§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Prothero)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
I have to ask the House to read for a second time a Bill which bristles with controversial points. In explaining the Bill, at least I hope I shall say nothing which will in any way exasperate the inevitable discussion. Before the War began agriculturists were unanimous in thinking that the progress of agriculture depended on a large increase in the arable land under cultivation, and they felt that that increase was impossible without assured stable prices. Some of them thought that State intervention was necessary to accelerate that rise in prices. Others, and I was among them, thought that we ought to wait for the natural causes which were in operation. Looking at agriculture as a business, I thought that its interests were best served without State intervention, which I felt sure would result in conditions more or less onerous being imposed, and conditions which would result in restricting from the energy and initiative of agriculturists. I recognised that that waiting time was a waste of national resources and that farmers inevitably marked time. The War 2250 has widened our ideas. It has compelled us to look not at the interests of particular industries, but at a wider aspect. National safety to-day is the paramount consideration and national safety cannot wait. Food supplies have become absolutely essential to the existence of the nation. They vitally concern us, and it is out of those changed conditions this Bill originated. I think I am not the first man who has stood at this 'box, and I shall not, I think, be the last, to propose action which contradicts his previous pre-war opinions.
National safety demands now, and I think always will, a larger supply of home-grown food. Until we are to a greater extent independent of foreign producers we shall always be in a weak and dangerous position. National welfare also demands, I think, and will increasingly demand, that we should retain as much of rural population as possible on the land, and without some attraction we are not likely to retain that population. We must, in fact, make the conditions of rural life more attractive, more prosperous, and more hopeful. From those two considerations of national safety and national welfare spring the two principal points in this Bill—minimum price and minimum wage. Those considerations are permanent, and will always be, it seems to me, the foundation of agricultural policy. Be that as it may, there are also temporary considerations arising out of the War which point in the same direction as those laid down in the Bill. Let me only mention three. In the first place, we want all the home-grown food we can get. We want it at once, this year, next year, as long as the War lasts, and on the conclusion of peace we shall equally want it when belligerent nations are competing for the exportable surplus of the world. In the second place, we want to raise at home every pound of bread and meat we can. The less we have to buy from the foreign producer of the necessaries of life the easier it is to maintain the rates of exchange. The third reason I will mention is this: We owe everything we have at the present moment to the courage and self-sacrifice of our sailors and soldiers. Many of those men desire nothing better than to settle down on the land under more prosperous conditions than they have known heretofore.
Of course, young men of adventurous spirit will probably eagerly accept 2251 the hospitable welcome of our Overseas Dominions. They will strengthen the Empire, and we cannot grudge their going, but I think that we owe it to them, and we owe it to ourselves, to see to it that they have real freedom of choice, and that we do offer them some attraction to retain them on the land at home. National safety, as it seems to me, demands some such measure as this Bill. National welfare demands that we should retain as large a rural population as we can, and if the nation wants at the present moment and for an unknown period all the homegrown food that it can get, if it desires to strengthen its system of national credit, if it wishes to recognise and reward the services of our sailors and soldiers, then I submit that a Bill on something of these lines is a necessity. It is not a farmers' measure, it is a national measure; it is not proposed in the agricultural interest; it is proposed in the interests of every citizen of the United Kingdom. That is the broad ground upon which this Bill is justified, and I need hardly say that I am fully conscious of the imperfections of the Bill, and I shall welcome every hostile criticism which is levelled against the Bill on those national grounds.
National security is not an impracticable dream. It lies within our reach within the course of a few years, and it involves no great dislocation of other industries. For all practical purposes, if we could grow at home here 82 per cent. of all the food that we require for five years, we should be safe, and that limited amount of independence of sea-borne supplies we can secure and secure within a few years. We could make up the 18 per cent., I believe, partly by supplies in the country at the time, partly by the restriction of brewing, partly by the extension of garden ground, and partly by economy and reduction of consumption; but we should be safe in an emergency, and that is worth something at the present moment. I believe that the experience of food shortage that we are going through at the present moment will convince Members of the House and people outside that that is something worth trying for. We could obtain that result if we could add 8,000,000 acres of arable land to our existing arable area—if, that is to say, 2252 we increased it from 19,000,000 acres to 27,000,000 acres. That would give us three-fifths of our total cultivated area under the plough. France, I may say, has two-thirds of its cultivated area under the plough, and Denmark has nine-tenths. If you once got that extension of your arable area, the nation would be free from the nightmare of a submarine menace, and the number of additional men who would be required on the land would be something of a quarter of a million. In addition to that, you would open up a new era of agricultural prosperity. New results of practical experience are ready for general application, and new lines of profitable industry lie open to the farmer, but the old maxim remains true, the old familiar saying in the country districts, that "only he who lathers should shave," and it is only the man who is sufficiently confident in the security of his land who would lay out his capital to obtain those advantages.
The present Bill is much less ambitious in its aims. It proposes to make such a substantial increase in the arable area in this country as is possible within the limits of six years. What we can do in those six years depends upon a very large number of considerations. I see, for instance, that the plans of the Board of Agriculture, which have been worked out in detail by the Food Production Department, have been somewhat prematurely brought before the public in a notice in the Press, but we do hope that we may substantially increase the arable area. We have done so already. We have got in England, in spite of every adverse condition both of climax and of labour, a very considerable addition to the area under cereals and potatoes in the present year, and we have not only caught up a great reduction in the area of 1916 with which we were threatened, but we have made a very large addition. [An HON. MEMBER: "How much?"] About 330,000 acres in England and Wales. [An HON. MEMBER:"HOW much in Ireland?"] I believe it is something like 700,000 acres, and I may say that throughout Ireland and England and Scotland there has been a new spirit amongst agriculturists which has produced already those great results. It is only by increasing the corn area that you can obtain any immediate increase in the gross production of the soil. Anything else that you can do merely substitutes one crop for another, and it is only by increasing the 2253 arable area that you can at one and the same time increase the supply not only of corn and potatoes, but of meat, and of milk.
But assuming the argument on which the whole Bill is based, assuming, that is, that national security, national welfare, and other temporary considerations demand in the public interest a large increase in our arable area, then I submit to the House that it is necessary that the country should guarantee minimum prices and for a term of years. The reason is this. Farmers can work their industry at a profit without growing corn. As men of business they will not turn to the production of cereals, still less will they plough up grass land for the purpose of growing cereals, unless they are assured of prices which will recoup their outlay, and it is not a price for one year that will do; it must be a price for a period of years. A farmer plans out the management of his land not for one season but for a period of seasons, and he has to spend his money for months before he obtains any return for his corn crops. Naturally, therefore, that makes him cautious over ploughing up grass land. He cannot even grow corn upon his existing arable area at war costs unless he is sure of something better than pre-war prices. Still more strongly, of course, does that apply to the ploughing up of grass land. Arable land has the chance of greater profit, but at the same time it has the certainty of greater expenses, both in the outlay of capital and in the labour bill, and it is also far more risky because of the danger of a slump in prices, and it is just those uncertainties which during the last forty years have converted 1,000,000 acres of arable land into grass.
The uncertainty of prices has been immensely aggravated by the War. Supposing the War comes to an end and other nations resume their normal agriculture and their normal fiscal policy, the whole exportable surplus of wheat in the world, so the farmer fears, will be thrown through the open ports of England upon his home market at cut-throat prices. That is a risk which the farmer is not disposed to take. We must remember that he at least does not forget the devastating effect of the fall of prices in the years which reached their lowest point in 1894 and 1895, when wheat stood at the lowest point that it had ever reached for 150 years. It is calcu- 2254 lated—and the calculations came before the Eversley Commission of 1894–7—that during the years 1875 to 1895 landlords and tenants lost £800,000,000 of the capital value of their land. I myself do not follow those figures, but they were given on the authority of the Chairman of the Inland Revenue at that time, and they certainly point to this fact, that the loss of capital was something enormous. It is not surprising that, with a loss even approximating to that sum, enterprise should have slackened, improvements should have ceased, land should have deteriorated in condition, that landlords and farmers should have been ruined by the thousand, that less and less labour should have been employed—and with reduced wages—and that the area of arable land should have dwindled every year. Meanwhile the nation was eating the cheapest food that it had ever eaten— and probably ever will eat! I do not deny that with this ruin of agriculture there were compensating advantages. The more dependent we became upon the foreign producer, the more necessaries of life we had to buy abroad, the greater the demand for English manufactured goods. The furnace and the factory flourished by the ruin of English agriculture. There were, as I say, great compensating advantages.
We in the present War are feeling some of those advantages. Our mercantile marine and our commercial wealth are two of them. I do not mention this old history for any other purpose except these two reasons. I want to ask the House whether it is necessary to treat agriculture as an industry which is an alternative to trade and commerce? Is it necessary that they should be antagonistic? Cannot they both flourish, the one as the complement of the other, and both as parts of a great national policy? I think they can. I mention this for another reason. That is this: You must remember that the men who are farmers now are the men who themselves have suffered from these effects of the nineties, or are the men who have learned from their own fathers of the losses that they sustained. They have been burnt once, and they will not go near the fire a second time. That is to say, they will not take the risk of endangering their capital or putting their capital into an industry which is exposed to a danger like that. Therefore, as I say, I believe it is absolutely necessary, if the country wants for its national 2255 safety a large increase in the arable area of land, that it must guarantee minimum prices and minimum prices for a series of years.
Let me now turn to the Bill itself. The Bill proposes to obtain an increase in the arable area by means of a minimum price for wheat and oats. That price is offered in the following way: Let me take an imaginary year, 1917, as an illustration. You first of all find out what is the average price of British corn during the first seven months of the year beginning with September 1st, 1917. The machinery for ascertaining that average price is that of the Corn Returns Act. These returns are weekly returns of sales of corn from 150 to 200 towns in England. The Board of Trade compute from these the weekly, quarterly, and yearly averages at which corn has been sold in the year. From the seven months' averages we take the average price for the year. That average price is probably over the guaranteed price—that is over the 60s. In that case no allowance is payable. Suppose it drops, and the average price is 57s. 6d. That means that there is a difference of 2s. 6d. between the average price and the guaranteed price. The farmer sells his wheat or his oats for whatever he can get, and is entitled to the difference between the average price and the minimum price. If he sells and delivers his wheat at 55s., he gets the 2s. 6d. which is the difference between the average price and the guaranteed price. If he sells it at 60s., he still gets the 2s. 6d. It is the difference between the average price and the guaranteed price. The reason why that is done is this: If you had no principle of that sort, there would be no inducement to the farmer to grow the best corn he could and to harvest it in the best condition. If a man grows an inferior sample of corn, or brings it in bad condition, he still gets his 2s. 6d., but he gets it on the price at which he sells and delivers his wheat. On the other hand, if the farmer grows a good sample and harvests it in good condition, he gets his 2s. 6d. whether he sells it above or below the average price for the year. I submit that it is necessary to preserve that natural ordinary inducement to the farmer to use the utmost skill and good management in harvesting his crops.
§ Mr. KILBRIDE
Is the House to understand that the average price is to be determined by the price in the first seven months in each year?
§ Mr. PROTHERO
No, Sir. The (harvest year for the purpose of this allowance begins on 1st September, and the period is the first seven months after 1st September. The first allowance that a man obtains will be in April, because by that time the average price is calculated, and he can be paid. Of course, you will see that that principle carries the Bill on for rather longer than was proposed. Hon. Members will also see in Section 13, Sub-section (2), of the Bill that provision is made for the payment of the allowance which will be earned on the 1922 harvest in September, 1923. I think that makes the matter plain to the Gentleman opposite. Another point to which I think I ought to draw attention is that this allowance is only payable upon the produce that is sold and delivered. It is not payable on the produce that is raised.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I will explain that. That does not materially affect the question as regards wheat, because wheat is grown for human consumption practically entirely. It does affect, and very largely affects oats, because oats are not only consumed by the grower himself, but are fed to his stock. Obviously, therefore, if we could have done it, the best course would have been to have given a guarantee upon the produce raised. But there are great difficulties in the way of such a scheme. The Government offer the guarantee for all the additional cereals that are raised for human consumption. During the War, at all events, it is very necessary that those cereals should be sold and delivered, and put on the market. They do not think on those grounds that it is reasonable that the Government should be asked to pay upon the produce that is fed to stock. If the small grower will so increase his produce that he has something to sell he gets the benefit of the Act. I may say just to illustrate how difficult it is to estimate the quantity of grain contained in any field of standing corn that the German calculations, 2257 though they were carried out by experts, and also by local inquiries from producers themselves achieved this result: They first of all estimated the quantities in the 1916 harvest at 380,000 tons of barley. They then altered that estimate to 280,000 tons of barley. When it came to be actually measured up they found the actual amount was 250,000 tons. That shows how difficult it would be to frame any scheme by which you could base your allowance upon the produce raised. I myself, perhaps after some little experience, do not believe that you can possibly calculate within 20 per cent. what is the amount of produce contained in any field of standing corn. I do not know if any Member could guess the amount more closely than that.
If I may pass from Part I to Part IV., it seems to me that Part IV. contains the real terms of the bargain between the nation and the farmers. Before the War a growing feeling was in the country that the amount of produce grown upon the land was a matter which concerned not only landlords and tenants, but the nation itself, and that those who own and who till the soil are responsible to the public for the proper cultivation of the land. That feeling was strong before the War. I think it has been immeasurably strengthened by our present experience of food shortage, and it will be intensified beyond all possibility of resistance if the nation goes into partnership, so to speak, with the agricultural interest, and stands security against loss. But, of course, the farmer will resent, and quite justly resent, State interference if it is foolish and unpractical. On the other hand, he cannot reasonably deny that his partner has some right to control his management of the land, and to see to it that it is properly cultivated. That, as it seems to me, is a bargain between the nation and the farmers, and Part IV. contains the terms of the bargain. But let me say this at once: Part IV. really contains the regulation under which we are now working in dealing with land. We have practically put every one of these Clauses into operation, and because it has been done by local men with practical knowledge of the land we have had, I may say, almost no friction whatever. At the same time, though they are put in there because they are the powers under which we are at present working, I do not pretend that I think they are powers 2258 which are suited to any other time than that of war emergency. They are war emergency Clauses, and I think that they will have to be considerably modified. We may want them for 1918—I think we do want them for 1918—and therefore they are put into this Bill, but, at the same time, as I say, I do not expect them to pass without criticism. I should be surprised, for instance, if they could be applied in Ireland, where conditions are totally different, and where considerable modifications would be, as I think, absolutely necessary. I think they err in this respect particularly. We have got to deal with facts as we find them. Every landowner —and I think the House, though not always favourable to landowners, will admit this is true—who is of age to serve, is serving at the front.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I said every landowner, and I repeat that every landowner who is of age to serve, is serving at the front. And these Clauses rather ignore the landowner, and go to the occupier. That is the reason of it. We cannot get at the landowner. We cannot work through him. We have to go direct to the occupier. That I do not think is necessary in times of peace, and I for one would want and expect landowners to put themselves at the head of this movement, and help us in every possible way to promote the cultivation of the soil. Some of these powers no doubt will be useful even in peace time There is a quantity of land under-cultivated, which every landowner would tell you he knew was under-cultivated, but he is so bound to his old tenant by feelings which one cannot help honouring, that he will not get rid of him, and I believe the power that this Clause gives to the Board of Agriculture to give a direction to the landlord that he shall get rid of his tenant if he is a bad one will be of great use to the landowner and help him to do that which he is reluctant to do, to get rid of a worthless tenant. But there are undoubtedly cases where landowners have imposed unnecessary covenants on their tenants, and these Clauses as they stand give us power to set aside those covenants, and to insist on the proper cultivation of the land. That is a power which, I think, it may be necessary to retain, but I should like the House to realise this, that Part IV. as it stands is really not put in for the permanent 2259 methods under which we want to cultivate the land, but it is war emergency legislation, which we think is necessary during these present times, and on that part particularly I expect, and should invite, the criticism of Members of the House, in order that we might obtain the right powers for times of peace.
Part III. of the Bill carries out the pledge given by the Prime Minister, that no landowner should be allowed to use for his private advantage the guarantee of minimum prices given by the State for the public benefit. If the Clause is carefully read, it will be found that it has a much more limited application than many hon. Members and many of the general public have thought. It does not apply to the reletting to a new tenant under new conditions. It does apply to sitting tenants who hold yearly leases of arable land, exceeding 5 acres in extent, or of holdings on which the arable land is one-tenth of the holding. It does apply there, but, at the same time, there is nothing in this Clause to prevent any landlord, by arrangement with his tenant, from raising rent, provided that it is not raised upon the guaranteed minimum prices. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] Hon. Members behind seem to think that this Bill confers on agriculturists great chances of making profits. I am going to say this, that one reason why I think there will be very few appeals to the Board of Agriculture is this: every practical landlord knows that when the guarantee drops to 45s., and the tenant is paying the labourer 25s. a week, he is going to have an uncommonly difficult task in making both ends meet, and there is a need for all his organisation, all his skill and all his industry to make it profitable. Instead of stimulating the tenant to exertion by increasing his rent, which would have been one thing, we have chosen to stimulate his exertion by increasing his wages bill, and every practical landlord knows that he cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
That remains to be proved. He has got to organise his labour certainly much better, and another reason why I think appeals under this Section will be very few is contained in that remarkable letter which was published in the "Times" some two or three months ago, signed by some of the biggest land- 2260 owners in the country, who said they had no intention of raising their rents to sitting tenants, and never had done so. You will find that throughout this country, on the vast majority of estates, it is the rule not to raise rents to sitting tenants, and I have no reason to believe that that rule is likely to be departed from. I should have hesitated very much to have allowed the Board of Agriculture to be the Court of Appeal if I thought that we were going to have to decide a quantity of questions upon these notices to quit. I do not believe we shall. A brilliant Frenchman wrote a great book on the psychology of a crowd. If I thought we should have many of these questions about the motives of landowners, I should have had to apply for some brilliant person to write a manual on the psychology of landlords, but I do not think it is likely to arise. It is contrary to the traditions of the English landed proprietors that it should arise, and there is, as far as I see, no reason why it should. It is, of course, suggested that a man who has to pay a great increase in tithes ought to be able to transfer some of that burden to rents, and there is no reason under this Clause why he should not do so, hut, at the same time, I should like to point out what is sometimes misunderstood, that this Bill does nothing to increase tithes. The ordinary averages on which the title is paid remain just as they were before the Bill, and are compiled in just the same way, and are in no way altered, and, in so far as the Government has taken any action that affects tithes, it has been in the interests not of tithe-owners, but of tithe-payers. The maximum prices that have just been fixed for wheat, barley, and oats have been a great boon to tithe-payers, and they have deprived tithe-owners of some of the money to which they might reasonably expect to be entitled. If those prices had been left alone, wheat might to-day very well have risen to 100s., and barley and oats in proportion, and if that had been the case tithe averages would have soared upwards immensely. Therefore, the action of the Government, so far from improving the position of tithe-owners, has been to improve the position of tithe-payers.
I pass to Part II. dealing with the minimum wage. I have already said that I do not think it is- a satisfactory way to treat the minimum wage to say it is part of a bargain between the State and the agriculturists, and I should prefer to put it 2261 on higher and more national grounds. It is absolutely necessary for the national welfare that agricultural wages should be raised. In many districts in the country they have been for years past far too low. Everybody agrees on that, but as to the remedy everybody has been divided. I must confess that for my part I heartily dislike the application of wages boards, which have been tried in the small industries and mainly industries in which women take part, to a complicated and varied industry like agriculture. I dislike it. I dislike the principle, and I see practical difficulties in its application. I have put this forward so often that I know those arguments better than I do the arguments in favour. But I have honestly come to the conclusion that there is no other way in which to effect the object. Regarding it as I do as a matter of absolute national importance that wages should be raised, I adopt the method which seems to me the only one which will achieve that object. I hope hon. Members will recognise that in this part of the Bill we have made an enormous stride towards the happiness and prosperity of rural districts. It is only a first step, but it is a first step, although a great deal more remains to be done. There is housing and access to the land to be considered. I yield to no man in this House in my desire to see the agricultural labourer living a more prosperous and a more hopeful life, and I can say that with less suspicion because I represent a constituency where the agricultural vote does not count.
There is one provision, Section 4, to which I should like to call attention. Obviously the setting up of wages boards will take time, and meanwhile there may be cases where men are not being paid 25s. Section 4 enables those men to recover arrears, and that is a big order. I think this will hasten things up, and it will compel the wages boards to get to work quickly. It will also give notice to farmers that they had better at once raise their wages to 25s. Of course, at the present moment, even at war rates there is a scarcity of rural labour, and as a whole agricultural labourers have been able to command a big rise in wages, but they are wholly unorganised, and as far as I can see they cannot have much chance of being successfully and permanently organised, and it is for that reason that wages boards are so necessary in their case. You must have some local 2262 authority which can step in and deal with these men, who are scattered about and almost isolated, and see that wages are raised to the minimum height. I know a certain fanner in a certain district who is now paying his men 14s. a week and not a penny more, and I think that ought to be stopped. Such a Clause as this brings some pressure upon a man to pay more. The wages boards will have power to fix minimum rates of wages for men, women, and boys. You will find this Clause gives that power in the definition of workmen on page 8, Clause 11 (c). The wages boards will also be called upon to take into consideration the allowances that are made, and you will find that provided for on page 7, Clause 8(6). It will be a minimum wage of 25s., inclusive of allowances.
The wages board will also have power to fix piece rates. The question of piece rates is a very difficult one. In most of the districts where the trade boards act the wages are framed for piece rates. If you can do that the great difficulty of discriminating between effective and noneffective workmen disappears. You can do this in farming, and there is hardly an operation of farming to which it cannot be applied. One of the first things farmers ought to do is to collect the piece rates in all their counties. You will find this remarkable fact: Wages in Scotland are very much higher than in the lowest paid districts in England, and yet the piece rates are practically the same. The reason is that the English workman works less effectively, less hard, and for shorter hours, and it is in that way that we may hope that this great increase of the farmers' outgoings will be best met, and I believe that if he organises his work properly he will be able still to carry on his corn growing, and the greater skill, supervision and powers of organisation he shows, the greater will be his profits and his production. I would remind the House that this is a corn production Bill applying to arable areas, and it is on those areas that the burden of increased wages falls with the greatest severity. Think of it! that on grass lands one man looks after 100 acres, while on arable land he cannot do with less than 3½, and therefore the increase of wages is trebly greater on arable land.
There is a great difficulty about setting up these wages boards in war time, and it is a very difficult thing to do. I had 2263 hoped that we should have been able to carry out the plan mentioned in the Prime Minister's speech. That, however, has proved impossible. These wages boards are going to do invaluable work in the country if only they will do it animated by no political motive but by wise, national and patriotic motives. I think if they are constituted now in what we suppose to be a lull of party feeling that they may be framed on the right lines and upon lines that will make them useful to the country. The fifth part of the Bill I do not think requires any special notice from me, and I will only say in conclusion that the Bill is as I have said a national measure moved in the national interest. I gather from the feelings expressed in some parts of the House that hon. Members think they see in this Bill some great means of enriching the agricultural interest, but I do not share that view. I think that if you had only a minimum price guaranteed you would have had a great increase in your corn production, and the farmer would under them have made considerable profits, but when you couple with that the minimum wage which in many instances is a very great rise, I do not believe that there is much profit in it. I believe that this Bill fulfils the object with which it is proposed. It removes that insecurity which is the principal cause that deters a farmer from embarking upon arable land by giving him a surplus, and it does not widen his margin of profit to any considerable extent.
The House is now well accustomed to the interest which can be aroused by every speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, for whether he be expounding a Bill, discussing the merits of his colleagues or his relations to the War Office, his speeches lack nothing in candour. We are indebted to him to-day for having made a full and frank statement in proposing the Second Reading, and it must be to a large extent on his interpretation of the Bill that I propose to address the House. In the first place, I would like to point out that the Government is, in this case, departing from the rule that no controversial measures were to be introduced during the War. It must have been well known to them that the land question, in whatever form you raise it, is bound to arouse controversy. The 2264 form of this Bill, so far from being an exception to that rule, raises controversy not only in agricultural circles—for much of the machinery of the Bill has already been severely criticised by agriculturists —but it raises here questions of the greatest importance as to the position of agriculture, as to the duty of those who own and control land, as to the relationships of the Treasury to the agricultural interest, as to the effect that this Bill will have on food supplies, how far it is likely to enrich one class at the expense of all classes, and a number of other topics which in the course of this Debate, whether it lasts for one or two days, will be brought to the attention of the House.
The second point which I would like to mention in connection with the introductory remarks of the right hon. Gentleman is that it is now clear that this Bill is not for the purposes of this War. The whole intention of the Department of the right hon. Gentleman is that this is a permanent measure laying the foundations for a permanent policy, that the machinery of it is to be in a permanent form, and that whatever is granted by the farmer, I presume, is to have, on the other side, a permanent reward. This is a post-war Bill, introduced at the very time when we might well concentrate the whole of our attention on carrying on the War efficiently. I would not only turn to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but to the Report of lord Selborne's Committee. Before I say anything about that, perhaps the House will allow me to say a single sentence about my Noble Friend Lord Selborne. He presided over the Board of Agriculture for a time far too short, and those of us who saw him at work there know that he was one of the sturdiest defenders of agriculture against those who were depriving her of the labour by which alone she could reach a maximum output. The country can never be too grateful to him for the fight he put up during his tenure of office to retain on the land the largest possible amount of skilled labour for the production of a maximum amount of food. Lord Selborne presided over the Committee which has provided the Government with the main technical support for the proposals now laid before the House. As I read that Report, I think it is clearly laid down that they were not considering a war measure, but a post-war measure, and at the very outset they explained that: 2265We are informed that the questions asked us did not refer to war but to post-war conditions, and our Report is drawn up from that point of view only.That emphasises the inference which I draw from the speech we have just heard, that this is an exposition of post-war policy. Then it is quite clear that the operation of the guarantee, if it is to be effective and if this is the only way of solving our food problem, cannot end at the period named in the Bill. It is clear that the bounties to be given under this Bill are to be given in return, as I understand, for the other side of the bargain, as it was expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. The farmer is to give his labourers decent wages, he is to submit to State control of his culture, and in return for that he is to have a guarantee in the matter of prices. No farmer who supports this Bill imagines that at the end of that period that guarantee is to lapse for ever. They are all hoping and believing that it is to continue, and indeed the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's argument is based on that assumption. You not only have a vested interest created, but you will be faced whenever you come to the period—if this Bill were to pass—near the end of the guarantee time with a situation where the whole of the arguments will be used in favour of a repetition of the same prices, because, you will be told, unless you are prepared to do that a million acres which have been ploughed up will go back to grass. The danger of that is so patent to everyone that I feel sure everybody who holds the views of the right hon. Gentleman opposite will assure the agricultural interest that, not for their sakes but purely for the sake of the nation, the guarantee will continue.
If we are to consider the present condition of agriculture, let us plainly face the fact that the reason why there is not so much land under wheat in cultivation as last year at this time is the shortage of labour. It is not because prices have gone down. They are higher. It is not because the farmer is less patriotic than he was. He is more patriotic than he was But how can you expect the land of England to be ploughed up by imported motor tractors without men to run them, or land to be ploughed up by horses without men to drive them? Further, you cannot expect newcomers on the land to be as efficient as those they have displaced. There was a great increase in the number of acres under cultivation in 1916. The 2266 amount of wheat grown is greater than it has been for many years past. It is a remarkable fact that the number of quarters grown in 1915 was over nine and a quarter millions. The acreage under wheat at that time was greater than it had been since 1890 or 1891, and that is entirely due to the fact that prices were higher. There was a certain amount of transfer, as we all know, from other cereal crops to wheat, but if you take the total amount of barley, oats, and wheat together you will find that there was a very remarkable rise of hundreds of thousands of acres. If the House is interested in the figures I will give them. In 1914 the total amount of acreage under oats, barley, and wheat, taking them altogether—and I think that meets the right hon. Gentleman's point, if there has been a transfer from one to the other—was 7,678,000. In 1915 that had risen to 8,041,000 in the whole. You allow for all the transfers, and yet there was this immense increase entirely due to the high prices. Why has it gone down since? I say it has gone down because of the lack of labour. But we have had another illustration of that same effect in Ireland. In Ireland, the acreage that has been ploughed has gone up continuously for exactly the same reason—the abundance of labour. Indeed, where there has been an abundance of labour the land has been ploughed, and where there has been a shortage of labour it could not be ploughed. If this measure were to deal purely with the production of more food during the War, its first attempt should be to restore to the land the skilled labour which knows the land. Far better than substitutes is to have the men who actually know the fields they have to cultivate. I know the President of the Board of Agriculture is fully alive to this, and in one of the frank speeches which we always read with the greatest interest he stated that the action of the War Office in taking the last 30,000 men, of whom we have heard so much in this House, was a staggering blow to agriculture. Those are his exact words, as reported in the"Times"—"a staggering blow." If the Government wishes to secure an increased amount of wheat for this year, there must be no more staggering blows to agriculture. Assistance must be given this year, and not in the years 1918–19 or 1919–20, and so on. This year assistance must be given if we are to have a, maximum output of wheat and other cereals.
2267 Having said so much as to the permanence of the policy which has been expounded to us, let me state at once that with regard to the two main parts of the Bill—because, I take it, they are of far more importance than Part I.—namely, Part II. and Part IV., we are in full agreement with the Government that you must make an effort at the earliest moment, and I would say that you should do it now as a war measure, to maintain the agriculturist wages at a living level; and, in the second place, that you must make permanent the policy which has been initiated during the War of regarding the cultivation of the land as a fair matter for State supervision, State correction, and, if necessary, State compulsion. To these two points we give our hearty support, and, if I may, I should like to say a word or two with regard to wages. As the Bill is drawn at present, I need hardly say that an immense amount of harm might be done in some directions; first of all, in regard to boys, and, secondly, in regard to women. It is not in the public interest that boys should be drafted on to the land too soon. I know that in many agricultural gatherings, and I have faced many scores of them in this country, there is always a desire to get boys into touch with the land as soon as possible. That they should be in touch with country life and country tastes is of first importance, and that their elementary education should be given in terms of country things is also of enormous benefit, and I greatly regret that more has not been done in that direction. But that boys should be drafted on to the land at a period before that suggested by the Minister for Education (Mr. Herbert Fisher) in his speech last week would be against the public interest. and the effect of this wages clause as at present drawn would be that there would be a tendency on the part of the farmers to employ boys in preference to men in order to evade the minimum wage conditions.
Yes, that is quite true; but may I ask what arrangements will be made which will prevent boys being employed at such a cheap late as to make them far more attractive than man labour? [HON. MEMBERS: "It is left to the wages boards!"] If it is going to be 2268 left to the wages boards, and they are going to be drawn from local sources—as I am afraid they must—I fear the tendency in all parts of the country will be to employ boy labour in preference to man labour. There must be better safeguards in the Bill than are provided at the present moment. One way in which you can get over your trouble in regard to boys is not to trust to the wisdom or statesmanship of the local wages boards, but definitely to say in this Bill, and in this House, exactly what shall be the statutory minimum for boys. Do not put it in shillings if you dislike that. Put it in a fraction in direct proportion to the amount paid to the adult, but at all events assure by Statute that the wage given to the boy shall be so much that there shall be no undue tendency to employ boys in preference to adults. I do not see in the Bill sufficient safeguards for the casual labourer. In many parts of the country, as the House well knows, there is the tendency to-employ men when the weather is fine and to accept no responsibility if the weather is bad, with the result that in a bad season, and in some counties, the remuneration the labourer receives, although it will be all right under the Minimum Wage Clause of this. Bill, is remuneration which will not be up to what is known as a living wage. In the extreme North of England and in Scotland we got over those disadvantages by hiring our men for a year, and as the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir G. Younger) knows—he knows the South of Scotland as well as anyone—that has been nothing but an unmixed blessing both to the farmers and the labourers.
It would be a great pity if this Bill were allowed to leave this House, if it is to be passed, with the daily rate remaining at one-sixth of the weekly rate. It ought to be higher in proportion than the weekly rate in order that there may be a direct financial incentive to keep a man rather than to pay him off. Then I would suggest that something might be done to exempt small holders in some form or another from the provisions of this Bill. Nothing is more desirable in a country like ours not only that small holders should have a chance of cultivating their own plots, but of being made available as a source or pool of liquid labour on which adjoining farmers can draw as they require sudden spurts in their cultivation owing to weather and other conditions. That com- 2269 bination or admixture of large and small farmers can only produce the greatest benefit when you have the small holder working part of his time for himself and part for other people. If arrangements can be made to induce small holders to work for farmers as well as for themselves and for each other, because nothing but co-operation will enable them to survive, something will be done to improve the labour provisions of this Bill. Some better provision ought also to be made for the infirm. As at present drawn, these Clauses apply only to able-bodied men. It may be that the infirm will be employed at wages below, possibly far below, the minimum fixed by the wages board. I mention these things to show that, at all events, so far as those Clauses are concerned, we would be prepared to give them our general support, but we should ask for considerable improvement in the conditions under which they are drawn. I need hardly say that there is nothing new to us in the enforcement of cultivation. Our minds, of course, at once go back to the land controversy of three and four years ago. A very prominent part was played in the programme of those days by the enforced cultivation up to a high standard of land now under cultivation. I can only remark, in passing, that Part IV. as at present drafted appears to me to be clumsy and scarcely likely to work well; but the right hon. Gentleman has said that he is prepared to accept suggestions for the improvement of that provision, and I am sure many will be forthcoming.
Let me come to the main justification for the introduction of this Bill. It can only have one justification at the present moment, and that is that it is introduced in the interests of national safety. The necessity for a measure like this is said to be accentuated by the submarine activity of the enemy. In the first place, let me say that this Bill can be no substitute for more effective action by the Admiralty. The losses which are going 0:1 at the present time ought not to be underestimated. I greatly regret that the First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir E. Carson), who is not here, should in the returns published week by week have given us nothing like an addition to the statement of losses which he gave in the Debate on the Estimates. There is no doubt at the present time people all over the country do not realise how serious are the depredations upon British tonnage as well 2270 as upon the tonnage of our Allies and of neutrals. Every week the return is published that there have been 2,500 arrivals-and 2,500 sailings, and one week you see that there have been sixteen losses, another week seventeen, a third week eighteen, and so on. I fear that generally people have got the impression that sixteen is not a very large number out of 5,000. A more fallacious way of calculating the risks we are running could scarcely be conceived. I do not think we should blame the public. It would be far better that they should realise the position and that the efforts which they are called upon to make in food economy are for good and sound reasons, and that those good and sound reasons are to be found in the continuous success of the German submarine. I have no doubt that the Admiralty would dislike a candid statement of our losses from submarines. That is a mistaken policy. It is absurd to imagine that the German does not know. I notice that week by week he circulates by wireless the number of tons lost. I can only say that they are overestimated, but they are not much overestimated, and we had far better tell the truth and the whole truth with regard to the tonnage which goes down. We should publish our figures in such a way as to show a true comparison and to let the country realise that the hardships which we are asking them to bear, and which must become greater as time goes on are based upon the fact that until we have control of the submarine menace it is imperative that the requirements of this country should be reduced. You will never persuade them, either through your War Savings Committees or your appeals for food economies, until you tell them the exact state of affairs.
I do not say that the submarine menace is unconquerable, but let us assume that there is likely to be no improvement as the months go on, and how is this Bill likely to add to our safety? We grow one-fifth of our wheat supply now, and I understand it is hoped that the guarantee will lead to the doubling of our acreage—that is to say, to our getting two-fifths in the future. There will still be three-fifths to be drawn from abroad or to be made up as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite by the extension of our market gardening arrangements and our private gardening arrangements, or by some reduction in our consumption, or by some means or other to fill up the gap. This 2271 Bill even next year or the year after, or five years hence if we should still be involved in a war, is not likely to give us that security which we are entitled to demand after our recent experience. I say that the results of the effectiveness of it are absolutely problematical. No one can say how many extra acres are going to be drawn into cultivation. There is only one way in which you can get absolute security against the total loss of your carrying capacity or against the paralysing of your mercantile marine, and that is by having permanently enough labour. If I had to make a choice between paying bounties on this basis and having always in store in this country a margin of from two to three years' stock, I would rather go in for the stocking arrangement than the bounty arrangement, and know where we were and that we had absolute security and could assure our great industrial centres that they need have no fear.
The Report was presented to the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Balfour), and his Government rejected the proposal. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to know what was done by the Government of which I had the honour to be a member, I will tell him. We raised the margin of safety in wheat in this country higher than it had been for a whole generation, and we had it in store. We crammed the granaries, and we took possession of the silos of the private millers. There was not a single building closely attached to the grain trade which was not full with grain at the time Lord Selborne left office, and Lord Selborne carried on the policy which we initiated, and he did it with as much enthusiasm as anyone could desire. I would like to examine the bounty proposals which are in this Bill, and to which I fear I am quie unable to give my adhesion. In the first place, they are unequal—in the help which they give to the agricultural industry. They are so devised that the richest farmer is to get the most assistance from the State. The man who has the best land is to receive the largest share 2272 of the bounty. One of the witnesses before Lord Selborne's Committee, Mr. Overman, who is one of the best known farmers in Norfolk, well known to some of my hon. Friends opposite, stated emphatically that if a guarantee of even 75s. were given not one single extra acre could or would be put under wheat in Norfolk, and not a single extra quarter would be produced. What is the meaning, therefore, of this Bill, as applied to Norfolk? You are to get no more wheat. There will be no more satisfaction for the hon. Gentleman opposite out of Norfolk, for they are now doing their very best there, but the agriculturists of Norfolk, who are now, I believe, producing something in the neighbourhood of 500,000 quarters a year, if the price went back to the pre-war average of 35s., would, in the later periods of this bounty, be receiving £250,000 a year without making any return in increased production.
I take Norfolk as an illustration, but let me take the country as a whole. I believe the best judges do not imagine that even under a guarantee system you could expect more than 3,000,000 acres to be broken up. I go further. Many of the best judges say that they do not believe that more than 3,000,000 acres would be broken up under almost any conceivable conditions. A calculation made by Mr. Middleton, of the Board of Agriculture, than whom there is no greater authority in this country, was that you could count on about 1,000,000 of those acres being on the margin of cultivation—that is to say, land in normal times unable to grow wheat at a profit. That was Mr. Middleton's calculation, and we may as well accept it for this purpose. They are producing, roughly, about twenty-seven bushels to the acre. It is obvious that only about from one-quarter to one-fifth of this million could be drawn in by any conceivable system that has apparently been in the minds of the Government. If one-fifth were drawn in, it would mean at the outside that you would get from that million about 675,000 extra quarters of wheat. If that is the only extra amount that can be got from this marginal land, it is clear that we may in some years in the future be asked to pay an enormous sum of money. It may run to £7,000,000 or £10,000,000 or £12,000,000. We cannot tell. What about the other 2,000,000 acres which is not marginal land and which might be ploughed up but which is not now ploughed up for sentimental reasons or for the psychological reason described by the right hon. Gentle- 2273 man that men were frightened during the depression and that fright has been handed down from generation to generation. If that state of mind continues there are two or three ways of overcoming it. One is suggested in Part IV. of this Bill. You can enforce better cultivation, and indeed the right hon. Gentleman is making some effort to do that during the War. One of his colleagues who is the head of the Food Production Department has recently assured Members of this House that even this year about 330,000 acres, which were not ploughed up last year, are to be ploughed up. That shows that something can be done to get that rather better land which is not on the margin into cultivation. I do not know how far compulsion is likely to go under pressure of the war agricultural committees, but if any effort is to be made on a permanent basis for enforcing better cultivation of land it will not do to depend upon local advice. In farming circles, as elsewhere, reciprocal benefits are well understood. Already during the War there are some districts, which must be known to the Board of Agriculture, where the local committees have not been pressing their neighbours too hard, and where they have been working outside their own areas there appear to have been something like reciprocal arrangements made. In many parts of the country with which we are all familiar, we must have seen excellent land which even now is not put under the plough or not even scheduled to be put under the plough, even if labour were available. Some better means must be devised than this purely local machinery for the 2,000,000 acres which might grow wheat at a profit but is not now cultivated.
I wish to emphasise the point that the greatest benefit will therefore go to those who own the best land and who require no assistance, those growing 600 to 700 acres, and who have been doing it for a whole generation. The right hon. Gentleman will not challenge those figures, because they were laid before Lord Sel-borne's Committee by Mr. Bertram Shields, of Haddington, a farmer who for a generation has done well out of them. He will get something out of the bounty. He has some of the best land in Scotland, indeed, some of the best in the United Kingdom. Is there any necessity to pay him any bounty? He is enriched with an agricultural intelligence which might well be copied in England. He has land as good as any in 2274 England. Why give Mr. Bertram Shields anything out of the Exchequer in order to ask him to go on doing what he does now at a profit? [Interruption.] If that is your justification the first part of the Bill is no good. It either must be of use and you have to make a payment, or it is of no use, and you need not bother about it. Let me point out another inequality. The average price we find under the Bill would enable some farmers who were able to withhold their wheat until after April—the market rose in April— actually to get a very much higher price than that if they had sold before April. The average would be drawn from September to April. The bounty would be paid on that basis, yet these men will be getting a bounty on the lower price. That is one way of doing well out of the bounty. I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman said that produce sold is to be the basis of any remuneration paid to the farmer under this measure. It must not be produce consumed, for obvious reasons. I am sure the House will agree that there are many ways of a farmer getting over that disadvantage. I do not mean that he need do anything dishonest. I know farmers pretty intimately now in a good many parts of the country, and I have never found them any more dishonest than other people on the whole, their standard of honour in money matters—perhaps I ought to except horses—is high, and there is probably no class in the community that carries on more money transactions with less legal assistance. In spite of it, it would be possible, when you restrict your benefits to produce sold, for them to so arrange the sale of their commodities that they would get the full bounty on the whole of the produce they have raised.
I should like to ask—I am drawn to do so by what the hon. Gentleman opposite said-—why were these figures fixed? They are not the figures suggested by Lord Selborne's Committee. So far as I gather, they bear no relation whatever to the maximum prices suggested by the Food Controller, and they are, as no doubt the hon. Gentleman had in mind, a long way behind last week's "Gazette" average quotations. On what principle were these prices fixed? I presume they were fixed at a level which would be sufficient to attract the farmer into accepting Parts II. and IV., and not at such a high level as to make the public think there was any 2275 danger of their becoming operative. If they are not going to be operative, it is quite clear that the Bill is not going to attract a larger number of farmers to cultivate the land. I would point out that, whatever you may do in the matter of bounties, you will absolutely fail unless your farmer can be assured not only of the prices at which his commodity is to be sold, but that he will have labour to cultivate his land and cottages to house his labourers. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of cottages. Increased cultivation in many parts of the country is largely a cottage question. Why has not a good deal of land been ploughed up in these districts even by substituted labour? Simply because they have not the houses in which to put it. In many parts of the country the houses are quite unfit for the present occupants, and the idea of billeting others in them is out of the question. You cannot solve this question by urging the farmers toy bounties and ploughing up more land. You have to improve the whole farming economy in this country. One of the most important directions in which you can or ought to do it is by providing better accommodation for farm labourers. If the argument in favour of this measure be based on national safety, and if you can only secure that national safety by ploughing up more acres, then you had far better, if you are determined to do it at the national expense, have given a Grant for every acre of grass broken up. Then you would have known at least where you were. If you want national security, you had far better abandon this bounty system altogether and go in, if you think it wise, for a higher degree of storage than that which was initiated by the late Government, and which, I presume, has been continued by this one. If you want to improve cultivation, you should enforce good husbandry, pay good wages, and provide good houses. In these ways, and these only, will you be able to increase the productivity of the land.
Before sitting down may I say a word or two with regard to the financial effect of these proposals? In the first place, do not let the House run away with the idea that farmers at the present moment are free from a good deal of prejudice against them. There are two great industries in this country which during this War appear to have aroused undue 2276 prejudice against them. There is the industry of agriculture and the industry of shipping. The farmers are said to have made far too much money at the expense of the consumer, and the shipowner is said to have made far too much money at the expense of everybody. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is not that true?"] It is not for me to say whether it is true or not. I had some experience, when I was at the Board of Trade, as to the view of the House on that subject, but I have never yet heard it suggested that with regard to shipping the Government should come down to the House and suggest you should have fixed minimum freights. Perhaps it would be unseemly of me to press the analogy any further, but I should like to point out that the farmers at the present time are well known by those who take an interest in these matters to be free from many of the burdens which fall on other people. They pay no Excess Profits Duty. It would be a curious thing if they had not made excess profits during the last two and a half years. If this scheme were to go through as at present drafted, in many parts of the country the taxpayer would undoubtedly say—that is, if it became operative; I must again repeat this—that they were being taxed to help the farmers. If the estimate of some of the experts were ever reached the total amount might run to £7,000,000, £8,000,000, £9,000,000 or even £10,000.000, which would be equivalent to 2d., 3d. or 4d. on the Income Tax. The popularity of the farmers with the rest of the community is a matter of some moment to the industry of agriculture.
There are directions in which the State can give legitimate assistance to agriculture: by research, by education, by demonstration, by co-operation, by better organisation of distribution and much better arrangements for carriage. Everyone of these will be prejudiced if a feeling is aroused in this country that we are actually being taxed in order to give the farmer a bounty, and the richest farmers a bounty in the highest degree, without any adequate return for it. Even in the village the farmer very often is the richest man. The villager will think a good deal more about taxation in the future than he has thought about it in the past. There are men who have been circulated as agricultural labourers among our battalions at home, and their ideas have been widened. There will be a new life and new demands made in the agricultural districts on their 2277 return. That is indeed the justification of the necessity for dealing with wages. I would also say that these villagers when they return will not see the justice of the taxation borne by them being used for the enrichment of their best paid neighbours and those who possess the best land. They regard wages as fair remuneration for fair toil. It would be absurd to imagine that any agriculturist is entitled to say that he will only pay fair wages provided he get3 assistance from the State. In dealing with the question of wages in many agricultural gatherings in many parts of the country, I have always laid stress on the well-known fact, that in every other industry, if you want good labour, you have to pay for it. Good labour is always worth paying well. If your wages are low, you get nothing but the worst, and deserve nothing but the worst. These men will ask if justice is being done if they should be taxed for the benefit of their richer neighbours.
This question does not end with agriculture. There are other industries which may be regarded as essential. The experience of the War has shown that not only agriculture, but many other industries, are essential to national defence. We have already had an indication this afternoon from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Shipping Controller that we have to consider, quite contrary to his previous opinion, that steel was one of the industries that ought to receive special consideration. That may be so. This is not the occasion for arguing that matter. I would point out that what you do for the agricultural interest you cannot withhold from all the other industries. Those of my hon. Friends who think that they are getting a fair quid pro quo in bounties in exchange for fair wages should remember that you do not stop at agriculture. This will be the initiation and not the end of the policy upon which the Government has embarked. Having said all this, I have criticised not, I hope, the agricultural industry, but particularly Part I. of this Bill. I have done my best not to exaggerate the case. Indeed, in many respects I have stated it at a lower level than those who have already been criticising Lord Selborne's Report. I do not believe we should have fulfilled our national duty if we merely gave a negative to the financial proposals how laid before us. A wider policy with regard to agriculture must and shall come. Agriculture cannot be left, as it has been for more than a generation, to take care of 2278 itself. The doctrine of laissez faire cannot be applied to agriculture, its instruction and education as it has been in the past. Some of our ideas were naturally diverted a great deal before the War. I would suggest that if the Government would devote themselves more to spending, say, their £8,000,000 or £10,000,000, or whatever this represents, on increasing the efficiency of their agricultural cottages, on the extension of demonstration and experiment upon the farms, so that the farmers themselves can see the good effect of better culture, and doing what they can to provide for the organisation of instruction as to the use of manures and various-improved forms of culture if they would do something to initiate and to assist to a far greater degree co-operative societies of every kind, and if, in particular, they would not approach the whole industry as I fear my right hon. Friend approached it this afternoon, in a spirit of depression, thinking of the years 1855 and 1894, and giving us a calculation which would lead the agricultural industry to believe that they had lost £800,000,000 in the course of a single generation, and if they would approach the industry and all that is required for its assistance and improvement in a spirit of hope, I have no doubt the House would far more readily give them their millions that they might be used in that way, and that we might get full value for the money, than sanction this bounty system which he has now proposed to us.
§ Mr. HARDY
The remedies that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Runciman) has suggested seem to me to be somewhat far off. What we really want at present is an immediate increase of the arable land of this country and the things he has alluded to, though they might lead to that in the future, give us no hope for the immediate future. Therefore, I think a great deal of his arguments do not really apply to this Bill. He started with Lord Selborne's Committee. I think he forgot that there was a Committee before that. Lord Milner's Committee recommended a minimum price, and that was put aside at the time because it was said the submarine menace had been controlled. But the submarine menace has not been entirely controlled, and surely we ought to go back to the consideration of those who recommended that at an earlier period than-Lord Selborne. He must admit, at all events, that this question of economic price has been raised before, and has been 2279 recommended as a possible means of dealing with an extremely difficult position. I am very grateful to the Government and the right hon. Gentleman for having brought in a Bill dealing with corn production. Anyone who has served upon a war agricultural committee during the last few months must know the difficulties and dangers of the position and the extreme need there is of immediate and strong action during the War. Therefore I am glad that he has seen his way to accept the principle which has been put forward lately from many sources as one which is likely to lead to an immediate increase of arable land. I do not think, perhaps, he has gone quite far enough. I hoped he would have made a statement upon that very large increase of arable cultivation which has been alluded to in the papers and by one or two members of the Government in the last few days.
If you are going to have a very large increase of conversion from grass to arable land, undoubtedly you have to remember that a great deal of that land will be of inferior quality. You are going down to four-quarter land, to three-quarter land, perhaps even to two-quarter land. Therefore it is that if you are going to press forward, as I understand the Government intends to do, a very large increase of the arable land of the country and to return to the standard of forty or forty-five years ago, you must take into consideration what your encouragement is going to be for that land which is on the margin, because otherwise you will not get it put into cultivation, or, if you force it into cultivation, it will be extremely unfair upon the occupier. I would, therefore, urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he must not return to what I think were his first thoughts on the matter. I think I remember that in his speeches at the beginning of this agitation he alluded to the fact that at least a ten years' term was necessary in order to give anything like security to the occupier. He speaks all through of the minimum price and wage being practically a matter which is started to secure continuity and stability. If that is so, you must have a period of years and you must have a minimum price which is likely to suit the large area you wish now to get into arable land. I think the ten years which he originally suggested would perhaps be more likely to attract that land into cultivation than the six years which is included in the Bill, and the prices 2280 in the Bill also diminish much too rapidly. The first price we put entirely as a war price, the second price ought to be continued up to the end of the six years, and then the third price should come in for a further period of four years. By that means there would be some chance of securing the attention of the farmer and giving him that stability to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded and help forward this conversion which we all desire, but which we feel is very difficult to attain. I hope in Committee the right hon. Gentleman will consider any Amendments which may be put down in reference to these two points.
There is another subject on which I was a little disappointed in what he said, and that was in reference to the fact that the Bill is limited to corn sold. I do not think he gave very strong reasons; I do not know whether he feels that there are strong reasons really as to this matter of excluding corn consumed on the farm. He said it is almost impossible to do, and I think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Runciman) rather threw scorn on the idea that it was possible to exclude corn consumed on the premises. The Government of which he was a member in 1908 passed an Agricultural Holdings Act, in which, amongst the improvements for which the consent of the landlord was not required was this one:
"Consumption on the holding by cattle, sheep, or pigs, or by horses other than those regularly employed on the holding, of corn proved by satisfactory evidence to have been produced and consumed on the holding."
So that in that Act it was found to be quite possible to have put this in, and as far as I know there has been no difficulty in carrying out that instruction which was included in the Schedule of the Bill. If it can be proved every day to the satisfaction of both parties as to the amount of corn consumed on the premises, I cannot see why it should be impossible to do that in reference to this Bill. Why is it that corn consumed should be treated as well as corn sold? I think it specially applies, not to that rich farmer we are always hearing about when farmers are to be depreciated, but to the poor farmer, who lives perhaps a long way from a railway station, with land which cannot be easily treated by tractors and must be treated by horses. The man who produces a certain amount of oats in order 2281 that he may produce meat is going to be put in a very much worse position than the rich farmer. The rich farmer can afford perhaps to do very differently, but the poor farmer in many cases practically produces meat by the consuming oats which he grows on his own holding. He will be practically cut out from all the advantage of this Act. Every inducement that he might have to put under the plough any land in his occupation will be taken away and the very object which you are aiming at will be vitiated if you determine to keep out of this Bill that portion of the corn which is consumed upon the holding. Of course, I know the argument, that so far as the present moment is concerned, as we may have to sacrifice our stock, it is not desirable that oats should be consumed, but the Bill goes a great deal beyond that. If you chose to exclude the first year, as being a war period, I do not know that any objection could be taken, but in the other years when the price is falling and when these smaller farmers should be protected and given every advantage in order to encourage them to do their duty and to plough up land, it is extremely hard that they should be cut out from sharing in any of the advantages of this Bill. After all, you are not really going to gain very much by the exclusion. It would only mean throwing the extra expense upon the farmer that I have alluded to. He will have to sell his corn to his neighbour and then he will have to buy corn again in the market for his own consumption. It will be an expensive business for him, but it will do the State no good, and on the whole I think the right hon. Gentleman would be very wise if he could agree to have that provision excluding corn consumed on the premises cut out of the Bill.
I was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman considers Part IV. is practically a war measure. If it is so, I think it will be better to say so in the Bill itself. It is curious that, as framed, all the portions of the Bill except Part I are permanent, whilst Part I., which is really the one that gives the inducement, is of an extremely temporary nature, and if Part IV. is really a war measure we must all admit that it should be stated so in the Bill, and I hope it will be when we get into Committee. After all, you do not always get the best cultivation of land by altering pasture into arable. I think in a very large number of cases the Board of Agriculture, if it were appealed 2282 to, would hold that a man who maintained pasture was really acting in the best interests of the country. It is admitted now, of course, under very great stress, that we must take land which should be grass and turn it into arable for the purpose of growing food, but that is for a very limited period of time, and therefore it is that I do not think these Clauses are necessary to produce the effect which the right hon. Gentleman desires, and that they should be considered and treated in the Bill as being of a temporary character, just the same as Part I.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the question of tithes. I think there is a certain hardship in reference to that. Out of curiosity I calculated the other day what the increase of tithe really is, and it has amounted to something like 23 per cent. of what was paid previous to the War. It is going to be an extremely rapid rate, as the septennial average comes more and more within the period of the War. That means a very serious increase upon the landlord, and I think there will be admittedly a very great reluctance to alter rents during the period of the War. If this septennial average is to be continued after the War, as we know it is to be, then I think it must be a case for consideration. We must remember, notwithstanding all the jeers we hear from various parts of the House about landlords, that this great increase in the cultivation of arable land means that a very great burden is going to fall upon the landlords. If arable land is to be increased to anything like the extent suggested, it must be remembered that more buildings will be required on the farms, and according to our custom of farming, that burden will undoubtedly fall upon the landlord, and it is one that he should be encouraged to maintain. What are the burdens that now fall upon the landlord I If you take him as a person who has to pay the higher rate of Income Tax, and if you take into consideration Income Tax and tithes which fall upon him, and the rates on the land he occupies himself, you will find that these already take the greater portion of what he receives from rent. If he is debarred from getting an equivalent for the burdens which are further to be put upon him in connection with this matter or other State charges, it really becomes impossible for him to carry out his duties as a landlord, and it will be very difficult to 2283 carry out the object of the Bill, namely, to encourage the cultivation of arable land and the improvement of farm buildings. Housing undoubtedly will be a great difficulty in connection with the restoration of arable land in many parts of the country. Since those acres were laid down to grass in the seventies the cottages have, in many cases, fallen into ruin or disappeared, or in other cases they have been improved and made into week-end residences, with the result that there are not nearly the number of cottages which are likely to be required in connection with this increase in arable land. Therefore, coincident with the increase in arable land, some scheme in connection with housing is absolutely necessary, and I hope the Government have that matter very prominently before their notice, and that we may very early hear from them how they propose to deal with it. When the men come back from the War, if you desire to settle them in agricultural pursuits they will undoubtedly think that it is the duty of the State to see that they are properly housed. If we want to welcome them we must secure that they have the housing accommodation which is a necessary consequence under this Bill.
In regard to the minimum wage there are a good many difficulties to be faced if the minimum wage is to be applied at once without any wage boards being appointed. There are two or three special points which arise. There is the point of the allowance which is difficult to deal with, because custom varies very much in different parts of the country in reference to allowances. There is also the point about the hours of working. In the county of Kent the hours of working vary very much in different parts, and if you go through the whole Kingdom the hours vary very much. Therefore, if this minimum wage is to be established on the passing of this Bill, it is very desirable that it should be known to what hours that minimum wage applies, because the duration of the day's working varies in districts quite close to each other. We require to have something a good deal clearer in that particular section of the Clause which is now in the Bill dealing with these expressions which affect the minimum wage. There is also the question of the able-bodied and the younger workers which will be a 2284 difficult matter to decide. When we get soldiers back on the land, especially those who are slightly disabled, there will be many difficult questions arising, and I think the matter can hardly be left in the way that it stands in the Bill. It will require very careful consideration in Committee before we can allow this Clause to pass through. I should be sorry if it was thought that I desire to criticise adversely the principle of the Bill on Second Reading. I only want to raise these points in order that the right hon. Gentleman can consider them before we get into Committee. I believe we have taken the right course in introducing this Bill. I think it is needed. I think its need is immediate, judging from experience, and I hope it may have a rapid passage, and that the right hon. Gentleman may be encouraged in the way he is going by the fact that we shall have a very much larger acreage of arable land in the future to produce that corn which we so sadly need.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
After the tributes appropriate to wartime, I hope we may get to business in regard to the important proposals which the Government have brought forward. We have had a very remarkable speech from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and it has been dealt with in a most bristling and remarkable speech by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman). If I may judge, my right hon. Friend opposite is not in love with the Bill himself. He says that it is surrounded with difficulties, and he is very apologetic. He invites Amendments, and he practically said that he would get it through in any form. I do not know exactly where my right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman) stands. He was very critical, so much so that Mr. Speaker, who was then in the Chair, asked him at the end of his speech if he was going to move its rejection, which I am going to do. He said No. So far as I can understand it, there are some parts of this Bill which the official Opposition finds so good that they may be able to support it in some shape or form. I hope to persuade my right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman) to take a more courageous course. I hope also to persuade the Government not to take the trouble of passing this Bill, as it appears to me to be an extremely bad 2285 measure, which may land them and any future Government which may have to deal with it in great difficulty. The most honest speech we have had up to the present is that of my right hon Friend (Mr. Laurence Hardy). He has dealt with almost everything in the Bill. He says that the Bill does not go far enough. He raised the question of the period of the Bill. He will not have six years; he wants ten years I think he really desires the principles of the Bill to be permanently adopted. He does not think that the price mentioned in the Bill is high enough, and he wants a longer period and higher prices. He took other objections, and he asked that the minimum Wage Clause should apply at once. He evidently has not studied the Government's proposals, because the minimum wage clause is not only to apply at once but is to be retrospective.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I only mention this to show that my right hon. Friend is not satisfied with the Bill. It is a half-measure, and I very strongly advise the Government to get out of their difficulties on both sides by not pressing this Bill. It will satisfy me and it will satisfy others if they leave the whole doubtful business alone and ask the House not to proceed with the Bill. The Bill is not honestly aimed' at the reduced corn production at the present time. It is brought forward on false pretences. What is the cause of the reduced production? That has already been alluded to, and the House is familiar with it. It has had a most remarkable history. In the year 1015, when we were in the midst of this terrible War, when the great tragedy with which we are now face to face had been opened out before us, the country actually increased corn production. It brought half a million more acreage into cultivation and raised the figure higher than it had been raised for twenty years. What happened in 1916 as the War got worse? Almost all the leeway that had been gained was lost and there was a great reduction in corn production. What was the reason that we had an increase in 1915 and a decrease in 1916? Let the House be honest. There is only one reason. In 1915 we had not Conscription. We had the men here to grow the corn. In 1916 we adopted Conscription and sent away our men to what we thought was more important work, with the result that 2286 this country is now face to face with famine. You cannot burn the candle at both ends. You have to bring back the men or you cannot grow the corn. A most extraordinary thing has been stated here this afternoon. We have had the case of Ireland. There has been an increase of 700,000 acres cultivation there, because the men are there to do it.
§ Mr. LOUGH
At any rate, Ireland has made a splendid contribution in men to the War. So many men never left that country in any previous war or in any six wars put together. However, I do not want to introduce any controversy. If those who are staying at home are cultivating 700,000 more acres in that little Island, and if all you can say about England and Wales is that they are increasing by 300,000, then the men in Ireland have not stayed at home for nothing. This is a splendid illustration that you have gained in Ireland and lost here in regard to food production by allowing men to go. My right hon. Friend opposite said they only wanted a quarter of a million of men to produce the great results of which he spoke. If that be so, what a crime it is that the Government should not give as many men as can be employed and should not bring them back from the front immediately. Does anyone say that the call of the Army can be more serious than the call of this country for food production? The history of this great country in every war is not altered now. This country has always won through by keeping the country itself going strong and sending what men it can to the front. On the ships that Nelson commanded often the crews were lot numerous enough, and Wellington often had not enough soldiers, but these men pulled up in valour what they lacked in numbers and this country has always pulled through before because the old place at home was kept up.
For all his kind speeches about staggering blows my right hon. Friend is not facing the War Office in a sufficiently strenuous spirit. In all the tribunals, especially in the country tribunals, the proceedings of a great number of which I notice every day, there is a revolt against the military members. There is a struggle going on to keep the men there, and the Government will have to recognise that this is a question of getting back the men and plenty of men and not of fallacious 2287 and foolish measures of this kind, and that that is the policy which they will have to adopt if they are to carry the country successfully through the War. Therefore my first objection to the Bill is that it is a dishonest Bill. It is not aimed at producing corn. It takes up methods that will not produce another bushel of corn, unless you bring back the men, and on that ground this House ought to regard the Bill with exceeding great suspicion. Then this Bill does not develop a settled policy. It has got no friends behind it. I do not know where these extraordinary proposals came from. There has been a Report of a Sub-Committee on the production of food, but the Bill does not agree with the Report. It was a very extraordinary Committee which was appointed. It was an extra-Parliamentary Committee with only three Members of Parliament on it out of thirteen or fourteen members. It was one of those pernicious Committees which have been appointed in recent years, especially by the late Government, and I would warn the present Government if possible never to appoint another Committee of that kind. Of the three Members of Parliament there was not a single Liberal. What is the good of any Committee if there is not an intelligent Liberal Member of Parliament on it? There were two Conservatives and one Labour Member, and I must say of the Labour Member, without in any way meaning offence, that he is not much of an economist, and is not directly qualified to deal with the great questions which are raised by the Bill. The other members of the Committee were all selected from a single interest—that is the farming interest.
The farming interest in Great Britain only represents 20 per cent. of one-fifth of the whole country, and I think that it was the next thing to absolute corruption to appoint a Committee to make representations to Parliament, in the interests of one trade, which is composed entirely of members of that trade. That is what the Government did. They were all farmers, four actual farmers, a few landlords and a professor of farming, and there was no repesentative of commerce or of those other interests which will have to bear the burden if this tax is put into effect. There was another very curious fact. In Ireland the figures are the reverse of what they are in this country. Eighty per cent. of the industrial interests there are agricultural, and 2288 yet at first Ireland was not represented on that Committee at all, and the Government—the late Government; my right hon. Friend need not take it to heart— then thought that they must appoint some Irish representative. Whom did they appoint? First, a very distinguished ecclesiastic. I do not think that he is the right sort of representative for agricultural matters. They also appointed Sir Horace Plunkett-that will-o'-the-wisp of Irish politics—who was drawing English opinion in some wrong direction, when he is taken as the true representative of Irish feeling. These two representatives were appointed on the 16th of November, and I think that traces of both of them are seen in the Report of the Committee. It was a very bad unrepresentative Committee.
Now I come to its recommendation and contrast them with the Bill. The Bill gives a guarantee of 60s. going down to 45s. What did the Committee say should be guaranteed?—42s. The Report mentions no higher figure either for after or before the War. They say:We think that farmers might be asked, and it need be compelled to grow wheat and oats it assured of a minimum price of 42s. and 23s. a quarter, respectively.The Committee then gives no support to the Government. Then about wages. The-Bill fixes wages at 25s. The Committee report that no sum should be fixed and that wages should vary in different localities. With regard to rent there is also a difference. The Bill saying that the rent is not to be raised. Then in reference to cultivation, the Bill penalises non-cultivation. The Committee recommend the Board of Agriculture to make a general survey and review of the existing conditions. In reference to Ireland the Bill suggests a new authority, and makes some very strange-recommendations, while the Report says nothing at all about the matter. I only mention these differences to show the strangeness of this proposal. It does not come from any Royal Commission or any Committee properly constituted, but is hastily raked up and attempted to be thrust upon this House by the Government. One strong objection to it is that it introduces a most obnoxious system of protection. It seems to me a shame that the Government should, if what I say is true, for no reason whatever have raised this question. I do not want to be brought into any conflict with the Government in the great work of carrying on 2289 the War, but if a guarantee is not necessary for other reasons then why is this great question of protection raised at this time?
I will show the House what a bad system of protection the Bill proposes. The old form of protection would have imposed a tariff on imports. Our objection to a tariff on imports is that it raises the price of a commodity for the people who produce that commodity at home, and thus a profit is made by them out of the tariff without going into the pockets of the State. But if I were to choose between a tariff and this Bill, I would rather have the tariff a thousand times, for there is this advantage in the tariff: that the tariff does put something into the coffers of the State, and if you put 10s. a quarter on wheat the State would get a great revenue out of what is paid on the imported trades. But what does the State get out of this Bill? Not a penny. It is worse than that. The State not only gets nothing, but it has to pay a huge sum. When you think of introducing such a system of protection to-day, one would imagine that the Government had gone mad to believe that the House of Commons would accept such a proposal. Not only does the State get no revenue and make a great loss out of the Bill, but a certain private interest, which I might describe as one of the most prosperous and pampered interests in the country, makes a huge profit out of the Bill at the expense of the rest of the community. The Bill raises the price, of the most essential and elementary article of food, and raises it in a most extraordinary way. The private interest to which I refer not only gets a huge profit itself, but this tends to raise the price of food generally of the four-fifths of the rest of the wheat that is sold in this country. The price of that will be raised if the proposals of the Bill are carried out. I believe that when you come to look at the proposals you will find that the machinery is extremely difficult, and I believe that that was what my right hon. Friend was thinking of when he gave somewhat equivocal support to the Bill in his very interesting speech. The machinery is perfectly unworkable.
Those who are benefiting by the Bill are a doubly pampered class. They pay only half-rates. The Agricultural Rates Act, another of these preposterous proposals, which was introduced in 1896 for five years 2290 is going on still after twenty-five years have passed. It is a very great thing to get half the rates paid in these days. Then what is the second Clause? The farmers have been making splendid profit. I do not say that in any unkind spirit about farmers—I am a farmer myself in a small way—but the prices are extremely high and the farmers are prosperous, and, in the midst of all this prosperity, which I have heard expressed at a figure of £200,000,000 a year, they have been freed from Excess Profits Tax, which everybody else has to pay, so that they have these two immense advantages—half their rates are paid and no Excess Profits Tax is levied upon them, while their produce is fetching the most gigantic prices. That is the position. My right hon. Friend did not give us any estimate of cost. I hope that the native simplicity of his character, which we all admire so much in this House, will not lose by association with Downing Street, and that when he makes proposals of doubtful character to the House he will try to explain exactly what they involve. I think that he knows that possibly the Bill might cost £10,000,000 a year directly and might cost £100,000,000 a year in the high prices which the enactment of the Bill would lead to. A most gigantic tax would be imposed on the people of this country, and we cannot, on the Report of a fragmentary, irregular Committee like this, adopt a measure of such gravity to-the taxpayers of this country as is involved in this Bill. The House must not allow the figures of war expenditure to deceive them. We think nothing of millions now. We rejoiced at the idea of spending £4,000,000 the other day, and I do not know how many millions we are asked for now. My right hon. Friend opposite and his predecessor do not tell us the figures, and the House does not press for figures. This is because there is all this expenditure going on, but all these things will come home to roost, and we must be very careful about any increased expenditure of this kind.
I would ask the House, while going through this Bill very hurriedly, to look at these minimum prices. Take the first. We think that the farmers are getting 60s. but the Bill is so badly drafted that the fanner might get 75s. for wheat and might get 12s. more. My right hon. Friend, with great candour—I always praise his candour—told us that that was so, only he took as an illustration 2s. 6d. I am going to take an illustration of 15s. Sup- 2291 posing a farmer producing this wheat in September or October sells at 75s., and then the average price of wheat goes down to 48s., then the farmer, having got 75s. for his wheat, would be entitled to 12s. more—the Bill is so clumsily drawn— that 12s. being the difference between the average price and the fixed price. The Bill might be drawn in this way, that if the farmer got 75s. there would be no more about it, and the farmer would only get that sum, but that is the way these Bills are drafted. I am not sure that the House has seen all that is in this Bill, or whether or not it is a pig in a poke, but I ask the House to look at the gravity of this proposal, the whole tendency of which is to make the farmer hold out for high prices. If the price goes up by 50s. the State will pay nothing, and the farmers will try to get the highest prices, and those who are in close touch with the home market will also try to get the highest price. The Bill is a huge conspiracy to raise the price of the food of this country to the highest prices it has ever paid.
Another thing the Bill does is to encourage hoarding. There is nothing more important in this country than that the corn which is produced should be put upon the market as early as possible, but this Bill encourages the holding of it for high prices. The first part of the Bill, therefore, embodies a system of protection, and a payment to a particular industry on the most gigantic scale ever put before the country. Then there is the minimum wage Clause. I think the agricultural labourer is very badly paid in all parts of the country, and that he does not get as much wage as he is entitled to. Still, it is well that the House should realise exactly what is the position with regard to wages. I am afraid that Part II. as it is now drawn—and I would like to submit this point to some of my Labour friends—will do very little for the agricultural labourer. In the Report on which this Bill is founded we have the statement that the average wage in 1907, according to the Report of the Board of Trade, in England was 18s. 4d., and in Scotland 19s. 7d.; in 1914 there was a rise of 10 per cent. practically all round, and that made the wage up to nearly £l a week; in 1916 there was a further advance of between 3s. and 7s., and, then in 1917, there is to be a greater advance than in previous years. With regard to the agricultural 2292 labourers in England and Scotland, I believe that in the great centres they are now getting as good terms as they would get under Part II. of the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Better."] I think very likely better, but I want to put it very moderately. As to Part III. of the Bill, dealing with the restrictions as to land, I am afraid that it will give encouragement to litigation. I turn to Part IV., which is really very funny, if anyone follows it. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman) criticised the Bill so much that Mr. Speaker did not know whether he was in favour of it or against it. Nobody knows. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do!"] As to Part IV., the more I study it the less I like it and the less I see in it. It has simply a high-sounding title in regard to attempts to improve cultivation. Its provisions are so bad and unwieldy that anyone who relies on Part IV. will be grossly disappointed. As to Part V. of the Bill, there are one or two remarks I should like to make, because it is one in which I naturally take a very great interest. Why is the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries of Ireland not getting authority under the Bill? The only great critic that it has now is Sir Horace Plunkett, and he was on the Committee. And we find a very curious provision in the Bill in respect to Ireland, that somebody is to be nominated by the Lord Lieutenant to administer the Bill. That is a curious provision, and I should like to know something about it. Then again there is no figure as to the wages to be paid in Ireland. On that, I submit that if the principle in regard to wages is to be adopted in one country it should not be refused in the other. Then we find that Ireland is excluded from Part III. of the Bill, which refers to the raising of rents. Ireland is not represented in that part of the measure, and apparently the theory of my right hon. Friend is that Ireland has been bought out. But there is a fifth, or possibly two-fifths, of Ireland that have not been bought out and if there is any provision regarding the raising of rents, I do not know why Ireland should be deprived of it. Altogether the provisions with regard to Ireland are extremely curious, and they require to be more fully explained. In conclusion, I wish to say that I do not desire to impede the Government in the slightest degree in the conduct of the War, but I would point out that this ridiculous guarantee of 60s. cannot operate during the War. The 2293 price of wheat is now up to 78s. or 80s., and there will be higher prices than that while the War lasts. So far as the guarantee is concerned, therefore, during the War it will be inoperative altogether. In this measure advantage is taken of war conditions to introduce into this country a wide and broad system of Protection, which will throw very heavy burdens on the people, and create very grave inequalities, and, as my right hon. Friend very properly said, it confers benefits on an industry which has already received great favours from Parliament.
§ Mr. CLANCY
In speaking on the Second Reading of this Bill, I need hardly assure the House I will not go into any of the controversial topics which formed, probably, the greater part of the speech to which we have just listened. I want to speak from the Irish point of view, and the first thing I would like to say is that I, for my part, listened with grim satisfaction to the remarks made on the introduction of a Bill of this kind, dealing with Ireland. I know the history of Ireland for the last sixty or seventy years, and I know that for the greater part of the last century the only thing that has been done by the Imperial Government for Ireland, was to destroy every sort of industry, including agriculture, and, in addition to that, to banish the population. The shortage of food with which you are now faced, and which, of course, faces us also, is due to that very policy of discouraging Irish industries, and especially the industry of agriculture, and to the depopulation policy that you have carried out steadily, I may say, during the last seventy years. I listened, therefore, as I have said, with grim satisfaction to the introduction of a Bill which is absolutely designed to reverse that policy of the past, and to induce the people of Ireland to bring about a state of things in that country under which food may be produced in more abundant quantities than you have allowed it to be produced in the past. If a Bill of this kind, I may say at once, is wanted for any portion of the United Kingdom, it is wanted more for Ireland than for any other part. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill spoke of the various countries of Europe, and alluded to the fact that only small areas had been laid under the plough in some countries, and he referred to Denmark, under which nine-tenths of the arable land of that country is under 2294 the plough. Ireland presents the case of a country which, while it is mainly agricultural—that is to say, that while its main industry is that of agriculture, has the smallest area in Europe of arable land devoted to cultivation. That, I think, is a condemnation of British government in Ireland from which no British Minister can ever escape, and from which this Parliament cannot escape. Indeed, the introduction of this Bill, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and the contents of the measure itself, present about the most remarkable case of necessity for domestic legislation for Ireland that could possibly be produced.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the fact that 750,000 acres had been added to the cultivated area of Ireland within the last few months. Is it not an extraordinary thing that the right hon. Gentleman practically should never have alluded to the provisions of this Bill as regards Ireland, that he should have dealt with it as if Ireland had not existed at all, and that he should have proposed a measure which, as I shall show on the face of it, is absolutely mysterious in its contents as regards Ireland and its people. The first observation I would like to make upon the contents of the Bill is this: It is the best illustration that has been given for many years past of the inveterate habit of British Governments, even when dealing with interests that are common to Great Britain and Ireland, of practically forgetting the existence of Ireland in framing their legislation. Let me illustrate. Take the Clauses dealing with average prices. I say nothing now on the question of average prices, as to the amounts or the particular figures in the Bill. Those will probably be dealt with by some of my colleagues. Taking the Clauses regarding average prices, it is absolutely true to say that they cannot be applied to Ireland at all. As they stand they apply to England only, and that is perfectly clear from the second Subsection of the second Clause, which makes of the Corn Returns Act of 1882 the means for ascertaining average prices. By the way, this cannot apply to Scotland either, and I suppose that will be pointed out later by some Scottish Member. As a matter of fact, the Corn Returns Act of 1882 is expressly made not to apply either to Scotland or to Ireland. What are we to say, then, about the meaning of this Clause, and how are we able to estimate its value? The Corn Returns Act of 1882 2295 is a pretty long Act. It contains, according to my recollection, twelve or fourteen Clauses, and most elaborate directions and a series of rules and regulations for ascertaining prices; and the question is, Are those rules to be applied to Ireland or what rules are to be applied to Ireland? The. Corn Returns Act of 1882, even if it could be extended to Ireland, would not work. It is not necessary for me at the present moment to enter into that point, but to apply the Corn Returns Act of 1882 to Ireland you would have to make extensive modifications. Take, again, the Clause relating to the establishment of a wages board. There is a pretty abundant supply of provisions regarding the establishment of wages boards for England. I am sure it will astonish many Members of the House to find that, while all these provisions are supposed to be necessary for England, and while a separate board is being set up for Ireland, not one single line is devoted either to the constitution of this wages board or as to the way in which it is to work. In England you are to have wages boards composed of employers and employés, and women may become members of these various boards. A number of directions are given in the Schedule, very carefully drawn and taken, I think, from the English Trades Board Act of 1909, an elaborate Code in itself. Those are all in this Bill for England and not a single line corresponding to those provisions is in the Bill for use in Ireland. Therefore, I do not know what effect or what value to give to those provisions which do exist in the Bill establishing a wages board for Ireland. As to average prices and wages, I would like to say this: The farmers of Ireland have been compelled this year, under a Defence of the Realm Regulation, to till a certain portion of their land, 10 per cent. I think, and in addition to what they had tilled already. In most cases, as the Vice-President of the Department will, I think, bear me out in saying, they have complied with the law or with the Regulation—whether it was law or not I do not know, but at all events they complied with it.
§ Mr. CLANCY
And manifestly it would be utterly unreasonable to say to 2296 the farmers of Ireland, "We shall compel you to till 10 per cent. in addition to what you have already tilled, and give you no guarantee whatever, that when you have tilled it you will be in any way secured from loss." So far as the Bill makes provision for compensation and making up any loss, we necessarily welcome the proposal. As to wages, the farmers are supposed to be making a great profit. I doubt if they are making so very large a profit. Wages are high, and are getting higher, and the other elements of the cost of production, are also increasing in price. So far as representatives from Irish constituencies are concerned, I venture to say, on behalf of my own colleagues anyhow and myself, that we do not desire to keep down the wages of the workers. We wish, on the contrary, to make them equal to what is necessary for them to maintain a proper standard of living. If those two things can be combined, then we say there would be some justification for your Order to cultivate more in addition to that which you have been cultivating already. Without that provision neither the farmer nor the labourer can be expected to go to work. Again, this Bill in every line of it seems to me to have been drafted by someone who had not Ireland in his mind at all. There is a provision, for instance, against raising rents, and that provision is deliberately made not to apply to Ireland. All I can say to the right hon. Gentleman is this, that he had better not try his hand at raising rents in Ireland. I rather think that the right hon. Gentleman forgot altogether that there is a judicial tribunal in Ireland for settling rents, and that they are empowered to take all the circumstances into account. But, in face of that, to suggest to them, if not in express terms, to say to them, you shall raise rents, is to my mind going very near towards producing a state of things in Ireland the like of which has never yet been conceived. I might make the same remark with reference to the provision regarding the breaking of tenancies.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot have remembered that for one hundred years, for more than one hundred years, the effort in Ireland has been to secure fixity of tenure, and that after a long and at times a violent agitation at last, in 1881, the question was settled by one of the greatest legislative achievements passed by this Parliament for Ireland, namely, 2297 the Land Act of 1881, which gave, for the first time, security of tenure to the Irish fanner. Now, is it really intended to tear up that Act of Parliament? J confess I think that probably that intention was not in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. A line or two in Clause 12 of the Bill suggests that they might stop short of breaking a judicial tenancy. All I can say is this: that we cannot afford to allow the matter to remain in doubt. We must insist that no tampering shall occur with the provisions of the Land Act of 1881, either as regards the raising of rents outside the operation of the judicial tribunals already appointed for that purpose or the eviction of tenants and the destruction of fixity of tenure. I warn the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that, ugly as the rising in Dublin last year was, if any such thing is attempted as the destruction of the fixity of tenure, won in 1881. he will have a bigger revolution on his hands than any that has occurred yet. There are a good many other provisions in the Bill to which I should like to draw Attention, and which no doubt, if this Bill goes through Second Reading to the Committee, will have the attention of my colleagues in the course of the Committee stage, but I pass them over for the purpose of drawing attention to this fact in addition. This Bill is remarkable for its omissions. You are seeking to bring more land in the United Kingdom into cultivation and more land in cultivation is necessary, but you have land in Ireland and you decline to make use of it. As the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland knows, all during the last six months, when this question of food production was insistently brought before his attention outside and in this House, too, attention was drawn to the fact that there were millions of acres of land which formerly were cultivated and which for the last half-century have been given up to grazing. The Government have been asked to take some steps towards breaking up these ranches, but they have declined to do so up to the present. Now there is an opportunity for doing it, and not only is no advantage taken of the present occasion to effect that great reform and to take that great step in the production of food, but there is actually a provision in the Bill, in the definition Clause, making grazing, forsooth, cultivation for the purposes of the Bill. That, of course, is a ridiculous 2298 proposal, and the right hon. Gentleman cannot stand by it. No Minister can stand by it, but taking that provision out will not be enough. He has now an opportunity, as I have said, of remedying the mistakes of the past. He has an urgent necessity pressing him to take this step, and we invite him to take his courage in both hands and say that these ranches, most of which were devoted to tillage fifty, sixty, or seventy years ago, shall once more be devoted to the production of food for human beings. Clause 12 contains provisions adapting this Billl to Ireland, and the curious thing about it is that the main provisions in it are left to be devised by that institution which is so well known, and so favourably known, as Dublin Castle. It is all left in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant and the Privy Council, which means, I suppose, the Executive Government of the country. All I say is this, that we cannot allow that sort of thing, and we will prevent it if we can.
What I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman is that instead of allowing modifications to be made by order of the Lord Lieutenant in Council or by any other Department, even by the Department of Agriculture, the modifications should be set out word for word in the Bill itself. If it is intended that a judicial tenancy should be broken, then let us see whether that is the intention or not by an express proposal to that effect. If it is not intended it will sufficiently appear from the absence of such a proposal. If it is intended that raising of rents is to be prevented, let us see whether it is or not by having express words devoted to that particular subject. I repeat that one of the great objections which we have to this Bill, in so far as it applies to Ireland, is that it does not contain within its four corners provisions which will have passed the examination and analysis of this House, but will be left to a body in Dublin which has already been discredited, and described as discredited by both parties in this House. We will support the Second Reading of this Bill, but from what I have said it will be evident that the modifications to be made in it must be considerable in number and considerable in character. Our object is to enable tenants of land in Ireland, who, by the way, are not in the position of ordinary tenants in England at all, but who are part owners of the land—even if they have not bought, they have been 2299 described and recognised by law as part owners—we desire that these people shall not be penalised or made to suffer loss by complying with a compulsory order to cultivate land, and we desire also that the labourers who are assisting them shall be enabled to meet the rise in the cost of living by receiving what indeed in the Bill itself is called an adaquate rate of remuneration. These two objects we have in mind, and unless they are absolutely secured in the Bill, in my opinion the Bill would not be worth having.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. G. Roberts)
The hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat does not, I understand, entertain objections to the main principles of the Bill.
§ Mr. CLANCY
I do not like to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I said that I avoided all those controversial topics.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I understand that the hon. Gentleman, at any rate, is prepared to support the Second Reading of the Bill, at the same time giving us to understand that it is the intention of himself and his colleagues to submit a good many points for consideration in Committee. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture will, of course, be very glad to receive any representations, and hon. Gentlemen may be assured that he will give full consideration to such Amendments as they may consider it necessary to put down. It had not been my intention of taking any part in this Debate, and I do not think that I should have done so but for what appeared to me to be the extraordinary speech of the ex-President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Runciman). It seemed to me that it would be a great pity for the country if the right hon. Gentleman were called upon again to resume office, for certainly right hon. Gentlemen out of office seem to develop an extraordinary zeal which is not so very apparent when they are charged with responsibilities. I am aware of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself was once President of the Board of Agriculture. I know he was very energetic, and that he applied a more than average ability to the work of his office, but, nevertheless, I am in doubt as to what permanent institutions he developed, while at that office, in order to achieve what he stated here to-day to be his purpose with ours, 2300 namely, the development of agriculture in this country. We have to judge right hon. Gentlemen by the fruits of their office experience, and I think the right hon. Gentleman must be compelled to appreciate that much of the criticism that he has preferred against this Bill recoils upon the Government of which he was a member.
The right hon. Gentleman stated that we did not need guaranteed prices—in effect, that there was no occasion for a Bill of this character, and that what was needed was the restoration to the land of the skilled labour which has been withdrawn from it. There is nobody who will contest the fact that labour has been recruited without any regard to the necessities of industry, but that is not the responsibility of the present Government. The form of recruitment adopted was the responsibility of the late Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a very distinguished member. Of course, I understand that it is very easy to be wise after the event. I am not here prepared to say that I am one of those who foresaw the development, the dimensions, and the duration of this War, and I think my right hon. Friend will have to admit his own fallibility, and that he was in a like condition. But when we are apportioning responsibility the right hon. Gentleman cannot be allowed to evade his own share of it, and the Government of which he was a member decided on the forms of recruitment which should be adopted, and the result has been that such an essential industry as agriculture has been depleted of labour. The responsibility is, therefore, mores his than that of any ordinary Member of this House. The right hon. Gentlemen went on to claim-credit for the fact that in 1915 the Government of which he was a member increased the reserves of wheat in this country beyond any point previously reached, but, after all, that was during the War itself, and if he means to claim for those with whom he was then associated a sight into-the future, I would say that it would have-been much better for the country if they had; been able to see the necessity much earlier and to have prepared the country against it. It seems to me that the only panacea which the right hon. Gentleman was able to give us was the storage of a year's supply.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
Well, a year or more's supply. If we had had those supplies the situation would have been eased; but a one year's supply, or a two year's supply, in my opinion, would not meet the necessities of the case. It would not give the nation security in a War which may last three, four, or more years, and I venture to submit that the only positive security will ensue when this country is self-contained and able to produce its own food necessities. In how far that is practicable is, of course, a question for discussion; but of this I am certain: It is possible, and it is desirable, to reduce our dependency on outside sources, for the more we reduce that dependency the greater the measure of security for us. Unfortunately, I have not any particular evidence that past Governments have been very anxious or solicitous on this point. We have come to regard it almost as desirable that we should be dependent on these other sources. There have been a few of us in this House who, without claiming any particular prescience, have certainly urged from time to time that the country should embark on a vigorous agricultural policy, because we foresaw that there were reasons, even apart from war considerations, why our country should not be developed on the lop-sided system which has been its characteristic for the past few generations. We have entertained the belief that for a nation simply to develop manufactures and to neglect its agriculture must ultimately lead it to decay. Hence it is that a few of us, as independent Members, have urged agricultural problems upon the consideration of 'Governments which have been in power. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman opposite should have, as it were, placed the party with which he is associated in opposition to this Bill.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
Well, my right hon. Friend constantly said,"we"—" 'we' shall do this, "and" 'we' shall do the other"—
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but perhaps I may be allowed to make clear what I said. I did not mean to say that we as a party were not likely to act together. We shall. What I meant to say and to make clear was that we should be prepared to support the wages proposals of the Bill, and 2302 those parts of the Bill which referred to the enforcement of cultivation; but that we should oppose the bounties part.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
Then I think the position is clearer. The right hon. Gentleman has pledged the party with which he s-associated to oppose the principle of guaranteed prices.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I want to say a few words later in justification of that part of the Bill. It is very valuable that we should know and understand what is the disposition of forces in the House. I deeply regret that my right hon. Friend has found it necessary to commit the party with which he is associated at this early stage. After all, it seems to me to prove-that that party never learns anything at all. I profoundly regret that, because anyone who knows me will be aware that I am not wanting in sympathy with the party of which my right hon. Friend is so-distinguished a member.? regret to find that a great party like the Liberal party is unable to learn lessons out of this terrible War.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I certainly give my hon. Friend behind me credit for exercising his own mind upon proper occasions. My right hon. Friend stated that we should have to discard the laissez-faire policy. I carefully followed his speech, and I was unable to discern any desire or intention to repudiate that policy, as, in the main, I desire to see it rejected. My right hon. Friend said, "Let us improve education, let us have agricultural organisation, let us encourage co-operation, and obtain better varieties of seed"—all these things. Yes, they are all good in themselves. We have been talking about these things for the eleven years I have been in this House, and so far little or nothing has been done.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I repeat, little or nothing in these directions has been done. If during the past ten or eleven years there had been vigorous development along these lines, well, then, some contribution to the improvement of agriculture would have been effected. The longer we have delayed the more urgent 2303 the problem has become, and I say that the problem, from past neglect, is so urgent to-day that you cannot rely solely for a remedy upon those natural elements and the natural development? of this industry. Because of that fact my views have undergone great changes. [HON. MEMBERS:" Hear, hear!"] Yes, I understand the faculty of common sense to be to see things as they are. I have endeavoured during the years that I have been in this House to face problems in a practical fashion. I have associated myself with hon. Members irrespective of party. I feel that in this question we ought also pursue that policy. I say that, with my right hon. Friend, I recognise that all these things are desirable, but the problem is now so urgent that we are entitled to apply a stimulus in order to achieve the great end that we have in view. I have been associated on Committees with hon. Members in this House charged with the responsibility of investigating this problem. Who will deny that the neglect of agriculture in the past and our extreme dependence upon overseas supplies is the main cause of our weakness in this War? The mere fact that we have got to go into foreign markets for the necessaries of life places us at the mercy of the foreign speculator and exploiter. When we talk about the prices of food during the War, when we understand the great unrest that prevails amongst the industrial classes of the community, I say that those facts in themselves impel us to give consideration to agriculture in order to ensure that never again shall the like position recur in this country. I know that it is difficult to get many people to understand the position of the Government in the present circumstances. We are constantly beseeched from all quarters to effect some reduction in the cost of living, and yet this is the penalty we are paying, because the State has neglected agriculture in generations past. Here we are to-day impelled to go out and pay the price that foreigners command us to pay, whereas, if we were producing at home, public opinion and Governmental action would regulate prices, which they cannot possibly do under existing circumstances. I, therefore, respectfully submit that one of the lessons we have learned from this War is that agriculture 2304 in the future shall not be neglected; it must be regarded as a matter of primary concern to the State.
The question then arises: How are we to proceed? I believe the expiration of the War will be the appropriate time to embark on a vigorous agricultural policy. Everybody will, I think, admit that the development of a large rural population is very desirable in the highest interest of the State. When our gallant Armies are being demobilised, in my opinion, will be the fitting opportunity for the settlement of numbers of men on the land. But you will not attract men to the land under existing conditions. If you agree with that proposition you cannot afford to wait for the natural and slow development of all those things advocated by my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade. The question, I submit, is one of urgency. If you want to attract back to the land men who have been recruited into the Army, if you want to effect an increase in your rural population, well, then, immediately, here and now, you have to get rural conditions much more attractive than they were before the War. That is a matter of common agreement. How are we to effect it? I have been, and still am, a labour agitator. Throughout my life, I have urged that the class to which I belong is entitled to better wages and improved conditions. I have, however, ever been conscious of the fact that high wages and good working conditions are not forthcoming unless the industry itself is prospering. Therefore, if I want high wages and good working conditions, I must speedily effect a change in the agricultural industry in order to assure its prosperity and security. That is the justification that I advance for supporting these proposals. It may be that, let alone—I believe the agriculturists of this country would prefer to be let alone—we cannot afford to let them alone. The matter is one of State concern It is absolutely necessary that the land of the country should be brought into cultivation, and that not only from the standpoint of war conditions. After the War we will require to open up every possible avenue of wealth and employment, and in my opinion agriculture and its development afford the very best possibilities of repairing the ravages of war and placing this nation in a stronger position than heretofore.
2305 I believe that, let alone, agriculture in time would again become a prosperous industry. I believe that all world-tendencies make in that direction. The gradual exhaustion of virgin soil, the elevation of the standards of living of nearly all the peoples of the world—these facts alone will drive up the prices of agricultural produce, and in a few generations agriculture in this country will once again become profitable.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
My right hon. Friend is much more ambitious than I am. I am a very modest little chap. I think he is far too sanguine when he talks about a few years. The greater probability is a generation or two. Nevertheless, if that opinion is entertained, and is capable of being sustained, I admit that it would weaken the arguments for this Bill. Entertaining, however, the view that I do, that this development will take much longer than a few years, I think I shall be able to advance proofs in justification of supporting this artificial stimulus—I admit it to be that—to agriculture. We cannot afford to wait. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, agriculture has in recent years been fairly prosperous. I do not subscribe to the sweeping generalisation that every farmer in the community has secured very large profits. I have often got wrong with hon. Friends of mine on this point. I believe that some farmers have been doing well. I believe that the farmer who produces cereals has been doing well. But I am very doubtful whether the dairy farmer—
§ Mr. ROBERTS
My hon. Friend will perhaps allow me to make my own observation. After all, I assure him I do not make the statement without having something to go upon. I know that in the early stages of War hon. Friends of mine who were rightly alarmed at the advancing price of milk and other dairy produce raised an agitation in this House and in very sweeping fashion charged all the farmers of the country with exploiting the community and greatly enriching themselves. I happen to come from a rural community. I went down there and conferred with friends and relatives of my own. I can give my hon. Friends data which would, I think, convince them 2306 absolutely that in regard to dairy farmers it is quite true to say that they have not been winning extraordinary profits.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
If the House will bear with me I will make my own case, and hon. Members, who wish to, can reply later. I recognise that some farmers have been doing very well. I have often stated in this House that, in my opinion, a certain class of farmer has been doing so well for years before the War that he can afford to pay better wages than he has done. Nevertheless, there it was. Agriculture in general had not developed, despite the high prices which have prevailed during the past seven or eight years. Why is that? I am convinced that it is because of the sense of insecurity which permeates their industry—the insecurity which has been handed down because of past experience, and there is no security under existing conditions even for the future. Who can tell after the War there may not be such a flow of wheat into this country as to depress prices below a figure at which it is possible to produce wheat here? I am one of those who want wheat grown here at home. I believe it is absolutely essential that we should produce it at home. I regard wheat as the staple crop in agriculture. I am certain there will be no widespread development in agriculture unless wheat is the staple product. Now we come to this point: How are we to establish a sense of security? I believe it is perfectly sound, if the State makes up its mind that it wants wheat produced here, that it wants agriculture again to become prosperous, to say to those who are engaged in that industry, "Well, we will guarantee you against loss." I will never subscribe to anything more. I am not wedded to any particular figure. I have gone into this matter in Committee after Committee as exhaustively as possible. I have found extreme difficulty in ascertaining with any accuracy what is the cost of producing a quarter of wheat in this country. The conditions are so variable that it is absolutely impossible to say for all the country a price at which it can be produced, and therefore I have had to do as others have done, get the best figure possible, and the figure to which I have subscribed in various reports is 40s. to 42s. That is the result of my honest endeavour to ascertain the average cost of producing a quarter of 2307 wheat in this country. Owing to the fact that the farmers hitherto have not kept accounts, or very few of them have, and that wheat is to be regarded as one crop in a rotation of crops, it is very difficult, of course, to get with any accuracy a price to meet the point, but I have aimed at getting a figure which would make it profitable for a farmer to produce wheat, at the same time paying a fair wage for the labour he employs. The only point I aim at, certainly is not to give the farmer more profit, certainly not to bolster up a landlord system as apprehended by some of my hon. Friends.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
May I ask whether, in making his calculation, my hon. Friend made allowance for rent, and, if so, how much per cent.?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend at this point is going to draw me into details. I simply say that I have conducted a number of investigations. Eight hon. Friends and hon. Friends of mine in this House know what attention we have given to this point. I start out with a desire to give security to the industry, and at the same time to see, as far as may be, that the community is not bled for the purpose of enriching private interests. That is the only purpose I have had in view. Now I am certain that in this country, even under prewar conditions, you could not produce a quarter of wheat under 37s. or 38s. During the War, conditions have changed. Labour costs are higher, and I hope never to fall again, at any rate, not to the old level. That, of course, has compelled me to revise the estimate I had formed before the War, and agree to a higher figure being fixed. Now, I think that it is to be justified from the standpoint of giving security to the leaseholder, that is, provided you are agreed that it is desirable to grow more food here at home. I think, then, there is every justification for the fixation of a guaranteed price. I recognise that guaranteed prices alone will not revolutionise agriculture. As I say, I think it will give the security which is essential to the recovery and the extension of agriculture. I am sure everybody will agree that a large rural population is very desirable. It is often said, "Look at the splendid armies drawn from the towns." It is quite true, but you have had to take them out of your towns and place them in rural conditions in order 2308 to train and develop them in the art of fighting. I am sure everyone will acknowledge that the decline in the agriculture population has been one of the most unfortunate features of development in this country.
My right hon. Friend went on to criticise some of the points of the Bill. I think he will now see that some of the criticisms he proferred were not very substantial. He apprehends, with the rest of us, that an inducement might be offered for the employment of boys. I am entirely with him. I have always opposed the relaxation of regulations because of the obvious desire of certain elements in agricultural communities to get the use of boy labour. I am as strongly of opinion as he is on that point, and if he is able to show in Committee that there is real substance in that point, I am sure I and, I believe, all on this bench will co-operate to strengthen the Bill to prevent hardships of that kind. But in the Bill provision is made for the fixing of a minimum wage for boys, girls and women, as well as men, and, after all, I think my right hon. Friend will find that, as a fact, the definition Clause makes that perfectly clear. The expression "workmen" is construed as including boys, women and girls, as well as men. Therefore the wages board will not only consider the minimum wage for able-bodied men, but also a minimum wage for boys, women, and girls. Certainly I do not think I should be quite so negligent as to overlook the possibility of the employment of these other three sections, and the desire to see they were included. My right hon. Friend went on to refer to the infirm. Of course, all those points will need to be dealt with by the wages board. That is the custom under the Trade Boards Act of 1909. We know there are exceptions in every industry which have to be provided for.
My right hon. Friend urged the necessity of more cottages in rural areas. I have been one of those who, year after year, have urged on the House the necessity for more cottages. I recognise with my right hon. Friend that there can be no real agricultural development unless more cottages are provided. I have narrated from time to time in this House experiences in my own life and in my own family, and therefore I am keenly appreciative of the condition of rural housing. We should be glad, therefore, to have the co-operation of the right hon. Gentleman in facilitating the provision of houses in our 2309 country districts. But, after all, this question has suffered because we cannot see eye to eye as to the best methods to carry it out. I have been one of those who have stated in this House that it would pay the State to build houses and give them rent free in order to serve and develop the agricultural population. But there, again, we have been told that that would be a subsidy to landlords, by providing farmers with cheap labour and all that kind of thing. [An HON. MEMBER: "So it would."] An hon. Member says, "So it would," but, nevertheless, by placing the agricultural labourer in a wholesome house with decent surroundings, you give him a sense of having an interest in life which increases his independence and makes him a better man. My right hon. Friend wants to know whether this guarantee is to be permanent. Well, for my own part I hope that when the State has embarked on this policy, that the policy of giving security to the agricultural industry will be a permanent policy. I am not scared off by the idea that there are other industries that have claims. I am aware of the fact that lessons learnt during the War show us the extreme unwisdom of allowing what are called key industries to come under outside control, and it may happen, of course, that there are other directions in which State aid would have to be guaranteed. I am not opposed to State aid so long as that State aid is open and direct, and a system of guaranteed prices, at any rate, is removed from the objection widely entertained to a tariff system, inasmuch as the State knows what it is paying, and what it is likely to get for it. I think there is a great deal to be said for it, because if it does happen that some farmers get bigger advantages than others, well, then, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is always able to keep his eye on those who are profiting out of any State-aided enterprise, and I think we may safely trust future Chancellors of the Exchequer to watch the operation of a measure of this character, and if it does turn out that certain interests do profit because the State has undertaken certain measures, he will have a- quite legitimate right to tap those sources accordingly. I therefore say I have no fear because it may happen that this policy will not be confined to agriculture.
I subscribe to this measure because it carries out a purpose that was entrusted to the Reconstruction Committee by the 2310 late Prime Minister. He charged us to consider and report on the methods of effecting an increase in the home-grown food supplies, having regard to the need of such increase in the interest of national security. I accepted the invitation, and was pleased to have the invitation of the late Prime Minister. I took part in those inquiries, and I understood that the proposals which were likely to ensue from that inquiry had the general assent of the Government who established that Committee. It was certainly with a large measure of regret that I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend. I want to establish national security as the late Government desired it should be established, and I cannot see at present, nor did my right hon. Friend enlighten us, any better plan than that contained in this measure for making the future of this nation secure. Therefore I am going to give such support as I can to this measure, because I believe the effect of a vigorous agricultural policy which will be started by the operation of this measure will give to the whole nation strength and security, and will improve the health and physique of the nation, because a rural population properly developed will recruit our towns from time to time. We know that unless there is a constant flow from the country-side to the town the physique and health of our town population will undergo deterioration.
Moreover, I support this measure specifically from a labour point of view. I have found in the past that the drifting from the country-side into the towns of low-paid labour has been one of the greatest deterrents to the progress of the working classes. I am certain that the more we are able to open up industries the more we shall elevate the labouring classes. Not only will this measure confer direct benefit upon the agricultural labourer as such, but it will also be an indirect benefit to the whole of the working classes of the community. In a word, I regard the development of agriculture as a root problem. For the first time I believe we have a serious endeavour being made to place agriculture in the position that it ought to occupy, and I respectfully beg all parties in this House to seriously consider that before deciding to offer opposition to the main principles of this Bill, because I believe that the country as a whole has learned so much from this War that they desire that agriculture shall be made prosperous and secure, and they will 2311 show a deep resentment towards any party in the State that uses its position in order to frustrate that policy.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has told us that he is desirous of promoting the prosperity of agriculture, and I think everybody in this House will agree, and the majority of the people of this country will agree, that the prosperity of agriculture is most important. I agree with all the hon. Member said about the lessons we have learned since the beginning of the War. There can be no doubt that a very large number of people have changed their minds on this subject, but the question for the House to consider is whether this Bill will do that, and that is a point which I. think the hon. Gentleman opposite rather evaded, because he told us it would take a generation or two before agriculture became prosperous. I interrupted the hon. Member, thinking that he might have made a slip—
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I was referring to the fact that naturally the word "development" would in a few generations make agriculture prosperous, and I said that we could not afford to wait until then, and we must take action at once.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Gentleman said that he thought it was most important that wheat should be grown in this country, and that it was very necessary that farmers should have securities against loss. He went on to say that if the wheat was produced in this country prices could be regulated, and he also stated that pressure had been put upon him by the working classes to get the price of food down. How will that give security to the farmer? The farmer produces his wheat in this country, and then the price is to be regulated for him. That is exactly what the farmer does not want, and it is one of the fallacies of this Bill. This measure is divided into four parts. The first part gives a bounty, the second regulates wages, the third part deals with landlords' rents, and the fourth gives power to the Board of Agriculture to farm any or all the land in England and Scotland, and Ireland. First of all, I will deal with the bounty. I think a bounty is the very worst form of protection. If you have a duty it is something which the State gains, but if you have a bounty the State loses and the individual gains. 2312 Therefore, I am strongly against a bounty. If you do have a bounty at all, it should be one which will have some effect. The hon. Member has said very truly that the price of wheat varies in different parts of the country, and everybody who has had any experience of farming knows that that is the fact. The hon. Gentleman said that before the War the price of wheat was 37s. or 38s. per quarter, and that under the altered conditions of this Bill it would be 40s. or 42s., and that would be the price at which wheat could be grown at a profit. I have always understood that you could not grow wheat at a profit, speaking generally, under 40s. a quarter in the pre-war period, and now that you are going to have an alteration not only in the rate of wages but in other expenses of the farmer it is very doubtful whether he will be able to grow wheat at a profit at that price, which the House must remember is to be fixed for three years under this Bill, indeed it is very doubtful whether the farmer will be able to grow wheat at anything like that price. First of all, the system of bounties is wrong, and it will not fulfil the idea and the object for which it is instituted. The next question is the setting up of wages boards. I want to know how it is that the Government have so completely changed their policy since the 23rd February this year. The first intimation that we had of legislation of this sort was contained in a speech made by the Prime Minister on 23rd February this year. If the hon. Member will turn to page 1602 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for that date he will find these words:We discussed for sonic lime the question of whether you should have a wage board to fix wages or whether you should have a fixed minimum. That is what influenced us eventually in not setting up a wage board during the War. The farmer—I will not say preferred to know the worst, but he preferred to know exactly what he had to face. He did not want to be bothered with wage boards: he preferred to concentrate the whole of his mind on ploughing the land. After the War, wage boards can be set up, and the farmer will then, of come, make use of them. A difficulty here arises in respect to Ireland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February. 1917, col. l602, Vol. XC.]I only wish I was living in Ireland because I believe that Ireland instead of being an oppressed country where a living can hardly be eked out as we are led to believe by hon. Members below the Gangway, my belief is that Ireland is the finest country in the world, because such measures as these never apply to Ireland. In Ireland you can have as much drink as you like and anything else, while here we 2313 are subject to all sorts of restrictions and to Ministers living in great houses and hotels.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am afraid that question has nothing to do with the Bill. At any rate, Ireland is in a much more advantageous position than England in regard to this Bill. I see my Noble Friend the Patronage Secretary on the Front Bench, and I hope he will be able to give us some explanation of this extraordinary change of front on the part of the Government, and perhaps he will be able to tell us why two months ago the Prime Minister, who was the prime mover in all this business and made a speech which was received with enthusiasm, should suddenly have changed his mind, and has done that which he said the farmer does not want. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the farmer does not want to be bothered with wages boards, and prefers to concentrate the whole of his mind on ploughing the land, and I think that was a very sensible remark to make. After making that remark I would like to ask why the Prime Minister has not adhered to his original resolution. The farmer does not want to be bothered with this Bill, and he does not want to attend meetings every month when he should be attending to his land; he does not want to be attending the wages boards which has power to vary wages as often as they like. These boards are to be composed of agricultural labourers and farmers and their meetings generally last a very long time. In this way farmers and labourers may have to waste a very large amount of time discussing whether or not they should have an alteration in their wages.
It does seem to me that whatever may be said in favour of a minimum wage the setting up of wages boards will cause disputes, bad feeling, and will waste the time both of farmers and labourers. I cannot conceive why the Prime Minister, after laying down such excellent sentiments, has changed his opinion. Before I pass from the bounty system I should like to say a word in regard to the statement made by the Minister for Agriculture in his speech in introducing the Bill. He said that the minimum price would not apply where the farmer did not sell at a profit, and he instanced oats, where the farmer very often consumed his own oats and did not sell them. He said in that 2314 case the minimum price would not apply, and it would only apply in cases of selling. Of course, fanners are not fools. Farmer Jones may sell his oats to Farmer Smith on the next farm and he goes to the right hon. Gentleman and gets his half-crown, and Farmer Smith does the same. This is one of the many omissions of this Bill.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
He can sell and deliver them, and is he obliged to sell and deliver them to a particular person? Can he not sell and deliver them in the market, and then make arrangements with the dealer that in a fortnight's time he can buy them back again.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is an instance of this House parting with its power and giving to the Board of Agriculture, a Government office, the power to make regulations. The right hon. Gentleman also said he did not think that the Board of Agriculture would have many cases to consider. I must say myself that I think they will have a great many cases to consider, and I am sorry to hear him say that He would not have taken the responsibility of deciding upon the matters in the Bill if he had thought there would have been many cases. I am afraid there will be, and that his work will be very much greater than he anticipates. Then we come to the proposal for the Board of Agriculture to take over land which, in their opinion, is not properly cultivated. Let us consider for a moment what that amounts to. There is no appeal. We do not even know that the right hon. Gentleman is always going to be President of the Board of Agriculture. We do not know who will preside over the Board, and during the next six years there may be all sorts of changes. You are going to put into the power of one man the right to say to all the tenants of this country, "We think you are not cultivating your land properly, and we are going to turn you out and put in somebody else." Who? A bailiff, I assume. The right hon. Gentleman, with all his ability, cannot do everything. He must have someone to be put in, a bailiff or somebody, all 2315 of which will add to the cost. I am not at all sure that a paid servant without anybody to supervise him is always the best person to get good results, certainly not out of a farm. But have the farmers any reason to put very much confidence in the Board of Agriculture? Let us take the last three months. I remember a maximum price was fixed for potatoes, and we were told that that was necessary. I remember a leading article in the "Times" upon it in which the writer extolled the wisdom of the present President of the Board of Agriculture for fixing a maximum price for potatoes, and the article went on to say that it showed how foolish people were to say that a maximum price was wrong until they had heard the views of the person who proposed it, because now we knew that there was to be a glut of potatoes—that the country was growing too many. There is not much of a glut at the present time, and that was only three months ago. Then we were told we ought to have pigs and chickens; now we are told we are not to have pigs and chickens. We were told that we were not to slaughter calves; now we are told that we are to slaughter calves. This particular gentleman, Professor Somebody—I have forgotten his name—who spoke yesterday apparently with some knowledge of agricultural matters, said that farmers must not give cake to cattle, that they must sell them to the butcher. That, of course, depends entirely on the particular farm. I myself have sold something like ninety head of cattle, fat, to the butcher during the last four or five months without any cake or roots. I could not get my roots cleaned, and I have fed my cattle simply on hay, and before the hay on grass. That is because I happen to have very good land. The produce of my land gives very good hay, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that that sometimes occurs. The hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir A. Lee) said, according to to-day's newspapers, that 3,000,000 acres of grass are to be cut up and put down to wheat and cereals, and that each county is to give its quota. What does he mean? Giving its quota so far as I understand it. means that each county is to give an equal amount.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am glad that is so, because if you each have to give your quota I always thought you each had to subscribe a certain amount.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
There, again, I do not say it always occurs, but you may have land ploughed up at a time when wheat was very high and which is better under grass. I do not say that is very often the case, but it does occur, and it will be a very great mistake to compel people to plough up good grass land. What the farmer is afraid of is that people sitting in Whitehall map out a certain fixed programme and say so-and-so must be done. You have to fill in a form. I filled in a form the other day, on Sunday, that being the only day on which I could do it, asking me how many chain harrows I had, how many ploughs, and many other things. It gave me an awful lot of trouble, and, as some of my land is in one parish and some in another—part of it is a long strip of about 3 miles—I had to find out where two of the chain harrows were on Saturday, and other things which gave a great deal of trouble. What is it all for? All that makes the farmers suspicious and if they are to get into the hands of a gentleman, however eminent, sitting in Whitehall whose chief occupation is to send out forms and require them to observe State Regulations and a number of conditions, then, instead of improving agriculture, you will make it very much worse. The hon. Gentleman who last spoke said the farmer would like to be left alone. That is my experience of what the farmer wishes, not because he wishes personally to be left alone, but because he thinks he could do better if he were left alone than if he had someone else to teach him his business. I venture to say that the experience which the country has gained from the way in which Governments have managed their businesses, from the telephone downwards, has shown that the worst people to manage businesses of any description are any Government. I do not want to take a particular instance, but I say any Government. Therefore, the farmer is very much afraid that the result of all these rules and regulations laid down in Whitehall and inflicted upon us will be, not to improve agriculture, as the right hon. Gentleman hopes, but to do the exact opposite, and destroy it. Instead of improving agriculture in 2317 the country, you are going to harass the farmer and make him uncertain as to what is going to take place and how he is to conduct his business. My opinion is that this Bill will do a maximum of harm and a minimum of good. With regard to the landlord, he is a person whom one must not eulogise, but, after all, the vast majority of landlords have not attempted to raise their rents. The hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House said, very truly, that while some farmers have made a good profit—I do not know that any have made a very exorbitant profit—that there were some cases of dairy farmers who have not made a profit. I think I know of cases in my own neighbourhood of that kind; it has generally arisen where the dairy farmer has made his contract for a year or for a similar long time. It does not matter how it has arisen, but it is a fact that some dairy farmers have not made as much as other farmers, and this Bill is not going to help dairy farmers.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Yes, it varies, and you are not going to make it level by having an authority in a central house in London who is going to manage everything. There can be no doubt that farmers, as a rule, during the last twelve and thirteen years have done very much better than they did in the ten or twelve years which preceded, and I venture to say that in a great many cases rents which were in existence in the nineties are in existence at the present day, and, therefore, the landlord, at any rate the agricultural landlord, is not the evil person that in some cases he is supposed to be. If he has done wrong, it is that he has been too easy-going. He has not liked to go to the tenant and say, "I think you ought to pay another four or five shillings per acre rent." He knows the tenant can do it, but the tenant has been there some time, he gets on well with him, and he has said, "Well, perhaps we shall go back to a bad time, and we will wait a little and see how things go. "As a consequence, the land of England is at the present moment very much under-rented. Now the Government take this very opportunity of coming down and saying to the landlord—and the landlord alone of any other person who owns any property—"You are not to raise your rent, not during the they War"—because I hope the War is not 2318 going to last very much longer, as I do not know where we shall all be if it does: none of us will have any money or property or the labourers any wages—"but for three or four years afterwards. "That seems to me to be a very serious thing, and I think you are treating the landlord most unfairly. If you could prove that the landlord has done wrong by his tenants you might say it is time for the State to interfere. You cannot do that—and I do not think any Member on the Government Bench will deny anything I have said— and yet you come down and say, "You must not do anything with your own property unless you appeal to the State." It is State interference run mad, and what has happened, I am sorry to say, during the last two or three months is that in everything the State must have its finger. You cannot be left alone; the State is always interfering,. and generally they interfere very badly. I want to have some little explanation regarding the case where the Board of Agriculture turns out the tenant and takes possession itself. I cannot see any provision in the Bill for paying any rent to the landlord. Under modern conditions I do not see why they should not take it without rent. They take hotels and do not pay rent for them, and I do not see why they should not take all the land of England and pay nothing at all for it. I should hope, however, that there is some little honesty left in members of the Government, and I would like to know where the provision is under which any rent is to be paid to the landlord. Paragraph (b) of Sub-section (4) of Clause 7 says:
"The person then entitled to resume the occupation of the land shall be entitled to be paid by the Board such amounts as represent any direct and substantial loss incurred or damage sustained by reason of the action of the Board in taking possession of his land."
That is at the termination of the occupation toy the Board of Agriculture. According to the Bill that can be December 1922. I was rather alarmed by the hon. Gentleman opposite, who I thought foreshadowed that this Bill would not end in December, 1922, but would go on for some time afterwards. I do not know whether I misunderstood him, but dealing with the Bill as it is it means that if the Board of Agriculture turns out the tenant and take possession of the land and farms it, there 2319 is no rent to foe paid for five years. Unfortunately, there are a good number of estates which are mortgaged. There is also the cost of upkeep and repairs. I do not know whether the Board of Agriculture is going to do that. How is the landlord to meet his tithe and the expenses of upkeep and repairs which are very important, and pay his interest on the mortgage—I leave out his living, because a landlord, I suppose, has no right to live— if he is not to get any rent? I have apparently put a question which cannot be answered.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Can the hon. Gentleman who thinks it is a ridiculous assumption show me any Clause in the Bill?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Bill does not say so. I am very suspicious of statements as to what is going to happen when they are not in the Bill. I am not a believer in conscientious objectors, but we have had any number of assurances with regard to conscientious objectors which have been violated over and over again, and I want to see something in the Bill. I have endeavoured to show that in my opinion this Bill, is not going to do any good whatever to agriculture, whilst it is going to disturb not only the farmers and the labourers, but also the landlords, and to give increased power in the wrong direction, namely, State interference with the ordinary lives and liberty of the subject. I hope that there will be a Division on the Second Reading, when I shall have very much pleasure in voting against the Bill. The only prospect of the Bill being a success is to leave out every Clause in it except possibly the one giving a minimum wage of 25s. per week. Then, although I do not think it would do any good, it would not do so much harm as in its present form.
§ Major COURTHOPE
As a matter of principle, I do not yield to the right hon. Baronet opposite in my dislike to State interference with prices and wages and matters of that kind, but I do not propose to follow him in his strenuous opposition to this particular Bill, because I feel very strongly that the circumstances are so exceptional and the position so critical 2320 that some methods quite abnormal must be adopted to meet them. There are other alternatives, but one of the obvious abnormal methods is the promise of a bounty, or a minimum price. I do not believe that Part I. will ever become operative, because I do not think the prices either of wheat or oats will fall anything like so low as the minima guaranteed in the Bill in the years for which those minima are guaranteed. At the same time, the figures quoted will give the farmers a sense of security against heavy loss in the event of a sudden fall of prices after the War, and to that extent I think it will be good. If you decide, as the Government have decided, to adopt the principle of minimum prices in order to encourage farmers to increase their arable acreage, you cannot object to steps being taken to secure that the advantages of those minimum prices are not taken from the farmers by their landlords. I have no quarrel with that at all.
I have one or two quite friendly criticisms to make, because I think they are points which may be taken hold of by the farmers themselves, and if an element of doubt is introduced into their minds it will very largely detract from the confidence which this Bill aims at setting up. The minimum prices are fixed in the Bill, but the wages which the farmer will have to pay may be revised from time to time. I cannot help feeling that the confidence given to farmers by this Bill would be greater if any revision of wages were carried out at the same time as a revision of minimum prices. I do not necessarily mean that one should not be altered without the other, but for the purposes of revision they should be considered at the same time. Many farmers say that wages are tremendously on the increase, and they do not know what they may be forced to pay if they undertake extensive arable cultivation relying on Part I. of the Bill. They may find in a couple of years' time that all their security has vanished, and that their operations have become ruinous under Part II. of the Bill. I am not suggesting that is likely to happen, but it is a point on which doubt may creep in. I have no quarrel with Part II. in principle, and I do not think it will be necessary, because my own impression is that wages which have risen so greatly of late will not fall very largely after the War. I believe that they have risen to stay, and I do not 2321 think that the minimum of 25s. will ever really have to be enforced by this or any other Act. Of course, if wages boards are set up and the minimum gradually rises far above 25s. it is a different matter. Part III. raises a great many considerations, some of detail and some of very wide principle, going far beyond the scope of the measure itself. I will mention the points of detail first, because they can be cleared up possibly by explanation in this House, but preferably by some explanatory Amendments. Although I listened with care and attention to practically the whole of the Debate this afternoon, I am still not? quite clear as to what is the intention of the Government in Clause 6. I know how I interpret it, but, to my surprise, a number of different and very contradictory interpretations have been placed upon it by people who should be competent to construe a Clause in a Bill. One of the points in doubt is whether the Clause is intended to prevent and will have the effect of preventing a landlord from giving notice of increase of rent in order to meet an increase in tithe or mortgage interest.
§ Major COURTHOPE
I should interpret it in that way myself, but there has been so much doubt on the point expressed even in the Lobby of this House among men who are accustomed to deal with Acts of Parliament that it leads one to think that if there is doubt in their minds there will be far more doubt outside. If it could be made abundantly clear that the landlord will be allowed to meet an increase in tithe, mortgage interest and things of that kind, it would help very much. The next point is a much bigger one. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade told us that he believed and hoped that this is only a part of a much wider and permanent policy in regard to agriculture. With that in my mind, I want to say a few words. I have already told the House that I have no quarrel with the natural desire of the Government to see that the landlord has no power to collar any advantage which Part I. of this Bill might give to the tenant. That is all bright. But there is a distinct fear that the universal desire to encourage agriculture may break down, because the wish to prevent the landlord getting too much 2322 out of it is carried too far. I know that what I say Will be looked upon with suspicion, because some of my hon. Friends know that I own a certain amount of arable land myself. I hope they will credit me with having no desire to look after my own interests or the interests of my class, or anything of that kind. I say this merely in order that the effort to help agriculture may not break down through a desire to prevent the landlord getting anything out of it, Agriculture is tending more and more to be viewed on business lines, and it is right that it should be so. It is certainly inevitable. Estate management is no longer the easy matter it used to be in days gone by. The legislation of recent years has added greatly to its difficulties. I am not criticising the legislation, but the War, and one thing and another, have affected many of the things which made landowning worth while, apart from the question of profit. The landowners are more and more being driven to consider the return they get for that part of their capital represented by their land and their farms. They have to. I want to impress very forcibly upon the House that farming cannot go on without what is commonly known as "landlord's capital." It does not matter whether it is the State, or a public institution, or the ordinary landowners, or the occupiers themselves; somebody must put what is known as landlord's capital into the farms if arable cultivation is to be successful and cottages and buildings and the thou-sand-and-one other things are to be provided. There is a very proper tendency to secure that the labourer gets a proper wage for his toil and that the farmer gets a proper return for his industry and so much capital as he puts in, but I see very little sign on the part of anybody to secure that it should be made worth the landlord's while to put in the necessary capital for additional cottages, buildings and so on. All I can say is that if it is not made worth the landlord's while to put in this money, and he cannot see a reasonable prospect of obtaining a reasonable return to the capital he has put in on additional buildings, you will not get the buildings erected. You cannot expect it. I hope that in the interests of the general scheme and of the agriculture of the future we shall not lose sight of that point. Do not let the national antipathy—it is perfectly natural, and although I am a landlord myself I entirely understand it—to the land 2323 owning class, blind one to the need for the help which the landowner, and he alone, can give to a scheme of this kind.
§ Sir T. ESMONDE
I am not sure that all the expectations excited by this Bill will be realised. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the measure in a very able and interesting speech, was undoubtedly under the impression that it would afford very substantial assistance to agriculture in these islands. It remains to be seen how this Bill is going to work out. I am not very sanguine that it is going to be an enormous success, but all the same I welcome it because it is the first admission that has been made in my time in this House that the agricultural interests in these islands were worthy of the serious attention of Parliament. For that reason. this occasion is one of great interest indeed to all those concerned in the farming industry. This Bill deals with a great many questions, and it is not possible in the course of a short speech to deal with them in detail. One can only deal with one or two of them generally. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dublin (Mr. Clancy) has expressed some of the views which our party take in reference to this matter. In what I have to say about it, I want to steer clear of the various contentious matters that might easily be raised. Of course, we shall have to discuss this Bill in Committee. This Bill was orignally framed for England, and we are not quite clear yet how far the interests of Ireland will be affected by it. We shall know more about that when we get into Committee. My reason for taking part in this discussion is that I have been interested in tillage all my life and know something of the trials which tillage farmers have had to undergo during all these lean years. I am much impressed with the necessity, in the national interest, of doing all that can be done to increase the tillage area in these islands. It is a most extraordinary thing that a country like this, an intelligent and a rich country, should submit to a condition of things under which it draws five-sixths at least of its food supply from abroad. This War has certainly brought home to us the extraordinary unwisdom of allowing a condition of things to exist in these Islands under which we are indebted to the foreigner for our food supplies. Very much can be done to remedy this situation. Some people think it is impossible to 2324 bring about a speedy remedy for this state of affairs, but I disagree with them. I think that by the intelligent action of Parliament it is quite possible to bring the day nearer when this country will be more self-supporting in the matter of food supplies. Some forty or fifty years ago we used to grow about five-sixths of our wheat and import about one-sixth. Now it is exactly the other way about, but, curiously enough, the total amount of the wheat consumption in these Islands is not by any means as much larger as we should have expected it to be, and therefore it is quite possible by intelligent administration to grow a very much larger quantity of our food at home than we have ever done before. It is quite possible very nearly to supply the food demands of our home population. I welcome this Bill because it is an instance of the desire of Parliament to take serious thought of the condition of agriculture in these Islands.
I do not sympathise at all with the views which have been sometimes put forward as to the small claims farmers have upon the gratitude of the nation. I think the farmers really have placed the nation under a considerable debt of gratitude to them for having continued in all these lean years to hold up their end despite almost inconceivable difficulty. Tillage farming for years and years has been carried on certainly not at a profit, certainly not under conditions which would enable the farmer to say he was making money out of it. Tillage farming up to the present has been largely a question of just pulling the devil by the tail. Now there is a prospect of things improving. Prices have gone up a little, and under this Bill we have some guarantee of some continuity in prices. After all the farmer has to live, like everyone else. He cannot afford to speculate in futures, as they do on the Corn Exchange in Chicago. He has to be fairly certain that he will get a decent return for his capital, otherwise he is not likely to invest the small amount of capital remaining to him in the proper cultivation of his farm. On the whole this measure offers the farmer some security. I am not sure that the period during which these prices are guaranteed to him is sufficiently long. Of course a great deal will depend on the condition of farming in different districts. In the country where I come from we reckon that eight years is a proper cycle for the rotation of crops. That is a question, of course, which we can discuss in Com- 2325 mittee. But what we have to remember is that the farmers of these Islands have been largely suffering from what the Prime Minister calls plough fright, and there is every reason why they should have suffered from this plough fright, owing to the treatment they have received in years gone by. What we have to do now is to endeavour to persuade them to forget their plough fright and set to work and plough up all the land they possibly can.
Mention has been made of compulsion. I am in favour of reasonable compulsion. In a case of national necessity like this everyone who uses land should use it to the best possible advantage and, therefore, I rather welcome the provisions of the Bill which give power to see that under certain conditions a proper system of cultivation is observed. On the other hand, compulsion has certain consequences. If the State says to the farmer that he must till his land or must carry on a certain kind of cultivation, it follows as a corollary that the State is bound to assist the farmer in carrying on his cultivation. Therefore while there is a question of compulsion it almost must be perfectly certain that the guarantee of prices should continue. That is an obvious consequence from the adoption of the principle of compulsion. There are other matters in which the State must help the farmer if it tells him that he must engage in tillage on a large scale The farmer, after all, has a great many difficulties. I know the Irish tillage farmer. I know little of the English tillage farmer, but I imagine, speaking broadly, their difficulties are very much the same.
There is no harm since we are discussing a measure of this kind, in drawing attention to some of these difficulties, not in a controversial spirit, but simply that we may eventually arrive at a fair realisation of the agricultural position, more especially as these questions have not been raised for a number of years. In the first place there is the question of labour. It has been dealt with to some extent to-day, but in the country from which I come the labour situation is rather peculiar. In some places there is a supply of labour; in more places there is not. In some places we have the Munitions Ministry actively competing with the farmer and drawing some of the best agricultural labour into the manufacture of munitions, and unquestionably the farming industry is in a very difficult 2326 position. We all sympathise with the project to improve the position of the labourer, whether in England or in Ireland. We all agree that the agricultural labourer, taking it all round, has been insufficiently paid, and we all agree that the condition of agricultural life in these Islands has not been what it ought-to be if the agricultural industry is to be carried on to a large extent, and what we hope it will be. There are various views as to how this-labour question can be dealt with. The right hon. Baronet who has just spoken was quite wrong in supposing that there is to be no wages board in Ireland. There are to be wages boards in Ireland — at least, that is the proposition in the Bill. In Ireland there is considerable difference of opinion on this question, and I do not. propose to discuss the matter, because I do not wish to raise any controversial question, but it is evident that some arrangement must be come to whereby our agricultural labourers shall receive a decent wage. I hope that this will be successfully accomplished and that the-universal assistance of the House will be given in trying to bring about a successful conclusion to this important question. Beyond the question of labour there are other questions. I see the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture for Ireland is in his place, and I wish to address some questions to him which particularly relate to his Department. He might tell me that all proper provision has been made for the supply next year of artificial manures. I do not press the right hon. Gentleman on that point now, but it is a very vital question. We are tilling three-quarters of a million extra acres in Ireland, and the only way in which that land can be made productive next year will be by a more extensive application of artificial manures. I want to know whether his Department, or whatever Department of the Government is concerned with this matter, will look beforehand and take-every conceivable step to ensure that the tillage farmers have a proper supply of artificial manures next year? The supply has been maintained under very considerable difficulties and it reflects very great credit upon his Department, but we shall want a very much larger supply next year, and it is time to look ahead. There is also the question of agricultural machinery. There has been some difficulty, which has been fairly well surmounted, in obtaining the requisite agri- 2327 cultural machinery. Next year we shall want more, and we shall want improved Agricultural machinery, because the amount of tillage which we have undertaken at the present moment is a very large order, and it is conceivable that the amount of tillage may be increased. These-are matters which require to be attended to now. It is no earthly use leaving these things over to the next seeding time and saying "We will think about getting ploughs and tractors then." As a practical tillage farmer, I say that the sooner these things are attended to the better.
The farmer is not altogether the prosperous person some people suppose. The cost of labour has gone up, and the cost of manures has increased very much, while the cost of agricultural machinery has gone up enormously in price. All these things detract from the great profit which the farmer is supposed to be making. I do not see that the tillage farmer is exactly rolling in money. I am not at all sure that the time is near when he will see an adequate return for the capital which he has had to lay out in connection with the present extension of tillage. The farmer has very many claims upon him, and while he is supposed to be an affluent person, he has to spend a great deal of money every year. People do not realise the enormous increase in the rating that has taken place in agricultural districts in the last few years. I can remember the passing of the English Local Government Board Act and the consequent part of the Irish Local Government Board Act when we got an agricultural Grant. In most places this agricultural Grant has been largely swallowed up by the enormous increase in local taxation. The House apparently forgets the burdens which have been placed upon the farmer. I do not say this in any controversial spirit, but I want people to understand where the farmer is. I can remember when the cost of the treatment of tuberculosis was entrusted to the farmer in agricultural districts, medical charges, relief of the poor, technical education, and so on. We do not complain, but I want the House to understand what the farmer has to pay. Let me remind the House of the enormous increase in the expenditure on our roads, and that is an important question which costs the farmer a very great deal of money If the farmer is to do his duty by the State, the State must do its duty by the farmer. The entire question of 2328 local rating will have to be considered, and the sooner it is gone into the better. It is no use telling the farmer he is making lots of money and that he must pay double for his agricultural machinery, double for his labour, double for his manures, and at the same time forgetting that he has to pay very large sums of money every year in connection with local administration. Local administration must be cheapened in some way or other. I think that these burdens ought to be taken over by the State. You must look forward to the time when it will be necessary to relieve the farmer of some of these burdens. You cannot farm without capital and you cannot till properly at the present time without State assistance, and I know of no better way in which the State could assist the farmers than by cheapening local administration and by relieving him, as far as it legitimately can, of some of his local burdens.
I have mentioned these questions as a practical agriculturist and as such I welcome this Bill, because it is the first time I can remember that the State has recognised that it has a duty towards the farmer, that there is in farming an asset of national importance and that agriculture is one of the essential things of our national life. If the farmer is treated fairly decently he will respond. In my own country in the last few months at very short notice everybody turned out and ploughed up land in every direction. It has been magnificent. I live in a tillage country, and in spite of the difficulties in regard to labour and machinery, horses, and other difficulties, the people have ploughed up their land in the most magnificent way and they have got their seeds in in spite of a most appalling season. The farmer will do his duty by the State if the State does its duty by the farmer. This is a great opportunity for increasing our food supply. It is a great opportunity for improving our agriculture and it is a great opportunity for ameliorating the conditions of agricultural life, and, as far as possible, I shall be most happy to support this Bill.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
The head and front of this Corn Production Bill is the new corn law contained in Part I. This new corn law, like all corn laws, rests upon the mistaken assumption that the way to encourage agriculture is to increase artificially the price of agricultural produce. The old corn laws did it by attempting to tax the agricultural produce that 2329 was imported into this country. The new corn laws propose to do it by guaranteeing minimum prices for agricultural produce produced here, and if these guarantees are called up, as they very probably will be, they will mature into bounties of a very considerable amount. The two Ministers who spoke in support of this Bill, while they recognised the fundamental importance to the Bill of these guarantees of minimum prices, failed to give us any idea of what these guarantees might work out at. We are really being asked to guarantee unlimited amounts. As I suggest, the amounts will, in fact, be considerable. It is noticeable that the minimum prices proposed to be guaranteed are very much higher than the minimum prices which were recommended for guarantee by the Reconstruction Committee in the Report which was issued only last month. I do not know why there should have been such a great change, but the Reconstruction Committee, in their Report, give us one or two variable data by which we may estimate at how much these guarantees will work out. We may take this point that for every shilling by which the actual average price falls short of the guaranteed price the cost to the taxpayer for each million quarters would be 1,000,000 shillings, or £50,000. The average corn production in this country for the five years preceding the War was about 7,500,000 quarters, and, working on that simple figure, we can see that the cost of that would work out at more than £350,000 for every shilling that the price dropped.
How much is the price likely to drop below the guaranteed figure? I will take as a specimen year 1919, when we hope that the War will be well over and that agriculture will have reverted to something like its normal conditions. The guaranteed price for that year is proposed to be 55s. for wheat. If we look at the Return issued within the last few days we find that the actual average price of wheat, taking the figure for the five years before the War, was a little under 34s. per quarter, so that the actual average price for these years was rather more than 21s. below the guaranteed price for 1919. If the amount by which the actual price fell below the guaranteed price was as much as £l, which, on the figures, it might very well be, the guarantee on wheat alone would cost the taxpayer something like £7,500,000 for that year alone. If we take the case of oats 2330 the figures are still simpler, because for a number of years, even before the last five years, the produce of oats in the United Kingdom has been more than. 20,000,000 quarters, and so for every shilling that the price might fail below the guaranteed price the guarantee would cost the taxpayer 20,000,000 shillings, or £1,000,000. The guaranteed price of oats for that year is proposed to be 32s. per quarter. If we look at the average price of oats for the five years preceding the War we find that it is a little below 20s., so that on that basis, if the actual price came back to the pre-war standard there would be a difference of 12s. a quarter, or, in other words, the cost to the taxpayer would be £12,000,000 on oats. It is very important that the House should know that this enormous expenditure to the taxpayer on those two grains, on the basis I have mentioned, would inevitably be something like £20,000,000 at least, and that that would have to be paid, even though the amount of produce were not increased at all. There is no guarantee that the produce would be substantially increased, but even if it were substantially increased, the question is whether its production would be worth that enormous cost. Though we have those guarantees of minimum price, there is no limit put to the guarantee. It might very well be that the guarantee might be put forward with the condition that the amount called up on the guarantee shall in no year be, more than 2s. or 2s. 6d. a quarter. But there is no limit of this kind whatever, and the more plentiful nature is in Canada, Australia, Russia and the Argentine, and the various countries from which we get our wheat, the heavier will be the burden on the taxpayer under this new corn law.
I heard with very considerable surprise statements made to the effect that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen did not believe that corn could be produced under about 45s. a quarter. They have only to look at the Return, which was published as a Command Paper the other day, a Return for which I have been asking for some weeks—and I am very glad that it has been published, and published as a Command Paper—to see that during the last five years, and for a good while before that, corn never reached that price at all, and yet it was largely grown—to the extent of over 7,000,000 quarters of wheat and 20,000,000 quarters 2331 of oats. I do not wonder that the Parliamentary Secretary said that it was difficult to fix a particular price at which corn could be produced, and naturally— and this goes to the very essence of the Bill—because the cost of production, which limits price, depends upon the character of the land on which the wheat is produced. If you want to ascertain what is the cost of production which regulates price, do you propose to take rich land or poor land? You have different answers in the different cases. In fact, the essential feature, to my mind, that we should have in view is that for a given amount of cultivation different acres will produce different results, some producing much, some little and some less. If we take actual figures, for instance, we have the most fertile lands producing perhaps seven, or certainly six, quarters to the acre, for ordinary agricultural cultivation. Then there are other lands that may produce five, or four, or three quarters, and so on. It is common knowledge, of course, as the House is well aware, that when prices rise the effect is that agriculture is extended to less productive land than before, and when prices fall the less productive land then goes out of cultivation. But the fact is that the more productive lands are under cultivation all the time, and have been under under cultivation all the time, and even in the darkest days of farming, even when prices were lowest, it is necessary to look at that return to see that the area under wheat was never less than 1,400,000 acres, and only in two years it fell below 1,500,000. In all that period also there never was a year when the acreage under oats was less than 3,800,000 acres. The remarkable thing about the Government proposal is that the great bulk of these bounties will go not to the land that might not otherwise be used for corn-growing, but will go to the richer lands and to those interested in the richer lands, which would be under cultivation for these cereals whether this were given or not. The case has been very fairly stated by Sir Walter Wallace in his separate Report of the Reconstruction Committee, in words with which I will venture to trouble the House because they state the position with very great clearness:The first and most patent objection to minimum guaranteed price on corn is that the minimum guarantee must be high enough to fit the minimum yield per acre.…The guarantee must, therefore, be high enough 2332 to secure to the occupier of such land a profit if he is to be induced to grow wheat, and if such guarantee is forthcoming, and is universally applied to all wheat growers, it is obvious that public money would be granted unnecessarily when the economic point of yield is reached. Such a scheme of bounties is calculated to aggrandise those who do not need assistance and to stint those who do. Thus, supposing the difference between the Gazette' and guaranteed prices was 10s. per quarter for wheat, the man whose land will only produce three quarters per acre would only get 30s. per acre, and it would not be enough. On the other hand, the man whose land produces sis quarters, and who certainly needs no help, would get 60s. per acre.That puts the position very clearly, and no attempt has been made to answer that position. I suggest that if the House of Commons is going to pass this proposal, and if this bounty is to be given, it should not be given to the richer lands, where it is entirely unnecessary and is simply a dole to the persons interested in them; it should be limited strictly to those lands just above the margin of cultivation, and which would go out of cultivation if it were not given. I put that in the interests of the taxpayer as well as in the interests of common sense. Then there was another point which was made by the Home Production Committee which reported in 1915. They suggested that, as to the guarantee of minimum prices for agricultural produce, the State ought similarly to have the right to pre-empt agricultural produce, not necessarily at the guaranteed price, but at the price to be, regulated by the guaranteed price. That, however, is entirely overlooked in the Bill. The principle on which these bounties go appears to be this, that if the price of corn falls below the guaranteed price the taxpayer is to make it up, and if the price rises above the guaranteed price, the farmer, and eventually the landlord as it will be, will pocket the profit. That seems an inequitable arrangement; it might be described as "Heads, the farmer wins; tails, the taxpayer loses." We were told by the Prime Minister that there would be security that rents would not be raised. Looking at the Bill, I find that there is no security of that kind at all. The Clause dealing with that does not in any substantial degree carry out the undertaking of the Prime Minister. And there is this single point, that the Clause designed to prevent rents being limited is itself limited to the case of yearly tenancies. In Scotland, and in various parts of England, a number of tenancies are for a term of years. These are continually expiring, but when one of them expires, then, so far as this Bill is concerned, the rent 2333 may be raised against the tenant, if he seeks renewal, and this Clause, which is to give such wonderful protection, is no protection whatever. Take another case, the rent can be raised not only directly but indirectly. It is quite possible for a landlord who has undertaken to repair a building, or share in the expenditure on the farm, to turn round and say, "I do not raise your rent, but this bounty has placed you in a better position than you would otherwise have been, and therefore you must bear that cost yourself." There is absolutely nothing to deal with that. But, quite beyond that, the Prime Minister spoke as if the one thing was to prevent prices being raised. Our position, at least the position which I and those who think with me take up, is that that rents are regulated by prices, and it follows that the guarantee of prices will to a great extent operate as a guarantee of rents, and that even though the rents may not be raised, the guarantee of prices will be a guarantee to prevent its fall. That point was made by the Prime Minister himself when he was opposing another dole to farmers under the Agricultural Rates Act. He said the dolewas not for agriculture at all, but for landlords, and for this reason. It was known far a fact that if the relief were not extended to the laud, rents would inevitably go down.That is the position to-day. What he said about that measure applies in the same way to this, 'and the 'previous measure was much more modest than this one. And yet, let me remind his colleagues on that bench, of what he said of that measure:The landowners were now seeking to bleed the taxpayers, who were to be driven into the landlords' eech pond.These are the words of the present Prime Minister on a Bill which is a dole, just as this Bill proposes to give a dole, but it was of a very much milder character. I was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. He spoke of this not being a farmer's Bill, but of it being a people's Bill, and an hon. Member below the Gangway added that it was a "Landlord's Bill." I think there was considerable truth in both those suggestions. There was another playful observation which the right hon. Gentleman made. He said that it was necessary to lather before shaving. It seems to me in this particular case the money which is to be paid 2334 by the taxpayer will ultimately go to the landowner, and the Government is doing a very fair amount of lathering before shaving the taxpayer, and shaving him pretty close. There is another of those proposals to which attention has already been called, and to which I would like to call attention further. These guarantees are only to be given in the case of wheat and oats that are actually sold. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) suggested that Farmer A might sell his wheat to Farmer B, and Farmer B might sell his wheat to Farmer A, and by a bogus transaction of that kind they might each manage to bring themselves within the scope of the Bill and get the guarantee. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he proposes that the guarantee should be got by means like that. Certainly not, the right hon. Gentleman says, and I take it those sales are to be bond fide sales and not sales of that character. The right hon. Gentleman assents to that proposition, but how are you going to define what a bond fide sale is I You may have Farmer A and Farmer B selling to a dealer X and each buying back from X, and how are you going to find out and trace the whole transaction? Various appeals have already been made that the man who cultivates for himself and his family should receive the guarantee whether he sells it or not. That is not the view of the Government. If that were done I can see that a good many difficulties would arise, but let me put it to the right hon. Gentleman that fundamental agriculture is that in which a man cultivates land for himself and his family. Let me put this to him also, that those who do that are generally poor men with poor land, and those are the very people who would not be benefited by this Bill. I see my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland in his place. As he is aware, there are many farms, many small holders in Scotland, and we have been trying to increase the number, who cultivate small holdings for themselves and their families, and to no small extent grow oats. Are they to be excluded? Are those to be the people to be excluded while the rich farmer in the Lothians is to get an enormous benefit? It is not only that the small man does not get the benefit. The small man, as a taxpayer, is to be called upon to contribute to the amount which is to be put into the rich man's pocket. He will also be hit in another way. I 2335 will not suggest his rent may be raised, because I am glad to say that those small men now in Scotland at least can, under the Small Landholders Act, see that their rents cannot be raised against them for the land which they now have. But suppose one of those small holders wants to extend his cultivation, and in many cases round about him there is better land unused than the land they are attempting to use, and if he wants to take up more land, will not the effect of all these guarantees be that rents will be raised and they will have to pay more for that land? There is not the least doubt to me that that will be the result.
The whole proposal appears to me to be mistaken, uneconomic, and superficial, because it does not touch the fundamental question of cultivation. You will never set agriculture right by any measure which looks to prices alone. Prices depends upon a number of considerations. The price of wheat may depend on supply and demand in this country, and the supply and demand for other cereals that may be used as substitutes for wheat, on the crops in Canada and the Argentine, and also, since prices are quoted on a gold basis, prices may go up and down with the fall or rise in gold. You ought to consider not merely prices which are exchange values but the real utility of the article. You have to bear in mind that the sustenance which will be afforded by a quarter of wheat is quite independent of its price. The amount of sustenance, of actual benefit to the man who has the wheat for the consumption, say, for himself, depends not on the price of the wheat but on the amount of the wheat. The price may be high or may be low, but the quarter of wheat will only give the sustenance of a quarter of wheat. May I suggest that the Government in dealing with prices are going on a fundamentally wrong idea.
These guarantees of prices are supposed to be linked up with a minimum wage for the agricultural labourer. The point has been made by other speakers that the references to minimum wage in the Bill do not follow along the lines the Prime Minister stated in most important particulars, and they certainly do not. Where is the guarantee that the Prime Minister said in this connection, when he was outlining the proposals, that he was going to guarantee a minimum price for these things and was 2336 also going to guarantee a minimum wage for the agricultural labourer? Look through the Clauses dealing with wages for the agricultural labourer and you will find no guarantee at all. There is only a statement of a minimum wage, and that only means that men are not to be employed for less than that wage. There is no guarantee that they will get that wage or that the numbers of people employed on the land will be kept up. On that point I would really like to remind the House of the very common-sense statement of John Stuart Mill, when he said:It is nothing to fix the minimum of wages unless there be a provision that work, or wages at least, are found for all who apply for itWhere is there any provision to that effect in the Bill? We must remember that the Prime Minister in putting forward these proposals made a great point of the guarantee, using the phrase again and again. In his introductory words in his speech of 23rd February he said:If the Government guarantees prices, labour must also he guaranteed.He ended by saying thata wage of 25S. per week will be guaranteed to every able-bodied man between the ages indicated in the scheme of Mr. Neville Chamberlain.The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Prothero) indicates assent, but he must be aware that there is no guarantee of employment or wages in the Bill at all. The provision is simply that people are not to be employed below the minimum wage, a very different thing on the point of the minimum wage, if you give a minimum wage to the labourers in Scotland of 25s. they will say, "Thank you for nothing." If the wage is to be any good to the agricultural labourers in the more cultivated parts of Scotland, then, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Lanarkshire (Mr. Millar) said when the Prime Minister was speaking, it must be 10s. higher. If there is to be this minimum wage, speaking as a Scotsman and as a Scottish Member, I say it should at least be 35s., and I would prefer it to be 40s. I would like to see that wage guaranteed to the labourer in the same sense of the term as prices are guaranteed to the farmer. The right hon. Gentleman said, in phraseology which caught the ear of a good many in the House, that our manufacturers flourished on the ruins of agriculture, and his colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Roberts), took somewhat the same line when he spoke of the lop-sided economic development of this country, and urged 2337 that as a ground for this policy of minimum prices. I venture to say that the decadence of agriculture in recent years is not due to the fact that our economic system of trade was good, but to the fact that our land system was systematically bad. There are many disadvantages under which the agriculturist labours, and, speaking for those who think with me, I would say that we must regard the promotion of agriculture as of the first importance to the country from the economic as well as from the military aspect, but that we do not believe that the course which the Government are proposing is the way to do it. We want to remove the hindrances which keep us back, and one peculiarity of this Bill is that there is not one proposal to remove the existing hindrances. Various hindrances have already been mentioned, but let me mention one that none of them has touched upon, not even my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman).
We want to encourage agriculture in the widest sense. One of the great fallacies of this measure is that it deals only with wheat and oats. There are a vast number of other things that the land produces, and we want to encourage production generally. Supposing that a man sets up new farm buildings, or improves his existing farm buildings, or puts up glass houses for intensive cultivation, what happens? No sooner are those improvements made than round comes the assessor and up goes the assessment, and by our system of rating and taxing he is fined on those improvements with mechanical regularity every year, or in some cases every half-year, as long as the improvements continue. That is a penalty on agriculture. It is a tariff on our agricultural industry and a tariff which we would like to see removed. I ask what is being done to remove that in this Bill? Absolutely nothing; and yet there was every reason why it should be removed. The Prime Minister himself has put that point even more strongly than I do, not recently, I agree, but some years ago. It will be remembered that in what will be looked upon in future as his great Budget, the Finance Act of 1909–10, the Present Prime Minister gave certain relief in respect to repairs to cottages. Taxation prevented cottages from being repaired, so the Prime Minister, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave relief from Income Tax under Schedule A in respect of the 2338 repairs of cottages. It was found that that did not go far enough, so four years afterwards, in 1914, he carried the matter still further. Why should he not carry it further now? My right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer only last year in the Finance Bill recognised that taxation on plantations under Schedule A checked the planting of trees, and so he brought in provisions relieving woodlands from taxation, in order that the land might be planted. Why should he not do the same thing now? Why stop in that good course and adopt this worse course instead?
I have taken the case of people who make improvements, and incidentally let me mention the case of cottages. Cottages are wanted all over the country. It is fundamental. Members on both sides of the House have impressed on the Government the necessity for cheap cottages. What stands in the way of plentiful and cheap cottages? It is that it does not pay to build them. In the first place, it is often difficult to get land, and then, no sooner do you put up a cottage, than the cottage is taxed. I remember there was an hon. and gallant Member, who I regret is no longer with us, on the other side of the House from myself, who told us his experiences where he had put up cottages for his agricultural labourers, not as a matter of business, but in order to let them at a nominal rent. He found he was heavily taxed because he had done so. I really suggest that that ought to be stopped. I have pointed out that this system of fining every year or every half-year goes on so long as these improvements continue; but what happens if the improvements are demolished? Supposing, for instance, improvements are demolished and that land that was being fully developed is turned into a grazing ranch or a game preserve, promptly the assessments go down. That is a very easy way for anyone to get his assessment reduced, because the basis of the present system of rating and taxation is that people are rated, not on the value of the land, but on the value of the use they are making of it, and that is one of the reasons why so much land has gone out of use, because the present system favours keeping the land out of use. In Part IV. of the Bill we have powers to enforce proper cultivation, and these powers are based on the powers which are now in existence in the Regulations made for England, Scotland and Ireland under 2339 the Defence of the Realm Act. There is the power of compelling a man to cultivate in certain ways, either of compelling him to use his land properly or of entering on the land and enabling other people to use it properly. I welcome these powers, the more so because when I have stated on previous occasions that land was being actually withheld from use I was jeered at and told that all land that could be used was being used, and that it was ridiculous to say that land was being withheld from use. There is the proof of that in these Defence of the Realm Regulations and in Part IV. of this Act. I support these proposals, of course, but I do not think that they are quite the right way to solve the problem, because there is great difficulty in working them. In the first place, you need to send a number of officials around.
In the second place, people who have not experience of the land have to interfere with a man who probably has experience of it; and further, if you have various places devoted to game preserves, there are a number of parts that might be used, and in going about the Commissioners have to make an invidious selection and take a piece here and a piece there and leave various other pieces, and the whole system is invidious and has many objections. I welcome it, but I want to point out to the House that that would never have been required if years ago Parliament had taken the course which my hon. Friends and I have been urging year after year. I have urged in this House for ten years, and there are Members who have urged for longer, the simple course of taxing these gentlemen according to the market selling value of the land they hold, instead of according to the value of the use they are making of it. If that system had been in operation you would have had a general economic pressure working through this land that would have prevented it from being withheld from use and would have given people a chance. There, again, statements were made that these financial proposals would bring into use not only marginal land, but also very much land—I think the figure was put at several million acres—which was a better quality than marginal land, all of which might well and profitably be cultivated, but which was kept out of cultivation by reason of sentiment or some 2340 other similar reason. Yet to bring that land into cultivation we are exploiting the taxpayer in order to make up minimum prices.
I would deal with that land in a very different way. The way to bring that land into cultivation is not to bribe the man who has it, but to tax him on its value when he does not use it. That is a much more economical way. It would bring land into cultivation and a far greater quantity, and instead of costing the harassed tax-paper money it would bring money into the Exchequer. The noteworthy thing in the proposals that have been made to-day is that those who have put them forward have not come to close quarters or tried to deal with the thing on an economic basis. Those who have listened to the Debate know that there is not one single hon. Member who has risen to bless the proposals altogether. There are some hon. Members who will welcome the financial Grant, at the same time stating that they will oppose any interference with the working on the land. The praise that has been given has been of a most qualified description. For myself, I hope that this matter will go to a Division. If it does, I shall support the right hon. Gentleman who has moved the rejection of this Bill. It seems to me that the Bill will do more harm than good. In setting up a new basis for agriculture it will be laying not a true foundation, but a false foundation, which will give way and will ultimately land agriculture in a worse state than before.
§ Colonel WEIGALL
When one has prewar political fads and also forgets that we are not living in times of peace, nothing is easier than to apply the sort of criticism that has been applied by hon. Gentlemen to a Bill of this description. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member, who apparently is in blissful ignorance that we are at war, who is also in blissful ignorance that we are suffering from a food shortage that this country has never known, and also—I do not know whether this is a fact or not—but I gather from the remarks of the hon. Member that he has never been in the position of the owner of agricultural land or of having farmed it as an owner or tenant. I propose to approach this Bill simply and solely from the point of view of a life-long agriculturist, and also simply from the point of view of the position in which the country now finds itself. There are only 2341 a couple of questions that I ask myself. The one is, is this particular industry a national necessity? In all times agriculture is a national necessity, but living in the times in which we are living, it is absolutely in that category. The Government is faced with a position that here they have got an industry which is of vital importance. They have got immediately, in the national interest, to speed up every form of food production in the country.
I have lived all my life in the industry, both as a farmer and as holding the scales even between landlord and tenant as an agent. I am bound to say that I cannot see any other way out. It is perfectly easy to protest from the purely political point of view. If you never forget politics, and criticise the Bill from the standpoint, "How can I help my party?" it is perfectly easy to lay emphasis on one part of the Bill, and say that it is not a food-producing measure, or to say, "I am going to support this portion of the Bill, and I am not going to support the other." Let us remember that in this industry the three interests are absolutely interdependent. You have got your fixed capital which belongs to the landlords, the moving capital which belongs to the tenant, and you have the muscle and sinew which is the capital of the labourer. When you are considering this industry you cannot separate any one of these interests from the other. I agree with my right hon. Friend the President, who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and who admitted there are heaps of Committee points which will receive not only consideration, but probably drastic alteration. I agree that we are only here concerned with general principle, seeing this is a Second Reading Debate. When you are considering these you are considering the whole industry, and the whole of the three interests. I may be right or I may be wrong, but my experience goes to show that the real reason why a very large acreage of arable land during the last thirty-five years has ceased to be cereal-producing is because, firstly, because there was not the capital to employ, and, secondly, if there was the capital, there was not the proper feeling of security for the employment of the capital. How is the taxation of land going to add in any degree whatever either to the production of the capital necessary, or the security to be given to that capital? I will give my hon. Friend an actual instance of what happened to me over twenty years ago when I was looking after a property in 2342 the Midlands, of which 3,000 acres had come on hand simply and solely through bad times. What happened was that the tenant occupying the 3,000 acres said he could not go on. The owner, being a man who was entirely dependent on the income from his agricultural property, had not the capital.
§ Colonel WEIGALL
Why did he not sell some of it? He put it up. It was in the market. Every agent in the country had it on his books. You could have got it at £9 per acre.
§ Colonel WEIGALL
It was not worth £8 to anybody. At that particular time when the industry was in that position this land had not the advantages of buildings, or special roads, or fences to be found in connection with other land in the country. It was extremely badly situated ordinary arable land. There is the fact. How, by adding further taxation, you are going in a case of that kind either to provide the necessary capital or to give security is a simple economic puzzle which I cannot see my way through.
§ Colonel WEIGALL
It was ultimately sold as part and parcel of the whole estate, and has since been taken into cultivation. It was out of cultivation for eight or ten years. Those who are now opposing this Bill appear to forget that it is absolutely and entirely a war measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] From what I know of the President of the Board of Agriculture I am perfectly certain that he would not have introduced a measure of this sort in normal peace times. It is a pure travesty to suggest that this Bill has been introduced simply in order to give a dole to landlords, a dole to occupiers, or in order to introduce some alteration of the fiscal system of the country under the cover of the War. We are faced with this fact: We have got to increase food production. We have got to do it immediately, and we have got to do it in a way that will give reasonable security, at any rate, to the three interests concerned in the industry, all of which are interdependent. So far as Committee points are 2343 concerned, I agree that you will not be able to get the whole Bill in real working order until you have also added, from the point of view of labour, some housing proposals. You have got your 1914 Housing Act (No. 2), which could apply in this connection, but you have a still wider question, which is this: If you are going to bring under cultivation several extra million acres of land, someone has to find the extra capital. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the labour!"] And the labour. I am only dealing now with capital. I imagine the average grass land is going to be broken up. By the time you have provided your extra employment and your extra accommodation, and you may want other expenses incidental to the bringing of this land into cultivation, who is going to provide the capital? In the past very naturally it has fallen absolutely and entirely on the landlords' shoulders. I do not know whether my land-taxing friends have any knowledge as to the amount of interest enjoyed by the agricultural landlords in the country on the total amount of their capital invested. I do not think I am very wide of the mark when I say that the total amount of income handled by the agricultural landlords in this country in the form of fluid rent does not represent more than 3 per cent. on the total amount expended on farmhouses, farm buildings, water supply, etc., leaving the land out entirely, and I make that statement in answer to an interjection of my hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Wedgwood), who asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, when he was giving the actual cost of the production of wheat, whether he had made any allowance for rent.
As to the actual establishment of a wages board, I have not to make the apology that my right hon Friend the President had to make. I was converted in]912. In common with several of my Friends in this House, we introduced and got through some stages an Agricultural Wages Board Bill. I always thought that the only possible way to secure to the agricultural labourer a higher wage, on which depended the whole of his advance, was to set up some form of wages board, and I do not share any of the fears that I have heard expressed here this afternoon, so long as the Board of Agriculture do ensure that the personnel of the wages board is extremely carefully selected. 2344 One is faced really with these difficulties: On the one hand, you have got in this-country a greater variety of soil, a greater variety of climate, and a greater variety of local conditions applicable to agriculture than I suppose any other country in the world. Unless you have a man with local knowledge you lose the value of all knowledge of local conditions. On the other hand, if you do have a man with local knowledge there may be the danger that we have heard described this afternoon by the right hon. Member for Dews-bury (Mr. Runciman). I forget his exact words, but he said that in the agricultural industry, like all others, there were reciprocal benefits. I think there may be a danger of that, and what I would suggest to my right hon. Friend is this: He and I are members of a body known as the Land Agents Society. [An Hon. MEMBER: "It is a pity !"] I do not think it is a pity at all. It is a body to which I am extremely proud to belong and I am perfectly sure my right hon. Friend is and I say that from the point of view of landowner, occupier, and labourer, I believe that they command as large an amount of confidence as any other body. They have the experience, and they also have an enormous power, which I feel perfectly sure has been used in the main to the good, and I do suggest to my right hon. Friend that in the working of this wages board, and in fact in the whole administration of these matters, they can be made of very real use to him, as I believe they have already in the establishment of his war agricultural committees. I am told that nearly all the points which are open for criticism can fairly be dealt with in Committee, and from the point of view of immediate national necessity on the one hand and agricultural industry on the other, I am perfectly prepared to give a whole-hearted support to the Second Reading of this Bill. The whole stability of the country really depends upon a prosperous agriculture. In the whole history of the country, whenever agriculture has been really prosperous, it has carried with it a prosperous community. There is no suggestion in the mind of anyone supporting this Bill that they hope by its operation either to alter the fiscal system of the country or carry to fruition any political fad. I deprecate the pushing forward of any political fad at this particular period of the country's history, and more especially at this particular period of the War.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
We have listened to a very interesting speech from the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down, but I am rather sorry he suggested that any opposition that might be offered to Part I. of this Bill must be purely of a political character. I am perfectly certain that the hon. and gallant Member does not require to be reminded that the question of bounties is a very old one and has been the subject of controversy before any hon. Member of this house was born, and it is likely to be the subject of controversy after we have departed. I think it would have been far better, more particularly in view of the conciliatory ending of the speech, if he had remembered at the beginning that people can honestly differ in their opinions in regard to Part I. and at the same time perfectly honestly accept the proposals relating to wages boards and a more efficient use of the agricultural lands of this country. I am in the position of one who objects very strongly and warmly to Part I. Whilst I am in favour of the settlement of agricultural wages, particularly in England, by wages boards, I am not so sure about this measure in Scotland, where better wages have been secured by combination and individual determination and bargaining. In these times to talk of a wage of 25s. a week seems almost insulting. There is another point in the hon. and gallant Member's speech to which I should like to draw attention, for he seems to welcome this Ball on the ground that somebody must provide the capital if the land which is not sufficiently cultivated is to be cultivated. The special characteristic of this Bill is that it provides capital where it is not required. Leaving aside the question of whether it is good or bad to subsidise or stimulate agriculture by the method of bounties, surely if We are to have such a scheme it should be devised in such a way that it will not work out as it does now under the Bill, that "to him who hath shall be given, and to him who hath not shall be given nothing at all."
I hope hon. Members are not going to be led away with phrases about a desire to improve agriculture which have become somewhat platitudinous. Hon. Members and right hon. Gentlemen who speak from the Front Government Bench tell us about the magnificent benefits of fresh air and the necessity of having flourish- 2346 ing agriculture, and they immediately jump from that and say we must support this Bill. I think they must use a little bit more common sense than that. We have to consider whether this Bill is a good one or not, and whether it is going to promote these objects. Is it going to secure the purposes that have been detailed to this House as the excuse for introducing it? If it is, then we will support it; but if it is not, we shall not support it. The Government have adopted a method of making detailed changes here and there without giving the House any opportunity of a general survey, so that we may set in its proper setting every particular proposal that is made. I cannot imagine anything more extravagant or more unscientific than this method of beginning reconstruction after the War. One Minister comes up with one proposal, and he says it is essential; he brings his Bill or Resolution before us and he gets us committed to it. Another Minister brings something of a different kind forward. We are being asked to vote nearly £4,000,000 for educational purposes, and in this Bill we have a request made which may amount to anything between £6,000,000 and £12,000,000."The responsibilities and burdens of this country after the War are being heaped up in this way. We are now asked to subsidise the wages board and no estimate or authoritative statement of the cost has been placed before us. We must admit that this is a very difficult thing to estimate. But this is only the beginning of the programme. The right hon. Gentleman says, "I am going to produce a housing programme, and I am going to produce other agricultural programmes." I cannot understand a Government that is supposed to be a business Government doing its business in this sort of way. If this House is really going to express an intelligent opinion and come to an intelligent decision upon these proposals we ought to have a few more of them before us at the same time. At any rate there ought to be some opportunity given this House to discuss things, particularly agriculture, in a somewhat broader way than can be done within the Rules of the House in connection with the Bill. That is my general protest. The method of the Government is like the proverb that says, "If you take care of the pence the pounds will take care of themselves." The Government come with the pence, first with one then another, and then they tell us, "You have committed 2347 yourself to a consequence, and we now come to present the consequence to you." When that is done there is another consequence. Things are done in such a way that if this is going on for the next three or four years this country is going to be ruined, not by the Germans but by the Government. With reference to the Bill itself, I am bound to confess that if you are going to tamper with economics in this way I prefer bounties to protection and tariffs, because at the end of every year the country will, at any rate, understand how much the experiment has cost. I do not know that it will be able to understand quite accurately, but so far as the money and the visible cost are concerned it will appear on the Paper of this House, and the country will understand from that point of view how much the experiment has cost. The effect of it is to increase the income of farmers and diminish the income of the general taxpayer. That is the proposal the Government makes. It comes and tells us that in the interests of agriculture it is necessary to increase the income of the agriculturist and to diminish by that amount the income of the general taxpayer. How is the Bill going to do this? I am willing to accept for argument's sake that that redistribution of wealth is necessary, and that it must take place in the interests of the farmer.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
No, in the interests of the farmer. The interest of the nation is a much more problematical thing. I quite understand the proposition but I do not accept it, and I cannot grant it, even for debating purposes. I will, however, grant the other for debating purposes. How does this Bill propose to do it? The bounty is going to be put, not upon production, but upon sale. My right hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench put a question and raised an objection to that which I believe is absolutely fatal. It means that if a man, say, uses his own oats for the purpose of feeding his horses, the value of the oats so used will not be the subject of a bounty, but if he sells his complete oat crop to his corn merchant, or takes it into the market and sells it on the market, and then buys back the oats he is going to use for his horses, he is going to get the bounty on his complete production. Some hon. Gentleman referred to the 2348 question of honesty or dishonesty in that connection. What dishonesty is there in a man who does that? No dishonesty at all. I should say that a man being put in that position by the Government, a man who is perhaps in the position described by the hon. and gallant Gentleman below me (Colonel Weigall), wanting capital—I should ask in the case of a man being put in that position, where does honesty come in? Where does the most elementary idea of honesty come in if a man, taking full advantage of this Bill, doing a thing which is strictly legal and strictly honourable, sells every pound of oats he raises in order to get the bounty, and then buys back what he requires to consume on his own farm? That man would be a fool if he did not take advantage of the beneficence of the law in that respect. It will be a very profitable transaction. I venture to say that it is another case where the foolish farmer will lose and the farmer who does not require protection will gain. The effect of this Bill, moreover, is not to give a bounty so as to bring the farmer's income up to a necessary and essential limit. If it did that there might be something to be said for the proposal, but the purpose of this Bill is this. The average is reckoned, in accordance with the provisions of the Bill, from the average price for the seven months beginning the 1st September, and no matter what price the farmer has sold his corn at he is going to get as a bounty the difference between the average price and the minimum price fixed by this Bill. What is going to happen, therefore? I remember that when I had something to do with a farm—I am not exactly in the position the hon. and gallant Gentleman described one of the previous speakers to be in—what happened was this. When I was serving a poor farmer, as soon as his crop was reaped he had to go on to the market because he wanted his money, and could not hold. But when we got to a big farmer who had plenty of capital he held his crop until it hardened, and then put it on the market in December and January and so on, and got a higher price for it.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
It is not a question of always. Surely the right hon. Gentleman has enough business experience to know that you take a certain conduct of business and do not say it always pays, but that it does in the long run on the average.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
I have known people to hold grain and suffer by it, the same as in any other business.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I have, too, but I have never known people to adopt the systematic holding of grain until December and January for the purpose of losing money on it. The right hon. Gentleman should know business methods better than I do, but I know that if you speculate on the market at a certain date or at a certain time, it is because experience has proved that you gain money over it. It is perfectly well known that a small farmer has to go on to the market and sell his grain so soon as it is threshed to get his money, but that the large farmer with plenty of capital can hold his grain: The experience is that if you hold it until it hardens you get a better price for it. What is the effect of paying this bounty in this way on conditions like that? It means that in your average when your small man has sold his corn, presumably somewhat cheaper in September or October he sells it cheap, whereas the man who holds up or can wait until the market is suitable can sell his grain when he gets the maximum price for it, but at the end the man who has had to sell at a low price and the man who could wait and sell at a higher price get precisely the same bounty. That is a most extraordinary method of fixing the aid. The man who cannot hold gets exactly the same benefit from the State as the man who can hold, and who can therefore make far more use of the market. As a matter of fact, you make the farmer quite independent of market prices. Therefore, I lay down the first proposition, which I do not believe anyone disputes, that any bounty that can justify itself must not be used to destroy market prices but must be superimposed upon market prices and not upon a totally artificial average which does not show in any way whatever what are the needs or the requirements of the individual who benefits from the bounty.
There is another point. I understand that it is the intention of the Board of Agriculture that in no year shall a farmer lose on these transactions. Surely the paying of a bounty ought not to be worked in such a way that it is impossible to lose any money in any given year—unless a maximum profit is fixed as well as a minimum price! Farming cannot possibly be 2350 helped by being protected against any risk year in and year out. It may be helped by being protected against risks over a series or average of years, but if every year, irrespective of what happens, and very likely irrespective of his own conduct, because the bounty is so large as to illiminate that, a farmer is assured of a fixed price for his wheat and oats—and, of course, the bounty affects the whole rotation of his crops—then you are not stimulating the farmer at all; you are simply telling the farmer to pursue his old conservative methods and to be content with a small income, as so many of them are now content. You are fixing the farmer in the frame of mind which has been so fatal to agricultural progress in this country. Therefore the second proposition is that a bounty should secure the farmer against commercial loss, but should not make profits certain every year. Otherwise, you get no stimulus imposed upon the farmer to make the very best of his farm. A bounty, as a matter of fact, should supplement the market. The market should be left perfectly open for the free play of competition, with all the incentives to get the natural economic price for the goods on the market. Then, when that has been exercised to the very fullest, you can give your bounty on the prices that have been realised, but anything that tends to make affairs upon the market sluggish is bad for the State, bad for the person who goes upon the market, and bad for the industry the product of which is affected by the bounty.
Here in this particular proposal we get all the evil operations on the market that have been pointed out again and again as the result of bounties. Of course, the absurd case is this: The man who has actually got his 60s., and so on coming down the scale, for his wheat is going to get the bounty, provided the average price for the year has been less than 60s. How can anyone justify that? If 60s. is a stimulating point and that stimulating point has been reached on the market, it is absolutely waste of national resources to make a present of a single sixpence. You are getting what you want, and you are not helping the farmer. You are simply making him a very substantial gift,, and he does not need it. Surely the House will not allow that to become statutory. You give him his hypothetical guarantee. You say, "If you do not get 60s., you will? get a bounty to make the amount up to 2351 60s."That is enough. That is the guarantee. Then when he gets 60s.—it may be 61s., 62s., or 63s.—he still gets his bounty, equal to the difference between the average and the minimum guaranteed price. The proposal is absolutely absurd, and I do not believe that anyone can possibly defend it.
There is a third principle which this Bill does not observe. A bounty, to be effective, should not rise with plenty and sink with scarcity. This is what happens under this scheme. If a man is farming good land, he gets a bigger sum in bounty than a man farming poor land. In a good season the bounty that is paid is bigger than the bounty that is to be paid in a bad season. The thing is absurd! The good season and the good land help to give the guarantee, and must enter into the guarantee unless you are going to spoon-feed the whole of your agricultural industry and destroy its initiative by that method. Whatever system of bounty you devise, if it is to be accurate and scientific, must be a system under which it is small under conditions of prosperity and rises under conditions of difficulty, conditions of scarcity and conditions created by bad seasons. That is why, even assuming that the bounty is a good method—which I do for debating purposes—I consider that Part I. of this Bill as drafted is thoroughly bad, and even those who favour bounties ought not to support the particular method that is proposed in Part I.
I should like to ask, because we must get some more information about this, how these figures have been fixed? In Clause 1 you have the figures for the next four or five years. How have they been fixed? Are we going to get any statement about that? Is there to be no White Paper or official statement telling us what entered into the calculations that fixed those figures? I looked very carefully into the Report known as the Selborne Report. The only valuable part of that Report is the Minority Report, one of the most remarkable pieces of economic reasoning and argument combined with agricultural knowledge that anybody in this House has ever read. There is not a single argument left in the Majority Report that Sir Matthew Wallace in that extraordinary able statement he makes 2352 over his own signature in the Minority Report has not smashed. He tells us that this Committee could not make up its own mind—one is not in the least surprised when he reads its argument—as to what the figure should be, and, when it did make up its mind, it could not fix it but kept changing it about from day to day. The Government must really be a little more candid and tell us is it a guess, is it a rule of thumb, or is it a scientific result. Has it been attained after a careful inquiry into the cost of production or has it not? If it has been attained after a careful inquiry into the cost of production, it will be a perfectly simple thing for the Government to tell us how it reached its conclusions. Would they tell us what profits they assume on this figure? Is it a figure that is going to secure a profit or only going to guarantee against loss? We ought to know that. When they fixed the figure, what period did they take into account? Was it simply the fortunes, the ups and downs of five or six years or was it a shorter or a longer period? Before we can make up our minds whether this figure is a good or a bad one, an adequate or an extravagant one, one really ought to get much more information than we have had up till now.
The next question is whether this bounty is really going to increase production. Again we come to two diverse schools. I was very much amused—my feelings are accurately described by that— to hear hon. Member's this afternoon tell us we must do this in a hurry. There are certain things that you cannot do in a hurry. It is all very well to say, "We are going to settle, this next year," but you cannot settle it next year. It is all very well to say, "Agriculture is very bad and we must do something now which will make it all right next month." You cannot do it. A wise man does what he can do and does it rationally. A foolish man tries to do what everyone knows he cannot do and does it badly. Those who come and tell us that by the method of bounty they are going to immediately change the whole psychology of agricultural production, going to start new education and new tillage and all that sort of thing, are really showing that they have got far more faith in a complete change of usual conditions than anyone who is very wise would entertain for a single moment. You cannot make this change 2353 in this hurried way, therefore what you have to do is to use the pressure which you have at present at your command and begin your change in such a way that it will steadily extend and fructify more liberally. What justification is there for giving the wheat-growing farmers of Norfolk, who are now cultivating their maximum, a bounty under a Bill which is produced for the purpose of extending the area of cultivation of arable land? I should like an answer to that very simple business proposition.
I put another question. Most people admit to-day that wheat is paying. At any rate, all my farmer friends in the North of Scotland, although they are constitutional grumblers and never admit that they are succeeding in anything, have declined during the last twelve months, at any rate, to tell me that they are losing money on their wheat. I know these men are laying down every square yard they can. I do not believe that in that district, which I know very well, you will produce 100 bushels of wheat as a result of this bounty that you would not have produced in consequence of the market. If the right hon. Gentleman could accomplish what he wants to do, and substantially increase the production of wheat and oats, he might justify this bad system. But even as a temporary measure, he cannot justify it. The market at the present moment gives a guarantee for the next twelve months, at any rate. The right hon. Gentleman has got power, under the Defence of the Realm Act, to compel farmers to take advantage of the guarantee of the market. He has done that, as a matter of fact, but, instead of allowing the farmer to gain confidence in the market again, as he was beginning to do during the last ten or twelve years, he destroys the confidence which the farmer has been gaining in the market by telling him, "You cannot trust the market; you must trust to this bounty. "The effect of this bounty is to destroy the natural confidence that the healthy agricultural mind must repose in the market, and is going to encourage the agricultural mind to go back upon those stilts which have been so fatal to its development. That is the great mischief* these bounties are doing, -especially at this moment, when everything was tending in the natural direction -of giving security and confidence to the intelligent agriculturist. We shall have opportunities in Committee to deal more fully with the Clause relating to rents. 2354 That Clause will not prevent the bad landlord from increasing his rents. It is the old story. The bad landlord can always take advantage, while the good landlord declines, as a gentleman, to do it. The good landlord once again is going to be penalised. He will take the spirit of this Act and say, "It was the intention of Parliament that I should not take advantage of this increase in the income of my tenant, and I will not do it, whereas the new landlord, the sort of millionaire, the kind of vulgar nouveau riche, who, perhaps, has been getting his 100 per cent. profit during the War—that class of men who would swallow up men like my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Weigall), and who can buy up, vulgarly, the old houses of England, will not be deterred if they so desire from turning off every tenant they have got, or from increasing the rent on account of this bounty. I hope we shall see to this when the Bill gets into Committee. The right hon. Gentleman must know perfectly well that whether he legislates about rent or not, the payment of a bounty does create rent, more particularly a bounty which is not paid for all agriculture. If he pays a bounty for wheat and oats he discriminates in favour of wheat and oats-bearing land against land that has not had a crop of wheat and oats. He knows that well. That discrimination produces rent. The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from that. Somebody has got that rent which he has created by his bounty, and I object to the tenant getting it. If something happens which creates a real economic rent it is not in the interest of the tenant that he should get that rent. That rent ought to be taken away from profits which accrue naturally, otherwise you are simply asking your tenant to live up to a false standard and enjoy an income which is not economically his own, and which he cannot expect to enjoy except under very special circumstances. It is not doing the tenant any good. It is doing the State a tremendous amount of harm, and putting an impediment on the action of the good landlord which you cannot put on the action of the bad landlord of the sort of nouveau riche type. Rents created by bounties paid by the State should belong to the State and not to the tenant.
2355 I desire to deal now with that section of the Bill which does a grave injustice to the agricultural labourer. I was amazed to hear hon. Members say that this Bill was doing a great deal of good to the agricultural labourer because it establishes a wages board and is going to give him a minimum of 25s. a week. The wages board and the 25s. minimum have nothing whatever to do with bounties, and the people who associate the two and say to the agricultural labourer, "Unless- the State pays your masters bounties you cannot have a 25s. minimum" are doing the greatest disservice to the agricultural labourer. The proposition is a monstrous one. Labour is not paid out of bounties. Labour is paid out of produce, and if labour cannot be paid out of produce then labour cannot be paid at all. What an absurd proposition, that in order to pay the agricultural labourer 25s. a week this House has got to vote millions of pounds to farmers. I hope that the agricultural labourer will show his appreciation of his own independence and of the value of his own labour by making his position upon this Bill perfectly clear. It is not quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that he is totally unorganised. He is getting organised once more. I quite admit that in England he has not gone very far, but the membership is increasing very rapidly. In Scotland it is very good and it has a considerable effect. I would like very much to have the evidence of the Selborne Committee produced. I understand that the evidence cannot be produced—
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I am very glad to hear it. I wish we had had the evidence before this Debate, especially that of Mr. Joseph Duncan, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the connection' that is established between the bounties to farmers and the wages board establishing a 25s. minimum wage is resented very bitterly by Scottish farm labourers.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I expressly dissociated the two matters in my speech, and for that reason I took Part II. last and separated it from Part I., and the whole of the hon. Member's argument is entirely off the mark so far as my propositions are concerned.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I am afraid that I was doing the right hon. Gentleman quite unwittingly a certain amount of injustice.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
Yes, a grave injustice so far as the right hon. Gentleman himself is concerned, but I have m mind the general tenour of the Debate, and the argument put forward by a colleague of his also and also by the hon. and gallant Member who preceded me that you cannot divide the Bill, and that the wages board depends on bounties. That is my excuse for unwittingly having done the right hon. Gentleman an injustice. But to come back to the point. Twenty-five shillings is only equal to 16s. before the War, and all this attempt to do the farm servant justice by establishing a 25s. minimum wage is an exceedingly insignificant thing, and does not to any extent meet the demands the farm servants are making on this House. Take, for instance, the case of Scotland. I have a statement from "The Scottish Farm Servant" for last March, and it states that many skilled workers have left the farms during the past two years because they could not get 30s. a week for their labour; and the Government proposes to show its sympathy for the farm servant by establishing a minimum wage not higher than 25s. Only in remote districts of Scotland do farm wages fall to the level of 25s. Let me give the House one or two figures. In Haddington, Edinburgh, and Linlithgow there is an agreement between the farmers and the farm servants. In Haddington it provides for payment of 31s. with certain extras— potatoes, milk, oatmeal, and so forth, though I believe those extras vary from place to place. In Edinburgh and Linlithgow the average wage is from 32s. to 35s. a week and extras. In Berwick there was a dispute between the Farm Servants' Union and the Union of Farmers as to whether they should have 30s. or 32s. a week paid with extras. In Ayrshire the average wage is from 34s. to 35s. for ordinary services, in Glasgow 34., in Stirling it was 33s. to 35s., Dunfermline 33s. to 34s. In Fife, Forth, and Forfar the average was £65 to £70 per annum. This Bill is based on 25s., and that is the testimony and sympathy which the Government has for farm servants. As a matter of fact, we shall certainly want an increase of 10s. a week upon that, even to begin with, to be satisfactory, and that is not as satisfactory as farm servants would like-to see it. There are various other points 2357 showing the unequal way in which this Bill is going to benefit districts and farmers. We are opposed to Part I. because it is bad in principle. It is quite wrong; it is misleading to agriculture; it is the old bad method of treating agriculture as though it were a pauper, and pauper treatment is not good for it. We want to see agriculture brought into the open; we want to see it receive a stimulus to push on; we want, as the right hon. Gentleman who is experienced in cotton speculation said, to see it speculate in such a way that it knows if it loses its losses will come out of its own pocket, and that if it gains, it will pocket those gains. Let it be with good education, good material, and, above all, good labour, and that is the best plan you will ever get. The hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Weigall) wishes climate, too. We have the remarkable Report of Mr. Middleton, and there is no distinction between English agriculture and other agriculture so far as this is concerned. The difficulty, I think, is twofold. Our farmers have not been quite so good as they might have been on the whole; and secondly, I think our politics in agriculture have been very bad indeed, and this Bill is going to increase the badness of those politics. I sum up with this. Even apart from the question of whether bounties are good or bad, this is a very bad system of paying bounties. It does not reach the right people, and it does not effect what it proposes to effect. Secondly, the State is not going to get value for its money, which it is going to waste. This is a sort of blind throwing of money about upon a principle and a policy which means that for every time you hit the bull's-eye you waste pounds and pounds of cartridges. Thirdly, it is a wrong way of meeting the agricultural problem altogether. Also it contains an absolutely erroneous view about wages, and in the end it is going to damage the agricultural labourer rather than benefit him. Only by many big modifications, putting out large parts of the Bill and putting in new parts, and amending those that remain, is this Bill going to be worthy of the Third Reading which I hope it will get in the amended form.
§ Captain STANIER
One has been struck to-day in this Debate with this extraordinary feeling that has run through so many of the speeches that have been delivered by Gentlemen who do not even 2358 know the great purposes for which this-Bill has been brought in. I hardly believe that they even know that we are to-day fighting for our lives and also for the food wherewith to keep ourselves alive. We have just listened to an able speech by the hon. Member for Leicester. He told us of farmer friends in the North of Scotland who grow wheat and who will not acknowledge that it pays. I should like to know about that wheat in the North of Scotland, because if he cannot tell us about this wheat I think a great deal of his argument falls to the ground. The late President of the Board of Agriculture (Mr. Runciman) will, I hope, not mind my saying —when he calls attention to the fact that this Bill will have the tendency to hold up wheat in this country rather than allow it to flow in the usual channels, and that it will be held up until April—that if he had been a practical farmer—and I hope I am not saying anything that will hurt his feelings— he would know that it is practically impossible to keep any quantity of wheat on the farms till that period. You cannot-keep it in stacks because of the burning, and you cannot keep it in granaries because the farmers have not got the means of properly turning it and keeping it fresh, so that the whole thing breaks-down. I want to put before the House this evening the views and ideas of the farmers whom I, as chairman of the-Central Chamber of Agriculture, have with me, who have gone deeply into this Bill to-day, and who wish that their views should be put before the President of the Board of Agriculture and the House. The farmers and the owners of property are only too keen to come and do what the President of the Board of Agriculture wants, and that is to grow corn for the food of the people; but we want the President to go deeper into it than this Bill goes. We want to encourage the production of corn in every sense of the word, and we want the guarantee on that production to be on the corn that is produced. You want the corn produced for the feeding of animals to a lesser extent, I will grant, but you do want it, in order to save tonnage and to bring up the live stock from the calf to the bullock. You also-must have it for milk.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
I think the live stock are unnecessarily numerous at the present time. We want more corn, and fewer live stock.
§ Captain STANIER
Perhaps you will not say so in a very few minutes. But why should you give this bonus to the producers who sell and who, as has been pointed out by speaker after speaker, are those who have the great arable farms, and yet not help the feeder, and the dairy man, and the grazier, who have to have a certain amount of corn in order to keep these animals going in the usual state and bring the young animals to maturity? If you are only going to give this bonus for production to the great farms, you will not be helping the lesser farms, the hill farms, and the inferior farms, and if you do not do that you will not get what you are aiming at, and you will not have the production that we are out for to-day. The Acts of Parliament dealing with compensation go into the whole question of the consumption of corn on the holdings. All that can be tabulated and worked up. If it can be worked up for the Agricultural Holdings Act, why cannot it be worked up for this Bill? The opposition of the farmers at the meeting to-day of the Central Chamber was that undoubtedly you ought to take up the production as a whole rather than introduce this piecemeal legislation. The farmers contend that you have not made a long enough period for the bounty to continue, and they would rather have a lesser rate and have it brought down to 50s. for wheat and 30s. for oats if you would give them a longer period for the bounty.
The reason of that is this: You are asking them to break up their grass land. They will break it up, but you must remember that it takes four years at least to lay down that grass land again and bring it back into tone. That is why we are asking for a longer period. This piecemeal legislation has become a stumbling block which will prevent farmers breaking up this term in the large areas that you to-day are asking for. I beg of you to reconsider these figures, and if you cannot give a large figure to give a lesser figure for the longer period, with an arrangement, if need be, for the determination of the agreement. I do not want to go into the question as to how the farmer sells and how he will receive the bounty. There is no shadow of doubt at all about it that a minimum is created by that seven months' average. Some of the speakers have said that they would give a larger sum than the 60s. quoted in the Bill, but again, on the other hand, it may work in exactly the 2360 reverse ratio. If that is so, I think it is not so unfair as several speakers this afternoon have tried to make it out to be. Again, you are asking farmers to take up the labour of boys, women, and girls. You are not giving any figure at all of the whole of the Bill to give the farmer any guide as to the wages to be paid. Yet if the wages paid are not correct, or insufficient, for the wages board to be created this is to be retrospective. That will frighten a large number of farmers from employing that particular class of labour. I beg the President of the Board of Agriculture to again go into that question, and see if something cannot be done in Committee to help that question.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
May I correct my hon. and gallant Friend"! Our retrospective application of the minimum rate of wages applies only to able-bodied men; it does not apply to women and boys.
§ Captain STANIER
There is one more thing I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman. Under the arbitration Clause the arbitrator is to be nominated by the President of the Surveyors' Institute. I am a great admirer of the Surveyors' Institute, but do not consider that the President of that body is the proper person to elect the arbitrator. I beg the right hon. Gentleman, before the Bill goes any further, to say that that will be altered. The proper body to use is the County War Agricultural Executive Committee. We cannot have the President of the Board of Agriculture, because that would involve dual control, otherwise I should have preferred him. With all the respect I have for the Presidents of the Surveyors' Institute, I contend they are not the body, being surveyors, to appoint this arbitrator on questions that he will have under review. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to alter that.
It being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned; Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Wednesday).
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.