, particularly during a war, in which so many of the farmers, natural leaders, and the best remaining workers on the land, are fighting for their country abroad, and when we all have to be working for the present rather than thinking about the future. But one or two rather remarkable things have, I think, happened. The farmer, in ordinary times, is almost proverbial and notorious as a grumbler, yet I believe, on the whole, his grumbling has in recent months given way to gratitude for any little the Board of Agriculture has been able to do for him, and in particular, as he well might, in gratitude for the unwearying work the President of the Board has done on his behalf. Again, last season was one of the most difficult to contend against that any farmer can remember. All the crops in turn were threatened with disaster, yet all were safely gathered in. This year, too, until the last few days, the season has been, if possible, worse. It has been very unkind to the farmers from the end of October right down to the middle of April. In particular, the month of March was entirely useless for any agricultural operations. Yet now we hear that a great part of the arrears of work have been overtaken, and, if good weather lasts, 1859 there will be no entire breakdown in any of our main food supplies. But this is only possible because farmers themselves are working harder and longer than ever they have worked before. There will be no daylight saving for them, because there is none that can be saved. They have been using every moment of it. Above all, the avoidance of breakdown will only be achieved if the labour position gets no worse than at the present time.
Consider the state of the industry! Gravely depleted before the War, it employed under 1,000,000 men, including the farmers. Two hundred and fifty thousand to 300,000 have gone. To make good, some tens of thousands of women may register, many of them women habitually employed before, many of them for only part-time work, many quite inexperienced, with a few odd thousands of soldiers, boys and girls, old men and holiday workers to help out. Make every allowance you can for the wonderful effort that farmers are making, every allowance for the keenness and high standard of intelligence of many of the new helpers, and surely it is clear that the danger point of gravely decreased production is already reached. It is not as if farmers were able to make good by having abundance of cheap fertilisers, feeding-stuffs, and labour saving implements and machinery. All these things have been most difficult to come by, though we have made many efforts—for the claims of the Munitions Department upon the railway, upon our supplies of sulphuric acid—upon which manures depend—and upon all engineering works and engineers on whom we depend for machinery, cannot be gainsaid; and this difficulty, I fear; will grow no less. Even as things are now we cannot hope to maintain production at the level of last year. We hear that the crops which need least labour are replacing those which need more, with consequent probable loss of food supply, of weeds likely to be much worse than ever before. We hear of land which should be cultivated lying fallow. Undoubtedly, if more men are swept into the Army from farms which are already being run on a minimum staff, and if tribunals ignore the most serious words which the Prime Minister has more than once spoken as to retaining all indispensable and irreplaceable labour, we can only escape from famine by diverting, as we hope we may not have to divert, to the 1860 importation of foodstuffs the ships which are so urgently needed for the transport of munitions; and we cannot tell if there will be ships to divert in that way.
Food prices surely are high enough already! Farmers certainly would, I believe, rather see them fall than driven still higher by a scarcity caused by diminished production. A few men may still be picked up for the Army here and there, though where this can be done safely it would puzzle me to say. There are, I confess, many whom I should like to send to fight, but it is not a question of what one would like to do, but a question of what it is safe to do in the national interest. But certainly any systematic recruitment of the young men whose occupations are no longer reserved, or of the married men who will come under the new Military Service. Bill, will involve dangers of which, on behalf of the Board, it is my duty to utter a warning. Though farmers can do much, and though the Board of Agriculture and the War Agricultural Committees a little, we have reached the point already at which we can just manage, but only just, to fulfil the task which the country expects of us. I thank the members of the Committee who have been so patient to listen to my observations.
§ Mr. GEORGE LAMBERT
May I, in the first place, congratulate my right hon. Friend upon the very clear and very comprehensive speech which he has made by way of introducing this Vote. There is hardly a point in agricultural development upon which he has not touched. There is one subject especially in which my warmest sympathy went out to him. That was in his reference to the conduct of the trawlers. It seems to me that those working in the trawlers have displayed a courage of the finest type in their work of mine-sweeping and other duties—a courage which really makes us proud of their great work in their country's service. The men who have manned these trawlers have never flinched, although they have had terrible dangers in front of them. My right hon. Friend touched on one or two questions apart from the War. Into these I will not follow him. I wish to devote my remarks almost entirely to the action of the Board of Agriculture in regard to the War itself. My right hon. Friend suggested that the Home Grown Timber Committee were engaged in a very great enterprise in buying timber. I hope that that Committee will also make arrangements 1861 for taking that timber to the railway station. Though the Board of Agriculture may employ patriotic Canadians to cut down timber, I, for my part, do not know where they are going to get labour to cart that timber from the coppices and plantations to the railway stations. I am not sure that the Board has not been a little over-sanguine in this matter, as it was a little over-sanguine in its anticipations that the shipping would bring nitrates from Chili to this country.
Labour questions were spoken about by the right hon. Gentleman. I earnestly warn the Board of Agriculture that we are drifting into a very perilous position in regard to our food supplies. At the present time they are dangerously denuding the farms of the country of their absolutely requisite labour. I not only say that they ought to prevent further agricultural labour being taken from the land, but I also say that they ought to recall a good deal which already, at this moment, is in the Army. It is known quite well that farmers have never been prodigal in the employment of labour. They have, indeed, never employed enough. At present the very price of food shows what a scarcity there is, and how very easy a panic might arise. I noticed that at Exeter market last Friday beef was at the unprecedented figure of 1s. 2½d. per lb.; bread, meat, and potatoes were all soaring high. The Board of Agriculture, it seems to me, know the danger. I know some of the difficulties the President has had to contend against, but I do not think he has taken quite drastic enough steps to prevent labour from leaving the land. The President of the Board (Lord Selborne), speaking on 18th May, declared—With a full sense of responsibility that us a whole agriculture has given more than its full share to the Army, and that we have reached a point at which, unless the tribunals are extremely careful, the food production of the country will be seriously impaired.It seems to me that the remedy for this is in the Board itself. The Board has the authority to exempt these men from service in the Army. In fact, I think it is one of the Government Departments which is specially endowed with that power. One of the chief arguments for the Military Service Bill was that there might be a thrifty and economic use made of our national resources. I cannot help thinking that the Board of Agriculture in this matter has been somewhat remiss in making it still more easy for the military authorities to take men from the land who are absolutely needed for food production. 1862 I do not want, and never would be disposed, to appeal for the shirker, or any man who wants to shirk doing his duty to his country. But the food supply of the country is absolutely vital, especially having regard to the stringency of the shipping problem. My right hon. Friend has stated with perfect accuracy that the Board of Agriculture asked the farmers of the country to plough up land so as to increase the food supply. But you are taking away labour which will enable the produce to be harvested. My right hon. Friend has spoken with very great weight and considerable force upon the question of the labour of women upon the land. Women can be employed upon the land to do light work, but it is impossible for them to supplement the work of a skilled agricultural labourer in ploughing, or to perform satisfactorily many of the heavier operations of the farm. Indeed, my experience is somewhat different to that of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not see where these women are to come from, especially in the country districts. I was speaking—with great deference to the right hon. Gentleman, for he has greater means of information than I have—a little while ago with a farmer's wife in Devonshire. She and her husband milk eight cows. She has a general servant, and she told me that she would not dare ask that girl to milk cows, because, if she did, the maid would leave at once. I do not know how you are going to get women like these to milk cows. It is all very well to say to the farmers: "You must get women milkers"—women who have never had any experience in milking cows. Everyone who understands cows knows that if a cow is not milked properly the loss will be very serious indeed. We must take this country as it is.
I have often had compared to me agricultural France and England. But France is a country of smallholders, and this is not a country of smallholders. You will find even in this country a smallholder's wife and daughters will work as hard as a French smallholder's wife and daughters. I know cases where the smallholder's wife and family work as hard as does the man himself. But they are working for themselves! You cannot, in the middle of a war, change the system whereby you have large tenancies and large farms, so as to bring in a universal system of smallholdings. To reinforce my argument that the Board of Agriculture is not really taking sufficient care of the labour on the 1863 land, I want to emphasise the case of France. France, I believe, imported very very little of her foodstuffs before the War, while we imported more than three-fifths. On the 8th of June—I am quoting from the "Board of Agriculture Journal"—the French Minister of War issued this Order right through France:The regular, prompt, and. as far as possible, complete execution of agricultural work constitutes one of the essential elements of national resistance, and consequently one of the principal factors of success. The full use of the soil must be obtained at all costs, equally with the supply of men and material to the Army, or the supply of labour to factories engaged in national defence.If that is of importance for France, surely it is doubly more important for this country, where we do rely to such a very large degree upon foreign food supplies. I have had an experience myself, one of my own ploughmen leaving me and going into the Army. I inquired of him as to what work he was doing, and found that for some part of his time he was engaged in cooking. A more unappetising dish than this fellow would serve up could hardly be imagined. Here is a ploughman taken from the land and engaged in the Army in cooking. Why cannot you use women in the Army for cooking? I do not see any reason why you should not do so. Of course, I shall not pursue that, because it is a matter for the War Office, but surely here is a case where a ploughman is taken from the land. He will do twice as much as any woman on the land, but he will not do half as much as a woman in a cook-house. Why, therefore, cannot the War Office, instead of taking so many men from the land and advising farmers to use women labour, use women in cooking food for the soldiers, in this country at any rate?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am very glad to hear it, and I hope they will not employ any more ploughmen in cooking. My right hon. Friend told us also that we might get a certain amount of relief from soldiers at harvest time, and he said that 12,500 soldiers were applied for last year.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Yes. Agriculture, as everyone who follows it knows, is a very tricky occupation. You can ask for soldiers for harvesting, say, on the 1st of August, but no one knows what the weather is going to be on the 1st of August. 1864 The Government may regulate Greenwich time, but they cannot regulate the weather. This is really a point I want to impress upon the Committee and the Board of Agriculture. I remember well last year we had a disastrous hay harvest. I was down on my own farm—I farm a small amount, not a great deal—and I remember one Sunday expecting the hay to be saved. I came down there three weeks afterwards and it was not saved then, not because of any lack of labour, but because the weather was not suitable. Suppose I had asked for soldiers to come down to save that hay, I should have had to keep them there for three weeks before they would have been able to touch any of it; and I do complain of the Board of Agriculture in this, that they have not made the Prime Minister's pledge sufficiently explicit to tie local tribunals. The local tribunals are going their own sweet ways. The Prime Minister said, and my right hon. Friend quoted it, that he could only-repeat with emphasis that the Government held that the maintenance of the highest possible output of home-grown food supplies remained a national object of a most essential nature. Why have not the Board of Agriculture carried out that policy adumbrated by the Prime Minister here in this House? I do not think they have. Indeed, I am sure of it, and I am perfectly certain that a large amount of land is being denuded at this moment, and that the position will get worse under the Military Service Bill unless great care is taken.
I have a letter here from a farmer who writes to me quite spontaneously. I have made inquiries and find it is accurate. He says:'…. I have a farm of little more than four hundred acres, comprised of about a hundred acres, twenty acres of arable and the remainder upland meadows. I have over seventy two-year old cattle, and a flock of two hundred and fifty sheep. My land is very foul, and I have forty acres of clover ley which ought to have been ploughed up but have not been done. Two of my sons went through Gallipoli, and one has been sent to France.He has unfortunately been killed. This is what this farmer's labour is:The labour I have to depend on is one man used to horses, aged seventy-two, a man off the road, about sixty, one man aged forty years, just discharged as medically unfit for further service, and a temporary shepherd.It is quite impossible that that man can farm that amount of land with that amount of labour.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
He has a farm of 400 acres. He does not give the number of horses, but my right hon. Friend can readily understand how many horses he will require for 120 acres of arable land. It is quite impossible for this man, with his sons gone, as they have gone, to farm that land to the best advantage. I do really impress upon the House, from my knowledge of agricultural operations, assisted as it has been by this disastrous season—for on the 31st March of this year when we expected to till the oats and barley we had a severe snowstorm, about six inches of snow in Devonshire—that this matter will become of increasing and vital importance, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend, and through him to the Board and the President of the Board, that the Board of Agriculture should be firm and insistent in this matter of agricultural labour. We are told that it is vital to maintain exports in order to keep up the financial arrangements of the country, but surely if food is produced at home it will not require to be imported from abroad, and if it is not imported from abroad it will not have to be paid for abroad. This is a matter which I press not with any desire to see farmers make additional profit, or anything like that, but from the point of view of the national food supply, which can easily get into a very critical condition. One does not say all one knows about ships. There are expert Members of this House who can deal with that, and I will entirely avoid the shipping question at the present moment. The Military Service Act seems to have given the Board of Agriculture a great opportunity. We read of race meetings. Race meetings cannot take place without racehorses, and cannot the people engaged in tending these racehorses be used in cultivating the land, or looking after cattle or horses? I candidly confess that I cannot see why the Board of Agriculture cannot take this matter into their own hands, and say that if a man is capable of looking after racehorses he can look after horses on a farm. While one is a slightly wasteful occupation at the present time, the other is a productive occupation for this country. That has been one of the main arguments for the Military Service Bill, and I hope it will be administered in that spirit by the Board. If there is no economy in con- 1866 sumption or no increase in production, I am quite certain that if the War goes on—as no one can see the end—for any measurable time you must come to some system of curtailing the consumption by food tickets, or something like that. I do not regard with any pleasure the Government organisation of food. When Governments organise supply, or when they organise distribution, they do not generally utilise opportunities as well as private business people do. Even in Germany, where there is great organising power, they are crying out for a dictator of food for the organisation of food. I press this point on the Board of Agriculture, because I foresee that unless this drain on labour from the land stops, you are bound to have some system of economy of food production imposed by the Government. I would suggest to the President of the Board of Agriculture the example of a distinguished admiral with whom he served some years ago. Lord Selborne was then First Lord of the Admiralty, and appointed, as First Sea Lord, Lord Fisher. I remember that in November, 1914, there was a great complaint came to the Admiralty that the shipyards were being denuded of men enlisting in the Army. Lord Fisher stood no nonsense at all, and went to Lord Kitchener himself and had it out with him. I would humbly suggest that parallel to the President of the Board of Agriculture. Let him go and follow Lord Fisher's example. Let him stop this denudation of labour from the land, because I am quite certain that unless it is stopped some serious consequences must ensue to the country.
§ Mr. LAURENCE HARDY
I think we are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his interesting speech. I should like to refer to two or three of the things of which he spoke before dealing with the labour question. I was certainly glad to hear that he laid stress on the question of research and agricultural education, but I would ask whether he could define more accurately presently what the attitude of the Board really is in regard to that matter. The Estimates show that there has been a very great reduction in research, and I am interested in one of the only remaining, I think, agricultural colleges, Wye. Wye is even now, although I admit that this year it has been helped by the Board and by the Treasury in a very, very difficult position. It has, owing to its success in the past, paid for research out 1867 of the profits it has made on its educational side. But it has lost its education side because the students have gone to the War, and it has now had to give notice to its research officers that their offices must cease at a very early date. Is the Government going to allow it to do that or not? Is it going to stand by research or not? The counties have not reduced their grants, but have been willing to continue them through the War, in spite of the cry for economy. But with all the economy that can be used, and I think we have reduced our expenditure by something like 60 per cent., we cannot possibly carry on unless the Government will help us, and what we do think we have a right to ask is that, so far as research work is concerned, the Government should not expect us to pay for it out of our educational profits, which we cannot now make, but that they should assist us in order that we could keep research going. We do really want a pronouncement from the right hon. Gentleman. We have endeavoured to keep it going, and we want to know whether we are to carry on the college to the full extent, or whether we can do so. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statements, I think I am entitled to ask him to put our minds at rest in connection with this particular matter.
A good deal has been said about the absolute necessity for us producing at home, instead of having to bring across the seas that which is required. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can definitely state what is the attitude of the Board of Agriculture in connection with one special industry in which I have always taken an interest in this House, namely, the hop industry. Surely, if you are wanting to economise tonnage there could not be a better subject to deal with than that of hops. Hops are a very bulky thing to carry. It is quite clear that it is perfectly possible to grow in this country all the hops required at present, especially if the restrictions on the output of beer are carried into effect according to the Bill introduced. This is a matter which is exercising the counties which are interested in the hop industry very seriously. Each month as it passes shows that our import of hops is increasing. They are mostly imported from America, where the cultivation can be carried on probably cheaper now than at any other time. In England, because of the cost of labour and because of other requirements of the hop 1868 industry, it is impossible for us to produce hops at home at anything like the price at which it is possible for American importers to supply them. It is, therefore, inevitable that unless some help is given the home industry must suffer. This, I know, is treading on a dangerous subject, but, when so many other things which do not take up very much space have been prohibited, and which are of small quantity, I think we have some ground for arguing that it is in the real national interests that a bulky object like hops should be prohibited, and by that means a home industry should be enabled to carry on in this difficult time.
There is one particular form of labour which is not included in the list of reserved industries, and which is really essential to the hop industry, and that is the hop drier. It is a very technical business, and, since hops became a highly developed industry, it is carried on almost entirely by young, rather than by old men, because the young men have been brought up with a knowledge of more modern machinery. To take away the hop drier from the hop farmer may practically result in the loss of the whole of his crop, which, as everybody knows, is the crop most intensively cultivated in this country. The matter is causing the very gravest anxiety, and if the right hon. Gentleman could help by getting this particular occupation included in the reserved occupations, or by some special instruction from the Board to the tribunals it would be of very great assistance to the industry, which is in a considerable state of panic about this matter. There is also very great difficulty at the present moment in connection with sheep shearers, which is very important in the County of Kent, and there is very great anxiety as to whether it will be possible to carry out the shearing within a reasonable time. It is, of course, a seasonal occupation. A number of groups are being called up at present, and if only the Board would lend the weight of their authority in reference to the tribunals, to urge that the sheep shearers should be given a moderate time of exemption to carry out their trade, then we should be able to stave off that particular danger for another year. It is an immediate question, and is of very great importance.
I should like to refer to the question of women's labour. The right hon. Gentleman gave a challenge to the House, or rather to any county, that he is able to 1869 provide women for any county which desires to ask for them. I certainly would address a very urgent request to him to find us women labour for the county of Kent. I took part in a conference of the largest farmers only on Friday last, in order to take into consideration the Essex standard and to establish a standard on similar lines, and I heard a good deal about women's labour in Kent in connection with that conference. We realise the advantage of women's labour. In the fruit and hop districts women have always been employed in connection with those industries. Another difficulty now is that we cannot get the number of women that we have got in previous years. We have munition works all along the Thames, and they have taken a large part of the available supply of women's labour. The difficulty at the present moment is not so much that of employing more women, but to get the same number that has been employed in previous years. If anybody likes to go into the actual details of any of the large fruit and hop farms he will see what an enormous proportion of women's labour bears already to the total amount of labour in those districts. We are most anxious to employ them, we believe in the employment of women, and if the right hon. Gentleman can assist us to find them we certainly shall be extremely grateful, and so far as the county of Kent is concerned we are willing to take up the challenge.
§ Mr. ACLAND
There is the question of wages. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman knows whether they are willing to pay better wages in Kent. I have heard of that difficulty specially there.
§ Mr. HARDY
I believe the wages, so far as women are concerned, are on exactly the same lines as they are in other counties, and, in fact, are rather better. I freely admit that they cannot compete with munitions. The munitions standard is higher than anything given on fruit and hop farms. So far as the training of women is concerned, we have been trying to carry that out, but you cannot put a lot of women on a farm to learn If you did they would learn nothing. In connection with the Agricultural College we have a course at present, but you cannot possibly put more than twelve or fourteen women in that. Every single woman who went through the last course was engaged before the course was finished, and we could have disposed of more than double the number. There is only a short period 1870 in which to train them. It is all very well when you take trained women, but you cannot take them until they are trained, and we have not got facilities at the present time for training them in sufficient numbers. It is not really very practical to say that women are to be scattered amongst farms to enable them to pick up what they can. Farmers are put to it so hardly to do what they can on their own farms that they have not time to train inexperienced women. While I agree that women's labour is very desirable, I cannot say I think it altogether meets the question.
There is the question of soldier's labour. I understand the right hon. Gentleman says he hopes to be able to make a clearer statement in a short time. I do not know whether any influence can be brought to bear by the right hon. Gentleman at present on this subject. I refer to the fact that the border of Kent is entirely occupied by our brave fellow countrymen from across the seas, the Canadians. I believe that they are not allowed to go out at all for labour, and therefore we have found that it is impossible to get labour from that source. We are therefore considerably handicapped in our readiness to accept soldier labour. There is also the objection raised by my right hon. Friend (Mr. G. Lambert), namely, that it is extremely difficult to apply beforehand for soldier labour, and it must be done some weeks before When it comes, very likely it does so the week you do not want it instead of the week you do. If you have a sudden burst of summer weather like now, everybody knows the crops advance very rapidly, but if you have a cold time they are delayed, It is very difficult to settle beforehand to settle exactly on the amount of labour you require. There are large portions of the country, as in Kent, which are prohibited from getting any alien labour. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman said whether any steps are being taken to institute gangs of alien hostile labour—that is to say, German interned persons—not only in the timber trode, but also in others. There are certainly some things they might do quite well, but probably the people who live in prohibited areas would not be allowed to have them.
The labour question is becoming one of the most supreme urgency, and it is one on which the Board has not, in our opinion, taken quite so strong a line as it should. It has the power, and other Departments have done it. Other Depart- 1871 ments have taken a very strong line, but we have only seen rather a weakening on the part of the Board in connection with the standard of labour on the land. There is a studied vagueness in the quotation from the Prime Minister, which has been always repeated, parrot-like, almost, by the Board. We have never been told what the highest point of production is to be. The tribunal cannot judge it for itself, but wants to have some standard laid down. If the Board had only taken some standard of labour—say that of 1914 or that of 1915—and then, in consequence of the peculiar position took 30 per cent. off that, or any standard of that character, the tribunal could understand it and could work from it. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Essex standard!"] That is not a standard from the Board of Agriculture. They only assented to consider it, and I am not sure whether they have accepted it. They may have accepted it for general farms, but has it been accepted for market gardens, for mixed farms and other things of that sort?
§ Mr. ACLAND
We have considered that, and it really is quite impossible to accept, for the whole of the country, any general standard. Conditions and soils very so much that the only possible way is for each county to set out the amount of labour required in different parts of the county according to the custom of husbandry prevalent.
§ Mr. HARDY
That we should be quite willing to accept, and I think it would be extremely sensible. If the tribunals would accept that and are urged to accept that, of course, that would meet the case. If Essex is put forward as a sort of sample to follow—in all the country I know we have got far below the standard fixed—and if we could get that, we might safely trust the tribunals. But we do want to come forward at the present time and to say definitely that where labour is reduced at it is, no more efficient men must be taken from the land. Out of the supplementary sources you may get some help; you may be able to carry on production, but you cannot do without some substratum of efficient men. I believe we have got to the minimum on that question, and I believe the Board of Agriculture themselves believe we have got to the minimum, and if they will only take up a strong line with the other Departments, and work with the agricultural repre- 1872 sentatives on the tribunals, then perhaps there may be some hope of arriving at a better condition of things.
§ Sir JOHN SPEAR
I want, in the first instance, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon his speech. I have heard a good many speeches of Ministers representing agriculture in this House, but I have never heard a better one, and it only proves to me what I knew before, that he comes from a good Devonshire farming family. We have always looked to the Acland family as leading in agriculture. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his speech, and I congratulate him also that he has not had to refer to the question of cattle diseases on this occasion. It shows that much progress has been made in dealing with these diseases. I would have been very glad if he could have foreshadowed the possibility of some relaxation of the. restriction on the movement of pigs. The right hon. Gentleman knows how inconvenient it is to agriculturists, and I hope on the first opportunity that steps will he taken to relax the restrictions which are causing so much inconvenience and affecting the supply of pork. Coming from Devonshire and Cornwall, where we appreciate fish very much, I would like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the work the Board has done in the encouragement and help to fishermen to acquire motor-boats. It has been very successful, and I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman point to the financial aspect of the ease. It is also creditable to the fishermen that they have fulfilled their bargain. The loans have been of great advantage, and I hope they will still further be developed, because we have, as everyone knows, in fish a very valuable article of food. I would like to endorse what the hon. Member for South Molton said in admiration of the pluck which fishermen have shown in the presence of dangers and in the work of collecting the mines. We appreciate that very much indeed, I am sure.
The difficulty through the lack of labour cannot be exaggerated at the present moment, and I am sure all will agree that the President of the Board of Agriculture and the right hon. Gentleman have done what they could. But it is useless to deny, looking on from the outside, that they have been unduly overridden too often by the military authorities. I do hope, as I am sure, they will persevere in the manifest effort they have shown to 1873 reserve for the tilling of the land a sufficient supply of labour so that we may go on producing the highest possible amount of food for our country. Some of us have pressed the point for many years that we were dependent too much on foreign food supplies, and wanted to have more grown at home. I am glad we hear that mentioned and the necessity realised now in quarters where we did not get very much encouragement in years gone by. I think, too, the testimony which the right hon. Gentleman bore to the perseverance of farmers as a whole in cultivating the land was justified. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to the great increase of our native food supply. He very well and correctly, if I may say so, pointed to the fact that during the great agricultural depression after 1879, when depression was almost unprecedented, there was a falling off unfortunately of the tillers of the soil and also in the output; but as soon as prices became remunerative, I think all must agree that agriculturists, recognising the opportunity in their own interests and the responsibility to the country, have done their best to develop the land to its utmost capability, and I think we are indebted to the Board for the assistance they have given us in scientific research. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that science without practical knowledge was not worth much. On the other hand, everyone of us knows that, in addition to practical knowledge, which is indispensable to success in farming, a scientific knowledge of the composition of the soil and the composition of the manures cannot but be beneficial to us in carrying on our industry.
With reference to the meat supply, we are all alarmed at the high price of meat at the present moment, but I believe it is only temporary, and, notwithstanding the fears of my hon. Friend and colleague from Devonshire, I think we shall see prices much lower later on. In proof of that, I might point to the fact that only last autumn, in November and December, we could scarcely dispose of fat beef. Our markets were glutted with fat cattle last autumn, many of them not making more than they cost to store in July, with the result that it caused a check to that great development of production which farmers generally had made, partly because in the early months of the year it is remunerative, and partly on account of the appeals of the President of the Board of Agricul- 1874 ture to produce all we could. I must find a little fault with the Government. Last autumn, when we could scarcely dispose of our fat cattle at all, and the markets were crowded, I ventured to appeal in this House to the President of the Board of Trade to hold back the surplus frozen meat until the end of February, when the summer-fed beasts would have been used up, and the winter-fed would not have been forthcoming, and thereby caused a very considerable regulation of prices. I will ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that point. I know the President of the Board of Trade, in reply to me, said that it would have immediately caused an increase in the price of meat. That was not so, as just then the butchers were receiving much profit from the meat, because they were charging just the same as they charged the previous August, when beef was 3d. and 2d. a lb. dearer. Therefore, if the Government had only reserved their surplus of frozen meat until now they would not have caused any increase in the price to the consumer in November and December, because the butcher was being well paid then, but they would have cleared our markets, and thereby enabled the producer of fat stock to have got a better price, and that would have avoided, I think, the discouragement to him from his losses in the autumn. If the right hon. Gentleman will impress on the President of the Board of Trade the importance of unloading the surplus frozen meat in a way that will recognise the due state of the British market, he will surely by that avoid those extremes which are not good for the farmer or for the consumer. I would ask him kindly to give that consideration. I must repeat that, if my advice given to the House in the autumn had been followed, we should have had a clearance of fat stocks in the markets, which would have relieved the producer, and we should now have had for the last two months an accumulation of frozen meat which would be extremely valuable in checking high prices.
The question of women labour is an important one. I think that some assistance will be obtained in this direction, but it is not very easy to teach women bred in town agricultural work, and they are hardly physically fitted for the purpose. I am enthusiastic in endeavouring, as far as I am able, to promote the use of available women. My daughter has twenty-two on her books. I do not know, but I hope they will prove efficient. My 1875 daughter said, "I must not get others to do this without doing something myself, and I am going to start milking." After a few days she said the cow would not get down to her, and then that her arm and hand ached very much, but she persevered; but if all educated ladies take as long as my daughter in learning, I am afraid any wages we could quote would be hardly sufficient. Still, it is our duty to try, from a national point of view, to use women labour in the place of any men we can do without. We are as loyal as any section of the community and want to win this War, but we do think that a full food supply is as essential to winning the War as the manning of the trenches. Having regard to the action in the past in this matter, I hope the Board of Agriculture will continue to realise that as many men as can be parted with have already been taken. The right hon. Gentleman very kindly answered a question on Tuesday, and promised a statement showing the conditions on which farmers can obtain the help of soldiers during busy seasons. It is a most important matter. Hitherto it has taken such a long time to get the men that farmers have grown tired of applying for them. First the application has been referred to the commanding officer, and then to the War Office, and it is very long before you can get the men. Surely the commanding officer ought to be able to give leave to suitable men to help farmers in a time of crisis.
I think there ought to be a little more liberty given to the commanding officer, so that he might be allowed to take a reasonable businesslike view, and then he might allow some of these men to come back. Generally speaking, I think the sons of farmers ought to be allowed to return for a time. Very often they have been working twelve or fourteen hours a day on the farm, and many of the farmers' sons who have joined the Army would be of immense value to their parents for a month during the harvest time. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do what he can to promote that, because I am sure it would encourage recruiting and would make those men more reconciled to leaving the farm and joining the Army if they knew that they could occasionally come back to help their parents to keep the farm going, in the hope that they will come back later and be able to resume their avocations. The right 1876 hon. Gentleman did not say anything about the milk supply. I am more alarmed about that than any other agricultural produce. Cow-keeping in recent years has not been very profitable, largely due to the high price of feeding-stuff, and the difficulty of getting men to milk. The high price of meat on account of the scarcity caused by epizootic abortion has made dairying unprofitable generally, and there is a serious falling-off in the amount of milk being produced. I know prices have gone up now, and this business has again become remunerative, but we do not want milk too dear and we want to save our children, and if the price goes up much higher the children of the working classes will not be able to have any milk at all
With reference to women milking they do not like it, and even now you can hardly get the men to get up at three o'clock in the morning instead of four o'clock, and the women are not suitable for the work; in fact, it is difficult to get women to do the milking at all. I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is not able to help us still further in dealing with epizootic abortion? That is one of the troubles of cow-keeping. Renewed cows have become so scarce through this disease that a man may lose six or eight pounds by the transaction. In Devonshire and Cornwall we have submitted to a system of segregation for several years, and Devon was the first county to take it up. This means a considerable amount of inconvenience to farmers. The animal is segregated for three months so as not to spread the infection. We are quite prepared to suffer that inconvenience, but we say that Devon having done that, all other counties ought to do likewise, but that is not the case. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman do something to induce all the counties of England to submit to the segregation of animals suffering from this disease with a view to trying to stamp it out? I do not hesitate to say that the farmers of this country suffer more important losses from epizootic abortion than from all other cattle diseases put together. But I am now speaking of it in reference to the milk supply, and it is making the production of milk almost prohibitive. If the right hon. Gentleman could induce other counties to adopt the principle of segregation, I am sure it is very desirable that it should be done. Devon and Cornwall farmers make sacrifices in this respect, and they are willing to continue to do so, 1877 but at the same time we run the risk of having our cows infected from those counties which do not have segregation. It is possible the right hon. Gentleman will say that to do this would involve legislation. If so, I would be very glad to see a Bill passed providing that segregation shall apply to cases of epizootic abortion all over the country.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
No, but it has reduced the disease, and if other counties would follow suit, we hope and believe it would reduce the disease still further. Surely it is something to have accomplished a reduction in the number of cases in this disease. At the present time Devon farmers do not carry out the operation of the Order in Council so rigorously as they would do if other counties would follow suit, but it is not encouraging to farmers in Devon and Cornwall to know that although they are making this sacrifice, the neglect of this matter in other counties may undo the work which is being done by self-denial in Devon and Cornwall. With regard to the Army, we do not want to keep a man on our farms who can be dispensed with, but I wish to point out that the reduction in numbers of men employed on farms has now gone to the utmost possible limit, and if it is pursued further this policy will mean a considerable reduction in the output of food. More men taken away will mean less food for the people, and that is a consideration just as serious as the question of keeping back the men from the Army. I notice that the President of the Board of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary have taken a strong stand on this point, and they have been overruled. I agree that they rendered very great service by appointing an agricultural representative to put the case of the farmers before the tribunal. The military representative tries to get every man he can. Men come before the tribunals flustered and excited, and do not state their case as well as they could do in their calmer moments. The military representative cross-examines them, and a farmer cannot stand much cross-examination. The agricultural representative being there does something to save the situation, and I think the Board ought to be thanked for making that provision. No one wishes to win the War more than the farmers, but you ought not to take any more men from agriculture, and a great deal of assistance 1878 might be given to farmers by allowing soldiers to come back for a short time. If this is done, then, I believe, as in the past so in the future, the British farmer will prove worthy of the responsibility which rests upon him, and will do his utmost to help us to victory by keeping up the food supply of the country.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
I wish to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture upon the very interesting statement he has made to the House, and I desire to thank him for the very kind references which he has made to my country. Several hon. Members have referred to the shortage of labour, which, I need hardly say, is causing great anxiety in every agricultural district. One hon. Member referred to sheep shearing. It seems to me that what is lacking in regard to labour is organisation. I was going through a little village in my own Constituency the other day, and I saw three or four men engaged by the district council making up a pavement along the village green, and it seemed to me that that work was hardly essential in time of war. I suggest that an attempt should be made by the Local Government Board to induce the various local authorities to put an end to all the work which is not absolutely necessary, and to register those men in the Labour Exchanges and make them available for the use of farmers. Quite apart from the men employed by local authorities, there are a large number of industries, which can hardly be termed essential, employing a considerable number of men at the present time. I have already drawn attention to this matter. Several months ago I wrote to the Prime Minister, and I have repeated my suggestions to the President of the Board of Trade. I know this to be the case in my own county in the slate and granite quarries. There many men over forty years of age are employed, and some of them have asked whether their services cannot be better utilised elsewhere. When they have asked me, I can only refer them to the Labour Exchanges. They are mostly married men, and they do not like to voluntarily leave their present employment because of the difficulty they may experience later on in being taken on again. I have no doubt, if an effort were made in this direction through the Labour Exchanges, the work of these men for the nation would be much more profitable than it is at the present time. In many industries men could be spared and used for 1879 agriculture and other purposes. There seems to be an idea prevalent that men under twenty-five can no longer be allowed to remain upon a farm. As I understand the Regulation, there is no such provision, and the Regulation is merely that a man under twenty-five is not necessarily exempted because he is employed in a particular trade.
I wish to say a word about the men employed upon small farms. The quantity of labour necessary on the larger farms is calculated in proportion to the number of horses on the farm. I wish to draw attention to the fact that by far the greater number of farmers in this country are small farmers, and, I think I am correct in saying, that at least two-thirds of all the farms in this country are under 50 acres. The proportion of labour required on a small farm is greater than on the larger farms. I suggest, if the right hon. Gentleman is going to give any further instructions to the tribunal, that the point should be borne in mind that the small farms require in proportion a larger number of men than the larger farms. On the question of increasing the food production of the country, there are one or two other questions to be considered. I served on a Committee some seven or eight years ago, and I was very much struck by a statement made by witnesses in answer to the question why tenant farmers did not put more money into the land? The answer was that a man was a fool to put more money into the land than he could get out of it. It was useless to plough land unless he or those who followed him were going to benefit by his expenditure and labour. I know it is not open for us to-day to suggest legislation, but the attention of the Board of Agriculture has been already called, by correspondence, to the necessity of securing that these men who plough land shall not be penalised in their agreements and of giving them some assurance that the expenditure they incur will not tend to increase their rents at a later day.
Another point to be considered is that of railway facilities. There can be no doubt that the charges made by the railways and the inconvenience to which farmers have been put have militated very much against farming in this country. In Germany, where the system is a national one, they had arranged through routes for the farmers from the farm to the port of exportation. We have no such facility in this country. Unfortunately for us, not only 1880 had the German exporter the advantage of cheap rates to the port of exportation in his own country, but he also got additional facilities in this country as compared with the British farmer. When the railways were controlled by private individuals for private profit, it was argued that it was unfair to ask them to spend money in order to give further facilities to the farmers in this country; but that, of course, no longer applies now that the railways are under the control of the Government, and it seems to me, if the Government are really desirous of improving and increasing the production of food, that they should give immediate attention to the question of railway facilities.
There is another question which is even more important, and it is that of capital. I have always maintained that the real hindrance to farmers in this country is the want of the necessary capital. We all know that as compared with any other industry the farmer is handicapped if he wants to borrow money for his business, and this is particularly so with regard to the tenant farmer. The only possible security which he can offer is a bill of sale, and that is not only not a very good security in the eye of the banker, but it destroys the man's credit in the market. We are all advised in these days to acquire better and more efficient machinery for the farm, but the number of farmers who have available capital is exceedingly small, and I would suggest that the Government should really take in hand the question of giving some further financial assistance to tenant farmers. On the Continent the Raffeisen system has been tried, and something of the kind is recommended by the Committee which is dealing with the question of the settlement of soldiers on the land after the War, but somehow or other the system will not take root in England. I am of opinion that it is due to the fact that the English farmer has a natural objection to disclosing his private affairs to a committee. But, in any event, the question of financial assistance for the farmer is of immediate importance, if there is to be an increase in the production of food.
The question of afforestation may not be an immediately practical one, but I do suggest that the time has come when experts should be appointed to throw out suggestions and to make inquiries as to the land available, and as to the circumstances in which it can be obtained, so 1881 that work can be started immediately after the War. Then comes the question of the provision to be made for the settlement of soldiers on the land. It seems to me one fact has been overlooked by the gentlemen who composed the Committee in making their recommendations. If the soldier is to be settled on the land the State must be prepared to provide him with the necessary capital. One of the suggestions made is that the tenant must pay for the tenant right and must possess sufficient capital to maintain himself for a certain period, and in addition to pay for stock up to £200. If that is the condition, then all I can say, with a good deal of knowledge of small farmers, is that soldiers will never be settled on the land unless the State intervenes. If these farm colonies are to be established you must not forget, if Welsh soldiers are to be settled in England, that both in language and tradition they will be alien, and I need not say that they will find themselves uncomfortable.
§ Sir FORTESCUE FLANNERY
It is a thousand pities that so thin a House should have listened to what I venture to describe as one of the most lucid and comprehensive statements that have been made on this or any other subject, but the attractions at the Ministry of Munitions are, I think, more responsible for the thinness of the House at the moment of the speech than any lack of interest in the subject. I desire to confirm something that has fallen from the last speaker. He said that it was time for the Board of Agriculture to appoint experts in regard to the question of reafforestation. We have enough committees of experts already, and a time of war is not suitable for appointing more; but we are cutting down trees by the thousand all over the country, and, so far as I could make out from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, nothing whatever is being done by the Board towards replanting at the present time. I think something might be done, though not in the direction of appointing experts, to encourage, by way of Grant or otherwise, the planting of young trees and so obtaining the growth which will be lost if we wait until the War is over.
I was much interested, as being concerned in a constituency which has to do with fishing, in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman about the science branch on fisheries, and I regret very much that the circumstances of the War have stopped one of the most successful and 1882 best organised systems of research that exists in any branch under the Government. I refer to the work of the fisheries vessel—I think her name is "Hiawatha"—which in time of peace is manned by a splendid staff of deep-sea research scientists, who spend the whole of their time when at sea—and they are nearly always there—in examining specimens which are taken from various depths and various latitudes in the North Sea and elsewhere and reducing them by way of comparison and scientific analysis to practical results in regard to fish culture for the guidance of deep-sea fishermen. Naturally, that work must be stopped during the War, but, having had occasion in connection with some business similarly desired by one of the Colonies to go thoroughly into the matter, I desire to bear my own humble testimony to the extremely scientific and accurate way in which the whole matter has been organised.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the general use of motors. I am very glad indeed that the system by which the Department is assisting fishermen to obtain motors has borne the test of practical experience. I believe it is held that a vessel propelled by sail is only about one-third of the value of a similar vessel propelled by motor. The adoption of motors for the propulsion of fishing vessels, in other words, practically increases their capacity for the catching and delivering of fish by three to one. Therefore, the efforts, most excellent and well organised efforts, which the Government have made and which have borne such good fruit, will, I hope, be continued until there is practically the same vessels for fishing as for cargo, until fishing vessels propelled by sail, except quite close to the coast, will be driven off the seas and will be substituted by vessels that are propelled by motor. So much for the Fisheries Branch, which the right hon. Gentleman said is somewhat of a contrast, but which is still quite properly housed under the same roof as agriculture because they are both concerned in producing food.
I want to refer now to the question of agricultural education, which was the subject of a very large portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I live in an agricultural district, and am intimately associated with what goes on there because, although I am not, like my hon. Friend behind me, a practical farmer, I have taken the opportunity of studying what goes on 1883 amongst the farmers in my part of the country, and I venture to say that one of the deficiencies of the Board of Agriculture is in not sufficiently advertising the existing educational facilities of an agricultural and technical character which exist. I venture to say that not one farmer in twenty in the remote parts of my own district has had brought home to him by direct appeal, such as might easily have been made, the facilities and advantages of agricultural education for himself and those whom he employs. I do not know that a time of war is one to urge a system of advertising, but I believe at the earliest opportunity that agriculture would be benefited, and the amount of food supply would be increased, by the Board making a special system of organised advertising amongst the farmers for the benefit of themselves and their men. There is a point, it may seem a small point, but it is one of some importance to a large number of farmers, which I will put before the Board of Agriculture with a view to their giving it reconsideration. At the present time it is understood that by regulaton the price of hay is to be £5 per ton, because whilst any Government officer, a military officer particularly, may requisition or commandeer hay he cannot give more than £5 per ton for it.
What is the result of that? Some private transactions were begun at higher prices, and those have been stopped, because if any merchant or consumer purchased hay from a farmer, the next day it might be commandeered at £5 per ton, and no more. That, therefore, is the limitation of price. Is it fair or is it right that the farmer should be subjected to that strict limitation of the price of one of his products—and in the case of some farmers it is one of his staple products—while there is no corresponding limit of the expense he is put to in raising that product? Labour has gone up, rightly and properly. No one objects to that. But other things which the farmer uses in the way of culture have also gone up, and if there is to be a limitation in the price of the product, surely it should be part of the duty of the Board of Agriculture to take into consideration a proposal to make a limitation of some of the expenses to which the farmer is put. I hope that, in his reply, the right hon. Gentleman will refer to that grievance, which I am sure is one that is quite serious.
1884 Most of this Debate has been occupied with references to the question of labour. There is no more urgent matter in connection with agriculture at this moment than the contending claims on the one hand of the military for men to fight, and on the other hand of the agricultural interest with a view of maintaining our food supplies, without which fighting is impossible. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kent (Mr. Hardy) re-echoed the complaint in a very eloquent and effective way and explained the difficulties in his neighbourhood of obtaining labour, both male and female. I ventured to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman and to recommend to him the system in use in Essex, but I did not seem to meet with much success when I suggested that what is good for Essex should be good for Kent. What is the system in Essex? There local committees have been established by invitation, and under the guidance of the Board of Agriculture. These local committees are charged not only with the duty of seeing how many men ought to be reserved for so many acres, but, being localised, they go deeper into the matter, and they nave practically intimated in each district where the soil differs and where culture differs, the number of men which, in their opinion, is the minimum number—allowing for women—for the proper culture of that land, whether arable or pasture. The result is that for all practical purposes the tribunals have adopted the opinions of the local committees, as expressed, and you have not merely a proper assessment of men for the county as a whole, but you have differentiation in the various parts of the county, according to the necessities which I have indicated, and, although I cannot say that the system is absolutely perfect, I do say there is public recognition of the fairness and justice of the agricultural committees and public recognition of the manner in which the tribunals have accepted the judgments they have formed. Every farmer who asks for the exemption of a man is obliged to say the number of men he would have left if the man were not exempted, and thus justice is meted out to all men on the scale of numbers that I have endeavoured to describe.
One word as to the employment of women. Different opinions have been expressed. Some have said that there are plenty of women available, and others that there are very few. Again I am going to invite my right hon. Friend from Kent to 1885 take a lesson from the county on the other side of the river. There is no difficulty in getting large numbers of women to give in their names for employment. The difficulty is in getting opportunities for training them. I, for one, am surprised that so large a number of women are willing to offer to work on the land. Many of them have considerable separation allowances, as the wives or dependants of soldiers, and this provision of money undoubtedly reduces the number of women who, for the sake of gain, are prepared to work on the land. Then there are the munition factories, which, as we all know, have attracted large numbers of women who are usefully and patriotically employed. It -happens in the place with which I am best acquainted that we have three munition factories in the town, employing large numbers of women. We have all around agriculturists anxious to employ women, and we have registered at this moment, in the comparatively small district known as Braintree, no fewer than 600 women who are willing to work on the land, and make themselves available for it. That result has been arrived at again by localised committees, and if there is one point I desire to impress on the Board of Agriculture, and upon my right hon. Friend, more than another, it is this: Localise your committees and make them representative of the local knowledge. In this particular case ladies have banded themselves together in local committees and subcommittees, and there has scarcely been a woman in any of the villages for several miles around who has not been canvassed and asked whether or not she, from patriotic motives, will join in assisting the farmers. As I have said, that system has been very successful, and the large number of women I have mentioned have been enrolled and are available, and I hope the opportunity will occur for their general employment.
There is one other suggestion I desire to make before I sit down, and it is in reply to the hon. Member for South Moulton (Mr. Lambert). The hon. Member made a violent, eloquent, and even impassioned attack on the Board of Agriculture. They, according to him, have not done their duty in opposing the claims of the War Office for men; they have permitted too many men to leave the land in order to join the Army. I venture to think that no one who is at all impartial will take that view. Lord Selborne, the President of the Board, is never out of the 1886 newspapers. In every speech he makes he is claiming consideration for agriculture and for the men engaged in it, and I venture to think, just as the President of the Board of Trade, on the one hand, is seeking to uphold commerce, and the President of Agriculture is seeking to uphold agriculture on the other hand, against the claims of the military, we may be pretty sure that, as between the advocacy of both sides, full justice and fairness will be done. At all events, for my part, I have the utmost confidence that nothing that can be done or ought to be done in the circumstances in the interests of agriculture will be neglected by Lord Selborne, the President, and if I may associate with him, after his speech to-day, by the right hon. Gentleman who so ably represents the Department in this House.
§ Captain CHARLES BATHURST
I have co-operated for several years in the work of many agricultural organisations with the right hon. Gentleman, and, if I may venture to say so, we have on many occasions entered into friendly controversy. I listened with very great pleasure to the most lucid and interesting speech which he has given us to-day, a speech with every word of which I entirely agree. But I find myself in a difficult position, as he will realise, because in offering some words of modest criticism—and I assure him it is in no hostile spirit—I am conscious of the fact that I myself have been working in close co-operation with the Department which he represents in this House. Lord Selborne, the President of the Board, made an appeal to all the larger agricultural organisations last autumn to assist him in the patriotic crusade on which he had embarked, namely, the effort to raise a much larger proportion of food in this country than had been raised prior to the War, especially in the cultivation of cereals, and on that occasion, when the representatives of every large agricultural organisation met the President of the Board, we assured him, on behalf of the whole of the agricultural community, that we intended to do our utmost in true patriotic spirit to consider, not our own personal interests, but the interests of the nation, and that we should avoid in every possible way uttering words of criticism or grumbling, or making undue appeals to the Government for assistance during the period of the War. That is to-day the spirit of these great agricultural organisations, and I 1887 am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be the first to admit that, during the months that have intervened, months of very great difficulty in the agricultural world, on the whole the farmers and their organisations have carried out, both in the spirit and in the letter, those patriotic assurances which on that occasion they gave to the President of the Board.
The question of fertilisers has been a very difficult one for farmers during recent months. I know the right hon. Gentleman has done his utmost, as chairman of the Fertilisers Committee, to come to some working arrangement with the manufacturers and consumers of sulphate of ammonia, but amongst the farmers there is still a feeling which, I think, is to some extent well founded, that they ought to have been enabled, in the absence of any means of obtaining nitrate of soda, owing to the requirements for war purposes, to obtain the only possible alternative at lower prices than those at which manufacturers are prepared to sell it to them. There can be no question whatever that the price which is being charged to-day for sulphate of ammonia and that has been charged for several months past, leaves a very big margin of profit indeed to the manufacturers of that commodity. There can be no question that, although possibly during the last few weeks—somewhat late in the day—a larger quantity of this fertiliser than the normal has been made use of in some parts of the country, there are other parts of the country, to my knowledge, where a patriotic attempt is being made to grow white straw crops in successive years on land which does not contain sufficient fertility to admit of that process without letting down the land and where sulphate of ammonia has been regarded as too costly a fertiliser to apply. That process, if an attempt is made to continue it, is bound to result in successive years in a considerable depletion of home food products. Therefore I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to take care that what has happened in the case of sulphate of ammonia shall not happen in the case of basic slag. The position as regards basic slag is shaping exactly the same as the position in the case of sulphate of ammonia. There is no phosphatic fertiliser more widely used, nor one which has more extraordinary results in certain parts of the country, especially where the land is stiff. That fertiliser is steadily going up in price to-day. The chief producers 1888 of that fertiliser have been declared to be a German firm. They have ceased to produce that article, and others, I am told, are ceasing to produce it because their employés are taken away for military or other avowedly national purposes. I cannot conceive any more national purpose than providing such a fertiliser as basic slag in as large quantities as possible during the coming months, and at prices which farmers may be reasonably expected to pay. I feel sure the question is going to arise and, so feeling, I refer to it to-day before it is too late.
May I switch off from agriculture for one moment to the question of timber? The right hon. Gentleman referred to the efforts made by the Board to secure a larger proportion of the home supply of timber for the present national needs. May I take this opportunity of thanking the Board for the quite admirable leaflet they issued for use among owners of timber, showing what were the requirements of the collieries, particularly in South Wales, and pointing out to them what sort of timber was needed, in what lengths and of what varieties? There is, however, a large amount of timber, as I happen to know, owned by Members of this House. To my knowledge certain Members of this House have offered their timber to the Government for purchase. They have been told, in reply, that if they are prepared to seek re-election by their constituents no doubt a contract would be arranged, but otherwise their timber cannot be placed at the disposal of the nation. In war time these little difficulties ought to be got over. It is a most absurd anachronism, quite out of keeping with days such as those we are passing through, for Members of this House to be told that. One hon. Member, who was here just now, has a large quantity of timber and is anxious to sell it to the Government at a reasonable price, yet it is utterly impossible for him to sell that timber unless he is prepared to go through the farce of a by-election, with probably an independent candidate standing against him, causing him a large amount of expense and possibly turning him. out of his seat.
§ Captain C. BATHURST
Without criticising the methods or the commercial profits of middlemen, I think these 1889 are days when the nation ought to be able to buy what it wants direct from the producer. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the great desirability, in view of the depletion of timber, of some scheme of afforestation being entered upon at an early date. It is true that this is not a time to plant trees, unless the German prisoners can be turned on to do it. I cannot conceive a more useful work upon which they could be employed, unless it be the reclamation of waste land. I do not see why it should not be possible, before the War is over, to have some sort of survey of the country in order to enable the Government to ascertain how land which is not being put to the best use to-day, immediately the War comes to an end, can be planted in order to provide this important national asset which is becoming so seriously depleted.
During the last few weeks I myself have been engaged in carrying through a most interesting itinerary of England and a part of Wales in connection with duties which I have undertaken at the request of Lord Selborne. I have discovered one or two features of British farming to which, perhaps, quite shortly, I might be allowed to refer. One of them is the very unequal operation over the country generally of the local tribunals in regard to the exemption of labour for agricultural purposes. I have to admit that in some districts—there are not very many to-day—there is still a small number of men of military age who might conceivably be taken off the farms, but over the greater part of agricultural England to-day I am bound to say that the tribunals have not been happy in their selection of men for military service. Unfortunately, the men who have come from certain parts of agricultural England who are now serving with the Forces are men who can ill be spared, because in the truest sense they are skilled labour, which cannot be replaced by women or boys or any other substitute that may be suggested. In such cases I go as far as to say that, as in the case of experts in munitions, these men ought to be brought back from military service, in order to ensure that the home food production shall be kept at its maximum during the critical months that he ahead of us. Apropos of the fertiliser difficulty, I am sorry to say that I found a certain number of farms where the land is being unduly bled in order to provide crops that are deemed to be most needed for national requirements. I hope the President of the 1890 Board of Agriculture will draw attention to the fact that it is not a true economy to keep on taking white straw crops off the land when, for all we know, the War may last for many months, if not years, and the food requirements may become far more acute. Therefore it is not the best policy to rob the land of its natural fertility without putting anything back.
Again, the unequal distribution of women workers is very noticeable. In the North and East of England I am bound to say, from what I can see, that a considerable number of women workers are on the land, and they seem to be on the increase. In the South and West the number is not so large and the farmers seem to be more averse from employing women. The women that are to be found largely in the South and West do not belong to the classes which you would naturally expect to provide this labour. I noticed a large number of parsons' daughters' for instance—when I say large number, I mean a large proportion of the few who are to be found doing this work—in the South and West, and perfectly admirable work these women were doing. They are setting a very good example to the women of the commercial and other classes, which they might be well advised to follow. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert) said:I do not know that you can get women to milk cows.I do not know what he means by that. Some of the best milking I have seen during the past few months has been done by women. My own experience is that a woman, when properly trained, seems to have more sympathy with the animal and is more capable of effectually milking out a cow than a man or even a capable boy. In speaking of women labour, the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:You have to take this country as is it.I do not know what he means by that. If he means that you have to take this country as it was before the War, I differ entirely from him. I hope and believe that one result of this War will be—it is being daily demonstrated—that women are going to Be found capable of doing an immense amount of useful work, particularly of an agricultural character, which they never dreamt of doing before the War, which England particularly wants, and which, unless women do it, it is difficult to see who is going to do it when the War comes to an end. So far as the women with whom I am most conversant are concerned, 1891 I can only say that on my own home farm there are several women now at work. They have been working for the last two months. The operations they are conducting to-day are not confined to milking. They have been turning a separator; they have been making butter; they have been hoeing and singling the roots; they have been rolling and harrowing the land; they had been spreading manure and generally carrying out a large variety of farm processes, which leads me rather to ask, not what can women do in the way of agricultural work, but what cannot women do?
The right hon. Gentleman referred a good deal to agricultural education. He told us that the proportion of the grant which is being given in this country, as compared with that in Prussia and the United States, for agricultural education is gradually being raised, but he had to confess that still only one-third of the amount which is voted for agricultural education in Prussia is being expended by the Government in this country. That is not enough. If I may say so without trenching upon dangerous ground, there is a difference between agricultural education in Prussia and the United States and the conditions existing here. After all, what is the stimulant that makes people in these countries demand the agricultural education which they receive? The stimulant is that both these countries make it evident that essential foods shall always be grown at a profit. It is a question of pounds, shillings, and pence, not for the enrichment of the producers, but for the safety and security of those nations, especially in time of war. When the time comes, as I believe it will come, when this nation will realise that agriculture is an essential industry and that the home production of food is essential to the security and safety of the nation, this country will have to take the same steps as other countries in order to ensure that essential food products shall be grown at a profit. When that time comes there will be no difficulty whatever in expanding your system of education and inducing the people, young and old, to participate in it.
There is one matter to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer. If he had referred to it he might have done so with great self-satisfaction—that is, the very valuable, interesting and instructive leaflets which the Board of Agriculture has issued during the last few months. I 1892 only wish those leaflets, which are a most valuable means of agricultural education, passed into far more numerous hands than they actually do. I have here one entitled, "Suggestions to Allotment Holders and Gardeners for General Cropping During the Spring and Summer Months." It is a perfectly admirable little pamphlet for those who want to grow, in their own gardens or allotments, foodstuffs of some value to the nation out of the usual course of the cultivation of those allotments. I might suggest one possible addition to a leaflet like this. It would enhance its value if there could be added some sort of indication as to which of these various garden products has the highest food value. There is no indication whatever on the face of it. I am certain if it were published in Germany, Belgium, or Denmark that would be an important feature of the leaflet, in order to emphasise which of these various garden products are of the highest food value to the nation in time of war. The other leaflets that struck me as peculiarly useful just now were those with regard to the new feeding stuffs which are being largely used for feeding cattle just now, based upon their food value, about artificial fertilisers and also about pit timber. The Northampton experiment has been a very interesting one. It is more than an experiment. The County Council, as I understand, has issued information showing to all agriculturists in the county of Northampton the respective value per unit of the most important food constituents in these new as well as older feeding stuffs. It might be of great advantage to other counties if, through the medium of the Board, that same information were given to agriculturists in every other county in England and Wales, in addition to Northamptonshire.
There is one subject of very great importance in the district in which I live, and it applies also to the counties of Kent and Worcestershire and the Fen district, and that is, what is going to happen to the fruit this year? There is a promise of exceptionally good fruit crops of every variety, which is likely to be realised unless we have night frosts during the next few weeks. That fruit is going to be of greater value to the nation than it has ever been before. Are we going to lose it, or are we going to be able to preserve it as a valuable substitute for butter, and in some respects as a valuable food, during the 1893 coming twelve months? Three years ago, and to some extent last year, there was a large amount of plums allowed to rot on the ground because it was found impossible to obtain the means of preserving it according to the system generally adopted in fruit districts. My own experience leads me to believe that that system might fee improved, and that a good deal of the sugar preservation might possibly be dispensed with altogether. But you are not going to prevail upon fruit growers who have been in the habit of using sugar for the preservation of fruit to attempt its preservation in the absence of sugar, and I want to appeal to the Government that, before it is too late, before the fruit ripens, they shall allocate a large portion of the sugar that is in their hands and under their control to the fruit grower in order to avoid the wastage of fruit which must otherwise occur in the fruit-growing districts of this country.
There is only one other matter I want to refer to. I understand the Board of Trade has appointed Committees to consider the future fate in this country of some important industries. I believe the steel industry is one which has a committee allocated to it to consider what will happen to it after the War. Surely there is no industry of anything like the importance to this country, in view of the experience we have had during the War, that agriculture is. There is no industry upon which we are bound to depend to a greater extent than we have in the past in the possible event of another war taking place, when we shall not be so happily situated as we have been during this War as regards the submarine menace, or even the danger from Zeppelins and other aircraft. May I suggest that the time has come for a special committee to be appointed to consider the position of British agriculture after this War. My experience during the last few months has been that a large number of public men who never gave a thought to British agriculture before the War are deeply interested in it to-day, and are deeply anxious to know what is going to be the Government attitude and policy in the matter of home-food production in the future. Nothing is more encouraging to me, if I may say so in the presence of members of the Labour party, than the interest they are taking in this matter, conscious as they must be, and as we must all admit, that the agricultural labourer 1894 is bound to be placed in a very much better position, both economical and social, than he has been in the past.
§ Captain BATHURST
We all realise that, and we all realise that he can only be placed in that position if agriculture is put in a far more secure position than it has been in recent years. If that is the case, and I think it is, may I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to urge upon the Government that they shall at once appoint a committee to consider what shall be the position of British agriculture when this War comes to an end.
§ Sir A. BLACK
I was very delighted to hear the very sympathetic reference of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to the position of the agricultural labourer, which he forecasts will, in the future, be very much better than it has been in the past. I was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) uttered a note of warning to the country, and particularly to the tribunals, that the danger point was very near to being reached so far as the depletion of men is concerned. I only wish that some steps might be taken to call the attention of the tribunals to that most important matter. I believe it will be readily admitted that in most agricultural districts of this country the call to the Colours was most liberally responded to by the agricultural workers of the country, and now that the Military Service Bill is likely to be put into immediate operation, I am afraid it is essential that the attention of the tribunals should be called to the urgent necessity of not taking more men from the land than can possibly he helped. I have no desire to criticise the tribunals—they have a difficult and a most important duty to perform—but it is true that when men come before the tribunals to ask for release they are faced, not only with the tribunals, but with the military representative of the tribunals, whose prime duty it is, and he feels it to be so and works for it accordingly, to secure men for the Army and the agricultural worker has very often a very poor chance. I want some step to be taken to inform the tribunals of the urgency of the food supply which at present is in serious danger of being considerably curtailed. I have had communications, even since I came into the House to-day, from my Constituency, where agriculture of the most intensive 1895 form is practised and where the labour per. acre required is very much more than the normal and already, before we get the extra pressure which is bound to accrue when further men are called, there is a serious depletion of labour. I know that this is appreciated by the right hon. Gentleman, and I have watched with considerable pleasure the repeated and constant efforts of the President of the Board of Agriculture to secure that this side of the question shall not be overlooked, but it is important—I think it is difficult, if not impossible, to exaggerate its importance—and I only hope the right hon. Gentleman will not relax his efforts and those of his Department in order to secure that the necessary supply of men on the land shall not be further unduly curtailed.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I wish in the first instance to utter my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman for his admirable statement of the agricultural position. There was only one small point on which I should like to comment adversely, and that is the wages question. He told us that the Board of Trade had given him an estimate of the present rate of wages. I think he ought to have told the House that that estimate was, at the outside, formed upon only 150 farms out of 435,000 holdings, and that, therefore, it is statistically valueless. That is a point that ought to have been made in stating the amount of wages. Passing away from that, I should like to say, on behalf of a very large number of agriculturists, that we are profoundly grateful to the Board of Agriculture for its activity and energy during this very difficult time. I believe that they have earned and won the gratitude of the great majority of agriculturists. I quite agree that there are men in agriculture, as in every other trade or profession, who want everything they can possibly get out of the Board, and if they do not get it grumble. But although that class will exist, I am sure of what I say, and I repeat that they have earned the gratitude of agriculturists. Where war drives we must go, and this question of labour is a very serious one for the country, and I believe the Board of Agriculture has done and is doing its best to keep men on the land. The hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Black) represents a market garden constituency which I know has been considerably denuded of labour. The hon. Member for Maldon (Sir Fortescue Flannery) has told us of the 1896 admirable system which prevails in Essex. Other counties have endeavoured to draw up something of the same sort of scale. We have one in Bedfordshire, and, I believe, the hon. Member who has just spoken will bear me out when I say that in nearly all the market garden cases that have come before the local and Appeal Tribunals they have given exemptions up to the 30th July. That is to tide them over the most critical part of the market gardening industry. I noticed with pleasure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture paid a tribute to the War Agricultural Committees. I am the more interested in that fact because these War Agricultural Committees were recommended by a Departmental Committee of which I was a member. I think these committees are doing admirable work. Perhaps if the Board of Agriculture had adopted the whole of the recommendations of the Departmental Committee, and had carried out, through them, inquiries into the number of men required upon the land, in the middle of last year, we might not have got into the difficulty in which we are now placed. But it is no use going back to bygones.
The present position of agriculture is, I think, extremely serious. I believe that the reduction in the food production in this country will be something very large. When I say very large, I mean that the reduction will range between 15 and 25 per cent. of the ordinary agricultural production. That loss, in view particularly of the financial necessity of our buying as little as possible from abroad, the heavy rates at which freights are now carried and perhaps also the submarine menace, is a very serious thing. I am not a panic-monger, and I am not an alarmist, but I should be very glad if the Government would grasp this situation firmly and put us upon rations. I believe that, sooner or later, that will have to be done.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I do not mind what they are. I mean rations sufficient to save food and to economise. There are two old proverbs particularly appropriate. One is, "Eat within the tether." The other is, "Spare at the brink, and not at the bottom." That is what I mean. I do not believe that there is any danger of starvation, but I do say that it is very necessary to be economical with food, especially in view of this very serious reduction in the supply. Take the case of hay. That is 1897 coming to the question of rations for horses. I would urge the Board of Agriculture to co-operate with the War Office and try to arrange rations in that department of the field. We had a surplus at the beginning of last year, but this year we have sold out as bare as my hand. There is every prospect at the present moment, it is true, of a good hay crop, but we may have severe frosts. Anyhow, I think the Board of Agriculture might bring pressure to bear upon officers who are buying hay to introduce green foodstuffs for horses, to a certain extent. That, perhaps, will not commend itself to the Parliamentary Secretary from his experience of a racing stable, but in the ordinary management of horses I can assure him that it is not only useful but a cheaper and more economical thing to do.
The real, in fact the main, cause at the present moment of the reduction in our food prospects is the weather. We have had a most disastrous season, and the result has been that work which ought to have been done months ago has been shoved up in the last two or three weeks and has made the labour crisis more acute. Another cause has been the difficulty of obtaining fertilisers. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that subject and the means of obtaining Chilian nitrate was fully discussed before the Departmental Committee to which I have alluded. I believe that the Board of Agriculture have done everything they possibly could to supply sulphate of ammonia cheaply, to get nitrate, and, failing that, to provide a natural substitute. When the Parliamentary Secretary talks of scientific research in connection with agriculture, may I suggest to him that one thing which would be of the utmost value to agriculture would be to find some native supply of potash. So long as the deposits are closed to us we shall be wholly without potash, and potash is one of the most invaluable ingredients that we have. If the scientific research to which he has paid so just a tribute can be directed to finding another substitute I think it will be of inestimable value, and would perhaps save the situation so far as food is concerned. It is possible that it may be found in the direction of the salt deposits which are so common in Cheshire and in Droitwich. That is the direction in which people would naturally look. The third cause is the labour difficulty. I quite agree with what the Parliamentary Secretary said about child labour. I think 1898 the coming generation of children have really got to take the place of the generation which in the course of this War is being practically wiped out. Therefore, there never was a time when we could less dispense with educating the rising generation than we can at this moment. There is under the existing law one means by which we can obtain a supply of boy and of girl labour of a certain age, and which I think we might do without disadvantage. I am not now referring to the half-timers. As an old chairman of a local education authority, I detest the half-time system. I am referring to boys and girls of thirteen and fourteen years who have, made the requisite number of attendances, and quite irrespective of what standard they have reached may now be exempted from school attendance if the local authority certifies that the employment is beneficial. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it should be one of his instructions to the War Agricultural Committees to approach the local education authority of their district and to get these boys and girls between the ages of thirteen and fourteen by getting the local education authority to certify agriculture as a beneficial employment. I would not go further in any other direction towards increasing the number of boys and girls employed on the land.
There is still, I think, a very considerable misunderstanding about old age pensions. I hear from various quarters in the country that pension officers and pension committees are still insisting on the strict letter of the law, and depriving old age pensioners of their pensions if they earn money in any other way. Many of these old age pensioners, provided that they are allowed to go later and come away earlier, can still put in, for the benefit of their own health and for the advantage of the nation, a good many hours a day upon the land. If there is any real reason why a strong hint should not be given to the pension officers and pension committees not to deal too severely with that class of men, I do hope that the Board of Agriculture will initiate legislation on the subject, providing that during the War, especially at a time when the 5s. pension is precious little, the old age pensioners should not lose their pensions by going on the land and doing what work they can. Then comes the question of women labour. We hear many different opinions advanced on that subject. I think it is only fair to the farmer to say 1899 that, of course, he was not enthusiastic about women labour in the months of January, February, March, and April, when he could not employ anybody on the land at all. He was not likely then to take women into his employment, because he had no work except dairying to which he could put them. I think now you will find that farmers are particularly willing to take women. There are, however, certain questions outstanding. There is a certain amount of feeling in regard to this matter. I speak on behalf of the labourers, among whom a great part of my life has been spent. A great number of labourers think that women may be used to depress their wages in after years, and, therefore, they do not particularly like this movement in regard to women labour. Then, again, within the memory of the older ones, women labour on the land was unfortunately identified with an amount of moral degradation which has left an unpleasant tradition in the countryside. There is this further objection, that I do not think the movement is very popular with the wives of the farmers. I think if you could get to the bottom of it the difficulty is this, that the farmer's wife says, "I am not going to have any London minxes trapesing about the farmyard when you are there." I honestly believe that this prejudice, and the more serious objection amongst the agricultural labourers, in the pressure of this unexampled time, are not likely to endure. Of course, you cannot expect the women to do what women have done all their lives in France. In France the French women and the French men have set an example to this country which it is hard even to rival and impossible to surpass. At any rate, what the French woman can do the English woman can learn to do. I am thankful to say that I entirely concur with what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary, that women all over the country, of every class and particularly of classes who do not ordinarily work for their living, have thrown themselves into this movement with the most patriotic fervour. I know in my own county, where I am chairman of the War Agricultural Committee, we have a Women's Agricultural Committee. We have the whole affair in their hands. We are going to hold a demonstration next month of what the women have done, and we believe that it will be a very great success.
But now, even in France, they do not rely entirely upon the labour of women. 1900 There is, as is doubtless known to many Members of the House, a law which was arranged between the Minister of Agriculture and General Gallieni, who was then Minister of War. What is done is this. The commune or parish states how much labour is wanted. That is communicated to the Prefect of the Department, who is one member of three on a departmental commission. The departmental commission collects the evidence of all the communes and sends it on to the general commanding in a district, and that general is bound to find the labour required, and, if possible, to send men back to the neighbourhood of their own homes. That is the French law at the present moment. I do not say that we can get anywhere near that, but I do think, if the Board of Agriculture would suggest to the War Agriculture Committees that they should find out the actual amount of labour required in the county, and communicate that information through the Board of Agriculture to the War Office, then once again by co-operation between the two bodies, especially when we have this large body of Reserves which is to be created under the Military Service Act, something might be done to relieve the situation in that direction.
There are, of course, other sources of labour which were not mentioned by the Under-Secretary. One of these is the conscientious objector. In my Constituency the local tribunal sends the conscientious objector on to the land. He cannot always get the farmer to take him, but we try to send him on to the land. Even though the farmers are hard up, some of them will not take them on the farm, which is a regrettable thing I think. But there is a use which we might make to a very large extent of the conscientious objector. It is a suggestion which I make with all diffidence. That is, the reclamation of waste land—moors and peat—that has not been reclaimed because it does not pay to reclaim it at pre-war prices. If the conscientious objectors were collected to reclaim that waste land, of which there are great tracts in the Midland Counties and in Surrey and in various counties, they would be doing a good thing. They would be preparing for these colonies of soldiers and sailors hereafter, and the work could be carried on after the agricultural necessities had been satisfied. It is being reduced to a science in Germany, as usual. There was an interesting German law passed in March, 1914, with 1901 which I have no doubt the Under-Secretary is familiar. But the process is a simple one. It is not disagreeable work. You have to remove the bushes and trees. You have to drain the land and level the mounds and ditches, and then practically to leave nature to do the rest, with the addition of two fertilisers of which there is a large home supply, chalk and basic slag. I believe that that would be a valuable way of using the conscientious objector, and would be useful from the point of view of the future wealth of the country. In concluding, I desire once more to record my appreciation of the great services which the Board of Agriculture has rendered to agriculture during this difficult crisis.
Major-General SIR IVOR HERBERT
Before entering on the very few remarks which I wish to make I would like to say a word in support of the valuable suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member for Wilts (Captain O. Bathurst), of which I hope the Department will take due notice—the appointment of a Commission or Committee to inquire into the future of agriculture in this Island. It is especially desirable that it should be done now, because we are living in a time when things are in a state of flux. Old prejudices are disappearing. "We are no longer bound by some of those prejudices and shibboleths which bound us in a time of peace, and we see problems which are brought insistently before us by the conditions of a great war. Therefore, though I can quite understand that the Government might hesitate to create fresh inquiries, I do urge that this particular matter, the future of British agriculture, is one which it would be well to inquire into now when we have before our eyes its immense importance.
I listened with great attention to the statement of my right hon. Friend, and I must join with the others who have expressed their admiration of its lucidity and completeness. But I was deeply disappointed in one particular. That was with regard to the arrangements to be made in preparation for the coming harvent in the way of providing military labour. About two months ago I joined with other leading agriculturists in making the representations to my right hon. Friend to which he alluded, and he expressed regret, which I am quite sure was sincere, because he received us at that time with the greatest sympathy, that he 1902 was unable now to state what arrangement had been come to between his Department and the War Office. There has been two months incubation and we are no further forward, and now we have the hay harvest coming immediately upon us. The hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero), in the very interesting speech to which we listened just now, recalled to us the condition in which this country is with regard to hay, and the deficit that there has been in the past year as compared with the previous year. I have seen myself hundreds of acres of hay uncut last year, representing thousands of tons of hay which ought to have been available for military departments this year, and which was left uncut for this reason only, that the military departments could not or would not—I say probably could not because they have shown their incapacity in so many ways—do what is done in every other country, to apply military labour to a matter of national necessity. I trust that that is not going to be the case again this year. This is becoming a very serious matter indeed.
I differ from the view which my right hon. Friend seemed to take on this question of military labour. He said that soldiers are intended primarily for fighting. That is true. He went on to say that in the coming time immediately before us it would probably be necessary even more than in the past to retain them strictly for those military duties. I differ from him entirely. We have now, I am happy to say, a system by which there is a constant supply of men provided from which we shall be able to get the number of men required. In the past the only excuse has been that the military authorities were so busy trying to capture any man they could for the Army, and competing with industry for the men of the country, that they were reluctant ever to let one of them out of their hands. That is no longer the case. Therefore we must recognise that once you accept the principle of what we have now, practically universal military service, you also accept the principle of national service, and that men who are engaged in military service should also be applied as soldiers to do such other work as is of national importance. That is a view which I should like to have put forward by my right hon. Friend, because it is only by having strong views on the subject that you are likely to produce any effect upon the authorities of the War Office. Not long ago I was in 1903 France in a district where the main industry is the cultivation of vines. This requires very special men who have a sort of traditional knowledge. I inquired how it was they were keeping up the cultivation of that very important crop in France. They said that no difficulty had been found in obtaining the necessary men. According to the system which was described by the hon. Member for Oxford just now they obtained back from the Army those vinedressers who are absolutely necessary to enable the vineyards to be kept in proper condition. It is difficult to draw any analogy between France and England, especially in the matter of agriculture, because in England the traditions of agriculture have been disappearing owing to the constant drain, in the course of two generations, of the population from the agricultural into the industrial districts. Still, we have got a certain number of men who are of the utmost value to agriculture, because they still retain those traditions of agricultural operations, and there should be some means of obtaining these men in the seasons when they are most required for the work of agriculture.
After what has been said on the question of women labour on the land, I am not going to add much to it, except to remind the Committee of what, I think, no one has seemed to remember. I recollect it, because I happen to have been the originator of national registration, and therefore I am not likely to forget the annoyance which I felt when it was provided that this should be extended to women as well as to men. I considered at that time that it was a waste of time, when we were not getting all the men that we wanted. We did have a national registration of women, and why should it not be made easy to obtain women suitable for work on the land Jay means of a system of canvass similar to that which was applied under the Derby system to obtain suitable men for the Army, so that it might, perhaps, have more complete success? Much has been said about the necessity of purchasing sulphate of ammonia. I have here admirable leaflets, to which the hon. Member for Wilton (Captain C. Bathurst) referred, and which deal with this question of sulphate of ammonia that the agriculturist is urged, in a most insistent manner, to buy for use on the land, in order to increase its productivity. I ask my hon. Friend if it is really of any great 1904 use to issue these appeals urging agriculturists to buy an article which they know is being sold at about three times its value? As the hon. Member for Wilton stated, the Department has issued some very excellent and valuable information in the form of leaflets, especially in regard to this and other fertilisers.
We are faced with this position—one which was represented to the Department by a very strong deputation on the 2nd February last—that the price of this sulphate of ammonia has now been put up to £15, £16, and £17 a ton, which every agriculturist knows does not cost more than £5 or £6 a ton to produce. [An Hon. MEMBER: "NO!"] My hon. Friend disagrees with me, but I should be very glad to hear the explanation which he may have to give. I think I shall find some support in this Committee on the subject, and it is certainly a fact, which I have taken on what I consider to be the best possible expert information. The profit is one of those excess profits that have been made by certain manufacturers. It has been made, or is being made, by a ring of manufacturers who have been in close connection with the German nitrate trust. These are matters which have been laid before the Department, and the evidence of which has been given; and I do earnestly urge the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture to consider whether something cannot be done in the way of regulating the price of that which they recommend agriculturists to use. It may be said that if they once begin to regulate the price of that which agriculturists require, it will also be necessary to regulate the price that agriculturists have to receive. As an agriculturist I should be perfectly satisfied, if they would show me how to make the profits which are made by those manufacturers. The hon. Member for Wilton referred to the question of basic slag, and I endorse every word he said. The price of that is going up by leaps and bounds. The manufacture of it has decreased, and the reason given for that is to be traced back to the recruiting difficulties, and to what I hope is now an obsolete system. I know from my own personal knowledge that the men employed in the manufacture of basic slag were induced to go away from their occupation because they found an occupation which was more suitable and desirable in the munition works, where they obtained the protection of the badge. That is a fact which I know from my own knowledge.
1905 Some reference has been made to afforestation. As one deeply interested in that most useful science, I would like to add my word to what has already fallen from two or three speakers as to the necessity of something being done now to preserve and guard the future of our woodlands. Those woodlands, during the past few years, have not only suffered severely from over-cutting, but they have also been devastated by a series of gales such as this country has never known before. Only recently I have looked with dismay on acres of young plantations utterly destroyed by the gales of last March, following upon those of last September. The cutting of the woodlands has been so heavy—it is perfectly right that this timber should be made available for national service at this time—that they have been left in that condition that it is impossible, when there is so little labour, to prepare them for replanting, with a view to their regeneration of the woods. From what I hear people say, when occasionally talking on this question of afforestation, they seem to think that you have only to go and stick young plants in casually and they are bound to grow until the forest returns to its pristine splendour. That is not the case. It is perfectly futile to conduct afforestation operations on those lines. It requires a considerable amount of labour, which is not now available. It will be necessary for the future of this country, and for the future of the timber supply in this country, unless we are to be wholly dependent on foreign countries, that we should be prepared, by the conclusion of the War, with some scheme, and possibly even with some Government assistance, for the regeneration of these woodlands. I strongly urge that upon my right hon. Friend. These are some of the matters which presented themselves to me as I listened to the right hon. Gentleman, and I can only join in the general chorus by thanking him for the most interesting speech upon this great subject that I have heard from anyone occupying his present position.
Meetings have taken place between military representatives, the Board of Agriculture, and representatives of Appeal Tribunals, and I think I am able to assure the House that these bodies have come to an agreement whereby a sufficient amount of labour will be retained on the land to ensure its proper cultivation. The proposals which have been discussed, and which I have 1906 been able to put forward, have met, on the whole, with the general approval of the parties concerned. I think we may rest assured that, so far as possible, there will now be no danger of a further decrease that would bring about the terrible evil that the land should not produce all that is possible under present circumstances. There has been, of course, in some districts, much heavier recruiting than in others. Again, some of the tribunals have been more in favour of the military than of the agriculturists, and the reverse has been the fact in other places. But, on the whole, I think we may say that the tribunals have done their work honestly and fairly. At those meetings which I attended the question of substituting one kind of labour for other labour has come under review, and the substitution of women's labour has been one of the matters that it has been my particular duty to inquire into. One thing which probably militates against women is the fact that women can go into the munition works, where they can at once earn something which far exceeds what they could obtain by continuing the pursuit of agriculture. Still, a large number of women are undertaking that work, and, so far as I have been able to gather, the interest they are taking in it is simply splendid.
But I would venture to remind the Committee that agriculture, in mornings such as we have had during the last ten days, is very different from agriculture in the winter months, when in many districts they have to get up very early in the morning to milk the cows and to get the milk away by six o'clock to the local station, possibly five or six miles away. Work, in such mornings as we have recently experienced, is very different from rising at an early hour in the dark, on a cold and dreary morning, in order to carry out that kind of work. When talking of women's labour supplementing the labour of men employed in agriculture, it should not be forgotten that the occupation of the agriculturist is a skilled occupation. You cannot get women to milk sufficient cows in a given time unless they have had training for the work, and they certainly could not receive that training under six weeks. Recently I put a question to one of the women workers, and she was rather alarmed when I asked her if she could milk six or seven cows an hour. As a matter of fact these women workers cannot, nor is it likely that they will be able to do so until they have had considerably more 1907 training. Children can adapt themselves to it far more quickly than women, and, in some counties where agriculture is the chief industry, children have been released to work in the interests of agriculture. That, however, is not always the case, especially where the county is predominantly industrial. The prejudice against women is not so much on the part of the farmer as amongst their fellow workers. There is a fear that they may be used to oust them out of their jobs. The prejudice, I am glad to say, from all I have heard during the past week, is, at any rate, being largely overcome, and the feeling between the military representatives and the representatives of the Board of Agriculture is everywhere of a most friendly nature. In some places, of course, they work better than in others. But if the hon. Member for Biggleswade were still here I should only be too pleased to assure him that in no county where I have visited—and I have visited all but six in England and Wales during the recent past—in no county are the relations more amicable than in the county of Bedfordshire. People working on both sides and on the tribunals themselves have a knowledge of the country's requirements, especially in connection with small holdings and larger market gardens, and the whole thing seems to be working as smoothly as possible. There is the question of the employment of the conscientious objector. The general reply that one has received on this point is that a man who will not fight is not worth taking on a farm to teach farming. Seldom, but at the finish of one of the meetings where I have broached this question Board of Agriculture representatives have asked me quietly, "How are we to get at them?" Remember that these men are unskilled and can by no means replace the men who are skilled. As a result of my somewhat extended tour I have formulated certain recommendations which I shall make to the Department to which I belong.
On the whole, in many parts of England, there is more than a sufficiency of labour. In some parts, however, undoubtedly we have got below what is fair and just to agriculture if we desire that agriculture should do its duty to the country. However, I think that if a strong line is taken steps can be taken to remedy the evil. Production will in many districts fall below the average. Yet, on the whole, in the majority of districts—certainly in the 1908 Northern and North-Western Counties of England production, so far as I can hear, will be up to the average. The hay crops throughout the country will be far better than they looked like being some time ago, and if we can have a sufficiency of soldier labour, so that we can get in our crops, I think the hay crops, which are so very essential, will be good. But that labour must be forthcoming. I hope that there will be some elasticity on the part of the military authorities to release labour for the purpose, and to allow those who live in the immediate district, and who know the climatic conditions which affect the harvesting of that crop, to remain, not to a certain date, but to a date that will provide that their crop is properly harvested. You may do things in the Service by rule of thumb; you may be able to define a duty which has to be undertaken by a certain date; but in agriculture you have to contend with the elements, and whatever we may do with the time, following Sunday, we cannot do anything with the weather on any particular day in the year.
Among the matters which have come under my notice during the past week or two is the unfortunate position, so often made a point, as to the position of farmers' sons. It is rather unjust to make the attacks which are sometimes made upon the farmer's son for not having joined the Service. It should be remembered that this individual is the most valuable labourer that the farmer has in his employ. First of all, there is no Friday night—that is to say, there is no wage to pay him, although he gets pocket-money when he wants it. Again, he does not limit his hours. He has a family interest in the work, and he will work whatever hours are necessary in the interest of the family. He is also a great asset to his father because he can undertake some of the monetary part of the business. He can go to one market while his father goes to another, so helping him to carry out his business. Nor should it be forgotten that in the early part of the War young men upon farms flocked into the Army. Farmers in many cases have been left with few men, and in the case of the men who remained, the Government have set up munitions works in the locality, have built sheds, and are still building sheds, and are paying wages, even where agricultural wages are high, of something like 300 per cent. over and above the level of the agricultural wage, and so attracting these men. It is doing 1909 a good deal of harm. It is preventing the married men remaining upon the farm, and, therefore, there is no one else to do the work except the farmers' sons. Those people who make remarks about the farmer's son see him when he is at market or when he is not engaged in working on the farm, and they forget the work that he is doing and the long hours that he is putting in. Attacks are too frequently made. So far as I have been able to see during my tour, from the agreements which are being come to upon the basis which has met with the approval of the Director-General of Recruiting and the Board of Agriculture, the apprehensions which have been expressed are not quite so dangerous as might at first sight appear.
§ Captain STANIER
I have taken the trouble to come down here this afternoon to deal with the very subject with which my hon. Friend has just been dealing. This time last year nothing could have been worse than the request by the farmer for labour and the refusal of the military authorities to grant it. The whole question was one of great chaos. The Board of Agriculture were sending out most charmingly written instructions to farmers as to what they were to do, and the farmers came and said, "This is signed by the President of the Board of Agriculture, by a member of the Government, and therefore we consider that it ought to be carried out." The War Office, on the other hand, stood aloof and did not try to give a helping hand to the farmers. I myself was asked by the farmers if they could not have this, that, or the other, because it was on the Board of Agriculture letters asking for it. When the officers commanding units were asked for these men they told us that they could not spare them, and that they themselves had not received the notice whereby they might hand the men over. Perhaps I am in the unique position of seeing the agricultural side as well as the War Office side of the question. I have come, Sir, to beg the representative of the Board of Agriculture in this House to do his utmost to see that the Board of Agriculture and the War Office officials are brought together to work out this great question. In many districts the agricultural labourers and the farmers' sons have come forward, and in many farms in Shropshire there are to-day not sufficient men to work the farm or to grow the crops for the food that the nation expects to be grown. We are to-day 1910 on the brink of another harvest, the hay harvest, and matters, so far as I know, are not settled, and the agriculturists will be thrown over as they were last year. If I am not wrong, there is an Army Council Instruction, No. 1026, dated 19th May. If agriculture could be brought into this it would be of great service to the agricultural community. The instruction is one for leave to be granted to officers and soldiers owing to exigencies connected with their civil profession, business, or private affairs. Could we get agriculture included in that instruction? If so, it will be a valuable means of getting at the War Office through the Board of Agriculture. I do hope that this matter will be pressed, so that agriculturists will not be put in the hole that they were put in by the Board of Agriculture offering that which could not be, or, perhaps I should say, would not be, carried out by the War Office itself. This is a matter of the most vital importance, and one which the Board of Agriculture should take to heart most sincerely.
There are one or two other little points I should like to mention, and which I do not think have been mentioned before this afternoon. There is the great question of sugar beet. I happen to be the chairman of a society that is doing its utmost to foster this industry. Sugar beet growing cannot go on if the Dutch Government and other Governments refuse to allow us to have the seed for growing the crop. If that be so, cannot we do anything through, the Board of Agriculture to get that seed grown under the auspices of the Board of Agriculture in some of the agricultural colleges? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot give us some guidance in this matter.
I should like also to touch on the question of the slaughter of calves. I am sorry the chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture did not refer to it, but, being the deputy-chairman this year, and as the subject has been well thrashed out by the chamber, I should like to touch on it for a moment. The Board of Agriculture issued instructions that no calf was to be sold under 30s. That has now been increased to 40s., but it is still too low. Even taking it at the ratio of the rise in the price of meat, it would pay for the saving of the life of the calf until it was of a more mature age. If you go into the markets you will see that these calves are sold by an auctioneer who is backing up a ring of the butchers themselves. I was in an auction the other day in North Shropshire, 1911 when the calves were systematically knocked down at 40s. The first calf was knocked down to one butcher, who tried to bid 40s. for the next calf also, but the auctioneer said, "No, it is not your turn; it is the turn of the next butcher to have it." And so he went round the whole of the butchers, and let them have the calves at 40s. each, although they were worth a good deal more.
§ Captain STANIER
They cannot have a reserve price. We are in the cheese and milk district, and calves are not required there because the milk is. Therefore, the farmers do not put on a reserve. Every now and then a farmer did bid 41s., and thereby threw the butcher out, but he was immediately told by the butcher, "If you do that again, I shall not buy the next fat beast that you bring in." That is the sort of thing that goes on. [An HON. MEMBER: "Patriotism!"] There is no patriotism in that, I agree. If you raised the price of the calves, as you were asked to do by some of the resolutions of the Chamber of Agriculture, or even if you had not the 40s. figure at all, in my opinion you would do more to preserve the life of the calves of this country than you are doing at present. I put that forward as my own impression and belief, and perhaps some reply may be made on the point. With regard to the price of fertilisers, no one was more pleased than I was to hear the hon. Member for Wilton (Captain Bathurst) prophesy in reference to the rise in the price of basic slag as he did, because I believe that the basic slag manufacturers are creating the rise in exactly the same way as the sulphate of ammonia people have done. But farmers are not the fools that the ordinary individual in the street takes them for. They are not going to give such huge prices for sulphate of ammonia and basic slag as will make the crops unremunerative, unless you can give them some other reason than the pounds, shillings and pence one for doing so. Of course, I know that there is the other reason—I do not deny it—but you cannot get everyone to see it. These prices ought to be kept down because they are only raised by artificial means in 1912 order to make the great profits that we see some of these manufacturers making to-day.
I should like to congratulate the Board of Agriculture on making a start in the direction of getting out the reports of their different Departments at an earlier date. I have been urging this for the last eight years, and this year, in spite of the War, they have done it. We have got even the reports on the diseases of animals and on crops. Usually these reports have not been out until the late autumn—very often so late as to be of very little use. I think I ought to acknowledge in this House the excellent way and the up-to-date manner in which they have been brought out. I hope, too, that the appeal of the Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture for a commission in reference to the industry of agriculture will be taken into account. We had a meeting on that very subject about three weeks ago, when the proposal was pressed from all sides. We believe that agriculture is just as important to the community as the iron industry. The whole question of agriculture requires to be put under review, and it cannot be done better or in a way that will more receive the approval of the country than by creating a commission in the same way as has been done in connection with the iron and steel trades. In conclusion, I would sincerely thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the trouble, pains, and work that he has put in on behalf of the Board of Agriculture.
§ Mr. T. RICHARDSON
I was privileged to hear only the earlier and the later parts of the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary, as I had to attend a meeting in another part of the building. But I heard sufficient of the speech to be able to appreciate the eulogies which have been passed upon it by Members who heard the whole of it. Although I cannot claim to be other than a layman on questions of agriculture, the Debate on this Vote is one which I have followed with great interest each year since I became a Member. From the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary it appears even to my lay mind that the Board of Agriculture are at last awakening to the fact that our present system of cultivation of the land of this country is very imperfect, and that one of the results of this War has been to bring home with a force and logic which we have not been willing to appreciate in peace time our dependence 1913 upon the land of this country for the comfort and well being of the inhabitants of the British Isles. I was interested in the course of the discussion to find that not only was the Board of Agriculture awaking to the fact that our present system was very immature and imperfect, but also that the representatives who usually address the House on this annual occasion with interest and enthusiasm appreciate the efforts that are being made by the Board in that direction. I sincerely hope that the growing interest in the importance of agriculture will not cease when peace has been declared, and that there is going to be co-operation and co-ordination between the various interested parties which will secure even in peace time much better efficiency and much better results as the result of the want of applied knowledge and scientific methods to the land of this country.
Reference has been made to the question of afforestation. We on these benches for many years have been urging the importance of that question, not only upon the House, but on the British people in general. Whilst one fully recognises the disabilities under which even an enterprising Board of Agriculture necessarily labours at the moment, inasmuch as we are at war, I do hope that, even in anticipation of peace, the Board will in advance, not only inquire into this subject, but devise ways and means, and formulate a constructive policy which can be put into concrete effect at the earliest possible moment after peace has been declared. Reference has also been made to the important question of labour, and how it has affected agriculture. I was very much pleased to learn from the hon. and gallant Gentleman who addressed the House that, whilst it was true there were many parts of agricultural England or Britain in which there was a scarcity of labour, yet there were other districts where that scarcity could not be claimed to exist. I think I ought to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to at least two facts that have come under my own observation or knowledge during the week-end. I have had the opportunity for the first time of coming into close touch with Norfolk agricultural labourers, and during my stay there two instances were brought to my notice. I suppose it is known to many Members that there is in that part of England an Agricultural Labourers' Union, and I am delighted to know also 1914 that there is in that district a Federation of Farmers. Some time ago, as the result of negotiation and discussion, a basis of wages was agreed upon between the respective parties. I was told, and the statement was made publicly, that one member of that Federation of Farmers who had by his membership been a party to that agreement, has refused to pay the wage that was agreed upon between the two parties, The result is there are some nine or ten men out of work, or on strike probably, is the more correct way to put it. I respectfully suggest, if the facts are as I have stated them to be, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I verified them, that the matter should have his attention, because it is certainly a condition of things which ought not to be allowed to continue for twenty four hours in view of the agreement that exists as-between the two bodies.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
How would the hon. Gentleman get over the difficulty that one man may be worth 10s. a week more than another?
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
If I were to enter into a discussion with the hon. Member on that subject I would soon be called to order. I submit that that point is not raised in anything I have said. It is quite a separate point, and if circumstances were suitable I should be quite willing to at least have an interchange of views and opinions with the hon. Member. There has been much said in the course of this discussion as to the attitude of the tribunals, especially towards agriculture. I heard of a case in which a farmer had seven men working for him. and the military authorities, under the various measures that have been put into operation, took three of those men. The farmer appealed to the tribunal very urgently, so far as a fourth man was concerned, but the tribunal took the fourth man, and the farmer undoubtedly felt it very keenly. He went to the secretary of the Agricultural Labourers' Union, pointed out the facts, and asked if he could do anything for him. The secretary replied, "I have two men I can recommend." The farmer said, "I think we could manage with one," and the secretary replied, "I will send the two men up to your place to-morrow morning and you can make your choice." They went, and to the surprise of the secretary of the union neither of them was engaged, and some days later the 1915 farmer said that he and his son had talked over the matter, and they had decided that they would endeavour to jog along with three men. The point I want to make is this: that whilst it is perfectly true there are a large number of farmers in this country not only of intelligence but with scientific knowledge and of great efficiency in their particular profession, I think we have got to face the fact squarely that there is a goodly percentage of men who are farmers and holders of land who are pursuing the policy that that farmer pursued, of being quite content simply to jog along without any very earnest intention of seeking to secure the maximum results from the intelligent and efficient cultivation of the land. The only other point in that connection to which I want to refer is child labour, to which frequent reference has been made. I do not intend to discuss the point at length, but I do venture to suggest, with due humility, but with real earnestness, that nothing should be done that is going to interefere with the education even of the children living in our agricultural districts. One of the lessons of this War that must imprint itself upon the life and thought of the nation is that we have in a lamentable way excluded the importance of education, and if we are going in the world of business and commerce to get that place all of us want to get when this War is over, then I respectfully submit to this House that nothing should be done that is going to impair or weaken what is already, in my judgment, a system of education that is very far from being consonant with the best interests of our national life and of our national character.
There is one other point to which I wish to refer particularly. I have had occasion to refer to the same subject previously. During the course of this discussion references have been made to the very welcome and very necessary increase of wages so far as the agricultural workers in this country are concerned. I was very delighted to find in that part of Norfolk where I was this week-end that, whereas the pre-war wages were something like 13s. to 14s. a week, they are now £1 a week. But the thing which pleased me best in this Debate was to find expressions of approval from both sides of the House in the fact that agricultural wages have gone up. That is a very happy sign, and it is a fact that has to be appreciated. But I want 1916 to make, if I may, a very urgent appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider the claims of some of the Government employés, whose claims, I submit, all sections of this House will be willing to admit, are entitled to consideration. I anticipate that the right hon. Gentleman will probably tell the House that the Treasury refuses to provide any additional money. I think, therefore, I shall have to modify my appeal in this way, and ask him to bring the matter urgently before the Government as a Government, as well as before the Treasury. I was talking to a man the other night as representing one of the men I want to bring to the attention of the Committee, the Kew workmen. He has been a workman in the Kew Gardens for nineteen years, and if the right hon. Gentleman makes inquiry he will find that during the whole of that nineteen years that man has not lost a single quarter in the nineteen years, and yet the wages to-day are as they were prior to the War. We have heard very much about the increased cost of living. One hon. Member I am pleased to see present was speaking about the increased cost of milk and the importance of milk to the child life of the nation. That man to whom I am referring, notwithstanding his nineteen years' service—and I will add, that any Member of this House who was privileged to enter into a conversation with that man would count it a privilege, because of his standard of intelligence, his range of knowledge and judgment on things in general—he has under this Government, a British Government, 24s. 8d. a week. I inquired what his rent was—8s. 6d. a week, and he a married man with a family. May I be allowed to submit to the Committee that it is not sufficient for the right hon. Gentleman to say that his Department has no power? We are entitled to appeal to this House of Commons, and to ask them if such a condition of things ought to be allowed to continue. The cost of living has gone up at least 55 per cent. according to Board of Trade returns, and we have married men in these days of high prices working under the Government in Kew Gardens for 23s. a week, minus a deduction of 4d. for their insurance.
§ Mr. TIMOTHY DAVIES
I heard with very great pleasure the speech delivered by my right hon. Friend, and the many 1917 points which he touched will be read, I think, with great interest by the agricultural interest throughout the country. There is one point I particularly wish to ask him about, as to which he is trying to do his best, but in regard to which I would ask him to do even more. In some parts of the country there are sufficient agricultural labourers in order to carry on the work, but there is in other parts of the country a great deficiency of labour on the land at the present moment, because they were taken away in great numbers at the commencement of the War. Female labour and lads of thirteen and fourteen have been utilised, so as to get along in ordinary times, but it will be impossible, I understand, for them to get along with the harvest unless something else is done, or the promise which was given last year is fulfilled in a better way this year. May I give one instance of a big farmer who farms possibly 1,000 or 1,500 acres in my Division, who had seen the promise, that they could have soldiers released in order to help them with the harvest? My friend, according to the form given him to send to the Labour Exchange, I suppose, made application and gave the number of men required. He was kept without reply for a week or ten days.
Then he received a form to be filled up, which he did fill up, and that was returned showing exactly what he required, and then another week or ten days elapsed, after which he was asked to specify the wages he was prepared to pay. This farmer paid the highest wages in the county where wages are pretty high, and above those of any other county. This farmer said he was prepared for skilled men to give the wages laid down in the paper. Another week or ten days went by, during which time he got in all his harvest, and then he received a reply saying that he could have twenty or twenty-five men. The military authorities did not come to his support until he had finished the harvest. Owing to the very fine weather the harvest came early last year, and this farmer managed to get all his harvest in. Since that time he has lost a good many men, and if he cannot get men, especially for the corn harvest at that particular time, he does not know what will become of that corn which is so much required to feed the people of this country. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to arrange something directly and quickly. The farmers do not know exactly the days of the harvest, but they require 1918 men for the time of the harvest. Of course, if a week or ten days of bad weather comes they cannot work at all, but they require sufficient men to get enough help to see that the harvest is garnered.
I listened to the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite with interest, and, having a position on the staff of the War Office and the Army, I was glad to hear him say that he was in favour of doing something which would enable the farmers to go direct to those in command of the men in the neighbourhood. At the time when this particular farmer to whom I have alluded and others wanted men there were thousands, and possibly tens of thousands of soldiers, some of them fully trained, who could have been spared without any difficulty whatever. Possibly this year there will not be so many who are not required for other purposes. I do hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to do something quickly, and to make some arrangement by which, when the hay or the corn harvest comes, the men will be available for this work. I was pleased to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to the fishermen and the tribute he paid to those who have gone out to fish not for fish but for other things. He told us that 270 fishing trawlers have been destroyed since the War commenced, and some 500 fishermen have lost their lives in fishing for mines and even bigger things than mines. The tribute the right hon. Gentleman paid to those men is well deserved, for they are doing a great work, and as great a work as if they were serving in the trenches or in the Navy. I was glad to hear what improvements had been made with regard to the application of science during the last year or two, and it came very well from him knowing how much his relative has done in this way for the agricultural industry. I have heard his father speak with regard to other industries and the matter is quite safe in his hands, and we know that everything will be done in a scientific way to get more out of the land. If we can only get 2 or 3 per cent. more produce from the land, how enormously it would help the feeding of the people of this country.
§ Colonel YATE
I should like to join in asking the right hon. Gentleman to try and do something with the War Office to induce them to remove a great deal of the red tape which now surrounds any question of getting military labour for the harvest. The hay harvest is coming on, and 1919 I hope some steps will be taken to put an end to these difficulties and that we shall be able to get an order when there are a large number of soldiers in any particular neighbourhood to assist in the harvest without reference to the War Office or to anybody else. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do something to allow an old-age pensioner who can earn a few shillings haymaking to do so without affecting his pension. One or two references have been made to the employment of child labour, and a great deal has been said not to allow children to leave school for the harvest. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that I hope every boy over twelve years of age will be allowed to leave school during the next hay harvest to do what he can to get it in. I do not say this in reference to any boy under twelve, but if he is over twelve years of age he can help in the hay harvest. In Norway every school is closed in the summer to allow the children to help in agricultural work, and surely in this great War we can allow a child of thirteen or fourteen, if he can only lead a horse, to go out and help in any way he can. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Department boasted that in Wales there were only twenty boys under thirteen years of age who had been allowed by the education authorities to engage in this work, but I think that shows how little Wales is helping in agriculture and how bad it is for the whole country to see that only twenty boys of thirteen years of age are allowed to put their hands to agriculture in Wales. In Norway every boy is allowed to come out, and during the summer time and the hay harvest I hope every boy will be allowed to come out and take part in this work. I listened with great interest to the right hon. Gentleman's address on the work of his Department. He spoke of a lecturer in the county of Leicester, and he said that lecturer devoted his addresses entirely to the question of the Income Tax.
§ Colonel YATE
I quite agree with that statement because I have heard him lecture. I do not, however, know whether he was teaching the farmers how to pay or how to escape the Income Tax, and if he had been doing the latter I am sure his lecture would have been very entertaining indeed.
1920 9.0 P.M.
I want to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the question of the increased cultivation of fruit trees, especially apple trees, throughout the country generally, and I should like to ask him what has been done to encourage this and what the Board is prepared to do in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I raised the question some four years ago, and the then President of the Board of Agriculture asked me to give him some definite suggestions which he promised to consider. I gave him four definite suggestions. The first was that endeavours should be made to lessen the cost of carriage. The second was to encourage the growth of apples and other fruit throughout the country, and not to limit it to the western and south-western parts of the country. The third was to encourage the formation of a society to train men on demonstration farms to teach smallholders and other growers how to grade their fruit, to prune and cleanse their trees, and to fertilise them every spring. And the fourth was that railway companies should be asked to plant apples and fruit trees within the enclosed boundaries of their land. I got an acknowledgment by letter, but I have never heard that anything has been done by the Department. I raised the question again last August, but I got no more forward. I grant that the planting of fruit trees on railway banks has been found to be a mistake, but there is a great deal more spare land along railway lines than on railway banks, and if we could encourage or induce railway companies to plant their spare land with fruit-growing trees, apples, etc., no expenditure would be incurred in their protection, as the railway lines are already fenced, and no sheep, goats, or cattle could get in to destroy the young trees. The only objection given to me was that it might tempt boys to steal apples, but, good gracious! every orchard tempts boys to steal apples, and if that were held to prevent it there would not be an orchard in the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Wilton Division (Captain Bathurst) has pointed out more than once how tons and tons of apples and fruit are allowed to rot and go to waste in the West of England, because of the enormous cost of railway freights from one part of the country to another. May I just give a specimen sent to me by one fruit grower in the West of England? He dispatched from a Western 1921 county to the market at Manchester forty pots of apples, or 2,560 lbs., and the price he realised was £3. The costs incurred by him were as follows: Plucking, 13s. 3d.; carriage, £1 3s. 5d.; market expenses and tolls, 3s. 4d.; commission, 4s. 6d.; total, £2 4s. 6d. He realised £3, so that he had a balance of 15s. 6d., which brought him something under 1d. per stone of 14 lbs. for his apples. That shows how great is the difficulty of the cost of carriage, and we want to induce people to grow fruit over as much of the country and as far north as it is possible to grow it. Most of our railway boards, with a little encouragement, might be encouraged to plant their spare land with fruit trees, and apples especially, if the Board of Agriculture would do it. In France and Germany we see rows and rows of apple trees extending for miles along the public roads, and, though I do not know whether it is possible to do that in this country, I think many district boards and railway companies might be induced to plant trees on spare land and to increase the growth of fruit, and especially of apples. I like a baked apple for breakfast, an apple pie for dinner, and an apple dumpling for supper, and I want to see every working man able to give the same to his children; but how can he do it, paying 5d. per lb. for imported apples? I want to see the growth. of fruit enormously extended throughout the country, and I hope to see the right hon. Gentleman take up this question and do his best to encourage fruit growing in every way he can, and teach our people how to grow apples successfully and not to be entirely dependent upon foreign countries.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
There is one thing which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, and on which I should like to have a little information. Some little time ago the Government had a stud of horses given them on the condition that they took over the stables and the land. They spent something like £70,000 on the adventure, and now I see from the Estimates that it is going to cost them this year £4,500. I think they are very well out of it for one year, and I have no doubt, if they continue, that it will cost them a great deal more than £4,500 per annum, but as the country has entered, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman called it the sport, but the work of horse breeding and as they have got a stud of racehorses, I should like to know something about it. I should like 1922 to know how many thoroughbred foals we have got this year, and perhaps he will also tell me how many are expected. I should like to know whether the Board of Agriculture and the Government are entering yearlings for races, because I understand from people in the horse-breeding line that they enter for the Derby, the Oaks, and the St. Leger when they are colts or yearlings. I want to know whether they have entered any for these particular races, and, if so, which colts they have entered and for which races. Everybody in this country who pays taxes is a racing man now. We are all racing men, because we are all partners in this stud, and we have a right to know what our horses are entered for, and we can then form some idea perhaps whether the Government have any chance of winning races and getting some part of our money which has been spent back again. Personally I was against the Government entering into the racing profession or becoming breeders of racehorses. I am not going over the whole thing again, but I should like my right hon. Friend to tell me if he can. what on earth induced the President of the Board of Agriculture to go into this thing! He had a Commission or Committee sitting two or three months before—a Committee of his own experts, a Committee of seven men selected because they knew all about horses—and yet when this offer was made to the Government they never thought of calling these seven men together and asking whether it was desirable to take this stud over. I should be very glad to learn from my hon. Friend who advised the Board of Agriculture to acquire this racing stud. As far as I am given to understand, the President of the Board does not profess to be either a racing man or to understand about horses, and I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary himself pretends to have any great knowledge on these affairs. Surely when they had a Committee of seven whom they had selected as men knowing most about horses in this country, when this scheme was brought before them they should have laid it before their own experts.
Be that as it may, I should like to know how they are getting on with this stud. It was supposed to be formed in connection with the breeding of horses for the Army. What step has been taken towards attaining that end? Everybody admits that thoroughbred horses are of no use for Army purposes. At any rate, they are 1923 very seldom suitable for that purpose. The Army horses that have been most in demand, and probably the most difficult to get, are Artillery horses—short-legged, thick-set animals such as we used to see in the old London omnibuses. But you cannot breed that kind of horse from a thoroughbred stallion. I wish to know what steps are being taken to get the kind of horses most desired, and especially those for Artillery purposes. I am afraid that nothing has been done in that matter. As a matter of fact all the talk about the shortage of Army horses is pure nonsense. We have not been short of horses. I put a question on the Paper some months ago and asked the Under-Secretary for War if the Government had had any difficulty in obtaining troop horses or horses for the Artillery, either at the beginning of or during the War, and whether they now had all the horses they require? The reply to the first part of the question was in the negative. There had been no difficulty in obtaining all the troop horses required by the military authorities. All the talk about the shortage of horses and about horses being exported—a great deal of it, at any rate—is pure nonsense. We have been able to get all the horses we want, and as we want them, and with the exception of some few thick-set horses for Artillery purposes, we have been able to supply the needs of the Army.
I cannot make out, therefore, why the Government should have taken it into their heads to buy a stud of racehorses in order to breed Army horses. If it be needed, they can get more horses bred in this country. It is requisite only to pay a little better price than they have been paying in order to get a really better class of animal. The reason why horses of this class are not bred more is because they do not pay the breeder. If you only get about £44—I believe that is the average price—it does not pay to breed a horse and to keep it for four years. There is a loss on the transaction especially taking into consideration that when breeding you very likely have three or more colts, and nothing is so likely to injure a colt as a colt. There is also very considerable risk in breaking-in the horses, and therefore they do not pay at the price. But if the Government want more of these horses bred let them pay a higher price than they are willing to do now. The Committee to which I have referred reported just before the Government 1924 bought this stud. They reported that continuity of policy was absolutely essential to any horse-breeding scheme, and they suggested the awarding of premium, the leasing of Government brood mares, and other steps. The taking over of this racing stud is doing exactly what that Committee advised the Government not to do, and I do think when the Government had constituted a Committee of seven experts, including people who knew most about horses in England, it should not act directly opposite to its own Committee's recommendation. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give me the information I have asked for, and I trust it will prove some justification for what the Government has done.
§ Major HUNT
If we had been solely dependent on horses bred in this country we should have been in a very sorry plight indeed. I do not agree that you cannot breed Army horses from thoroughbred horses. I should say it is not the case. You can breed Artillery horses by putting a thoroughbred horse to a light horse.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
You cannot get Army horses from thoroughbreds alone. You must also have animals such as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to, and they have none at the stud.
§ Major HUNT
They may be going to have plenty of them; you cannot tell. I want to join with other hon. Members in pressing on the right hon. Gentleman the very great necessity of allowing soldiers to assist in both the hay and the corn harvests. As my experience goes, soldiers are quite willing to undertake this work. There are very large numbers of them who could be sent to help the farmers, and it would probably do them a great deal of good. They would come back to the Army much better fitted for their work. That has been my experience in the past. I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that at the beginning of the War I asked the Government if they would guarantee the farmers 35s. a quarter for all the eatable wheat they grew that year. The reply was a refusal on the ground that they expected to get the wheat cheaper. The Government were wrong. Again, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, if the War lasts another year or more, in view of the great necessity of growing plenty of wheat, the Government will not guarantee the farmers 40s. a quarter for the wheat, so that they shall be encouraged to grow 1925 as much as they possibly can, and at a price that would not make the loaf very dear, but which would prevent the farmer from incurring anything like a severe loss? I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would tell us that that would be considered. I may say that I was desired to ask the last Government to do this by farmers or all sorts of political opinions. Another question I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether, in the contemplated Bill for the purpose of restricting the output of beer, it is intended to prohibit the importation of hops or to put a heavy duty on foreign hops? If not, it is certain that the importation of foreign hops will continue to increase, as has been the case since 1914, with the result that no tonnage could be saved, and the effect will be that our hop-growers, being already extra-handicapped by War conditions, will probably be ruined, the reduction in consumption falling almost entirely upon the home supply.
§ Major HUNT
I am sorry I got over the line. It has very much to do with agriculture. Perhaps I may be allowed to say that unless the steps I suggest are taken the agricultural Members will be bound to fight the Bill when it comes on, and it will not have an easy passage, because this is rather a serious matter. Although it is out of Order, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the question.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I desire to mention two matters which I think are in order upon this Vote and which are of some importance. First, I would thank the right hon. Gentleman for his very kind reference to the War Agricultural Committee of Northamptonshire. I am quite sure that my colleagues on that committee will very much appreciate his reference. I can say that because I was rarely in attendance myself. I want to take this opportunity of asking the Committee to support the notion which I am sure has arisen in the minds of many who have heard this discussion, namely, that it will be possible now, in connection with the local tribunals and enlistment in the Army, to get the Board of Agriculture and the War Office nearer together than they have been during the last year and a half. The speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Colonel Henderson), himself an important person in the War 1926 Office, is one of great promise in that direction. Those of us who serve on tribunals are most grateful not only to the military representatives, but to the agricultural representatives, for the help they give us. Now that we have got to a point where the agricultural condition of the country is better understood, more readily recognised, and, I am confident, thoroughly known to my right hon. Friend, Lord Selborne, and to the War Office—in these circumstances it ought to be possible for the Board of Agriculture and the War Office to agree in hundreds of cases as to whether or not men working in agriculture ought to be taken from it to the Army. There ought to be an ever-increasing proportion of such cases settled long before they come to any tribunal at all, and even when they do come before tribunals I hope it may be possible to look forward to seeing the military representative and the Board of Agriculture representative in actual agreement before the matter is decided. It would be a very great help to all persons who are serving on the trbunals, and it would be a very great help in the most difficult matter of deciding whether men should go or not. In view of the very large number of cases which will come up for decision, now that married men are liable to go into the Army, I would take this opportunity of urging the closest rapprochement between the Board of Agriculture and the War Office, and of saying how cordially any agreement they might come to would be supported by all classes of the community.
I also wish to say a word in support of what was said by the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero). Many tribunals have found it possible to facilitate dealing with the difficult cases of conscientious objectors by their going to work on the land. Of course, there are many cases where the men are inexperienced, but a certain number of them are young men of full strength, who undoubtedly do object to military service, but who can be of great use on the land. Only last Friday the tribunal of which I am a member gave seven or nine men exemption conditionally upon their going to serve on the land, and they went off to do so. I know the case of one farmer who has taken three young men, who have taken a cottage together and are working on his farm. I have a sincere respect for them, for, although they are conscientiously unable to serve their country in the way WP should all prefer, they are, at considerable pecuniary sacrifice, working for 1927 this farmer. I hope the Board of Agriculture will, so far as they can, help this method of solving this difficult and intricate problem of the conscientious objector. [An HON. MEMBER: "At 1s. a day!"] I do not see why they should not have 1s. 2d. I am quite sure my hon. Friend is as much in favour of equality of sacrifice as anybody. That is a phrase to which we all give adherence. What I want to point out is that there are many cases in which this is the only way. Of course, there is the difficulty that it is not always easy to ascertain whether the man who goes off to work on a distant farm is working there adequately and fully. That difficulty could be met if some supervision of these conscientious objectors, not by any military authority—it might be by the agricultural authority—were possible, in order to secure a guarantee that the conditions of exemption were thoroughly carried out. I just wish to make that clear, and I am quite sure my right hon. Friend, if he thinks he can develop it, will be willing to do so, but I take this opportunity of saying how practical this method has been found in a number of cases and how it seems to be the line upon which a difficult problem can be solved with the least friction, and I hope the Board of Agriculture, guided by Lord Selborne and my right hon. Friend, who is now so thoroughly awake to all aspects of the agricultural problem, made more critical than ever by the War, will be able to come to terms with the military authorities as often as possible in regard to the supply of labour and do what they can to facilitate this particular kind of labour.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I wish to say a few words on a subject which I have raised once or twice by way of question, and that is the provision of poultry and eggs in this country, and particularly how it is affected in war time by foxes. I am not going to raise the question of foxhunting generally. That is a very large subject and a very unsuitable one to raise in war time. It would also be a very controversial subject. I am going to confine myself strictly to the War aspects of this question. When I last asked a question on this matter about three weeks ago my right hon. Friend replied that he thought, on the whole, the authorities had acted very reasonably. I gather that the authorities referred to were the Masters of Foxhounds Association, and by his saying that on the whole they had acted very 1928 reasonably I inferred that there were certain cases where they certainly had not acted reasonably. Anyhow, I have received considerable evidence that foxes are, for war time, far too numerous in various parts of the country at present.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I cannot see anything on the Vote about foxes or masters of hounds, and I think that further reference to fox-hunting would be out of order on this Vote. The hon. Member must take another opportunity of raising it.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am not going to refer to fox-hunting at all, but to foxes, as destructive of the poultry, which is particularly under the care of the Board of Agriculture.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I will see what the hon. Member says, but what he has said is out of order. It must be something different.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
In the district where I live the Surrey County Council has sent round a circular and urged myself and others living there, as a contribution to the wealth of the country in war time, to do various things, one of which was to increase the amount of poultry. We know that the Board of Agriculture has gone to the expense of experts and providing various means for improving the breed of poultry in this country. The result in the case of one of my friends who tried to carry out this patriotic work of raising poultry, especially in war time, was that the foxes came immediately and killed fourteen of his birds. It would be perfectly useless for me where I am, with a lot of wild land next to me, to attempt to do anything of the sort. Of course, my friend was not likely to go on after that experience. I am dealing with a question which is of very considerable importance to the country when we consider that the poultry and eggs consumed in this country annually are worth at least £25,000,000, and that there is no form of food probably which can be so rapidly increased as poultry and eggs, and that there is hardly any that is more important—if so important—to wounded soldiers in hospital. Therefore, I think, I am perfectly in order in raising this as a serious question. It is not only in one part but in every part of the country that the foxes take, not only poultry, but in the North, at least, actually take lambs, and moreover it is not the poultry 1929 that they take or that they kill that counts, it is the fact that they prevent the industry coming forward at all. They prevent people going into this work. They render the efforts of the poultry former futile, and therefore people give them up. Where there are foxes about you cannot leave your poultry to peck about over the fields and pick up half a living, to be supplemented by a little grain and peas and things of that sort. If you do that the foxes will come and take your poultry away.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Certainly, in the morning early, and in the daytime sometimes, too, if you are sufficiently near a covert. The consequence is that the poultry farmer must, at any rate in the daytime, keep his poultry closely under his own eye and in the night must lock it up, and even if he does lock it up the fox is sometimes clever enough to get in. Not, of course, that he can undo the lock, but it is a matter of fact that foxes manage to get into sheds which people would have thought to be fairly secure. You can undoubtedly make a place strong enough so that they cannot get in, but that is a very great expense, and if the farmer has to shut up his poultry every night and get up early in the morning to let it out, the poultry does not get out as early as it ought to do, and it is an immense amount of labour, and if a fox comes of course he does not confine himself to killing one or two birds but he kills them wholesale. I ask, under these circumstances, what is the use of the Board of Agriculture trying to improve the stock of poultry, and what is the use of a county council trying to urge people to produce poultry. I will give a very few instances collected a few years ago. On one small farm in six years 300 birds were taken away by foxes. On another farm the loss by foxes amounted to fully £100 every year. On a third farm turkey breeding had to be given up because of the foxes. One poultry farmer, who shuts up his birds most carefully at night, computes himself to be £1,000 out of pocket in ten years in the extra labour and poultry taken in spite of his careful attempts to shut them up. On one small holding ducks have had to be given up altogether, and the whole stock reduced till it is impossible to make a living out of the small holding.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
Is my hon. Friend in order in this matter, because foxes are not protected by law in any shape or form, and I do not see what the law has to do with foxes?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
My point is that the Board of Agriculture ought to protect that industry against foxes.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I have looked very carefully through the Vote, and the only thing I find which apparently comes within the ambit of the hon. Member's remarks is that of destructive insects and pests. The Destructive Insects and Pests Acts of 1877 and 1897, so far as I know anything about them, do not include foxes. With every desire to give the hon. Member the opportunity of raising anything which relates to agriculture, I think he must seize some other opportunity than this Vote to deal further with a subject in regard to which I have already given him a warning. It is quite true that we have got racehorses on the Vote, but we have not yet got foxes.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I should be very sorry to go contrary to your ruling, Mr. Maclean, but may I point out that the Board of Agriculture have been concerning themselves with foxes all this winter? I have two or three times asked questions in regard to it. On the 2nd May I had a reply from the right hon. Gentleman:The Board have taken steps to protect poultry keepers from loss by endeavouring to secure, through the Masters of Foxhounds Association and otherwise, a substantial reduction in the number of foxes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 2nd May, 1916, col. 2598, Vol. LXXXI.]Therefore, as a matter of fact, the Board of Agriculture during this year have been concerning themselves with foxes. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not deny that the Board of Agriculture have been taking certain steps to protect poultry keepers against the depredations of foxes. My contention is that what they have done in that direction has not been adequate, and not all that they ought to have done. My further contention is that it would be an act of patriotism for those who are devoted to this particular sport to subordinate it entirely at this time of war, and at this time when a great increase in our food supply is necessary, and may become increasingly necessary, to follow an example that has been set by a friend of mine who is a master of foxhounds and a Member of this House, and 1931 who, when the War broke out, gave out the word in his district that everybody should shoot or otherwise destroy foxes. If that example had been followed all over the country I think we should have had millions of pounds' worth more poultry and eggs in the interval since the War broke out than we have had. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give us an assurance to-night that the Board of Agriculture will go very much further than than they have done in protecting this industry for the time of the War, with the assurance that whatever may be necessary in the way of foxes can easily be replaced at the end of the War.
§ Mr. ROCH
I will not follow the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken on the very intricate subject which he has raised. This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman gave us a most interesting account of the activities of the Board of Agriculture, but I must confess that I was very disappointed that in that interesting survey he did not refer to, or throw any light upon, perhaps the most interesting venture which his Department has taken on this year, and all the more so because while his Department fulfils important functions in connection with this country, and so indirectly in the prosecution of the War, he did not throw light on what is, I think, going to be the purely military side of one of the ventures of the Board of Agriculture, that is the national stud. I rise with the object of asking my right hon. Friend to throw a little more light upon the details of that venture. In looking at the Estimates I see that there is down this year for the national stud a sum of £4,500. The right hon. Gentleman is in some ways in an unfortunate position. I suppose very few people who indulge in racehorses and racing studs have to deliver an annual account of their expenditure and receipts. Perhaps if they were compelled by Statute to do so there would not be quite so much indulgence in that form of luxury as there is if they could see the figures clearly and calmly put before them. I cannot help thinking that this venture of the Government must be an extraordinarily expensive one, because already for this year there is the sum of £4,500 down on the Estimates. No details are given as to where the money is going.
Let us examine what the position of the Government is. They are more fortunate than the ordinary person who indulges in horseracing. They have been able to buy 1932 at a very low price two of the largest stud farms and racing establishments, the money for which has been voted for them, and so there is no actual charge for them to meet. Therefore, they start their horseracing venture with the stud farm at Tully, and the racing establishment at Russley. They have had a fine racing stud given to them which has been valued, according to their expert's valuation, at £74,000, and yet we find the very first year there is down on the Estimates a sum of no less than £4,500. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will explain how this amount is reached. Here you have this stud farm. Here you have a large stud of horses. several fine stallions amongst them, and in spite of the revenue that these must bring in, this venture is costing no less than £4,500. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us in detail where this money is going to. Is it all going in entries for future races? If so, I only hope the Government is not one of those vested interests which is going to prevent horseracing being abolished during time of War. I cannot help thinking that if the Government were to use their influence to stop racing in some way this £4,500 might be considerably decreased. So much for the finance of the scheme. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what progress is being made towards the purely military objects of this scheme. We were told at the beginning of this venture that the idea came not from the Board of Agriculture, but from the Army Council. We hear so much now of the advice of the Army Council that it must have been as a military matter purely and simply that this scheme was commended to them. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us quite clearly to what extent our Cavalry horses have been added to as a result of this scheme, how many they have added to the depots, and how the purely military feature of this scheme is developing. According to the explanation he gave us, as I understand the matter, while they agree that the racing stud at Tully was not going to be a direct contributor to our Cavalry horses, that was not so as regards Russley Stud. Perhaps I may remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he told us on 1st March last. He told us that the Government had been placed in the position of having as a going concern a first-class breeding establishment, namely, the Tully Estate, in the county Kildare, and the stallion depot, namely, Russley, with a nucleus of 1933 stallions, which were considered suitable for dealing with half-bred mares for the production of horses suitable for the Army. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman many questions, and I have made some inquiries of my own, but I cannot for the life of me find out where at Russley there is this nucleus of stallions which is suitable for the production of horses suitable for the Army. If I remember right, he told me, in answer to a question sometime ago, that there had not been a single half-bred mare covered by one of the Government stallions. I would like to know how the development of that inquiry at Russley is going on. Later in the Debate he told us:I understand that the intention is gradually to transform the training stud, which is not primarily suitable for the purpose of crossing with half-bred mares for the purpose of producing Cavalry horses into a stud which will he primarily suitable for that purpose.And further on he went on to say:But the object is gradually to transform the stud into one of which the primary duty will be the production of Army horses.I do not know how gradual the process of transformation has been, or whether the right hon. Gentleman can report what progress has been made. I would repeat a word of advice which I gave to him which some hon. Members contradicted at the time. I said that nobody outside of Bedlam would think of altering a valuable stud of this kind into a stud suitable for breeding half-bred horses. Those are the chief points on which I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to throw a little light.
It is somewhat remarkable that while this national stud was introduced purely for military purposes, for improving the breed of light horses, there is a separate Vote on our Estimates for the improvement of light horse breeding, and the National Stud does not figure in that amount at all. I find that last year £23,800 was allotted for the improvement of light horse breeding, which has been increased this year to £34,500. I do not know how that money has been allotted. If I may respectfully say so, I think that that is entirely the right way, if the money is wisely spent, to get Cavalry horses and to develop them for the future. I do not know what explanation there will be for this extraordinary transaction, for it has been admitted now that there never was any shortage of Cavalry horses at all. This scheme was put forward because the Army Council took a serious view of 1934 the shortage of Cavalry horses, which is really a myth that has been exploded by the Front Bench itself. My hon. Friend who spoke earlier extracted the information that there was no shortage of horses, and indeed he showed at what unremunerative prices horses had been purchased. For it seems that the War Office were more skilled in buying horses than in handling some other contracts, and have been able to buy horses at the ridiculous sum of £44. In view of those facts I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was justified in commending to us this scheme as an element in procuring Cavalry horses. I hope that some day this stud will disappear altogether. I do not think that it has fulfilled any public purpose. It is going to be a public expense. Certainly at a time like this, when no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer is even preaching thrift to school children and himself putting pennies in the children's money-boxes, it is somewhat lamentable that we should be putting in the money-box of the right hon. Gentleman to-night £4,500 a year for the maintenance of a costly luxury.
§ Mr. TICKLER
I desire to draw attention to a branch of agriculture with which my trade brings me in touch. I refer to fruit growing. It is an industry which is, particularly at this time, of very great importance to the country, seeing that a great deal of our foreign supply of fruit is cut off. The Government, I believe, have been approached by the jam makers. The Government have met them at Manchester, and have thought proper to impress upon them the great importance of preserving the whole of the available crop of home-grown fruit because it has become a necessary article of food for the troops. I believe that the trade have promised the Government that they will make provision for dealing with the fruit, but the people I am anxious to speak for now are the fruit growers themselves. They, in common with the rest of the country, are very short of labour. No doubt it is well known to Members of this House that the cultivation of fruit requires a great deal of labour, very much more than ordinary farming does. And these people have lost proportionately very large numbers of their men, and they are very much concerned to know whether they will have sufficient labour available to gather the crop, which, according to present appearances, promises to be a very large one, and which is rapidly maturing.
1935 Strawberries, which are one of the first fruits available, are very plentiful. Unless strawberries are gathered when they are ripe they are lost entirely the next day, particularly if a shower of rain comes on them when they are ripe, as they are a fruit which lies on the ground. There are great difficulties in getting labour necessary to cope with this large crop of fruit. It has been suggested to me by some of the growers that perhaps some of the public schools, such as the Barnardo Homes or similar institutions, might be able, under the influence of the Government, to provide a small quantity of the labour that is required to gather in the fruit. Surely, if some of those boys and girls were taken down to Kent, or other places where the fruit is grown, they would enjoy the outing and would be of very great value to the fruit growers in enabling the fruit to be gathered in. I think that that is a suggestion which the Minister of Agriculture might very well put before the proper authorities. The carriage of this fruit is a very important matter. The Board of Trade were appoached last year to use their influence with the railway companies to see that a proper service of trains was provided to carry the fruit from the fruit-growing districts to the towns. I believe that the measures which were taken met with a certain amount of success. There was a large crop of fruit last year. I do not think that there was a very great deal of it spoiled, but still I know of a great many instances in which there was considerable delay, with the result that there was a great deal of waste.
One of the principal causes of delay is the fact that sufficient attention is not given by the railway company to the question of empties. If a man has one or two hundred tons of strawberries, or any other kind of fruit to get to the market he must have the empties. It is not at all an uncommon thing for truck loads of empties to be sent a journey of 150 miles and to be five or six days in transit. This causes very serious delay and consequently considerable loss to the fruit growers, because it is impossible for them to send their goods away unless they get the empties. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will use his influence with the President of the Board of Trade to urge upon the companies the necessity for the empties to be returned, and for every facility to be given for carrying this very 1936 necessary article of food to the people. This is a very important matter which requires serious attention. The question of the gathering of the fruit is also very serious. The fruit is a perishable thing. The strawberry season is over in a month. Surely, if some of these public institutions could be prevailed upon to allow some of the boys and girls to go out into the country and pick the fruit under proper supers vision they would render a very great service to the fruit growers and to the country generally.
I think, also, that the farmers might be very well helped indeed in getting their hay harvest, which I believe is going to be a very big one, and also the clover harvest, which is now far advanced, and of which we shall have a splendid crop, if we had the necessary labour to gather the crops. We never know when either is to be gathered, and it is very necessary to have the labour in readiness when the crop is in a condition to be harvested. In the Eastern Counties there are several thousands of men who, I am sure, would be properly employed by giving a few days to the in-gathering of the clover and hay crops. I must say that their services would be appreciated, and I believe that the men would enjoy having a week or ten days' hay harvesting if they are only allowed to undertake it. I think the necessary arrangements might be made by the Minister of Agriculture with the military authorities. The same observations apply to the corn harvest. I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the great necessity, seeing that the War Office wants all the fruit they can obtain from this country, that sufficient labour is provided to gather it, and that the proper facilities are given by the railway companies to carry it. Last year I know that several lots of fruit, indeed a good deal of fruit, was spoiled through the simple fact that plums were sent from Worcestershire, and apples from other parts, with never a sheet put over them at all. It was very showery weather at the time, and the fruit arrived at its destination in very bad condition owing to the fact that the railway companies were not able to provide sheets for covering the trucks. I think that a little time given beforehand would enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the proper conveyance of these necessary products.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
In the very powerful speech to which we have just listened we have had a commercial man of very well- 1937 known renown and experience complaining, and deservedly complaining, in this House of the hardship to fruit growers and to jam makers in this country, on account of the lamentable railway facilities which are offered, and I think that ought to impress the representative of the Board of Agriculture with the desirability of doing, at any rate, something to avoid the continuance of this state of affairs. It is perfectly obvious that the conveyance of our horses from one race meeting to another is occupying not only rolling stock, but is occupying the time and attention of railway officials whose time and attention might much more profitably be given to the convoy of raw fruit for the manufacture of jam, which is so large a constituent in the provision made for our soldiers at the front. I think it is a lamentable thing that the Government should prostitute its opportunities to the conveyance of horses, when they have the wider possibilities open to them of convoying raw fruit for the manufacture of jam. I do hope that the hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this Vote will be impressed by the way in which the arguments have been put before him by the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire, and by my hon. Friend opposite, the hon. Member for Grimsby, from a purely commercial point of view. I was against the purchase of those horses from the commencement, and I think that the Government have not improved their position since they bought those horses. We have had an increase of racing since those horses were bought. I do not say that we have increased the number of races because we bought the horses, but I put the simple fact to the House that since we bought them, or since we leased them—and a decision of such importance could not be made without the unanimous consent of the Cabinet—the number of race meetings has been increased, and the facilities for running horses have been increased. That means that more railway accommodation has been taken up for races than was the case last year. Compared with what the President of the Board has done in another direction, in prohibiting even necessary imports into this country, it really does shock our moral sense that those who are given a chance of greater possibilities make so bad a use of the horses which they bought for horse breeding. There are a few other pertinent questions which might reasonably be answered by my hon. Friend. I think 1938 the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire could be very easily disposed of. He was apparently labouring under the delusion that the purchase of this stud was to produce horses of military value for this country. The Government had no such intention, and it is not this War which is meant at all. It is some war which is to happen at some future time. My hon. Friend behind me reminds me that this is an evidence of the readiness with which the Government is going to prepare us for the next war. So I think the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire is under a mistaken idea as to the immediate use to which this stud was to be put.
I should like to know, and I should like to have definite information—and if I cannot get it to-night, I mean to put a question on the Paper in order to elicit the information—how many races have our horses run since they were bought; how many races have they won; how much stake money have they won; and what were the odds on each race in which they were engaged; because it must never be forgotten, as the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire reminded us, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer last Saturday was actually inducing children to put shillings into the bank, and now here is the Cabinet inducing men to put shillings on horses! Which is the Government policy? Is it, the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of putting money in the bank, or is it the policy of the Government of putting money on horses? I think we are entitled to know that. A journal which is the most universally read all over this country, and is looked to as the mirror of the social feeling of this community, last week contained an illustration of racing men going to race meetings in motor cars, and pointing satirically to a notice that what they were doing was in support of this Government. What a cosmopolitan Government it must be to secure patronage so far all round, and to induce comment of that kind! Surely the time has arrived when the Government should withdraw all its horses from race meetings? Every other sport in the country is shut down! Cricket is shut down! This is the season for it, and where is the county cricketer playing? Where has been the county footballer that has played during the last six months? Where was the boatrace? Where have been all the great national athletic events during the War? All have been shut 1939 down by the general consent of the community, and with the blessing of the Government, except in this one case of sport of horseracing, and forsooth, public criticism must obviously say that it is not shut down because the Government stand to make over the stake for the horse that wins, and that they themselves have increased the number of race meetings for that purpose. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, here!"] I did not quite catch the interruption of my hon. and gallant Friend on the Front Bench. It was not so loud as some of the Government's companions on the racefields; otherwise I might be able to reply. There is another question: There are two very fine stallions in these stables. There is White Eagle and Royal Realm. These stallions have obviously been doing nothing since the Government acquired this very valuable property. Their fee for service is very large. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how often they have been in use, and how much money the Government have secured for their service?
My right hon. Friend is interesting in everything he takes in hand, from humogen to the service of mares by stallions. I think the House is entitled to know, and we ought to have the information asked for before we close this Vote. I am afraid if we do not get it we must consider the desirability of going to a Division on this subject, because it is a very important point, and raises the larger question which has never been touched upon yet, so far as I know, in this Debate, but which I do not propose to touch upon—that is, the moral issues involved! I cannot conceive of my right hon. Friend, who described racing as a low form of sport, upholding the grant of this money in order to perpetuate it. He himself feels the immorality and want of ethic of the whole proceeding; it must keep him uneasy even although daylight has been increased by one hour! If he will answer those questions perhaps we will be satisfied. If he does not give us satisfaction on this point, then if my right hon. Friend the Member for Prestwich Division goes to a Division those of us who love to see a horserace, but who object to the betting and gambling prevalent, will be glad to follow him into the Division Lobby and register, yet once again, our abhorrence and protest against the Government, first of all, in the middle of a war for spending £70,000, and then coming here to-day for £4,500 for a luxury 1940 which is doing no immediate good, which need never have been entered upon, and which has not had any adequate defence from the Ministry of Agriculture. I see the right hon. Gentleman has now fortified himself by two of his sporting colleagues (Mr. Beck and Mr. Howard), one on his right and one on his left. I am perfectly certain the House will be glad for those sporting members of the Government to give us their views, so that the House may be informed on all sides of this subject before we come to a Division.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
I would only add a word to the appeal made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Middleton; an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to try to come to some arrangement with the War Office, or the proper authorities, with regard to the conscientious objectors. Of my own knowledge I know that a large number of these men would quite willingly undertake to work on the land; therefore, I add my appeal that the right hon. Gentleman should use his influence with the powers that be to get these men released and placed on the land, where they would be doing useful work. The imprisonment of these men means a loss of national wealth, and also the expense of men to guard them. Just another word or two in regard to what has been said by the last speaker in regard to the stud. I think that both the last speaker and the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire were rather wrong when they suggest that because the Government, or the nation, is the proprietor of a national stud that that means that they are going to put money on horses, or on races generally.
I am rather glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman has arisen, because he did suggest it. He said that it would be very interesting if the owners of other studs could put their expenditure in the same way as the Government were doing in connection with this £4,500. The suggestion was that if they had a balance sheet—
I am sorry if I misrepresented the hon. and learned Gentleman. 1941 Certainly the impression left upon my mind was that expenditure and income which was won and lost ought to be entered on a balance sheet. In connection with stud and horseracing, I am not certain whether the Government intend to enter their horses in the classic events, in handicaps, or simply in selling plates. I am quite satisfied of this, that the very fact that the Government have horses entered for races, whether in the name of the person the horses are leased to or in the name of the right hon. Gentleman himself, will be a good enough tip to individuals to put money on the horses owned by the nation. Therefore, the Government is lending itself to what to all intents and purposes is an immoral practice—one which has been condemned by almost all classes of people as an immoral practice. Before the right hon. Gentleman enters into this I should like him to consult with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask him whether being the owner of a racing stud is or is not more immoral than the issue of premium bonds? If the Parliamentary Secretary would spend half an hour with his right hon. colleague he would be able to convince him of the morality of issuing premium bonds, or be convinced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the immorality of owning a racing stud. At any rate, it is difficult to reconcile the views of these two prominent members of the Government upon what is moral and what is immoral. It would be interesting to know for what class of races it is proposed to enter these horses of ours, and to see the odds concerning them in the sporting papers.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I desire to support the representations of the hon. Member for Grimsby with regard to the fruit trade. There has been the greatest anxiety among those engaged in fruitgrowing as to the possible result of this year's harvest, in view of the shortage of sugar. The anxiety has been to some extent, but not entirely, allayed by the assurance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that to the best of his ability a sugar supply sufficient for preserving the whole fruit crop of the year will be made available. It is not sufficient that enough sugar to preserve the whole crop should be available during the year, or at the end of the year, or at some general time. The sugar is wanted at particular times and in particular months. The fruit supply will not wait for the sugar. Our sugar supplies 1942 are enormously depleted at present; I believe there is not a month's supply in the country for ordinary purposes, and when the preserving season commences, in June, July, and August, a very great supply of sugar will be needed. The provision of a proper supply will depend upon the estimate of the fruit crop by the responsible Government Department. This matter is being handled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not know what machinery he has at his disposal for forming an adequate estimate of the fruit crop and of the seasons at which the various kinds of fruit will be available for preserving. Is the Board of Agriculture, whose special province, I take to be everything that relates to agriculture, concerning itself with this problem? Is its machinery being used for the purpose of collecting information with regard to the fruit crop, the various seasons for the different kinds of fruit, the probable quantities that will be available and the probable weekly demand for sugar as the season progresses? It has been suggested that if an adequate supply of sugar is not available, the temporary difficulty may be got over by pulping the fruit and waiting for a more convenient season to complete the process of preserving. But many firms have never gone in for the practice of pulping, which does not improve the quality of the preserve, and it is very desirable, in the interests of all concerned, that the practice should not be resorted to more than is necessary. I think if the Board of Agriculture does really take up this question, and uses the machinery at its disposal, and collects information which the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot do without its help, and sees that that information is available, it may do much to save this industry from very serious consequences during the summer and autumn.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I have sat in my place for the last seven and a half hours absolutely continuously, and have not yet had any tea or dinner. I think I have never enjoyed a Debate so much. As for witticisms with regard to the national stud which we have heard recently, I may say that I also enjoyed those very much. I am afraid I shall have to ask the hon. Members who raised that question to wait a minute or two while I refer to some of the speeches which really dealt with agriculture. A great many of them dealt mainly with the labour question, as, indeed, was natural, and as to the great 1943 desirability that at the earliest possible moment a satisfactory arrangement should be made between the Army and the Board of Agriculture with regard to the release of soldier labour. I think I need not assure my hon. Friends that they are speaking in that matter to the converted, and that we realise the importance of that question as much as they do, and that it really has not been our fault that an arrangement has not been come to and published abroad before now. If I said, as I certainly did say, that I was afraid that it might not be possible for the Army to do a very great deal, I was expressing my fears rather than my hopes, for I hope quite as much as anyone who has spoken that it may be possible for the War Office to help very materially, but I had rather a difficult choice. If I said what I thought the War Office might do I should be perhaps misleading farmers into thinking that more would actually be done than might actually be done. I thought it right therefore to issue something in the nature of a warning, so that farmers should perhaps look rather more to other sources of labour than to depend wholly on the help they expect to get from the soldiers.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ashford Division of Kent (Mr. Hardy), who has been nearly as patient in sitting throughout this Debate as anyone, raised one point as to which I am very glad to be in a position to reassure him. He will have noticed that the amount of our money grant for research is only reduced from something about £24,000 to £19,600, so that there will be a really fair amount to carry on the institution (Wye College) which he mentioned. We have had to give up a certain amount of our research Grant, but the Board are fully alive to the point he made as to the importance of carrying on the main agricultural colleges, such as those he referred to. The question of hops, with which the right hon. Gentleman also dealt, is one which concerns other Departments besides the Board of Agriculture, such as the Treasury and the Board of Trade. All I can say is that obviously with the legislation that is being promoted to reduce the consumption of beer, that question of prohibiting the import, or very largely curtailing it, is bound to be considered, and I know, as a matter of fact, it is being considered. I think under those circumstances it would not be right for me 1944 to express views upon the matter. I notice what the right hon. Gentleman says about the importance of the technical occupation of hop-drier, but I am bound to say that the Reserved Occupations Committee, which deals with the question whether a definite occupation should be reserved or not, seem to be rather more inclined to take occupations out of the list than to put new occupations into it. I am afraid that they may, in some instances, have to fall back on those old gentlemen who do hop drying by rule of thumb, instead of the younger men who-do it better, I am bound to say, by using a thermometer and the scientific methods which underlie it. With regard to labour, I agree with him. The position in parts of Kent is undoubtedly very difficult indeed, particularly with regard to women. The munition works that have been opened in parts of the north of Kent have very much entrenched on the supply, and although eight hundred women registered in Kent as being willing to work, they were mainly in Hollingbourne, Maid-stone, and Tonbridge districts, if I remember aright. Then, I think, the point made as to the possibility of using the Canadians in camp in that county was a valuable one, and I will try to take it up and do my best upon it.
As to the general question of whether the Board of Agriculture ought or ought not to have gone into the question of exempting agricultural labour on its own account, I have a good deal of doubt about it. It would have been surely very difficult. I can imagine the Home Office going to a colliery and saying, "How many men have you got, and how many do you want?" and, having considered, that, examining so many and letting the rest go. But the Board of Agriculture is not a fluid industry like that, where people are employed in one establishment in large numbers. I wish it were a little more fluid, and that farmers had done a little more to co-operate with one another, so that a man with a fair amount of labour had co-operated with a man whose labour was all taken. But in agriculture the only possible unit is the farm, and I am afraid if the Board of Agriculture had tried to settle how many men ought to have been left on each particular farm, possibly the last state would have been worse than the first. I think we were bound to leave that to bodies like the tribunals, on which farmers had every chance to be represented if they chose, and 1945 that that was a matter which could only be decided by the local knowledge possessed by members of the tribunals, and I think we were right in thinking it could not be dealt with by the wholesale method of exemption, as was done by certain other Government Departments in certain other industries. If we had taken up the line that nobody could be spared from the farms for the Army, surely that would have involved also that nobody could be spared from the farms to do munition work. That would have been industrial compulsion with a vengeance, because undoubtedly thousands of agricultural labourers have left the farms, attracted by the higher wages in munition works, and I think there would have been a very genuine and justifiable protest if we had tried to prevent that, because a certain amount of that sort of transference from work which is, when all is said and done, low paid to very much better-paid occupations is a thing which must be allowed and put up with, I think, at a time like this, particularly when munition factories need such a lot of labour.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Spear), whom I thank very much for the very kind words he said about me and my family, offered some remarks with regard to women labour. I can assure him, so far as our information goes, things ought not to be quite so bad in Devonshire as he rather suggested. I feel quite certain that his daughter, about whom he told us, will make a first-class milkmaid, and it is a very plucky thing for her to have tackled. In the little parish of North Bovey, where I spent a brief holiday at Easter, and in which there are twenty-four farms, forty-eight women have registered themselves to help during the season. As to epizotic abortion, I do not think segregation suggested by the hon. Member would have been quite so successful if the Board of Agriculture had recommended it in other counties. In fact, the Board are, through its veterinary officers, undoubtedly finding a way of preventing that disease by vaccination. As soon as we have moved into the new Government laboratory in Surrey we shall be able to do more in the future than in the past to distribute the vaccine which it is necessary to apply. It must be remembered that an animal once aborted becomes immune automatically in an enormous number of cases, and therefore to segregate those animals 1946 is not the most practical way, but to inoculate them with vaccine before the first calfing is undoubtedly the way to tackle this disease rather than issuing any order or making any compulsory order as the hon. Member suggests.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
Without segregation the disease is spread in the neighbourhood. That is the trouble, and segregation prevents that.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Segregation does not make them more free from disease than any other counties which do not do anything of the kind. It is surely better, in a disease which you can prevent, to take the other course, because prevention is better than cure, and before many years are out I think it will be entirely prevented. It is better to prevent by vaccination than to have the elaborate machinery of orders which we should have to make for segregation or isolation as was suggested by the hon. Member. The hon. Member for Essex (Sir F. Flannery) made a helpful speech, for which I should like to thank him, and it will be a very great help to us at the Board of Agriculture. He asked about forestry, and whether we had made a beginning at all or not. I may say that we are doing a very considerable amount in getting seedlings started for the main forests of trees we shall want to establish here. If we go in for a forestry policy after the War we shall be in a very tight place if we have not the seedlings to plant. We are taking steps to have as many as possible available, and we are going to plant very largely on land which we have obtained for the purpose. I will report to the authorities at the War Office what the hon. Gentleman said with regard to hay.
At present, of course, the only remedy which a farmer has who does not like the price the War Office ask him to accept is to take the matter to the committee presided over by the right hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke). I know that that remedy is not liked, and farmers consider it rather unpatriotic to appeal against the price offered them. But undoubtedly in many counties the price given is more than the £5 quoted by the hon. Member, and I should be surprised if the price now being paid in Essex is not higher than that. The reason the War Office is only paying the same price, in addition to a dryage allowance, as in the autumn, is because in the 1947 autumn farmers sold voluntarily at this price, and it is now thought hard that the farmers who held back then, and did not sell all their hay, should be allowed to get a very much increased price, largely because other farmers were patriotic enough to sell, and then because of the very great scarcity which now undoubtedly exists. I will take up the suggestions which the hon. Member made. The hon. Member for Wilton (Captain Bathurst) made the most useful suggestion of the whole Debate when he asked us to devote special attention to the supply of basic slag. It is true that this is an extremely important fertiliser, and I will see it is taken up at once. He said that there were difficulties about Members of Parliament selling timber. There are, but all the same I would rather like to know the name of the Member of Parliament who has timber to sell in order to see whether those difficulties cannot possibly be got round. He made many other valuable suggestions of which I took note, and I will pass at once to the speech of the hon. Member for Biggleswade (Sir A. Black), who made some point about labour for which I thank him and which will be very useful. The hon. Member for Bedford spoke about the necessity of potash salts. It is perfectly true. That is being investigated hard at the present time, and we are doing everything that we can to have an increase of potash fertilisers from various British rocks which seem promising.
The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Monmouthshire (Major-General Sir Ivor Herbert) suggested that the time had now come when a Committee ought to be set up to go into the whole of the future of the agricultural industry. One Committee is now sitting, presided over by Mr. Henry Hobhouse, and it has been considering matters not exactly of that nature but very much akin to it. Possibly it may be right for the members of the Board and others interested to wait and see what they report and with what degree of unanimity they report before deciding to set up further Committees, but that suggestion, coming from the President of the Central Chambers of Agriculture, backed up by the hon. Gentleman opposite, must, of course, secure attention, and I will see that it has attention from the President of the Board of Agriculture. He suggested that in our action with regard to sulphate of ammonia we 1948 had allowed the farmers to be forced to pay prices three or four times as great as the cost of production. When you are not making an article by itself, but when the article is a by-product and you are making other things, the cost is very much a matter of calculation. If you were calculating the cost of wheat and you put all the cost on the crop, then you would get the straw for nothing; and thus, if you put all the cost on the oil, you get the shale for nothing. The cost ordinarily is reckoned at something like £11 or £12, and undoubtedly there has been an increase of £3 or more in the sulphuric acid necessary to make a ton of sulphate of ammonia, and there has been an extra increase in the cost of labour, as in everything else. There is this also to be said. Although for two and a half months we squeezed the makers of sulphate of ammonia uncommonly hard by prohibiting exports altogether, and although that caused enormous accumulations of stocks in this country, there was nothing like uniformity of price or a tight ring for keeping the prices at the same level. In spite of great restrictions in the power of sale, and the undoubted great inconvenience caused owing to difficulties about storage by accumulations of stock, none of the makers went down to anything near or within £8 or £9 of the price which the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests was the price of producing the material. That is not conclusive, but it has been our experience. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Berkshire. I believe the country will have cause to thank him for the work he is now doing as a representative of the War Office in connection with a representative of the Board of Agriculture in going round the counties and trying to settle the scale of labour which is necessary to be left on a farm. The hon. Member for the Newport Division of Shropshire spoke in very earnest and eloquent words about the difficulties of labour, and the suggestion he made about the instruction of the War Office of 19th May is certainly one that will be gone into at once We will see what we can do on these lines if anything can be done. I quite agree that sugar-beet seed ought to be grown, but if it is difficult for the ordinary grower to obtain seed it is also difficult for the Government. There has been absolute prohibition of the export from Holland and it is not easy for us to step in where ordinary people have failed.
§ Captain STANIER
That is so. But I asked the Board of Agriculture to go into the question of starting sugar beet seed stations, so that in future seed can be provided by the Board of Agriculture and we shall not have to depend on foreign countries for it.
§ Mr. ACLAND
But you cannot start seed stations without seed, and we have none. I see the principal point of the hon. Member, which is that we shall be independent of foreign countries for our seed supplies in future. The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. T. Richardson) went into certain questions respecting the Labourers' Union in Norfolk. I think it is perfectly true that there is a farmer, if not more than one, who, although there have been agreements between the Farmers' Union and the Labourers' Union in Norfolk, is not paying the rates agreed upon. But I do not think that it could be called a breach of the agreement in the technical sense. The union is not as well organised in this matter as it ought to be, and these arrangements between the parties acting through their representatives are very new. I think the farmer in question claims, perhaps with some justification, that he and his labourers were not bound by the respective unions, and he was therefore not bound to pay the rates agreed upon by the union's representatives. Of course that sort of thing would be very rare in more developed industries, but when the representatives of two parties come together almost for the first time it is a very considerable step forward in organisation, but it is not uncommon for individuals to say they are not really bound to accept the agreement made by the body to which they belong. At any rate, we have heard of the case, and we have asked influential people in Norfolk to do their best in the matter. On the whole I think the farmers and labourers in these associations have shown a very reasonable spirit, and I believe good will result from the two sides being brought together in the way they have been. The hon. Member for the Melton Division (Colonel Yate) spoke on fruit trees. But there really is no labour to spare for planting any considerable number of fruit trees on railway embankments, or anywhere else. I believe anybody who has had fruit trees near railway lines has had to pay much higher rates of insurance than anywhere else because of the danger of fires, and although I very much admire the hon. Member's en- 1950 thusiasm, yet I am not quite sure it is a wise policy to take up at this time when labour is so scarce.
I now come to the National Stud, which is not an item in the Board's Estimate which has the most to do with agriculture. Upon that, if hon. Members wished me to answer all the elaborate questions they have asked, they have defeated their object by asking such difficult questions. When I am asked how many thoroughbred foals we not only have—that, of course, is a figure I might be expected always to carry in my mind from day to day—but how many we expected, how many had not arrived, whether we were entering any yearlings for races, if so, which yearlings we had entered, when we had entered them, and for what races, and how they were going on—really the only thing to do when questions of that importance and detail are asked is for me to obtain a thoroughly detailed memorandum on all these points which the hon. Member for Prestwich (Sir F. Cawley) and the other two hon. Members who are interested in this subject asked. When we come to questions of that detail, I am sure the Committee, especially after a sitting of this length, will not expect me to be able to carry all those elaborate details in my head. The subject is of too great importance for me to be expected to answer them without consulting our professional advisers on the matter. I will ask Captain Greer to go over those things and he will have a report prepared. I have not the slightest hope that that will satisfy either of the three hon. Members who spoke, but at any rate we will do our best. They have asked the questions and they shall have proper answers, if it is possible to supply them.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Maintenance covers the whole. When you have two estates with all these horses, they cost money, and nobody can expect them to do anything else. The question of protection for wheat was raised. It was raised again, as it has been raised before, by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ludlow (Major Hunt). I must remind him of the fact that the wheat price was raised by 20s. last year without any guaranteed price at all. 1951 That prosperity coming to them through the War might possibly be accepted without asking the Government to give them guarantees by minimum prices, as he asked them to do. Then there is the question of foxes. I think that foxes have done harm in certain neighbourhoods. That is perhaps because so many gamekeepers have gone to the front rather than for any other reason. That may sound rather cryptic, but there is a certain amount of truth in it. Undoubtedly there would be a very great increase of food supplies in this country if there were no foxes. On the other hand we should lose something which a great number of members of the farming community would not lose for a very great deal, even many of those who habitually lose poultry through foxes. [An HON. MEMBER: "In wartime?"] You cannot abolish all your foxes in one year and have them all the next. I am bound to say, dealing with the shortage of gamekeepers, that hunts have done their best. They have largely sacrificed the best conditions for sport to necessity of keeping down foxes. They have Satisfied us that on the whole, with their diminished number of hunt-servants, they have killed far more foxes than in any ordinary year. Although if I were asked what I would do personally about foxes I should not say, yet on the whole a very great deal has been done to try to keep the pest—which the fox undoubtedly is to poultry—in check. And if there are cases where damage is being done, or where damage is done, no proper compensation can be obtained, we shall always be very glad to hear about them and go into them. I thank the hon. Member for Grimsby for the very practical suggestions which he made with regard to the supply of sugar, and the hon. Member who spoke last also made very 1952 practical suggestions which ought to be helpful to us. That it is rather hard for the Board of Agriculture to find out exactly at what times of the year the sugar will be needed, in whose hands it ought to be, and whether there is a sufficient amount of it to enable the fruit to be properly dealt with, because undoubtedly if we allow any large amount of the large fruit crop which we seem lucky enough to be going to have to rot on the trees or to be not properly treated, we shall be wasting a very valuable source of food supply. I hope the Committee will now allow me to get my cup of tea.
§ Question put, and agreed to.