§ Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [24th April,] "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—[Mr. Lough.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the question."
§ Mr. DILLON
The object of this Bill is one with which, I think, every Member of the House has the keenest sympathy, but when we come to examine the drafting of the Bill the first thing which strikes us is that it is quite plain that those who were in charge of the drafting of the Bill looked at this great complicated and difficult subject entirely and solely from the point of view of the wealthy capitalist British farmer, engaged at present in growing corn and in possession of a large acreage of good land. The whole Bill from beginning to end bears' that mark across it, and there can be no doubt that if it were passed in its present state its main effect would be to give a very large financial advantage or bonus to farmers who at present are comfortably situated and who are engaged in a very prosperous business. That undoubtedly will have to be dealt with, and very radically dealt with, by the Government. We heard yesterday a statement which I should like to hear examined by men who are more versed in English agriculture than I can pretend to be, and if possible disproved, namely, that if this Bill passes into law in its. present shape it will be quite possible, and even likely, in the case of a fall in prices, that farmers might obtain a subsidy of £500,000 a year from the taxpayers without adding a single acre to the corn-producing land of this country. That is a very serious statement to make, and I think those who advocate the Bill in its present shape ought to be prepared to meet it and disprove it.
The Bill is introduced manifestly not only as a war measure, but as a measure which, as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Prothero) frankly admitted, looks to the conditions after the War, and it is really a Bill designed at least to lay the foundations for the reconstruction of English agriculture and rural life. From that point of view it is a matter of enormous importance to examine the principles of 2431 the Bill. I have studied the Bill as well as I can, and I cannot for a single moment imagine that this Bill can be discussed in the House of Commons as an emergency war measure. It provides for a bonus to the growers of corn and oats in this country for a period of six years, and in consideration of that bonus it imposes on the agriculturists of this country—not only those who grow wheat and oats, but all the agriculturists in this country—the duty of paying better agricultural wages than they have been paying in some parts of the country up to the present. It cannot be for a single moment expected that when the six years come to an end, if there should be in the interval such a fall in the price of corn here as will leave a considerable margin and cause a heavy-bonus to be paid, the farmers of this country will consent to the removal of the bonus; and if the Government of that day, acting under the pressure of the general taxpayers of the country, were to propose the withdrawal of that bonus, under which largo vested interests would have grown up, would the farmers not, in all human probability, human nature being what it is, say, "If you withdraw the bonus, we must meet your action by reducing wages"? Therefore, I think it would be foolish for us to discuss this from the point of view of a purely temporary war measure, and, to do him justice, the right hon. Gentleman was far too honest to ask the House to do so. He frankly dealt with it as a great step toward the reconstruction of rural life in this country and the safeguarding of the population of this country against the danger with which we are now faced.
It seems to me rather a sinister thing that, although we have been told that this is to be the last war in human history, and a war to abolish war, we should now be invited to consider this Bill from the point of view that after this War there will be as great a danger as ever of war, and that we should reorganise the whole system of the country in order to make ourselves safe from what the "Morning Post" has described as the loss of Britain's control of the sea. I only mention this in order to show that we have to consider this from the point of view not only of a temporary war measure—a purpose which it cannot subserve for more than a year to come— but from the point of view of the future. There have been a good many men in this country who have for many years, like voices of those crying in the wilderness. 2432 warned the Government of this country and the landed classes of this country of the ruin that was being inflicted on the manhood of England, as well as on the whole agricultural industry, by the operation of the English land system.
What I regretted to observe in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in introducing this measure was that, so far as one can judge, he is absolutely deaf to the true causes of the decay of British agriculture. I myself come from a country where at least a remnant of the peasant spirit remains. You have killed it in this country. It is gone! It will take many a long year, it may be a generation, to restore it. I have been brought up among a peasant population. All my life I have firmly held the belief that the soundest, safest, and most secure foundation for a State in any part of the world, against all kinds of evils, be they wars, invasions, or be they social disturbances at home, is that it should be firmly based on the rock of a peasant population. You have ruined that in England. You have swept away your peasants. You have lost the spirit. Believe me, the spirit of the peasant population such as has made the incomparable strength of France and has enabled her to do the miracles she has done—her peasants have enabled her to do it! That spirit, I say, is dead in England, and it will take many a long day to revive it— if it can be revived! The spirit of the peasant is one which it is very hard to realise and very hard to describe. It is not based on logic. It is not based on theory. It is transmitted from generation to generation. It is the call of the blood. You cannot breed it artificially. What I missed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was any indication that he realised the great and terrible causes which throughout the last 100 years have operated to the destruction of the peasantry of England. The demise of the peasant spirit was not solely nor mainly —nor even, I will add, to any great extent—the cause of the decay of agriculture. That affected the capitalist farmers. It ruined many of the farmers and landowners. The peasants and the small holders were destroyed by a wholly different system and causes—by the growth of the English land system. which, in my opinion, is a very evil system for any State.
2433 We must be careful in considering this Bill, which is really, as I say, an attempt to lay the foundation upon which the future land system of England is to be built up, that we are not being invited to bolster up, to reconstitute, and to strengthen the very system which has ruined the countryside of Great Britain. In connection with this matter I would just mention an experience which, long years ago, I had in this country when I first took to electioneering. I had been accustomed to live amongst a population of Irish labourers and peasants. The Irish labourer at that time was the worst housed and the worst paid labourer in the world. He was in rags. His average wage was about 9s. per week. When I came to this country I went through Warwickshire, Somersetshire, Wiltshire, and many other English counties electioneering. I refer to the old days when Irish agitators first became popular on English platforms—that was in 1885-6. I thought I should see in the English countryside the majestic form of the independent English labourer. What did I see"? The English labourer in Warwickshire was horrible to look at. The Irish labourer, true, was starving and in rags, but he was an independent man. At that time he was fighting hard for his rights. He was a keen politician. He was banded into great political organisations, and, beggarly as was his lot, he was prepared to defy landlords and farmers in the assertion of his own rights. The English labourer at that time was a slave. His very gait and manner was abject compared with the poor, starving labourer in Ireland. I saw the mark and sign of the curse which the English land system had inflicted upon the people of this country. I carried home to my own country a feeling of satisfaction, gratification and pride that in spite of the hurricane and tempest of persecution which had passed over the people of Ireland, in spite of the starvation and rags in which they lived, the peasant spirit was still alive: they had not lost their souls; they were prepared to strike for liberty and independence!
The consequence to-day is that we have almost entirely solved that root problem, without which solution no Bill passed in this Parliament to increase the worker upon the land or place him in a permanent position can be satisfactory as a foundation of the State. We have to a large extent emancipated the labourer 2434 from the farmer because tied-houses in Ireland are almost unknown. The labourer is an independent man—that is to say, the farmer cannot put him out of his home. He holds it under the public authority. He is, therefore, compared with his English brother, comparatively an independent man, although his wages are low; and the farmer in Ireland is on the straight road to becoming again the owner of his own land. That, then, is my first criticism on the Bill. While I recognise the attempt to undo the evils of the past and to restore English agriculture, I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman—and I listened most carefully to his speech—has failed to realise the situation or attempted to deal with the matter. I do not blame him so much for not attempting to deal with it, but I should have been happy if he had recognised in his speech what were the fundamental and root conditions of the decay of English agriculture, and had indicated that he, at all events, to whom this House looked for so much in regard to the future of agriculture, had realised what really was the road to be travelled before English agriculture could be restored. If he had done so, I should have looked forward to better results from his tenure of office.
I have already said that my chief difficulty about this Bill, at all events one of the chief difficulties, is that it is drafted altogether in the interest of the wealthy man, of the man who has already got a good tract of good land which he is cultivating at a profit. I was amazed, and I think the House was amazed, to hear, that the large, the capitalist farmer, the man who has got resources, and who can store up his grain and hold it for better markets, may not only get the minimum price, but 10s. in addition. I do think that is a most staggering revelation. On the other hand, the small man, even in this country, the man who comes under the stimulus of this Bill, who comes forward and ploughs up indifferent grass land with scanty capital, and is pressed for money, and must rush his corn into the market at the very earliest, and at a time when the market will be against him, cannot get anything more than the minimum price. That is his utmost hope. The man with ample resources who is at present cultivating the greater part of his land, who has a rich farm and good land, who can hold his corn and watch 2435 the markets, and sell when the market serves, always gets something over the minimum price. If he is a skilful agriculturist, a watcher of the market, he is able to get a good deal more than the minimum price. Therefore, from that point of view alone the Bill is so drafted as to give the largest amount of bonus to the man who least needs it. In point of fact it gives the largest amount of bonus to the man who has no claim whatever for a bonus, against that man not a single word is, of course, to be said, for it is his case alone we are considering. That is a fault which will have to be remedied.
When I turn to the question of the operation of the bonus Clause as between the large farmer in this country and the small farmer in Ireland, the whole system becomes absolutely ludicrous. Ireland is a country, which, roughly—I cannot give the figures exactly—has about 550,000 farmers. Of this number, about 410,000 occupy farms of under 30 acres—that is to say, more than three-quarters of the farmers of Ireland; about four-fifths, say, are holding farms under 30 acres. How in the name of common sense are you going to provide the bonus for these men? In the first place, they cannot watch the markets. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever drafted this Clause, had not the faintest idea of the Irish case. In the first place, we have not the Corn Law returns which gives us the average prices. Suppose we take the English average. I defy any Member of this House to explain how this bonus Clause is to be applied to Ireland at all. You have, say, about 400,000 farmers. Their Bales are small. How do they affect their sales? In the vast number of cases they affect them by taking a donkey and cart, bringing their corn into the market, and selling it to different people; to small buyers of whom they keep no record. We have had a recent example of a Government Department's work in the St. Ermin's Hotel. I should like to see a Government Department that would follow out all these sales in order to give this very small bonus to 400,000 small peasants in Ireland! You would need an army of inspectors, checkers, and so on, before you could make out the payments, and when you had made out these thousands of payments they would be extremely small. That is one difficulty. There is no such system in England. The man with 200 2436 or 300 acres sells to the factor, or disposes of his crop, it may be, to the wholesale man, and the whole transaction can be checked. When, however, you go to a peasant country the thing is ridiculous. There is another point. I have no doubt that a part, at all events, of the object of this measure, is to encourage and stimulate the greatest possible growth of corn and oats and throw them upon the market. I contend that that is not, or ought not to be, the sole object of the measure. In, point of fart the right hon. Gentleman declared that it was not. He said the object was to encourage, as far as possible, the production of food. Man does not live by oats and wheat alone. He lives on food. In relation to the Irish small farmer this has been preached to him of late, and, I am happy to say, with considerable success. He has been told, and is learning day by day, that the best use to which he can put his farm produce, to a large extent at all events, is not to throw it on the market, but to feed it to his animals, and to use it for purposes of household consumption. That method is equally serviceable to the State. Either he must feed himself on imported flour and corn, and his animals on imported corn, or on the produce of his own farm. Observe what you are doing in this system of bonuses? You are radically altering and stopping this wholesome and growing custom amongst the Irish farmers, and you are putting a premium on the Irish people to throw all their produce on the market in order to get the bonus. You are resuming the evil system which had grown up for many years, wholly to the detriment of the health of the people, and to their pockets—that is of selling everything, and of buying everything. I have heard it laid down by men who have made a study of the tenant's life that the less the tenant sells and buys—I mean to say the more he uses of his own produce that is farmed both for his own family's use and his cattle and his animals—the better for the State and himself. Yet here you blindly propose a scheme which is going to put a bonus on this vicious system, which we have been trying to root out in Ireland, and to teach the peaasnt that his best plan is to live on wheat flour, and to give up wholemeal and other wholesome foods, which are far better for his health and far more economical.
I am not an agriculturist, but I have lived amongst agriculturists, and I know their ways, ideas, and habits very inti- 2437 mately—I mean the small man—and I do not believe Ireland by any artificial system could ever be made a large wheat-growing country. It is ridiculous. You have a certain amount of wheat grown in Ireland, but to attempt to stimulate Ireland into being a large wheat-growing country is against nature, and you will waste your money. Therefore I say it is folly. Ireland can grow wheat, but she cannot grow it to compete with Canada, the United States, the Argentine, India, or Austratlia, or even this country. The country people have largely taken to growing half an acre of wheat. It is not for the market, but for their own consumption. They take it to the mill, get it threshed into wholemeal, and they make wholemeal bread, and it is of enormous advantage, but the bonus will not affect that. You are going to say, if you eat your wholemeal you get no bonus, but if you take it to the market and sell it, you get a bonus. That is very unwise. Therefore, in considering a Bill of this character, if you are wise, you have to go very carefully into the habits of the people to whom it is to be applied. Another point is this: We are a great oat-growing country. Oats grow best in a rather moist and cold country, and the Irish oats are as good as any that can be grown in the world. We could grow a great deal more, and I dare say oats will become increasingly popular both for man and beast. I am not at all sure—I have not gone into the figures carefully, but they will have to be gone into thoroughly—whether you are doing justice to the oat-grower in this bonus as compared with the wheat-grower. The Irish crop is the oat crop, and the English crop is the wheat crop, and we Gave to see in this bonus that you give fair play to oats as compared with wheat. As regards the purpose of the Bill, oats are just as good. They are excellent food, necessary for horses, cattle of all kinds, and for men, and if you do not grow them at home, you have either to import them from abroad, as we do in immense quantities from Canada, or you have to import Indian corn to take their place. Therefore, they are just as important as wheat.
Then I come to the question of potatoes. I am not quite sure why potatoes are left out. Potatoes, as we have painful reason to know, are quite as necessary for human food, and quite as useful for the food of animals as oats or wheat, and, remember this, potatoes are far more profitable and intensely valuable to the soil. An 2438 acre of land will produce more bulk of food under potatoes than either under oats or wheat. Moreover, we in Ireland grow actually more potatoes than the whole of England, which is a very remarkable thing. But England, in my opinion, does not grow half enough potatoes. Germany grows about five times as much potatoes in proportion to her area as England, and she uses them for all kinds of manufactures. Therefore, I believe for cultivation, for the purposes of the soil, and for the amount of employment it necessarily gives to the rural population, because it does give a vast amount of employment, I think the cultivation of potatoes in this country ought to be greatly encouraged. Of course, when you come to bonuses, there is one word of warning I want to give. You must not be surprised if we Irishmen are very keen that full justice should be done. That is human nature. We must look after the interests of our Constituents, and the Irish people, who have been the great potato-growers of the United Kingdom, and who rely largely on the potato crop, when they look over this, and see that a bonus is given for essential food, will naturally say, "Why leave out the potato?" which is our great crop, and which is, in my opinion, for too much neglected in this country. It would be greatly to the advantage of this country to cultivate more, and it would be more following the law of nature, because these climates are more suited, particularly Ireland, but England also, to the growth of potatoes and oats than the growth of wheat. I do not believe you will ever see England or Ireland a great wheat-growing country again. Nature is too strong for it. We have not got the sun of the Southern climates, and accordingly the predominance of Canada, the River Plate, India and Australia will assert themselves, no matter what bonus you give.
Those are some criticisms I feel bound to make. I pronounce no judgment on the whole system of bonus. Something has got to be done, no doubt, to encourage agriculture, and I should be very slow indeed to say a word against the generosity which characterises this proposal. I am not sure it would not be better to follow what was the practice of the old Irish Parliament, which, during its short beneficent reign, devoted some of its attention to the task of encouraging agriculture in Ireland with great success, and they did give a bonus, but I think, as 2439 well as I recollect, it was on a totally different principle. I think it was rather an acreage bonus, and certain facilities were given. I believe myself that something ought to be done on different lines altogether from the present proposal, perhaps as ancillary and additional, which would be more just in its effect, far more easy to work, and might be more efficient in proportion to the amount of money spent. That will have to be debated when we come to the Clauses themselves. It has been suggested in some quarters that we should press for a separate Irish Bill. I am against that altogether. If the English got their Bill through we should get nothing at all.
§ Mr. DILLON
I do not know; I think it will, but in a very different shape. I am inclined to think it will go through, but, at all events, on this occasion my opinion is we do better to risk our fortune in the English ship, even if it should be torpedoed, because it is under weigh, and has powerful backing, whereas if we allow the Irish question to be cut out of it the Irish will get nothing at all. The English Bill will either go through or it will not, and we will get nothing, because by the time that period of the Session comes we know the Chief Secretary will say that he is very sorry but the complexities of the Irish question are so great—and they are great—that it is absurd to expect at that period of the Session that he can introduce an Irish Bill. Therefore, I am in favour of taking our chance along with the English measure. But it was really a most remarkable thing that when the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture—perhaps he showed himself a wise Parliamentarian —was introducing this Bill, which applies to the. whole of the United Kingdom, he said not one single word on that part of the United Kingdom which is preeminently the agricultural part, which exports £40,000,000 of food to this country a year. Ireland gives you more food— for which, of course, you have to pay a good price, though in these times to get food even at a good price is not to be depreciated—than any other country in the world, and it is sent such a short distance that the U-boats do not get a 2440 chance. I do not know of a single cargo of food sent from Ireland to Great Britain that has been sunk.
It has given a great many people in this country a true conception of the importance of Ireland. You have at your doors a country from which you can get £40,000,000 of food, and good food, every year. That is a very great service which Ireland gives to the Empire, and it is not the less a service because Ireland benefits from it. It is one of the reasons, as I have often said in the old days, why the people of this country always appear to be so ridiculous in their alarm about giving Ireland the control of her own affairs, under the idea that we shall immediately quarrel and set to work to conquer this country. The fact is, we could not live. We should be ruined if we quarrelled with you, because the whole population largely depends on the English markets, and with the high prices that prevail that has been brought home to our people more than ever. Is it not a remarkable and an interesting thing that the Minister in charge of the Bill never said a single word about that part of the United Kingdom which is really most agricultural? It is quite manifest that to the man who drafted the Bill Ireland was simply an expression on the map. He had no conception whatever of the social conditions or the differences between Ireland and England, and consequently, as I shall show in a moment, the Bill is really hopeless as an Irish Bill, for it does not apply to Ireland in any way. As I say, it really is most extraordinary, and shows the absurdity of the system under which we live, that a Bill dealing with the most vital of all matters to the Irish people —the very life and the bread of the Irish people—is drafted by a man who knows no more about Ireland than he knows about the affairs of China—perhaps less. I must say it is most deplorable that when this great question is raised, and raised, I think, justly—I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman) there, because I think the Government were bound by public opinion, and by the necessities of the case, to raise this question—but when it is raised, and raised in a Bill which the right hon. Gentleman admitted was bristling, with contentious points in every Clause, of which we have had full proof, that not one single effort should really be made in the Bill to deal with the food 2441 problem of Ireland. In this country you are prepared to give great powers— revolutionary powers—in order to bring ill-tilled land into cultivation, to force it into cultivation, and you are giving enormous bonuses and inducements to the people to extend their tillage.
The right hon. Gentleman yesterday boasted that England had added 300X00 acres to her cultivatable area, but Ireland has added 700,000 acres, and we are not more than half the area of England and Wales. The Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture in Ireland can tell the right hon. Gentleman that when the attempt was made to get increased tillage in Ireland this remarkable fact was found, that the small men required no stimulus at all, because they had already been tilling their land, and they were only eager to get more land to till. The small men are doing their duty and require very little persuasion to extend their tillage, but the men who resisted with all their might are the larger men, who are the outcome of the system which this Government has forced upon Ireland amidst bloodshed and ruin for the last 100 years, when it was the openly-preached doctrine of Lords Lieutenant and Chief Secretaries that it was the mission of this country to turn away one-third of the population and get rid of cultivation altogether. That policy was pursued for 100 years, and I could show you some of the choicest land in Meath, King's County, Westmeath and other counties, where you could travel for miles and see the whole of the land lying derelict and waste. Supposing the Government, after consideration, accept the challenge of the hon. Member for West Belfast, and invite a deputation from the Russian Duma to visit Ireland. There they would see tens of thousands of acres of land without the plough, and around those acres hundreds of poor families who have been driven off that rich land and planted on the bog and waste land, and they would find all those people eager to plough the land without any bonus. All they want is the land, and yet here you are extending or proposing to vote perhaps millions to tempt men to plough the land.
In pursuance of this insane policy in Ireland, which has been the sole root cause of crime, secret combination, murder and ruin in Ireland for generations, the outcome is there to-day staring you in the face. In Ireland at least 2,000,000 acres 2442 of the finest land on this earth are crying out for the plough, while the people around are working on bogs and waste and rocky mountain sides, and they are not allowed to have that land. They want no bonus, and yet you will not continue Irish land purchase and allow the people to cultivate this land. I think it is deplorable that a scheme should be brought in for the encouragement of cultivation while the claims of the Irish people are not recognised. Ireland might be some remote country in the centre of Africa. It is quite impossible that this Bill can go through without these questions being raised, and when the time comes we must ask that some serious effort should be made to open these lands to the people who are there close at hand, who have in their hearts still in spite of the years they have spent in desperate poverty, struggling with these bogs which are unfit for human habitation and work, that peasant tradition which is a priceless possession to any nation, and which you under your land system have parted with and killed. Let these men loose on the grass lands of Ireland, and if you never give them a penny of bonus it would repay you in a double way, because they would be able to send you their surplus food. Even at the eleventh hour, if you are struck by wisdom and good statesmanship you will try to remove from their hearts the bitterness which has been engendered in them, and which has been worked into their blood by successive generations of parties of aggression. If you remove that from their hearts, they will, by preparing and growing food for your markets, flourish on the land, and they will rear up a fighting race who have never allowed anybody to surpass them in battle throughout the history of the world, and who are only estranged from your arms now because you have treated them in a way to which no free race ought to submit.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
I am obliged to the Leader of the House for having allowed this Debate to extend over to a second day. I think the Debate yesterday was exceedingly useful, for it enabled us to clear our minds and to find out what measure of agreement and disagreement there was in regard to it. The Minister for Agriculture put his case simply and with perfect candour and frankness, and I want to put my position 2443 with equal clearness and frankness. We may think that the wages provision re-quires amendment, but I confess that I do not see that that is a sufficient reason for voting against the Second Reading. We may think that Part IV. should be strengthened, but that is not a sufficient reason for voting against the Bill, especially as the Minister for Agriculture rather invited our assistance. I want to make another point clear. I do not approach this subject in a negative state of mind, on the contrary, I think something should be done more effective and more immediate than the Bill proposes. I am prepared to support anything which I believe to be effective and immediate. This Bill is founded upon the Report of the Committee. I do not agree with all that the Committee says, and the Government does not do that. I think there are valuable parts of that Report upon which sufficient stress has not been laid in this Debate, and which point the way to more prompt and effective action than the proposal of a bounty for six years. I do not think I can put before the House those points in fewer words than are contained in the Report itself. I do not think this Report has been sufficiently appreciated in the House, judging from the Debate. I would like for a moment to refer to paragraphs 17, 13 and 19 of the Report. Paragraph 17 says:It must be explained to landowners, farmers and agricultural labourers alike, that the experience of this War has shown that the methods and results of land management and of forming are matters involving! the safety of the State and are not of concern only to the interests of individuals—That is a doctrine which has been preached for many years, and I cannot help thinking that one of the results of the War will be that it will be a doctrine which will now be accepted by those who formerly opposed it. The Report proceeds:They must he plainly told that the security and welfare of the Slate demand that the agricultural land of the country must gradually be made to yield its maximum production both in foodstuffs and in timber.Then the Committee go on to say in the next paragraph that while there is much excellent management and much first-class management of land in England, there is much indifferent management. I think that is common ground, but what I wish to call attention to is the reasons they give for this bad management, for it shows that there is a very great consensus 2444 of opinion not only as to the necessity of land reform, but as to what is required for land reform. The Report says:The causes of bad estate management and farming are lack of suitable education or of capital (often found in combination) on the part of landowners and farmers, the personal equation of character, the excessive encouragement of game, the acquisition of land for the sake only of its amenities, and the conviction that the State has no interest in the treatment of agricultural land, and that it is the concern only of the individuals dependent upon it.Those are very enlightened remarks on the subject. Everybody feels that the War has proved to all of us that the land can no longer be treated as a matter that only concerns individuals. The State has a direct interest in the matter, and has a right to intervene in case of necessity in the cultivation of land. I think we are all on common ground so far. In the next paragraph there are a great number of practical suggestions. It says:The general average of farming must be steadily and continuously raised throughout the United Kingdom; the grass land and the arable land alike must be more intensively cultivated: the improvement of live stock, for which landowners and farmer- have done so much, even through years of acute depressior. must be progressive: much grass laud must be reconverted into arable.I know that on this point agricultural experts differ as to the degree, but I do-not think they will disagree with that statement. The Report proceeds:Estates must be managed with a single eye to-maximum production, capital must be attracted to the industrial equipment and improvements of the land, and to the operations of intensive fanning; agricultural labourers must be provided with an ade[...]nate supply of good cottages; small holdings, both of owners and of occupiers, must be fostered to provide a 'ladder' for the agricultural labourer and for the demobilised sailors and soldiers: the organisation of agriculture must be developed.All that is very sound doctrine.
Yes, they put that in their Report and I do not object to it, for they are a most useful class of the community; but really these are matters which rather take one away from the general line of our argument. It is perfectly plain, as the Report says, that some of these things will necessarily require time, but others can be done at once. It is not my duty to put forward an agricultural policy, nor would it be of the least use for me to do so, but I will take as an illustration one of the things that can be done:Much grass land must he reconverted into arable.of course, we shall not get anything out of it this harvest, but we may get some- 2445 thing next harvest and the harvest after that, when our necessity will be considerable, and when it will be very valuable. I am quite prepared that the State, in case of necessity, should give liberal assistance in order to help that conversion, and I want to point out that we have several analogies to guide us. At the beginning of the War, or very nearly at the beginning of the War, we asked the owners of dollar securities, and afterwards those who held other foreign securities, to give them into the hands of the State, which took power to dispose of them. Subsequently, we said that if people would not volunteer we should impose a penal tax— 2s. additional on the Income Tax—and I believe that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has gone further in the way, of compulsion. Take another analogy—our treatment of munitions. There have been a great many cases where manufacturers who have not been in the habit of producing munitions at all have been called upon by the State to give up their ordinary business, risking their connection and taking their chance of the future after the War, and to devote themselves to the production of munitions, and they have not objected.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
Let us put the facts. If there is a loss, the owner of the factory must stand the racket; but if there is a profit, he is only allowed to take a very small proportion of the excess above his pre-war profit. The bulk of it is taken by the State. In the case of the farmer there are no excess profits. The farmer pays his Income Tax on a specially low basis, and no matter what his profits are he is not obliged to pay any more. If the calculation is correct, the excess profits on farming since the beginning of the War amount to something like £200,000,000. I have not checked it myself, but competent friends tell me that it is something like that. The farmer has been very fortunate. Manufacturers who have been obliged to give up their ordinary business in order to produce munitions get no bounty. Supposing their ordinary business is ruined, the State is under no 2446 obligation; and supposing they do not make any profit on the production of munitions, the State is still under no obligation. It is quite true, if they say to the Munitions Department, "We cannot extend our works as you wish us to do, and we cannot put in this fresh machinery, which will not be of much use to us after the War, unless you will help us." Then the State, very properly as I think, comes in and helps them. I am prepared to do all that for agriculture. It is not fair to say that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman)—I do not think anyone will say it of me—is in favour of a negative policy. Where you have got a piece of land on which it will pay to spend money in the interests of the State but not in the interests of the owner, I am quite prepared that the State should help. I think that is quite right and just. But when we are spending money, let us be sure that all of it goes for productive purposes and is not wasted.
I have given an illustration, but whatever practical proposals of that kind the Government may bring forward I am certainly prepared to consider with an open mind. I do not think the House of Commons would be slack in supporting them, but I object to these bounties, as they are called—these very "generous bounties," as my hon. Friend the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) very naturally calls them—as imposing a burden on the taxpayers which will be largely wasteful and ineffective. The Debate yesterday made this absolutely clear: It was pointed out that the great proportion of the bounty would go to the farmers with the best wheat- and oat-bearing land, who do not need it and who are making a profit without it. Can you imagine a worse system of finance than that which gives a large grant to people who do not need it, because their business is profitable without it, in order to give a small grant to people whom you want' to help? Could there be a more ridiculous proposition than that? I watched the Debate pretty closely yesterday and I observed that there was no answer to this argument. One hon. Member, indeed, pointed out that it might have the comic result that one man, who was able to hold back his wheat till the market was favourable, might get more money for his crop than the actual minimum price and would still get the bounty, whereas another man who was obliged to put his wheat on the market immediately and 2447 had, therefore, to be satisfied with a low price would only get the same bounty. I am not sure that this will not encourage speculation, and we do not want that sort of thing in a time of war. We want as much wheat grown as possible, and we want as much put on the market and as soon as possible.
I listened with very great interest to the very able speech of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. G. H. Roberts). It was an able speech for what it contained and still more able for its omissions. There was one point with which he carefully avoided dealing, and that was the argument as to the nature of these bounties. Surely we are entitled to consider whether these are wise bounties or whether this is the best way of dealing with the mailer. He accused my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Runciman) of having learned nothing and of having forgotten nothing, and he accused those with whom I am usually associated of the same crime. it is rather an old charge and rather a cheap accusation if he will pardon me for saying so. I think that those who watched the career of my right hon. Friend at the Board of Trade and all those who are now benefiting by his masterly treatment of the import of meat will think that the taunt was very little deserved. But there is another class of person who is equally unwise and equally dangerous and he is the person who becomes so rattled by this awful war that he has forgotten everything. No doubt this War will have great consequences incalculable to the wisest of us, but in the years of peace which will come after this War I really believe that the effect of bounties like these will be exactly the same as they were in the years of peace before the War. I do not think that either human nature or the main facts of commerce will be so changed as all that. If you give a bounty which will waste most of the money on people who do not need it to stimulate their production it will be just as foolish a thing and have just as evil consequences after the War as it would have had before the War.
My hon. Friend made it very plain indeed, as the Report of the Committee does, that this is not a war measure. It cannot come into operation during the War. It is a post-war measure. He also made it perfectly plain that it is not only 2448 a post-war measure, but that in his view it is a permanent measure. The Committee are quite clear about that. It is to be a permanent, policy. My hon. Friend went further than the Committee, which, of course, confined their attention to agriculture. He is prepared to apply it to other cases. It is not to be confined to wheat and oats. I hope that none of my hon. Friends will run away with that conclusion. My hon. Friend made a very significant remark. He said that the growers of cereals were doing very well, but that dairy farmers were not making great profits. If you give a bounty to the growers of cereals, who are not doing very well, then a fortiori, you must give it to dairy farmers who are not doing very well, and if you give to them there are the sheep farmers, a very desrving class of the community. You must go through the whole range of agriculture. The hon. Member for East Mayo said that you must give it to the potato growers in Ireland, not because they are not growing all the potatoes that they can, but because you must deal out even-handed justice.
Why are you going to stop at the two cereal crops? Has anybody given an explanation? And how do you fix the bounty? Can anyone tell me that! No one has attempted to do so. The Committee made one suggestion. My hon. Friend said that he had gone into it very carefully, and his suggestion was a little different; the Government suggestion is quite different; and I see by the papers to-day that the Associated Chambers of Agriculture have had a meeting, and they do not agree with any of the proposals. They say, "Why do the Government fix it at 60s., 55s., and 45s.?" Are we not really entitled to ask the Government why they have fixed on these figures? Take the illustration in the Report. It is very simple and very clear. I think it is in the Minority Report. Sir Matthew Wallace, not only a very experienced but a very able agriculturist, in a most admirable report, points out that if a man has fat land on which he can grow six quarters of wheat per acre you give him 60s. per acre, but if a man has poor land on which he can only grow three quarters per acre you only give him 30s. per acre. My hon. Friend went further than that. He was not satisfied with giving it to agriculture. He said, "There are things called key industries, and I propose to give it to them, too." I would venture to advise the 2449 House to avoid this slippery slope on which the Government is delicately asking us to take the first step I noticed some points of difference 'between the Minister of Agriculture and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade. The Minister of Agriculture, with some emphasis and some indignation, propelled the charge made against him by an hon. Member last night that he was associating this bonus or bounty with the rise in wages. He said it did him great injustice. I think it did. I do not think he did so for a moment, but the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board -of Trade mixed the two things together all through his speech. You could not disentangle them. Let us know where we are. What is the view of the Government? We advocated a rise in agricultural wages ever so long before the War. Surely you can rise wages without the complication of this system of bounties? Is agriculture the only business -which is not to pay decent wages unless the State gives a bounty? I think that proposal would be indignantly rejected by self-respecting agriculturists.
§ 5.0 P.M.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
My proposal is to strengthen the Wages Clauses in the Bill. My right hon. Friend spoke very significantly on the question of rents. It was one of the significant points in his speech. There is an appearance of preventing the landlord raising rents if this bounty increases the production of the land. But it is a very sham appearance, and my right hon. Friend dealt with that question very lightly, and, if I may say so, slightingly. He seemed to see that the provision in the Bill was a sort of lawyer's conundrum. You have to arrive at the object in the mind of the landlord in some inscrutable way. I do not think there is very much in that rent protection Clause, and I cannot help thinking that there is no doubt that the increase in the production of the land will be very soon reflected in the rent. Then there was another point in the Bill, which I think the most valuable point in the measure. It was the point which carries out in a sort of way— or at least, if it does not carry out, very adequately admits—the principle of those paragraphs in the Report which I read to the House in the earlier part of my speech. He treated those very slightingly. So far 2450 as I could proportion his speech—and I apologise if I have not proportioned it rightly — he attached very great importance to the bounty, but thought that this was a temporary expedient, this taking control of the land, and the necessity that the State should have some word in the production of the soil. I regretted that very much. Then we had a very old argument trotted out by both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman— the argument from the years '94 and '95. Surely that is ancient history, and not not only ancient history, but history of a different world from this. My hon. Friend replied to my right hon. Friend. He pointed out the perfectly familiar argument that certain races which formerly ate other cereals are now more and more consuming these, that the population is growing in the wheat-bearing' country, and that the amount of unoccupied land, of course, is necessarily diminishing He seemed to think that it will require generations for that to have effect, and therefore I venture to interpolate a query. It is having effect, it has been having effect for the last seven years, and it is going to continue to have that effect. Does anybody really put it that there is any probability that in the next few years the farmers will not be able to grow wheat and oats at a profit under normal conditions without a bounty? Does anyone allege that? The Committee do not allege it. They say we must look far forward; the people are frightened of the years '94, '95. No, the farmer is more intelligent that that; he knows that the whole circumstances have changed since '94 and '95.
In conclusion, I would like to bring this matter before the House from a point of view which I do not think has been emphasised in this Debate—from the point of view of the financial position of this country after the War. I cannot help looking forward with very grave anxiety, considering how we are to maintain the standard of living in this country of the mass of the people, how we are to restore our foreign trade with our diminished resources. I do not wish to be misunderstood. This is a reconstruction proposal, one out of many that have been brought before us. I quite appreciate that we shall have to spend money on many objects. I quite appreciate that we shall have to spend money on agricultural improvement and development—large sums of money. That is not my objection to the 2451 Bill. We shall have to spend, as the whole House has agreed, large sums of money on education, larger sums than the Minister of Education has yet informed us. We shall have to spend more money if we are to get more arable land, and very soon if there is to be more tillage. We are all agreed about that. There will be huge demands upon the private capital of this country. We shall require enormous sums of money to place the factories which have been turned inside out and adapted to the production of munitions in a condition suitable for peaceful, reproductive work after the War. We shall require immense sums of money to repair our ravaged mercantile marine and bring it up to its old standard. We shall require a great deal of capital to restore our foreign trade, in a less good position now because we have had to part with so many of our foreign securities. Our means will be less than before the War. We shall be groaning under a burden of taxation treble that which we have ever borne in years of peace—a burden of taxation never contemplated by any Chancellor of the Exchequer even in a nightmare. The cost of living is bound for some time to be high. Hundreds of millions, as I have pointed out, of our foreign securities have been sold, and the interest on those will not be coming in every six months to help our exchanges, as they were in the past, while our best securities are depreciated some 30 to 40 per cent.
We have a great appearance of wealth to-day. High money for wages, though they are really reduced by the high prices of necessaries; large profits, though the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes care to absorb a large proportion of them. Still, there are many people making plenty of money; and there are many who are not. The enormous expenditure on the War, dealing with figures that the human imagination in money has never attempted to grapple with before, has distorted our imagination altogether. You will hear people talking about a thing as quite within our means, quite a little thing, because, they say, it is only one day's or one week's cost of the War. Of course, that is the spendthrift's argument. The fact of the matter is we are very much like the spendthrift's household. The man who has been spending without regard to his income, by mortgaging his assets, may have a magnificent appearance of unbounded wealth. But 2452 we have not been spendthrifts; we have been spending with an entirely different object, although that does not alter the fact that we have been mortgaging our assets. We all recognise, nevertheless, that expenditure on public objects will have to be increased. There is a great feeling in the House that money is being wasted in the conduct of the War. No doubt money is wasted in the conduct of every war; it is a question of more or less. Neither the House nor the Treasury, nor anyone, can really control that expenditure, because we all feel that if we have to err we must err on the side of lavish-ness when the lives of our men, all dear to us, and some specially dear to us, are at stake. But when the Government suggests any proposal not affecting the conduct of the War, but which is a post-war proposal, surely we are entitled to apply to it all the tests of sound finance and expenditure. Surely one of the simplest tests you can apply to an expenditure is this: Will the whole of this money go to achieve the object they have in view or will half of it be wasted on the way? If you come to the conclusion that it is of the latter kind, you say that is a thriftless expenditure. It is because I believe that this system of bounties proposed by the Government in this Bill is perhaps the most wasteful that could easily be devised, the bulk of the money going to those who have no need of it, that I am certainly determined to oppose that part of the Bill. I will support the Second Reading of the-Bill because it is excellent in parts, at any rate, as regards its principle.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
I think the wages part is the right principle, and I think Part IV.—I believe that is the part which deals with the control of cultivation. I do ask the Government, which claims the support of the House in the conduct of the War—a support which has been very readily and generously given in the past— not to press a proposal which the Minister of Agriculture himself has said bristles with controversy, and which will awaken contests in this House and in the country which, in my humble judgment, it is the duty, or one of the first duties, of the Government carefully to avoid.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir R. Winfrey)
I have listened with great attention to the speech which the right 2453 hon. Gentleman has just delivered, but I am afraid that in approaching the subject of how to deal with the agricultural problem we cannot very well deal with it as we would a munitions factory. I do not think the two industries are at all analogous, and I think we shall have to deal with them on entirely different lines. The justification for this Bill is that it is purely and simply a war measure. It is brought in in fulfilment of the Prime Minister's speech of 23rd February, when he indicated the serious position of our food supplies; and, so far as I could see then, there did not appear to be any indication that his proposals would meet with much objection. We are face to face with this fact: that there is a world-shortage- of foodstuffs, and not only for the present year, but that there is every prospect of a shortage for succeeding years. I sec no chance for the next four or five years of making up that shortage. Owing to the great devastation of land in the War area, owing to the shortage of labour due to mobilisation, owing to our shipping problems, there must be a great world-shortage, and although that may decrease, and will, we hope, decrease, within the next two or three years, still we must make provision for three or four years ahead. How can we best grapple with this problem of food shortage here at home, so far as our home supplies are concerned? I think we are all agreed that there is only one way of doing it, and that is bringing more land under the plough. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken suggests that you can bring more land under the plough by giving orders to the farmers that it should be done, and that if they do not do it then you can bring penalties to bear upon them. I am afraid you would not get it done like that. You might get half the farmers in the country locked up, but you would not get many acres ploughed. We must go about it in a different way from that.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
What does bringing the land back under the plough mean? Does the House realise that, as matters stand at present, it is a very costly business to bring grass land under the plough? Everything is more costly; labour is more costly. If a farmer is to bring, say, one-fifth of his total acreage back under plough, he may have to buy 2454 extra horses, which are very costly at the present time, or he may have to go in for a motor tractor or hire one from the war agriculture committee. Every operation in bringing the land back from grass to arable is of a costly character. I am very glad to say that, notwithstanding the cost, it is already being done. Reports which I read every day from the war agricultural committees show that up and down the country the greatest possible effort is being made to bring more land under the plough. Since the Prime Minister's speech on 23rd February I have noticed a new spirit abroad in the agricultural world. Undoubtedly a greater effort is being made to carry out the desires of Parliament and to see if more food cannot be produced in the harvest of 1918. That being the case, the farmer has a right to expect a reasonable security in this effort of bringing at least 3,000,000 acres of land in this country back under the plough, for the extra work and extra expenditure to which he is put. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman), in his speech when he followed the Prime Minister on 23rd February, suggested that we should give a farmer 70s. a quarter for his wheat in one year, and he said he preferred that way of doing it.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I did not think that one year is enough. I am quite sure that you could not get these 3,000,000 acres of land ploughed if you were to offer even 80s. for one year only. I would impress upon the House that it is a very expensive operation to bring land under the plough in this way. The essence of this Bill of ours is that the price should be guaranteed for six years, and that it should be a declining price. We believe that unless we spread it over that period you will get very little done. I ask myself, are the prices that are put in the Bill reasonable? I think they are: Lord Selborne's Report, I see, suggests that the guaranteed post-war price should be 42s. In the Bill we make it this year 60s., the next two years 55s., and the next three years 45s. Forty-five shillings practically means a four-pound loaf for sevenpence. I do not believe you will hear any complaint in our streets if you bring the four-pound loaf down to sevenpence. Personally I do not think the State will be called upon to pay anything, because I believe that prices will range higher than 2455 this, but you must give the farmer a reasonable security before you ask him to take this risk. You may call it Protection, but at any rate one advantage of this form of Protection is that we do know what we have to pay.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
We have that great advantage. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury suggested in his speech yesterday that this Bill would not accomplish the object we had in view. He took, as an illustration, Norfolk. If I know anything about any county I know something about the county of Norfolk. I have had the honour to represent one of its Divisions for eleven years and have spent a good deal of time in that very pleasant county. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the evidence of a Mr. Overman, a farmer who gave evidence before Lord Selborne's Committee. Unfortunately, I cannot trace the evidence, but I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman came across the paragraph in Sir Matthew Wallace's Report. I cannot help thinking that there has been some little mistake, because the statement of Mr. Overman, when he suggested that if a guarantee of 75s. a quarter were given for wheat there would not be a single more acre grown in the county of Norfolk, seems a perfectly astounding statement. I cannot think that an able man like Mr. Overman would have made such a statement. He may have said that no more could be grown on his own farm, because he is farming well and probably grows his full quota of wheat every year. When it is suggested that in the large agricultural county of Norfolk under this Bill with a guarantee of 75s. we shall not get an acre more wheat grown, let us look at the figures. In 1875 there were 836,000 acres of arable land in Norfolk; in 1915— that is, in forty years—that had been reduced to 780,000 acres; so that in the county of Norfolk alone, in forty years, 56,000 acres of land had been laid down to grass and are under grass at the present moment. The total acreage of grass in Norfolk to-day is 284,000. We are asking the county of Norfolk to plough up, for the 2456 harvest of 1918, 70,000 acres of grass land. I think they will do it, and we have received information from the County of Norfolk War Committee that they are doing it. We believe that in this great agricultural county of Norfolk we shall not only get back to the 1875 record, but that we shall have even more land under the plough than we had in 1875. With regard to the extraordinary suggestion that not a single acre more would be brought under wheat, I can only say that in my own Constituency alone, which I have known now since the year 1893, there is land there which has gone out of cultivation in my recollection during these years but which it being brought back. It was due to two causes — excessive game preservation, which, I am glad to say, we have put an end to for the time being and, I hope, for all time; and to low prices. That land is being brought back. I will take the right hon. Gentleman to one patch in my own Constituency, where 1,500 acres are being brought back into cultivation and, I believe, have been planted for spring corn. I am glad to say that in Norfolk and also in Lincolnshire we are growing less mustard this year. We came to the conclusion that mustard was not a very patriotic crop, and that it was much better to grow cereals.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
That will bring back throughout Lincolnshire and the Isle of Ely something like 10,000 acres of land which will be under cereal cultivation instead of under mustard. Even in the fruit-growing districts in Norfolk we are ploughing up strawberry plants and sowing cereals. These facts dispose of the suggestion that not a single acre more would be put under the plough in Norfolk. I come to the next proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, namely, that he preferred to go in for stocking rather than for bounties. Surely that is a counsel of perfection. We have nothing to stock! I beleive that the right hon. Gentleman, when he was at the Board of Trade, was successful in getting an additional stock in this country of something like an extra six week's supply. I do not know that it ever exceeded that.
In 1915 I was largely responsible for what was done then, and we did get several weeks more than there had been in normal margin. At one time it was very much more than six weeks, but six weeks was the normal. When Lord Selborne came in, there was an extension of the storage system, and he by June, 1916—that is to say June just passed —had raised the margin to the highest it had ever been in the lifetime of a. generation.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
That does not quite agree with the information given to me. I would further point out that it was very easy to get stocks in 1915, because there was plenty of wheat and there were plenty of ships to bring it to this country—at any rate more than there are to-day. It is not fair to say that we should follow that plan now, because we could not do it.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
No; it was in 1915, when the right hon. Gentleman started stocking in this country. Towards the end of 1916 those stocks were beginning to be depleted. If I have any quarrel at all with any past Government—I do not think I have—it is because I feel that in August, 1916—that is the time when we knew there was to be a world shortage—the Government of the day ought to have stepped in and done something in regard to the labour question concerning agriculture. They did not take any steps at that time to increase our supply. Did they conserve the labour upon the land 1 Of course, my right hon. Friend will know that the mischief was really done in our rural districts between August and October, 1916. It was then that the tribunals gave up the men who were engaged in agriculture. If I have any quarrel with them it is that at that time they ought to have given directions to the tribunals, saying that they could not take those men from agriculture because there was going to be a shortage. The mischief was done when the present Government came into office.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I do not say I am against storehouses, but storehouses are rather wasteful and costly. Even if this Bill is going to cost us something, storing corn in this country might cost us a great deal more. There is a great deal of wastage, and a great deal is spoilt because 2458 it is not kept in a proper condition for human food, and there are a great many arguments against storing.
The right hon. Gentleman made another suggestion with which I should like to-deal. He said instead of dealing with the problem, which we have to acknowledge-and to face, in this way he would deal with it by giving a bounty for the breaking up of grass land. I have been considering: that since he made his speech and the Board of Agriculture has come to the conclusion that it would not work for these, amongst other reasons, that there would be no guarantee that we should get a crop for 1918, and that it might turn out to be-a bonus upon bad farming rather that): upon good farming. Therefore it is not a very workable proposition. We should not be able to insist upon the farmer cultivating his land in the way that we-might wish, and he might simply plough it up and deal with it so as to get a very small crop.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
Oh, yes; we will make Part IV. operative, but it would be a tall order to make it operative for the-whole of the 3,000,000 acres throughout the country.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
Surely in the Report of the Royal Commission it was. pointed out that 2,000,000 acres would produce fairly well! It was only the remaining 1,000,000 acres that there was. any doubt about. I understood the Report to say that. It is not intended that the Board of Agriculture, if they were giving: a bonus for turning grass land into-arable, should superintend the operation? If they were giving the money, surely they would have some inspection !
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I do not know how that may be, but we prefer this plan, because we think it will bring a great deal more land under cultivation, and we should get a larger yield of cereals under these conditions.
I now come to the security to the labourer. This is a part of the Bill which I most cordially welcome because it is a step we have been trying to take for a good many years. I have always deeply regretted that in times of peace we did not give our attention, as I think we ought to have done, to this problem of the 2459 labourer. This minimum wage may not appeal to the North of England and to Scotland, but it will apply to a considerable area in England. Norfolk and Lincolnshire are the two large corn-producing -counties in England, and when I turn to my own county I have a very lively recollection that in the winter before the War the winter wages in my Constituency were -only 13s. a week, and some of the labourers were even losing wet days. I remember one man who came to me, a strong, healthy man, and he told me that he had hardly put in a full week during the whole of that winter. He had constantly walked to his work on wet mornings, hoping it would clear up and that, at any rate, he would be able to get in three-parts of a day, but it continued to rain and the foreman sent him home again without work, and very often he had not more than 9s. or 10s. a week to take home to his family.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
In a very large corn-producing part. The aggregate wages throughout the year- in Norfolk worked out altogether, with the harvest wages, before the War, to 17s. a week. We are going to make it 25s., and I say to my Friends who may not perhaps like Part I. of the Bill that it is worth it in order to get this question of the wages of the agricultural labourer settled. At any rate, that is my position. I am as anxious as my right hon. Friend to get the labourer well housed but the difficulty has always been that, although we had Housing Acts, the labourer could not afford to pay an economic rent. That is the whole problem. We lost money on the houses. Many more would have been built—the local authorities would have built them—but the labourer could not afford to pay an economic rent. Now he will very nearly be able to do so, if not quite. I think he will be able entirely to do so. It is a great step forward to get our labourers well paid and well housed. I will tell the House what I think this increase in wages means to an ordinary arable land farmer, for I think this is a very important point. The Norfolk labourer's wages were 17s., week in and week out throughout the year, and I think I am right in my calculation that the farmer's wages bill, when he was paying 17s. a week, amounted to about 30s. an acre. Now he has to pay a minimum of 2460 26s. That is an increase of 50 per cent. Therefore that will put his wages bill up to 45s. an acre instead of 30s. His cost of labour will be put up by 15s. an acre.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I think it will be, though the Norfolk labourer did his best in times gone past. Let me take 5 acres of land as an illustration, because with a 5 acre system of rotation you will get 1 of wheat, 1 of oats, which come under the Bill, 1 of barley, 1 of turnips or roots of some sort, and 1 acre of seeds. On each 5 acres the farmer will get 1 acre of wheat; 4 quarters to the acre. The pre-war price was 35s., and the price under the last years of this Bill will be 45s. That will be a gain of 10s. a quarter, or 40s. an acre. That is his gain. Then take the acre of oats. He gets 6 quarters of oats, and he got 19s. a quarter before the War. He gets 24s. under this Bill. That is an addition of 5s. a quarter, or 30s. an acre, so that he gets 40s. an acre increased price on his wheat and an increased price of 30s. an acre on his oats: that is 70s. He pays increased wages of 15s. an acre—75s. on 5 acres—so that he gets 70s. extra for his corn and pays out 75s. in extra wages.
§ Mr. KILBRIDE
Does that calculation mean that in the wind-up he is 1s. an acre worse off than ever he was?
§ Sir R. WINFREY
Certainly; if he does not get more than 45s. he will not be any better off. I offer these figures to the House. I shall be surprised if they can be shaken as far as Norfolk is concerned. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend that we shall have to exercise great care in the matter of boy labour. I am one of those who deprecated taking boys out of school at eleven years of age when the War started, and I very much regret that I did not get the assistance from the other side that I should have liked.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
No; the late Prime Minister gave us away very much over that. There was a little criticism yesterday with regard to the Clause dealing with the possible raising of rent. There are good and bad landowners. I came across the case of a bad one this week. A tenant came to see me at the Board of Agriculture and brought his agreement and his notice to quit, and this was his story. His father had farmed 174 acres of land on a fourteen years' lease, which expired in 2461 1908, and he paid £420 a year rent. When the lease expired he signed a fresh lease for seven years at £560 a year, an increase of £]40—nearly £l an acre. That lease expired in 1915, when the father died, and the son took on the farm on a yearly tenancy at £660 a year—an increase of another £100. He has now been put under notice to quit, and the landlord says he wants £800 a year for the farm. I think that is a man who ought to be protected, and it is in order to protect such men that we have this Clause in. I do not think I need labour the part which deals with the power we have taken to enforce good farming. That is agreed in every part of the House, so I will pass on.
My right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman) mentioned an alternative remedy. He said what he would do would be to give legitimate assistance to the farmer by research, education, demonstration, and co-operation. I agree that we ought to give these things, but, unfortunately, the farmer does not seem to want them. That is the worst of it. I have been mixed up with farmers for a long while, and I have tried them with co-operation. I have not been able to try them with education, but in the matter of demonstration and cooperation I have more than once been left in the lurch. That is no remedy for this present distress. What we have to do is to get new land under the plough and largely increase the food supply of the country during the next three or four years. I believe on the whole this Bill will accomplish the object we have in view, and I trust that the House will eventually pass it into law.
§ Commander WEDGWOOD
To-day probably we arc fighting on the Continent one of the most terrible battles of this War, and I think it is deplorable that we should be discussing here a matter of party warfare between the two Front Benches. I do not want to bring any party bitterness into this business. We are accused of introducing party warfare. We are jeered at because some of us hold very strong principles on this matter, and told we are unpatriotic because we dare to fight this measure. I think I resent having to fight this measure far more than I do the measure itself, but there is absolutely no other course open to us. Every time the land question has come up we have had to put before the House the rock-bottom facts of the situation. They were put before the House yesterday in a 2462 singularly honest speech by the Minister for Agriculture. He pointed out that during the years 1875-95 the value of agricultural land has gone down, I think he said by £800,000,000. The loss to the agricultural industry, he pointed out, was enormous, and he urged that this measure was at any rate a beginning in resuscitating the agricultural industry which had lost this enormous capital sum of £800,000,000. It is not only the agricultural industry that has lost heavily in the-last few years. Those people who hold shares, preference or mortgage shares, or Consols, have lost far more than £800,000,000 in the twenty years since 1895.
When we in this House turn ourselves into a benevolent society for resuscitating industries for a class of people in this country who in the past may have suffered by natural economic laws, there will be no end to extravagance and no end to the calls upon the public purse. Before we see whether by this measure we can do anything to retrieve these £800,000,000 of lost pounds, I want the House to consider whether the country really was the poorer because the value of agricultural land fell by £800,000,000. Was the production of wealth in the country reduced in any way because land was cheaper? The land was there. The only difference was that people who wanted to use that land could get it on cheaper terms, and by paying a smaller capital sum than they would have had to pay twenty years before. It was easier to produce wealth from the land of this country, because it was more accessible to labour. Therefore, the whole difference between my position and the position taken by the Minister of Agriculture is that I welcome that reduction in price of agricultural land, because I believe it means cheaper food, more employment, and a more ready accessibility to the land of this country. One hon. Member suggests that it means starvation wages when the value of land is cheaper. My view is that the easier it is for labour to apply itself to land, the greater is the produce for labour. If our land is very expensive and only a very few people can get to it, it obviously means that there is a less market for labour, and those who are clamouring for work have to accept starvation wages. If land is cheap, and the small man with capital can get the land, there is a greater demand for labour, and the wages rise in consequence. We 2463 must have the cheapest possible raw material for agriculture, and that means cheap agricultural land. That is in the interests of the community.
The Minister of Agriculture says that this measure will, to a certain extent, retrieve the agricultural position and improve the agricultural industry, and thereby increase the value of agricultural land and increase the profits of the farmer, so as to make it worth while to cultivate land which is at present not cultivated. It is obvious that, in so far as this measure is a protective measure, it will increase the value of land. It will do exactly the reverse of what was done by the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 swept away agricultural protection, and consequently the value of agricultural land fell, but it was more than counterbalanced by the rise in the value of urban land. Undoubtedly the value of agricultural land fell because the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846. Now we are going, to a certain extent, to reimpose a system of agricultural protection in this country. Will not the immediate result of that be an increased value in agricultural land throughout the country? I do not say that the rents will be put up. Everybody knows that rent follows values slowly, but the immediate result of the passing of this measure will be a rise in the value of agricultural land. The position we take up is, that we have no right, as representing the community, to give any class in the community a financial bonus at the expense of the rest of us. By imposing this new system of bonus you are increasing the value of agricultural land at the expense of the rest of the people. That seems to me to be unfair, and that is why I am against the Bill on fundamental grounds. It is unjust that industry as a whole should be taxed for the benefit of one particular class of the community. That the value of agricultural land will rise is, I think, obvious to everybody. Let us see how far that value goes into the pockets of the landlords and into the pockets of the tenant farmers. Everybody knows that landlords, particularly at the present time, are extraordinarily generous with their tenants. People who own land are generally wealthy; they do not rack rent their tenants, and in ninety-five cases out of a hundred there would be no increase of rent against the sitting tenant, whether this Bill was passed or not. During the 2464 existing tenancy that is true, but what is the position on the termination of the tenancy? I want to know about a son inheriting from his father, when the father's tenancy ceases at death or because he gets old, what is the usual practice? Is the rent usually raised then? I think you will find in that case that the landlords in this country are divided about half and half. One half would say, "I like having my tenants generation after generation on the same farm, and because I allowed John Smith to have the farm at £250 a year, John Smith, junior, shall have it at the same rental." In many cases the tenancy comes down from father to son. In such cases the landlord is not going to get the increased value of the agricultural land which we are presenting to the agricultural industry by this Bill, certainly not immediately, and, I think, in some cases not for a considerable term of years.
The people who are going to get the benefit immediately arc a new class of landowner in this country. Every person who buys land after this Bill will not be tied by the old tenancy, and will be in a position to deal freely with the land. The class I want particularly to refer to are tenant farmers, and what we are giving to them under this Bill are tenants' rights. They will have tenant-right, and they will be able to pocket for themselves the increased value in the land because of this tenant-right you are giving them. I would urge landlords, in the interests of landlordism if you like, and in the interests of the community also, to watch whether by this measure you are not setting up a system of dual control, such as that started in Ireland many years ago, and to watch whether this tenant-right ought not to be marketable, so that there might be freedom of sale as well as security of tenure, and so that when the tenant changes and another takes his place the old tenant has not the power to sell his tenant-right to the incoming tenant. I do not want to see any more landlords in this-country. I do not want to see tenant farmers converted into landlords; but if this change in our industry is to come-along, then for goodness sake let us look at it fairly in the face and make up our minds whether, in the interests of the community as a whole, it is worth while-setting up this dual control over land which has not proved successful in other-countries, which has merely been a passing; 2465 state: and whether we ought not, instead, to have an ownership system for the tenants where they would be solely responsible for the conduct of the farming operations.
My objection to the first part of this Bill is that we are to be taxed for the benefit of a certain section of the community. What is the argument put forward in favour of this Bill? It is not that it is a bonus for a very deserving industry, but it is that it will give reasonable security to the farming industry. I want to ask why at this particular time we should select from many of the interests and industries in this State one particular interest for the benefit of reasonable security. We have taken away reasonable security from everybody else in this country, on the ground that in the interests of national salvation we must deprive them temporarily of reasonable security. We have broken down small men, small one-man businesses, and we have broken down big businesses. We have attacked business interests, like the cotton interest. These big interests are being smashed under the grindstone of war. We have taken away reasonable security from the man who to-day risks his life, and who never wanted to fight before the War, and the only single interest in regard to which we come forward and say we must give reasonable security is the farming interest. I say that if we have employed compulsion against the rest of society we may just as well employ compulsion against the farmers with exactly the same clearness of conscience in this time of national emergency. Take the case of the munition workers and all the people who have been brought under the Defence of the Realm Act. They are not allowed to strike, because that would interfere with the supply of munitions to the field. If other people are to be deprived of their rights, have we not the right to say that the tenant farmers in this country shall not go on strike because, forsooth, they are not content with the bonus on acreage, and are not content to break up the land in the interests of the public? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If you can compel and coerce munition workers and other people, and if you can coerce the men who have to fight and die, it may be, for us in the trenches, you have 2466 an equal right to coerce the tenant farmers in this country on exactly the same principle.
I warn the tenant farmers, and I warn the Government, that at the present time there is no more unpopular class than the tenant farmers of England. Go to any town and talk to the people there, and talk to the people who are living in the country but are not actually engaged in farming, and wherever you go you hear nothing but bitter complaints against the tenant farmers of England as to their want of patriotism in keeping their sons back and sending their labourers to get killed, the enormous prices they are charging for foodstuffs, the fact that they are escaping half their rents, that the assessment committees under-assess them, the fact that they escape Excess Profits Tax, and the fact that they practically escape Income Tax. All these things are remembered and are being stored up against the tenant farmers of this country, and yet we find them selected from among all the other interests for reasonable security. There is no compulsion upon them, while, on the other hand, every other class in the community has to submit to compulsion and loses the chance of reasonable security.
I think, then, we have a right to look with extreme care at this Bill. It is brought forward as a bribe to the farmer to do his duty to the country, and it is brought forward as a bribe to this House also. Part I. is the kernel of the Bill. I have very little sympathy with those who say that they will oppose Part I. but will vote for the second Part, because no one knows better than they that if Part I. drops the whole Bill drops. Part I. is tacked on with this bribe of a minimum wage law in agricultural districts. We have heard that in Scotland they will not thank us very much for 25s. a week minimum. They will not thank you, either, in Staffordshire. On our county council there we have just raised the wages of the road menders. What is this 25s. worth? It is worth what 16s. was worth before the War. Agricultural wages in Staffordshire have gone a long way beyond 25s.
Then the 25s. minimum will include an economic rent for the houses, instead of the present fancy rent. At the present time labourers in Staffordshire are getting their houses at from Is. to Is. 6d. per week. As soon as the Bill passes, those people, with their 25s. statutory minimum, who 2467 have only a small number of houses to go to, will be required to pay an economic rent for those houses. Everybody knows that if it is a question of putting up fresh cottages an economic rent at the present time could not be less than 4s. or 4s. 6d. a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "More than that!"] I am thinking of the very cheapest agricultural cottages. You are going to have the rents raised from Is. 6d. to 4s. 6d. That immediately knocks the 25s. down to 22s. Many labourers have not only houses, but have a rood, or a couple of roods, of garden land, which is proving invaluable to them at the present time, and if you are going to charge economic rent for that valuable garden ground, as well as for the houses, you are going to have a difference of not 3s., but 5s. a week between the economic rent paid by the labourer and the present rent, which is charged at a low figure as part of the payment of wages. In this way the 25s. would be knocked down to 22s. or 20s. How does that compare with pre-war value? Household bills come home to us all, and everybody knows that 25s. now represents about 16s. before the War, and 20s. will represent about 12s. before the War. To come forward and dangle before us this bribe of a minimum wage for agricultural labourers when the minimum offered is obviously far below rot present standards only, but far below the level of subsistence, is to play with the sympathies of the House of Commons and to pretend a sympathy with the agricultural labourer which is not likely to cause any great satisfaction either to him or to his trade union.
The minimum wage is for the able-bodied. There are plenty of farmers in this country who are going about saying, "After the War we shall have a fine time. We shall get cheap labour." The returned soldier enjoying a small War pension will not come under the minimum wage. He will not be able-bodied. He will have a pension. That pension will go in part payment of the wages which he is going to get from the farmer. There are many classes of cheap labour obtainable outside the able-bodied. A Bill like this only deals with a small class of agricultural labourers, the able-bodied. We might also put in a statutory minimum for the disabled men and for the women, so that we might not have the farmers of this country employing cheap labour by getting these men who have gone as labourers from these farms 2468 and have been sent away to fight and have been injured and come back to work for the low wages which they got before because the Government is eking out their wages by their hard-earned and well-earned pensions. Now as to wages boards. We have seen wages boards in a great many trades, and we are told that these are to be connected with the Board of Surveyors, and, according to one hon. Member, are to be associated with the Land Agents' Society. That would be a case of the lamb lying down with the lion with a vengeance. How are the labourers to get decent accommodation and decent wages if the people who are to determine what their wages are to be are to be the very class who are to employ them? If this system of wages boards for agricultural districts is to go through I think that there will be a considerable amount of pressure in this House to introduce on those wages boards the representatives of the Labourers' Union, and to see that the award's of those labourers' wages boards are brought before this House and homologated, so that all districts may be levelled up and that we may not get the practice of friendly farmers getting together to decide what the wages of their workers are to be and keep them down, while yet keeping within the Statute.
As to the minimum wage Clause, I certainly should not vote for this measure because there was a minimum wage Clause in it. I believe in trade union activity and effort to keep up wages. I believe that when you have the minimum wage Clause it will weaken trade union effort. I believe that this House should avoid, because it will be impotent, all this interference between employer and employed, and should rather keep out of the industrial struggle and be guided not so much by expediency and votes, but by what everyone of us hero believes. If there was a straight Division on this wages board question I have no hesitation in saying that there would be an extraordinary difference in the result if you voted by ballot or if you voted openly in the Lobby. I do hope that those people who consider that it would be bad for them in their constituencies to fight against this minimum wage business will remember that in the long run what the people in this country like is plain talking, straight talking, and being told the truth. I believe that this system of minimum wage laws tends to drive down wages and 2469 to deprive the agricultural labourer, or any other labourer, of that power of standing up for his rights which is the corner of all good citizenship. That is why I am against these things. I do hope that there will be sufficient support for honest dealing with this question, and that the House will not stoop to this bribe which is being dangled before us at the present time.
There are other proposals brought forward in this Bill to which I object. I think that there is not one line in it with which I agree. I have given pretty good reasons so far, and I do not wish to take up time in dealing with the other matters in equal detail, but the interference of the State with the tenant farmer appears to me to be a piece of State interference which is not wanted. There are certain classes of people in this country who seem born into the world in order to direct other people. They are collected on that Front Government Bench, and our confidence in the State direction of individual enterprises in this country has somewhat fallen within the last two years as a result of their efforts. But the argument in favour of this Bill is said to be the question of supplying food. I have protested all along that everything must give way to winning this War, and if I thought for one moment that the passage of this Bill was going to help us to hold out or to win the War, I would vote for it in spite of my conviction that each single item of it was wrong. But it is because I do not believe that it has got anything to do with the War, and because I resent in particular that it should be introduced under the cloak of a war measure, that I think we have a right to protest against the Second Beading. Everybody knows that all the land that can be ploughed this year is ploughed. What we will get in September to feed ourselves for next year is absolutely independent of this Bill, whether it passes or not. The first moment that the passage of this Bill can begin to affect the food supply of this country is in September, 1918. If the War is still going on in September, 1918, I think that we shall all be so ruined and so broken to pieces by this War that we can very well starve as well as go bankrupt.
I am not content to go in for a measure which may possibly add 3,000,000 acres to our wheat lands by September, 1918, on the off chance that we shall be still fighting then. I will tell you why. Because I do not believe that it would increase the food supply of this country in the least. 2470 It is the habit to talk on this Bill as though these 3,000,000 acres were not being used at the present time. What are they being used for at the present time? Perhaps dairy farming, or growing crops of some sort or other which are useful and are required. The land presumably, at the present rate of agricultural prices, is not- likely to be lying idle at the present time. It is being used by the farmer, who wants to get the most out of the land, to what he believes to be the best advantage at the present time. If you think that you are going to make it much better by saying, "If you will only drop using that land for what it is best suited for and use it for something else," and that you will be able to get much more produce out of the land by that system, then I do not. You are giving a bonus in order to shift the form of agriculture from a more paying to a less paying one. Therefore, you are not likely to increase the sum total of the food supply of the country by the change. But the question of the feeding of this country is one that is likely to become urgent a long time before September, 1918. This has nothing whatever to do with that question. This is a question of the reorganisation of agriculture after the War. This measure, which has been brought in, is based upon the Report of the Reconstruction Committee, but their recommendation is not that this measure is a war measure at all; they recommended it solely as a measure of reconstruction after the War. It has been brought in now because it was thought—perhaps very rightly—that in time of war it would the more easily slip through, while the Members are away from the House, and while it was peculiarly difficult to oppose the Government, because one felt one was a poor patriot to do so.
This reconstruction measure has been brought in now in order to bolster up a particular industry, and I think we are very right to see that such a measure is exposed to the most careful criticism in Committee and on the Report stage. I would like even a reconstruction measure to indicate one way in which you can get a better future for agriculture, without rivalry and without any unsound finance, and the hon. Member for East Mayo, in his admirable speech this afternoon, indicated pretty clearly how we might increase the amount of produce in Ireland. He stated that there are grazing lands lying untouched; the people are living all 2471 around those grazing lands, upon little bits of bogs, in mud hovels, wanting only that land which is at their doors, in order to cultivate it and increase the supply of foodstuffs. Is there not similar land in this country to-day which agricultural labourers would only be too glad if they could get it to cultivate? All over the British Islands there is land which is not being used at the present time, but which could be used if only those men who are able to use it—the people of the villages, agricultural labourers, and small shopkeepers—could get access to it, in order that they might cultivate it. If that could be accomplished, there would be a remarkable increase in the amount of food produced in this country. I notice that in British Columbia they deal with these things in the raw. They put on taxation with the object of increasing the produce of the country. They put a tax of ½per cent, on land which is being used and of 4 per cent, on wild land that is not being used, and in that way they reduce the amount of wild land. In my last words, I beg this House to consider whether it would not be possible to reduce the wild and unused land of this country by taxing the people who own it, so that they may get out of it, and that other people, who want it, may have an opportunity of using that land to the benefit of the country?
§ Sir C. WARNER
I think the House has listened with great interest to the speech which has just been delivered, and in which there are many points with which most Members will agree. I have no doubt that if my hon. and gallant Friend (Commander Wedgwood) had the framing of a Bill he would bring in some provisions that would conduce to the production of extra food, and he would do that, not as something in the future, but at the very earliest possible moment. I think he, like myself, comes under the class of people of whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow said they have got so rattled by the War that they have forgotten everything else. While I do not think we have forgotten everything else, I do blame some people for having, to a -certain extent, put aside the great question of the War because of party politics or certain political theories which most of us have put aside, together with all the old party fights, till we attain 2472 peace through victory. I, for one, hope that we will all forget until then all the old questions and party conflicts, and devote ourselves wholly to this struggle.
I am going to vote for this Bill, first and foremost, for the reason that the men who are occupying the Front Bench, and who form the Government of to-day, have their heart and soul in the War. I have always supported the Government which tries most effectively to prosecute the War. I told my Constituents that it was my purpose to support any Government, to whichever party it might happen to belong, that would carry on the War with energy, and that would not be turned aside from that great and solemn task to other purposes that could well wait. It is said that this Bill is not a war measure because it will not have results for a year hence. But is not that the very reason why the people cried out against the late Government, and the Government before it, that they treated things as if the people did not want them, and as if a Government need not look forward at all? We have not only to do our utmost in prosecuting this War, but we have to do it at the present moment; we have to make every effort, however long this War may last, even if we lose our private fortunes and are ruined, to bring it to a successful conclusion. We cannot have it said, at a later period, that we would have been much stronger had we earlier taken proper measures by way of preparation for the future; we cannot have the reflection that those efforts were not made. And the Government thought, and I think the House agrees, that the question of agriculture is one which indeed needs attention. I do not think there has been a speaker in this Debate who has not owned that there is necessity for attending to the interests of agriculture, that there is some necessity for doing something at the earliest possible moment. The most bitter opponents of this measure have been precisely those who have neglected to do anything in the past, who refer to theoretical questions, people such as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dews-bury (Mr. Runciman). I was struck yesterday by the two speeches with which this Debate was opened. One was the speech of an expert who had studied the question of agriculture from top to bottom. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Agricultural Department is not so accustomed as some of us to the 2473 practice and habits of this House, and I am prepared to say at once that it does not follow that because a man is an expert he will necessarily make the best Minister. I always remember what Mr. Gladstone said, that the one dangerous thing to do was to put at the head of a Department a man who is an expert in a particular thing. But in this instance the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill was the speech of a man which showed him to the House, over and over again, as being in complete touch with all agricultural questions. The right hon. Gentleman for Dewsbury himself has been the Minister for Agriculture, but he was very wide of the feeling of the agricultural labourer, or the farmer, or the toiler on the land. He possessed theoretical ideas, such as the need of improved teaching of the agricultural class—a very difficult lot to teach, I know that—and he knew that much had been tried in connection with agriculture, and that wages were too low, and so forth.
It is quite true, as my hon. and gallant Friend said just now, that in many places the wage of the agricultural labourer will not be raised at all by this Bill, and in other places it will be barely sufficient, because of the greatly increased price of food. Though this proposal of the Bill will not be any boon to my Constituents in Staffordshire, I know that there are places where the agricultural labourer will look upon it is a Godsend to have the minimum fixed at 25s. a week. I quite agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that there are a lot of things which require to be altered in this Bill, when we get in Committee, and one of them is that disabled persons and women and boys shall also have a minimum wage of some sort fixed. The hon. Member for East Mayo made the observation that this measure had not been adapted to Ireland; and in his most clear speech he certainly showed that in Ireland the Bill would not have much effect as it stands. But what, I ask, is the use of the Committee stage or the Report stage if we cannot make alterations or additions or fill up omissions. The Minister of Agriculture, in his opening speech yesterday said that he was quite prepared to consult the House, to take advice, and to remedy points which were shown to be wrong, OP to put in words that have been left out. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will be long in this House before he realises that, although it is a small point 2474 on the map, it has always been able to assert itself, and I think he will see that hon. Gentlemen who occupy the benches opposite will be able to take care of the interests of Ireland when the time comes. It has been said in various quarters of the House that the proposal of this Bill is in the nature of a dole or a bounty to agriculture. I do not think it is quite fair to call it either. My hon. and gallant Friend said that the farmers are the most unpopular class in the country. I am not quite sure that they are. There is another class that runs them very close, and that class is composed of the shipowners. I am not quite sure that at the end of the War the shipowners will not come out top. The shipowners were looked upon as necessary in the prosecution of the War and they did get something—they got State insurance for their ships. That was at a time when they were making not 10 per cent, or 20 per cent., like the farmer, but 100 per cent, and 150 per cent, on their capital. There is some difference between the shipowner and the farmer, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury wants to make comparison between the two classes let him make an investigation into the profits of both, not for one or two years, but for ten or twelve years, and then he will see whether the farmer has had so much better treatment than the shipowner.
I do not want to make any defence of the farmers—I am quite aware of their faults. I am afraid they are stupid. I am afraid they are obstinate, and I am afraid they are horribly conservative and slow to take up anything new. But still they are a necessity to the country at the present moment. I have found to a certain extent in my experience that I could not replace a farmer for a two or three hundred acre farm or a fifty acre farm without expert advice. There are not half a dozen Members who could go and take a farm and farm it and produce crops of anything like a reasonable amount without expert advice. However, we are dependent upon them, and we have to take the farmers into partnership in this great business of the feeding of the nation. I do not think that a finer description of the necessities of the country could have been given than was given in the opening speech of this Debate. It is not a question of to-day nor of to-morrow, nor of next year nor the year after. We are in a position when everybody in this House has brought home to him by this War that the country must 2475 be made more independent in its food supply. It is probably true that we may not be able to be completely independent, but we must be made more independent. I have heard no other proposition to that of this Bill, and I have heard of no other real attempt being made towards increasing the food supply of the country. I hope, therefore, that, nowever much the Bill may be altered in details, it will at least be tried as some expedient to bring that result about.
I desire to say a word or two of criticism. I realise the criticism that has been made all over the House about the difficulty of the man who gets the full price of his corn and because the average price is a little less gets the bounty as well, and the case of the man who gets less than the price only getting the bounty and not getting the full minimum. But you cannot put it on to give everybody the minimum, and for this reason: I know a little about corn, and I know that in our corn-growing countries there are poor farmers who are foolish enough to thresh the corn before it is dry. That reduces the food of the country, because corn that is threshed before it is dry is only fit for the food of animals, and cannot make bread. It is no good to do anything that will encourage people to push their corn on to the market before it is ready for the best possible price. I think the cases are rare in which men hold over in the hopes of getting higher prices. I know of one tenant, a corn grower who held his corn over for six months and lost 3s. per quarter on it besides the interest on his money. Some of them no doubt make profit, but in the ordinary course of farming there is another consideration present and that is that in the corn-growing countries they are largely dependant for the food of cattle and the means of manure for the corn on the chaff or straw. That has to be got at different times of the year and they thresh not for the higher prices but at the moment when they want the chaff fodder for the animals. In the county I live in, Suffolk, they generally thresh three times a year so as to have three goes of fresh straw, whether wheat straw or barley straw or oat straw. If you remember these points in agriculture I do not think there is any more fear of the holding up of corn for prices than there is generally of speculation for higher prices. There are objections. The greatest objection is that the man who has good land 2476 gets more per acre than the man who has bad land. I agree with the hon. Member for East Mayo that we should be doing better not to give a bounty for every acre ploughed but for every acre reaped in either oats or wheat. That would probably be more equitable and would be a possible way of getting opposite views to come together. It is no use having a bounty for ploughing because that is not the object. We do not care how much is ploughed. We want to know how much is produced.
I come to the question of Part IV. of the Bill. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman who have spoken about taking over millions of acres under Part IV. knew what has been done already. The people who are now working Part IV., which is being carried out under the Defence of the Realm Act, have got their hands pretty full, and if you are going to give another million acres they will come to grief over it. It has done an enormous amount of good and I do not mind whether it brings in another ownership. I always think the future made up to itself. We have got to deal with the present. Part IV. as it is being carried out, is doing inestimable service in producing wheat, oats and other cereals, not for the year after next but for the next harvest. I know it has been done very well in some places. I do not think that anybody who lives in the country and takes an interest in farming could walk very many miles from his own house without finding farms not sufficiently cultivated. What is foreshadowed under Part IV is, as I have said, being done under the Defence of the Realm Act, and on farms on the kind I have just mentioned the farmers are being seen and told that they must use more energy and employ more labour and do better or the farm will be taken out of their hands and managed for them. That is being done on a very large scale, and I can assure the House not before it was wanted. There were thousands and thousands and thousands of acres in almost every county throughout the country only half-farmed, and I hope that in the future they will be properly farmed. I think if it was only for this last Part IV. and to make that permanent, that the Bill would be invaluable to the agriculture of the country.
Though the Minister for Agriculture suggested that this might be only temporary I hope and trust that this House will make it very permanent, and that the 2477 State shall always have the right to see that every farm is properly cultivated, and that there shall be no going back to the haphazard state of things where the bad fanner has nothing to fear but the possibility of his landlord putting him out, a thing which the landlord is always reluctant to do, and has not always the power to do. I hope and trust that this House will take care that these Clauses are made permanent, and I am sure that both those and the extra wages are well worth fighting for. I do not like bounties, or the form of bounties, but I recognise that something has got to be done, and although this is not an actual bounty I recognise that it is in the nature of a bounty. I do not believe that this bounty will ever have to be paid by the Government, because I think that the prices in these years are sure to be kept up above the minimum. But that is not the point. The real thing that the farmer is asking for is what you give the munition maker when you ask him to extend his work, and that is security for the extra capital he is going to put in. The farmer is asking for security for that extra capital. This bounty, in the improbable event of prices falling, will give that security, and will make it certain that for these years the farmer will not have to farm at a loss, and that his extra capital will be secured. I hope and trust this Bill will be passed, and however much it may be necessary to amend and improve it in Committee or on Report, I am quite sure that it will be on the whole a benefit to the country.
§ Sir T. WALTERS
I do not intend to occupy the time of the House long, since the speeches delivered have been so excellent, though, if I may respectfully say so, somewhat unduly lengthy. I find mycelf very greatly in perplexity in regard to this Bill. My perplexity continues to be increased as various Members of the House proceed to explain what they consider to be the provisions of the Bill. Even my hon. Friend who has just sat down has added considerably to my mystification and my perplexity. I cannot really make out whether this Bill is seriously for the purpose of increasing the food supply of the country, and is a war measure, or whether it is a scheme for the reconstruction of agriculture after the War. When I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, whose books I always enjoy, and whose speeches I also 2478 enjoy, and in whom I have the greatest possible confidence and respect, I felt thoroughly satisfied that this measure really had nothing to do with the War at all, but was a scheme, perhaps long delayed, perhaps very urgently necessary, for the rehabilitation of agriculture after the War. I looked at it, I may say, chiefly from that standpoint, and the criticism which I should have urged, if I had had the opportunity of speaking yesterday, was with respect to what improvements ought to be introduced in the scheme of reconstruction of agriculture after the War. On the basis of that exposition of the Bill I should like to know, when I come to deal with the question of agriculture after the War, whether we are going to have any general scheme of protective tariffs or not, because if other people are going to have tariffs in the iron and steel manufactories, and people of that kind—if they are going to have tariffs, then, as one who is connected in a small degree with agriculture, I am going to have tariffs too. Do not let there be any mistake about that. If my hon. Friend who is at the head of the Ministry of Labour and other Labour Members speaking on the same day want protection and tariffs for that particular industry, then they are not going to leave us out in connection with land, so that before I pass an opinion as to whether a guarantee of prices for corn and oats is a proper scheme of reconstruction of agriculture after the War I want to know what is to be the general scheme of tariffs? That, I suppose, cannot be unfolded just now, and it therefore appears to me to be somewhat premature to begin to discuss the particular methods of dealing with agriculture after the War at the present stage.
Then again, on the basis of this Bill, I should not be at all satisfied with a scheme that perpetuates these large farms. The scheme of this Bill means, if it means anything at all, the perpetuation and even the extension of large farms. Well, I do not think that is suitable to this country. Anyone who takes a broad, intelligent survey of the food problems of the future in these islands must, I think, realise that a considerable amount of development and variety will have to take place in the commodities which we produce. We shall certainly have to break up some of these large farms, and it will be urgently necessary to have small holdings and intensive culture. I am not at all sure that we are doing the right thing in specialising too much on the growing of oats and wheat. 2479 Some land is suitable for that, and some land is unsuitable. When we have to look the facts of the future fairly in the face, we must take an intelligent view of the entire agricultural position, and only then can we devise schemes that will be suitable for the permanent reconstruction of the agriculture of these islands. If I cared to develop this point I think I could show that, for the purpose of the re-establishment of agriculture after the War, this Bill contains many defects. But when I come to the House of Commons to-day I am informed that the real object of this Bill is to preserve us from present starvation and that what we have got to do is to get some urgent war measure for the purpose of feeding the people immediately.
I read the Bill again most carefully, and I find that there are very necessary provisions, in the first place, for increasing agricultural wages. I believe that is required as the first necessity for producing any food at all. Therefore, I am in entire agreement with that, but I wish there were also some provision in this Bill not only for paying wages but for providing suitable men. I should have thought that the Bill would have opened with a preamble of this character: "Whereas it is urgently necessary that increased supplies of food should be produced in these islands, and to render this possible, the House of Commons and Parliament decide that so many thousand men who have knowledge and skill in agriculture shall at once be sought out and discovered, in whatever other vocation they are now employed at home or abroad; and sent back to the farms and set to work at once to till and prepare for the immediate increase of the food of the United Kingdom." Those hon. Members who have read the books of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture know something of the precision with which he sets out his case and the skill with which he marshals his arguments, and I cannot conceive it possible that he should have presented a Bill the purpose of which was to get immediately an increased supply of food without providing in the very forefront of his measure for the requisite number of men who are to receive these wages Then I come to the next point, the question of rents. Of course I entirely agree with that provision.
When I come to the Sections of the Bill in which the Board of Agriculture has power to direct the methods by which the 2480 land is to be farmed, I find myself in entire agreement with that, but as my hon. Friend who has just sat down explained to us that under the Defence of the Realm Act steps are already being taken to plough up land and to sow seed, and I see the hon. Gentleman opposite who is charged with these developments that are taking place, I cannot for the life of me understand why it should be necessary to be discussing these particular Clauses in this Bill just now. Under the Defence of the Realm Act there is already power to do this work and, better than that, the work is already being done. If the Minister of Agriculture had come and said, "I want to do these things; I want to plough up a lot more land; I want to take possession of the farms of stupid people who will not farm them properly themselves, and I have not power to do it," I think the House of Commons would very gladly have sat up to any hour of the night or morning in order to pass such a Bill. But already the Government have got those powers. Supposing the Bill had pointed out that whereas a considerable expense was incurred in ploughing some of this land under present conditions and that it could not reasonably be anticipated that a profitable crop would be obtained in the first year, therefore, in order that no injustice might be done to his Majesty's liege subjects who are compelled to farm the land the Board of Agriculture wanted power to pay a bonus of so much per acre for every acre of grass land that was ploughed up and sown with seed, I could understand that. If they had come and asked for considerable powers, even if those powers were not very clearly defined, by which they would pay all expense incurred by people who have undertaken this risk, I would have supported it, and I believe that Members on both sides would have supported it. It seems to be perfectly obvious that to come here and supply bounties for the already profitable industry of corn growing is not a measure for producing an extra quantity of food now. It may be desirable and necessary that there should be the extra prices in the future; it may even be necessary that we should have high protective tariffs—I express no opinion about that; I dislike to discuss party questions of any kind; I would rather put them all aside— but you cannot persuade me that there is any connection between bounties to be paid in the next six years or protective tariffs to be levied and the immediate 2481 ploughing of land and the sowing of seed and the immediate increase of the production of food. If this Bill were submitted subsequently one might discuss it, but we want an urgent, immediate war measure for producing at the present time a bigger food supply, and for the life of me I cannot see that this Bill in any sense fulfils that requirement.
The House may be surprised to hear me say that notwithstanding that I shall vote for the Bill. I am voting for every Bill that every Government has introduced since the War began. I have come to the conclusion that it is not mine to reason why, but mine to do and die. I should very seldom vote for the Bills that have been submitted in the last two years if I followed my own reason and judgment, and I am not going to begin to discriminate at this late stage. I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill in the hope that when the right hon. Gentleman and the members of his Government have really considered the discussions that have taken place here they will come back with the same skeleton, but that they will put some flesh and blood on the dry bones in the Committee stage; and if they will get rid of their delusions about bounties and substitute some reasonable arrangement for paying compensation for losses sustained by people undertaking agriculture in this emergency, and will provide some payment as an inducement for breaking up grass land and for the risk that will result from the first year's crop, we will vote a considerable amount of money for such a purpose, and give them a comparatively free hand. I hope the House will be under no delusion, and will not imagine that by passing the present Bill they will do anything for a war emergency, and if the House of Commons is wise—and Parliament generally is wise—it will defer this scheme for the reconstruction of agriculture until after the War, when the thing can be quietly and sanely discussed, and will concern itself for the present, not with disputes between the two Front Benches about tariffs and the rest of it, but will confine itself absolutely to war measures, to doing something to produce food, and if, after that, they have any surplus time, to getting on with some other department of winning the War.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
The speeches have wandered over a considerable field in the course of the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill. I want, if I can, to 2482 treat the Bill on broad lines and to deal with the large questions of policy that are involved. I recognise, of course, that there are many points which, compared with the main principles of the Bill, may be called minor points, upon which difference of view may well be held in Committee, but on the broad principles of the Bill, I own myself to holding a very strong opinion indeed that the Bill in its present shape, on broad lines, is essential for the production of food during the War. The Bill has three aspects: (1) the question of food production during the War; (2) the question of the demobilisation of the soldiers at the end of the War; and (3) the question of the permanent agricultural policy of this country. My own view is that it is right on all three grounds, but I want, first of all, to deal with the War aspect of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman) yesterday, speaking, as he professed to do, on behalf of some unnamed party whom he called "we," said he objected to the Bill, amongst other reasons, on the ground that, whilst it was put forward as a war measure, it was not in the least a war measure, and he deprecated occupying the time of the House with a question which might have been left to times of peace. I wonder who "we" were. We know one other of the "we"—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow (Mr. McKinnon Wood), who was a member of the last Government. He took the same view as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury, but I am not going to believe, under the circumstances as they are to-day, that when the right hon. Member for Dews-bury was not prepared to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, his personal view and the personal view of the right hon. Member for Glasgow represent the considered view of the majority of the members of the late Government who are not now in office. He attacked the Bill on lines that, I venture to think, the House will agree with me in regarding as old party lines. He said Part I. of the Bill is Protection. He talked of the consumer and of the producer, and all the old jargon of the old fiscal controversy. The whole merit of this Bill, as it seems to me, is that it is lifted outside the area of any old party controversy by the very simple fact that the proposal in Part I. is not a pro- 2483 posal that can affect the price of wheat or the price of bread by one-millionth part of a penny. I observe that the "Daily News" in to-day's leading article—I shall refer to it for other purposes—says that one of the objections to Part I. of the Bill is that it will raise the price of bread. That is so astounding a statement to be made on this Bill in the public Press that I venture to read the words:The Bill, in a word, assures us a high price of bread, with all its consequences in the high price for other commodities.
How on earth can the guarantee of a minimum price which leaves the market unaffected touch the price of wheat or the price of bread? The essence of this proposal—I venture to repeat it in view of the fact that so reputable an organ of public opinion can have expressed such a view as I have quoted— is this: The market price is left untouched. If the market price is lower than the price provided by the Bill, then, on the average of the market price the farmer gets paid over to him the difference between that average market price and the price in the Bill. The market price is never touched from any point of view. It is of cardinal importance that the country as a whole should know that that is the case. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury spoke of the proposal as a bounty. Several speakers have spoken of it as a bounty. That is only partially true. So long as the market price is at or above the price contained in the Bill there is no question of bounty. To my mind in that fact lies an extremely important point. It is just this: that it is because you are not giving the farmer in any event a present of money that the Government is justified in saying to the country: this is not a proposal which in its essence is a proposal to give money to farmers, but is in its essence a proposal to protect the farmer from ruin. That is the whole essence of this Bill. If you take the price at a right figure—I am aware discussion may take place as to whether the figure chosen be a right or a wrong figure—but assuming a right figure, let us see how it operates. Does it not operate plainly in this way? I will assume that you take as your figure a figure which will enable the farmer to clear his cost of production and leave him with little or no 2484 profit. This is the case of the farmer who-is, so to speak, on the margin of cultivation, so far as the land which we want to see under wheat is concerned. You take land on which the State wants to grow wheat which ex hypothesi is not the best land for growing wheat, nor the second. best, but which is just sufficiently and barely sufficiently good for growing wheat for the State to want to have wheat grown. You take the figure and fix it in that way. You say, that is to be the minimum price; we will guarantee the minimum price upon those lines or a little over. You then make sure of all land which is above that level being devoted to-the cultivation of wheat.
That is the thing that the nation wants. The nation wants to get the farmers of the country voluntarily and willingly to invest working capital in the land which it is necessary to have cultivated, and to devote that arable land, in its due course, during the rotation, to the growing of wheat. If you do that, then you are merely guaranteeing that farmer against a loss—no more! If you guarantee him against a loss—that is to say, against the cost of the production of the annual crop of wheat being greater than the total amount he sells it for in the market, then you do give to him the object of this sys-. tern of securing him, namely, the security which lifts from his mind the fear of arable cultivation that is ingrained in it; the fear that a fall of world prices, over which he has no control, will land him ultimately in the bankruptcy court. That, in the simplest language possible, is the essence of this scheme. To talk of that as Protection in the old sense of the word, I venture to regard as nonsense, except that when it is used in the way that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury used it I regard it as worse than nonsense; I regard it as malignant. It does not seem to me a straightforward method of conducting controversy in this House when we are concerned with war questions. I regard it as barely honest. This attitude of a certain set on the Front Opposition Bench is to me almost unintelligible. The whole argument of the right hon. Gentleman yesterday was addressed to an attack upon Part I. He said he was not going to vote against the Second Reading, in spite of his objection to Part I., meaning by that, of course, that he was going to vote against Part I. in Committee. He knows perfectly well that if Part I. goes the Bill goes. I think 2485 it would have been treating the House with more candour if the right hon. Gentleman had had the courage and honesty to say, "We disapprove of the fundamental point of this Bill, and we will vote against it." The country does not understand this sort of finesse.
What is the position the right hon. Gentleman takes up? He says—and much of his speech was addressed to this—the submarine menace is becoming so grave that it threatens our very existence. That is the tenor of what he says. He says it has become far graver than the First Lord of the Admiralty is willing to admit. Therefore it is imperatively necessary that the Government should take such measures as will ensure the stock of food in this country being sufficient for our needs. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that we have got to deal with the stock of food which will be required in 1918. We all know that the probability is that the War will go on into 1918, if not longer. Whatever hope we may have about the matter otherwise, we believe it would be suicidal madness not to assume that the War will go on till long after the supplies of 1918 of this country, or other countries, of food for human consumption are wanted, and are available. I am putting it first of all on this War footing. Does the right hon. Gentleman say, as a member of the late Government, "We were foresighted. We knew what was coming. We knew the danger of this submarine menace last December when we went out of office, and knowing that —and having known it for some time—we made due provision; we made provision for the country's need of food"? He has not told us of any effective step taken by the late Government, except one step which he put in a way that looked effective. When analysed it is seen to be nothing. What he said was:We initiated a system of storage—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."— [OFFICIAL REPORT 24th April. 1917, col. 2271.]Does the right hon. Gentleman say that he initiated that policy and that Lord Selborne carried it on, or was it the other way about? Does he say that at any time he had more than an additional three weeks' stock in this country over and above the normal? Did he take any steps in August of last year to provide this 2486 country with big stocks when he, as a member of the Government, knew that there was going to be a tremendous-shortage in the world crop? We know that the world crop of the Northern; Hemisphere was 25 per cent, below that of the previous year. We knew it approximately then. Did they take any steps? None.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman expect me to answer him? If so, he has not been very civil tome. He has spoken of me as malignant and dishonest, but perhaps he will believe-me when I say that before Lord Selborne ever joined the Government we had increased the margin in this country to a level which it had not reached previously. When Lord Selborne came into the Government he at once entered into arrangements with the millers an I merchants which provided for the Government holding a large margin, which they were to keep in hand for several months, and which was not to be released for some months afterwards. And perhaps, if the hon. and learned Gentleman will carry his-memory back to some Liverpool transactions, in which I know he took some interest, he will remember we made some large purchases outside the ordinary grain trade through Messrs. Ross, T. Smyth and Co., which provided us with a large amount of wheat in hand, which was not known to the general public. Furthermore, if he asks me what we did last August, I was unfortunately away for a couple of months last summer, and when. I came back, in August, one of the first things I recommended to the House was that we should take over the whole grain-import trade of this country, Foreseeing the shortage of the harvest in North America, and particularly in Canada. It was essential for us, amongst other things, to take over then as large a portion of the Australian crop as we possibly could, and we diverted vessels into the Atlantic trade for that purpose, and we hoped to increase importation into this country far beyond the normal limits which would have been reached by private traders.
§ Mr. SCOTT
Of course, if I spoke of any action by the right hon. Gentleman in August, in view of the fact—which I forgot for the moment, and which we all regretted—that he was away, I withdraw any suggestion that he was personally responsible in the Government of which he was then a member. Will the right hon. 2487 Gentleman oblige the House with figures as to the weekly position of stocks in this country from August, 1916, until the time he left office?
I cannot be asked to do that. I have not the documents with me; but if the hon. and learned Gentleman will get the permission of the Board of Agriculture, I have no doubt they will be able to publish the Returns which the Food Supply Committee of the Cabinet have supplied to them every week, which will show that certainly during that period the stocks have gone down, and for the very reason we all know, namely, the shortage of crops in North America, whence we used to draw a large portion of our supplies.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for answering my questions, which I did want answering now. My point was that we were dealing with purchases in this War. The purchases by Ross, T. Smyth, and Company, if I remember rightly, were forward purchases for future delivery and were not, of course, in this country, and what we are dealing with to-day in connection with the War, and the exigencies of feeding the population of this country during the War, is not rival contracts in regard to wheat which is the other side of the world, but wheat in this country, and it is no answer to a proposal in the Bill to increase the output of wheat in this country out of the land of this country, to say, "Oh, we took steps in regard to wheat," unless those steps amounted to insuring permanent storage in this country. And I say that in regard to permanent storage in this country, I doubt whether at any time during the last nine months, or the last six months of their tenure of office, the last Government had a stock in this country more than three weeks above the average. If that is the position—and I believe it to be the position, or something approximating to that—this business of storage is seen on its face to be an impracticable one. It is no use attempting to think that that small additional margin will feed the population for a year. The right hon. Gentleman did talk about having one, two, or three years' supply in this country. May I ask in this year of grace, and this day of the month of April how we are to get one, two, or three years' stock of wheat in this country? What we are concerned with is the difficulty of 2488 shipping any cargoes across the seas to this country at the present time. It is for that reason that we want to take every step we can to grow wheat in this country. If the War goes on, as we think it probably will, and as we certainly must assume it will, for the purpose of any precautions we take now in regard to agriculture, where we have to act eighteen months ahead, we are also bound to assume that the Germans, knowing that the submarine is their last card, so to speak, will go on building submarines with the greatest possible rapidity from now till then, and in the latter part of 1918, if the War is still going on then, as we have to assume, we may be in such a position that we have got somehow or other to feed the population of this country, practically speaking, out of the soil of this country. That is the position.
I venture to say that, from a military point of view, that position is absolutely unanswerable, and it is that position which the people of this country as a whole are convinced is the right position. I spoke bitterly, I agree, in regard to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I did not mean to be personally discourteous to him, although I used strong language. I do feel that the way he put the case yesterday was not treating the people of this country quite straightforwardly. He said, as regards the Report of the Reconstruction Sub-Committee, presided over by Lord Selborne, that this is merely a peace problem Report—nothing else. Did the right hon. Gentleman read the terms of reference before he made that remark? I wonder. I will venture to read them to the House in case he did not. The terms of reference, settled by the Prime Minister in the late Government, were these:Having regard to the need of increasing homegrown food supplies in the interest of national security, to consider and report upon the methods of effecting such increase."Home-grown food supplies in the interest of national security." It is quite beside the point to say that the reference was probably in the mind of the late Prime Minister with a view to such measures as might be taken during peace for the purpose of guarding against another war. The point is that the reference was for the purpose of national defence, to advise as to the best way of increasing home-grown food supplies.
Another point made by the right hon. Gentleman was this: He asked, Why not have two or three years' storage in 2489 granaries? And almost in the same breath he was criticising the possible cost of this proposal for a minimum guarantee. He considered that it might cost seven, eight, nine, or ten millions a year. How much does he think that storing three years' grain supply in this country would cost? It would mean three times 30,000,000 quarters. We consume in this country 35,000,000 quarters a year. We grow 7,000,000. It means storing three times 28,000,000 quarters. Call it 80,000,000 quarters; take half of that, 40,000,000 quarters, and you get into a number of millions sterling, the interest upon which would itself be more than £10,000,000 a year, without one penny for all the enormous grain warehouses you would have to build all over the country, without one penny for deterioration, wastage, and other charges for keeping the thing going. The proposal which the right hon. Gentleman solemnly puts before the House to this alternative of an economic system of guarantee, which may never cost the Exchequer a single penny, is a certain expenditure of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 a year. Then he winds up with what I cannot help calling the old gag about the consumer, and why should one industry be benefited at the expense of the country, or other industries? I wonder whether he sent me a copy of the tract, which was used largely in the 1906 election, about the hungry forties, with a letter from Richard Cobden about the big loaf and the little loaf? The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, so that I assume he did not send it. I wonder if he happens to remember this? It is what Richard Cobden said at Rochdale on the 29th October, 1862—a sentence which these devotees of the consumer and his interests do not seem to remember as much as they remember the big loaf and the little loaf of Richard Cobden's letter written in the 'forties. The sentence I am about to read was spoken in the second year of the war in America between the Northern States and the Southern States, when the cruisers of the Northern States were holding up British shipping to a very considerable extent and stopping supplies coming to this country, particularly cotton and wheat. Lancashire, as the House knows, was suffering badly. This is what Cobden said:I doubt the wisdom—I certainly doubt the prudence—of a great body of industrial people allowing themselves to continually live in dependence upon foreign Powers for the supply of food and raw material knowing that a system of warfare exists by which at 2490 any moment, without notice, without any help on their part or means of prevention, they are liable to have the raw material, or the food, withdrawn from them—cut off from them suddenly—without any power to resist or hinder it.Strangely prescient, but very interesting from that protagonist of Free Trade. "Knowing that a system of warfare exists by which at any moment, without notice, the food may be suddenly withdrawn from them." Is not that the very position in which we are here? And even if there were some element of the old wickedness that the Free Trader does not like, surely, with Richard Cobden to lead them, they might accept a proposal which is essential in the national interests. I hope the House will bear with me while I deal with this particular aspect of the question, because I do want this thing to be got out of the rut of party controversy of this kind. There arc various ways of bringing this out of the rut, and I hope this may serve as well as another. In June last I had the honour to sign a Minority Report with the hon. Member for Norwich, who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. George Roberts), and one of the most, if not the most, distinguished agriculturist in this country, Mr. Edward Strutt. In that Report we were dealing, not with the immediate war problem, but with the question of finding employment for soldiers on the land at the end of the War. We felt that you could not possibly increase the agricultural production of this country unless you made agriculture prosperous, and consequently we arrived at the solution of the difficulty which is-being put forth in this Bill to-day—namely, a guarantee of minimum prices for the farmer and minimum wages for the labourer. When that Report was published the "Daily News" published a strong article supporting the combined system, including the guaranteed price, and, in view of its article this morning immediately after the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I want to read a few sentences from the article of the 1st of July. It says;If men from the Army are to be attracted to the-land, the admirable machinery recommended by the-Minority— the breaking up of pasture, the extension of the Small Holdings Act, the application of the Trade-Boards Act to agriculture and the guarantee of a minimum price for wheat (a step which by no means necessitates a protective tariff)—must not by a vision be an accomplished fact on the day the first soldier is given his discharge.The article goes on to say:To accomplish fully so vast an undertaking in the-time available may prove impossible, but it cannot be-'questioned that the Minority are right in outlining; a complete rather than a makeshift programme that 2491 will appeal to the public imagination and evoke the support alike of politicians, epitomist and fanner. If we are to face with any contidence the transition from war to peace conditions it is essential that we should realise, and be satisfied that those in authority have realised, that the old things have passed away and all things are become new.When the present Prime Minister in February last made in this House a speech which all hon. Members will remember, in which he outlined the policy embodied in this Bill, this is what the "Daily News" said:But the fanner does not live from year to year, and any immediate remedy improvised for the relief of present necessities must be brought into relation with the new agricultural policy it is imperative to formulate and apply. Fortunately the Government have here the experience of more than one Departmental Committee to draw on, and they have under existing circumstances done wisely to adopt the Scott Strutt-Roberts proposals for a guaranteed price to the farmer, coupled with a minimum wage for the labourer, and a prohibition of the raising of rent by the landlord.That is the official organ of the party which the right hon. Gentleman opposite still to some extent represents. Following on that we get the article in to-day's "Daily News," immediately after the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It says:But when we come to the question of the bonus for the farmer, the Bill bristles with objections, and it emerged from the discussion something like a wreck…The Bill, in a word, assures us a high price of bread, with all its consequences in the high price of other commodities, but it does not assure us an increase of production, nor greater security against famine.Did you ever see such a political volte face? I wonder whether the "Daily News" editorial room had a tip that those were the lines the section of the party represented yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman opposite desired should be followed for the future. I hope I have not wasted any time in drawing attention to this aspect of the matter, and I hope that we may see the end of it. If this part of the Bill is withdrawn, I am satisfied that all practical possibility of getting any substantial increase of home-grown food in 1918 is gone. I hope that we may hear the Director-General of Food Production before thi3 Debate is over. The farmers of this country are afraid of changes of mind by Governments in this country. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fall in the gross acreage under wheat between 1915 and 1916. It was a big fall amounting to something like 200,000 or 300,000 acres. Why was that? I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has thought out that problem. One of the chief reasons affecting the farmers of this country in the sowing season of the autumn of 1915 was that the Government of which he was a member 2492 just turned down the Milner Report. There have been three Committes which have advocated this system, two of which were expert Committees. The Milner Committee and the Selborne Committee were both composed of the first experts in the country, who know the farmers and know their mind, and they unanimously advised this system of a guarantee.
§ Mr. SCOTT
Yes, the Irish Committee gave the same advice, and those Committees have been disregarded entirely. They gave this advice, which I submit is common sense. They said that if you are going to ask the farmers to put additional capital into the land as is required for arable as compared with grass, you must see that the disasters which fell upon the arable farmer in years gone by should not fall upon them again. Does the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the party he represents realise the effect upon the profits of arable farming of the provision for a minimum wage in this Bill. Before the Departmental Committees published their Reports a year ago I got Mr. Edward Strutt to work out his own cost on his own farms, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that those costs are probably as low as any costs connected with the best arable farming in the country. I asked him to tell me the effect per quarter of wheat of a rise of 5s. a week in the wages of agricultural labourers over the rates of 1913. The result of 5s. a week was an increase of 7s. 6d. per quarter in the cost of production of wheat. Now this Bill proposes a minimum wage of 25s., and that means that the additional cost of production over the 1913 rate for Essex will be over 11s. per quarter. Take that figure as an addition to the cost due to the legislation of this Bill and take the market price of wheat in 1913, which was about 34s., and add 11s.;. that makes 45s. If in 1920 the market price has come down to where it was before the War, you will see this position. If it comes down to 45s. the farmer will be no better off than he would have been before the War with the price at 34s., and that is only labour cost. We know everything else, including fertilisers, has gone up, and the price of these articles will probably remain up for a long time after the War. Consequently this price of 45s. is a guarantee, I imagine, really that the farmer will not lose very much, and it is no better guarantee to 2493 him than that. At most it is only a guarantee that he will not lose. That being so, I invite the House to consider the position. In putting money into land the farmer acts in the same way as another man of business. He considers whether it is an investment or a speculation. If it is an investment he will put it in, and if it is a speculation he will not do it, and that is the exact position here. The guarantee just turns it into an investment instead of a speculation, and it prevents the farmer losing his capital, and I think that is a very sound way to look at it. In the second place, the farmer will not invest a large additional amount in the working capital necessary upon arable land, nor will the landowner, unless the position is assured for a reasonable number of years ahead, and it is that fact that is the critical and crucial point at the present moment. The Director-General of Food Production is starting upon a campaign, as we know from the Press, and I am authorised to say that it is a campaign which has as its aim, if the details are approved by the Government, the ploughing up of 3,000,000 additional acres of grass land in time to bear crops in 1918. That scheme will be coupled with an arrangement under which 5,000,000 acres will be put under wheat and another 1,000,000 under barley or oats.
The farmers are the people upon whom we have to rely, and the Members of this House who talk glibly about compulsion and the compulsory Regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act do not realise the position. You cannot compel the farmers of this country en masse to do this, but you can lead them, although you may compel one here and there, as an example, with the good will of the others. That is essentially the case, and if you are going to get the farmers to do what is necsssary, namely, to triumph bravely over the astounding labour difficulties and the difficulties of all kinds they have had to face during the War, you can only do it by having their complete good will, and unless they do it willingly they will not do it successfully. However patriotic they may be, they have got their wives and families to think of, and they cannot incur undue risks by throwing money away in Arable cultivation unduly unless they think they are secure. The difference in the attitude of the farmers that has been made by the Prime Minister's speech of the 23rd February last throughout the length and breadth of England—I do not 2494 know about Scotland—is simply astounding. Ask the Director-General of Food Production, who has reports from every county, every week, from his Commissioners and Sub-Commissioners, this question, and you will find that the effect has been astounding, because they have this assurance for the future. That is the critical point, and I say to this House with absolute certainty of conviction and knowledge on this one point —I do not profess to be an agriculturist with knowledge of farming—that if this Bill goes through increased production for 1918 goes with it. The right hon. Gentleman said that what the farmers want is labour. That is his other alternative to three years' storage. What is the position in regard to labour? He referred to the 30,000 recently taken— the "staggering blow" spoken of by the President of the Board of Agriculture. Who let the 30,000 go? Who failed to realise that it was essential to the agricultural industry that the 30,000 should be kept? Who failed to give instructions to the military representatives at the tribunals that those men were not to be taken? The late Government. What is the use of talking like that when we are considering what to do here and now?
§ Mr. SCOTT
The present Prime Minister has found in their place 40,000 extraordinarily efficient soldiers, and they are on the land to-day. I do not regard that as the key to the situation in the very least. I say that the right hon. Gentleman's point is not worth a snap of the fingers. We have heard practically nothing during this Debate about the return of the soldiers after the War Although that question is of minor importance compared with the supply of food during the War it is still of great importance. There will be a vast number of men whose occupations in life before the War were indoors—in factories, in shops, in counting-houses or down the mines—who, having lived an open-air life, will have got, so to speak, the breath of God in their nostrils, and who will not want to go back to their old occupations. They will have had their horizon opened, they will have talked with their fellow comrades in arms from the Dominions, they will have heard stories of the life in the Dominions, and a large percentage will want an open-air life. I think that from 5 to 10 per 2495 cent., or even more, of those who lived indoors before the War will want a life on the land. If they want it and want it in the Old Country, are they not entitled to nave it in the Old Country? We must be in a position to make them an offer of the life at home if they want it. What do the words "If they want it" mean? Do they mean that we are to offer them the old agricultural and rural conditions before the War? Thank God, if this Bill goes through, that is settled.
§ Mr. SCOTT
It is not 25s. You have not read the Bill. Twenty-five shillings is the absolute minimum. An agricultural wages board—one board, by the way, and not as some speakers have suggested, several—a central agricultural wages board, acting on the recommendations of district committees, and able, therefore, to secure uniform conditions and to control the action of district committees, will make minimum rates for men, women, girls, and boys. Twenty-five shillings is simply the bed rock minimum. I hope that the industry may be sufficiently prosperous as time goes on for that minimum to be greatly raised all over the country. It is £2 per week in Scotland. Why should it not be so in Eugland? I agree that the provision of cottages is of very great importance, but it is not in this Bill, though I hope we shall soon see it before Parliament. All these questions have got to be decided here and now. In order to make sure of getting the men the life they want in this country, and in order to make sure, from the point of view of the interests of this country of having a strong, healthy, flourishing agricultural population, we must be able to make them a firm offer before demobilisation begins. That is the absolute essence of the problem. If hon. Members would read the Minority Report of the Departmental Committee, of which I am a modest signatory, they would see stated in moderate form very cogent reasons for passing the necessary legislation long before the end of the War, and this is the first instalment of it. It is no use inviting men to go into an industry unless that industry is secure, and a reasonable prosperity assured them. It is our duty just as it is our necessity from the point of view of national defence to pass this Bill in its broad outlines as it stands.
2496 There is one comparatively minor point which I want to mention. I am convinced that the minimum price ought to be put on the wheat and oats produced, and not on the wheat and oats sold. I know that is difficult, but I am satisfied from the discussions I have had with farmers that the difficulty is by no means insuperable. There are various ways of solving it. Take Ireland, take Scotland, take Wales, take the hilly districts of England, take any farmer a long way from the station. He has got to pay these high wages. He is not used to them. He cannot take his oats to a market town. Do you want him to carry them seven miles to his next door farmer in order that his next door farmer may carry them back to him, so that there may be a sale according to the Bill? It is an illogical and unreasonable provision, and it is unfair in its incidence as between the big and the little farmer. I say, "Give it on production and not on sales." There are one or two points with regard to the minimum wage. There is the question of weekly or yearly hiring, and there is the question of the ratio of the minimum rates for boys and girls and women as compared with men. Personally, I am inclined to put a money limit on the allowances that can be taken into consideration in lieu of cash wages, and I am disposed to think that the limit should be one-fifth of the total or a little less. If the guarantee of prices is taken out of this Bill you will take the heart out of the farmers because you will put back into them the fear which my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood), with his intimate knowledge of china porcelain and pottery, does not care much about. It is a fear which has dominated the farmers now for forty years, and it will absolutely prevent the output of food which we must have during the War. I ask the House whether it is prepared to take that risk? Imagine our feelings in the late autumn of 1918, with the War still going on, with the submarine menace, worse, and with this Bill, which might have produced the food we want, scrapped, and our people wanting the food.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. KILBRIDE
The Irish Nationalist representatives, as the House will have judged from the speeches of the few Members of the Irish party who have taken part in the Debate, are going to support the Second Reading of this Bill because we welcome the principles laid down by it 2497 and the objects which it is designed to achieve. We cannot, however, support the further stages of the Bill in its present shape. I do not for the life of me understand how the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland ever came to allow his name to get on the back of the Bill in its present shape. Sixty lines of the Bill are devoted to the Irish side of the question, and it must be obvious to everyone who is acquainted with Irish circumstances and who knows that there is no analogy whatever between Irish land tenure and the land tenure of this country, between the conditions in Ireland and the conditions that prevail in this country, that to make the Bill at all operative or a success in Ireland a wholly different measure is necessary. The Bill is one of the largest revolutionary measures that I ever knew to be introduced. It should have been well considered, at any rate so far as it applies to Ireland. Has it been considered at all? Probably the Chief Secretary did not get timely notice that it was going to apply to Ireland. I believe if he had, then out of regard for his own reputation and out of regard for his own good name he would not have allowed a thing like this to be put before the House of Commons to deal with the Irish side of the question. It strikes me that the Government in a panic —after all, this is panic legislation, say what you like—said to the Chief Secretary one day, "We are determined to make this Bill applicable to Ireland," and they did not give him sufficient time and he was not afforded sufficient assistance to produce a Bill which would give him and those with whom he is connected in the government of Ireland a decent opportunity of making it operative and a success in Ireland. I do not wish to detain the House at any length, but there are a few points to which I should like to direct the attention of the Chief Secretary. We desire to see this Bill a success in Ireland. We desire to see it operative. The best guarantee that we can give that we desire to sec the existing conditions of farming in Ireland changed is that the Chief Secretary and those associated with him in the government of Ireland have experienced no difficulty whatever in getting an enormously increased amount of land put under the plough at very short notice. I think the House must have been struck with the figures which were given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of 2498 Agriculture, who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, when he informed the House that the increased area in England was 300,000 acres, I think in Scotland 50,000 acres, and in Ireland this year something like 700,000 or 750,000 acres. That is the best guarantee that the House can have that we desire to see the present conditions of agriculture in Ireland entirely changed, and we welcome this Bill because one of its objects, so far as we can understand it, is to repopulate the country districts, to undo the policy which was described by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) in his speech as pursued with vigour and determination by Irish landlords for the best part of a century, aided and abetted by this House. We want to see the rural districts of Ireland repopulated. This Bill, so far as it goes, will, I think, tend to do something in that direction, and for that reason we welcome it I know the Chief Secretary is desirous that this Bill when it passes into law should be an instrument of good to the people of Ireland, and that it should be an instrument that will give him and those associated with him a decent chance of making it successful. I would ask the Chief Secretary not to be influenced by any English precedent that may be contained in the Bill, because the position of the two countries is so dissimilar that the statement that what is good for England must naturally be good for Ireland is a very fallacious statement to make. Nobody knows better than the Chief Secretary that while Summer Time may be very good for England this year, Summer Time, plus Greenwich time, is opposed by almost the whole agricultural population of Ireland. There is an instance of what may be very good for England may not be good for Ireland, the conditions of the two countries being in so very many respects so dissimilar. Although there arc only sixty miles of sea between them, in many particulars they are as far asunder as the North and South Poles.
So far as the Irish portion of this Bill goes, and so far as anyone can understand it—for it is the merest skeleton that has ever been proposed to this House, and I heard one right hon. Gentleman for some Division of this country say that even as applied to England it was a mere skeleton—let any hon. Member take the Bill in his hand and look at the part that applies to England, and compare it with the part that applies to Ireland. He will see Clause after Clause, page after page, 2499 designed to set up machinery in England for the purpose of putting this Bill into operation, and he will find that sixty-five lines, I think it is, are devoted to Ireland, and that nobody from this Bill can form any idea whatever of what kind the machinery is to be, or of the mode in which it is to operate in Ireland for the purpose of putting this Bill into force. It strikes me that the Chief Secretary finds himself like a man who has gone astray in a deep wood, and I suggest to him that in order to get himself out of the very extraordinary position in which he finds himself he should not follow any of the provisions of this Bill as laid down for England as a precedent for Ireland. I would strongly suggest to him the desirability of blazing his own path out of the wood. Let him strike a new line altogether, and do not let him be obsessed by provisions in this Bill which may be very good for England, but which, I think, he will acknowledge as readily as anyone in this House, are wholly unsuited to the Irish portion of the Bill. I wish to point out to the Chief Secretary a few of the serious defects of this Bill from the Irish point of view. I was very pleased to hear what the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and some other hon. Members who I think spoke to-day, said about the minimum prices guaranteed in this Bill for the last three years—I think it is for the years 1920-21-22 —of 45s. for wheat, and 24s. for oats per quarter. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill said that in his opinion in the years 1920-21-22 with the guaranteed prices of 45s. and 24s., it would be a tight squeeze for the farmers to make both ends meet, to carry on their operations, to make a legitimate profit, and a decent livelihood. I was of that opinion before the statement was made from the Treasury Bench, and I do not think these prices for the years mentioned will make sure that the increased tillage, the increased area now brought under the plough in Ireland, and which, of course, will be under the plough necessarily for the next couple of years, will be continued permanently under the plough. I do not think they are sufficient, and I would ask the Chief Secretary to direct his attention to that point, and no doubt he will take an opportunity before we reach the Committee stage of the Bill to ascertain the views of some of the large agricultural farms, perhaps in the county 2500 Dublin and county Kildare. I think that to ensure permanent tillage these prices ought to be made higher. I think the statement was made by the right hon. Gentleman now sitting on the Treasury Bench (Sir R. Winfrey) that the 45s. and 24s. guarantee would make it a tight squeeze for the farmer to be able to cultivate his farm, to pay the increased wages, to meet the increased expenditure incurred by reason of the War in carrying out these operations, and to continue to keep that land in cultivation. So, also, did the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill. I would, therefore, first direct the Chief Secretary's attention to that point.
Let me come to the second Clause of the Bill, the Clause which deals with the average prices. If the machinery that it is suggested in the Bill should be adopted in this country is utilised in the Irish case ft will be impossible for you to arrive at a true average price. You will arrive at what I may call a fictitious average price, but you will not arrive at a true average price. You will arrive at a price considerably higher than the true average price, and should the market price be lower than the guaranteed price, the higher the true average price fixed, the less would be the claim that the working farmer would have against the Government. I think the Chief Secretary is aware of the reason why I say that. I understand that during the seven months mentioned in this Bill, during which the weekly price in the several corn markets in this country are to be recorded and then an average price struck from those weekly prices, the quantity sold in England in any one month, or in any one particular week of the seven months, does not vary to anything like the same extent that it varies in Ireland. I am told that there is no comparison between the practice in that respect of the English farmer and the practice of the Irish farmer. Everyone who is acquainted with the conditions of the agricultural districts of Leinster and Munster knows that the selling time for corn all over that area is immediately after the harvest is got together, and that immediately the corn is removed from the fields and put into rick the first opportunity the farmer gets to hire a machine he takes and begins to thresh it. Because he has no proper way of keeping it, it is immediately sold. The consequence is that in the first two months—say, October and November—80 per cent, at least, and 2501 probably a very much higher percentage than 80, is sold to the corn merchant by the farmer. The procedure suggested in this Bill may be very good for England— I do not know whether it is or not—but if it is to form a precedent for Ireland you will arrive at what I have described as a fictitious average, and not a true average, because it takes no account of quantities sold on any particular occasion. May I ask the Chief Secretary to give me his attention for a moment while I give an illustration? Suppose the figure 10 represents all the bulk of the corn sold in September, and suppose the figure 8 represents the bulk of the corn sold in the months of October and November, and that the figure 2 represents the percentage of the corn which will be sold in February and March, a great deal of it for seed and at a very high price. Is it not plain to him that if the quantity represented by the figure 10 is sold at £l, and that represented by the figure 2 at 25s. or 27s. 6d., you do not arrive at a true average, but at a fictitious average, of which the balance is against the farmer? If the Chief Secretary wishes to arrive at a true average, it is essential that regard should be paid not only to the weekly price, but also to the quantities sold at a particular price. I do not think it is possible, from a practical point of view, to keep such elaborate records as that would necessitate. Therefore, I suggest to the Chief Secretary, instead of arriving at the average price by taking the prices per week for the seven months, that the period should be much shorter and should be three months instead of seven, because at least 80 per cent., and perhaps 90 per cent., of the whole of the produce is sold during the three months. That is a far better method than that suggested in the Bill, if it is to be applied to Ireland, of arriving at a true average.
I see a tremendous difficulty before the right hon. Gentleman and those who will be assisting him in the government of Ireland in trying to make this Bill operative. How is he going to ascertain the weekly prices? The Corn Averages Act, as he knows, does not apply to Ireland. Who is to give him the return of the weekly prices, and by what machinery is he going to get them? I have looked carefully through this Bill, and it does not give me a notion or idea of what machinery is going to be used in substitution for the Corn Averages Act, which applies here and does not apply to Ireland. By adopt- 2502 ing my proposal for the purpose of arriving at an average price—namely, taking the prices for the first three months—the right hon. Gentleman will seriously diminish the hardship to the farmer in regard to waiting for his deferred payments. According to the Bill as it stands, if its procedure is adopted, the very earliest time at which the farmer can make application is April. No matter what kind of machinery you set up, it will not be possible for any Department to put the farmer in a position of being able to apply even in the month of April. Therefore, should the circumstance arise where the market price has been lower than the guaranteed price, the difference is and will be a long-deferred payment. In the case of Ireland it will be a deferred payment, at the shortest, for a period from October to April, and probably a deferred payment from October until May or June. If the right hon. Gentleman adopts my suggestion, he will, at any rate, obviate some of that disadvantage to the farmer. The farmer, both here and in Ireland, will naturally be under the impression that the Government have guaranteed him a certain price for his produce. He will say, "I have not obtained that price in the market, why should I not get it at once, instead of being kept seven or eight months out of my money?" He will not understand it; he will not like it. The Irish farmer will say to himself, "Here is another instance of the British Treasury trying to chouse me out of my rights." It is another instance of the trustful Irishman being no better than a common idiot when he takes the word of a British Minister. That is how the Irish farmer will look at it. I do not want the Irish farmer to be put in a position to say that. I prefer to obviate all these difficulties, if it can possibly be done. Therefore, I suggest to the Chief Secretary, in the interests of arriving at a true average, that the period over which the prices are to be calculated at in Ireland should be three months and not seven. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture may not be aware that it is in November and December that between 80 and 90 per cent, of the corn produced in Ireland is sold, and that only some 15 or 20 per cent, is sold during the other four months, during which the suggested period of arriving at average prices extends. To the Irish farmer it is unfair to fix an average price wholly irrespective of quantities, as the Bill does. It will fix 2503 a fictitious price, not a true price, and the fictitious price will deprive the Irish farmer of what I believe this House intends he should get.
When I turn to Clause III., I find that the Bill says that the man who is to receive the benefit of this difference is the occupier. It must be apparent to the Chief Secretary that that suggestion cannot be allowed to stand with regard to Ireland. I do not know whether the system of conacre applies in England, but anybody acquainted with Ireland knows that the system of conacre has prevailed there for a great many years, probably for centuries. The system of compelling the Irish occupier this year under the Defence of the Realm Act to add 10 per cent. of arable land to the amount of arable land he had already under the plough must have increased by 200 or 300 per cent. the conacre system in Ireland. The conacre man is the producer; he is not the occupier. Under the conacre system the occupier docs nothing at all. He does not plough, or sow, or cultivate the land, or reap or thresh the crop. It is the grower, the. man who has ploughed, sowed and tilled, reaped and threshed who is entitled to the deficit and no one else. I would draw the Chief Secretary's attention to that point, which in very many districts of Ireland is a very serious matter.
I see an attempt made in this Bill, so far as it applies to England, to prevent the raising of rent, but nothing of the kind in its application to Ireland. As far as the Irish portion of the Bill goes, it is a skeleton, some of the limbs of which have been lopped off—not a decent skeleton. In Ireland the Land Commission, in fixing a fair rent, is entitled to take into consideration all the circumstances of the case. Will it, in fixing a fair rent during the six years over which this Bill extends, be prohibited from taking into account the effect it will have upon agriculture and consequently, in my opinion, raising rents? Fair rents are fixed for a term of fifteen years. This Bill only operates for a term of six years. From that fact alone it must be apparent that it would be monstrously unjust to those very men who have increased their tillage this year to twice the extent that has been done all over England and Scotland to leave them open to the possibility of having their judicial rents raised because of the operation of this Bill. I see nothing to prevent rent 2504 raising in Ireland, and I ask the Chief Secretary to give SOME serious consideration to the point.
Part IV. takes power to enforce proper cultivation, and with that object power is given, I think, to the Agricultural Department to compel a landlord to determine a tenancy if the occupier refuses to comply with the conditions that he is asked to comply with. If he says he will do exactly as he likes, you take powers to take the land from him. If the owner of the estate does not, in your opinion, cultivate the land properly, you also take power to enter there and cultivate it yourselves, giving him any excess profits, I suppose, whatever it may be, but at any rate seeing that the land is properly cultivated. I suppose power is going to be taken to enforce that in Ireand, too, but all I can find in the Bill is that the Lord Lieutenant will do it. If I get into a difficulty about some points, the Lord Lieutenant is going to do it. If I get into a third difficulty, and a fourth and a fifth, it is the Lord Lieutenant again. I do not know how often the Lord Lieutenant appears in the Bill. If the Bill is allowed to go on in that state, what is going to happen in Ireland? You are referring everything to the Lord Lieutenant. He is to get this board to carry out this part, and that board to carry out that, and No. 3 board to carry out something else. Is advantage to be taken of the circumstances to rehabilitate Dublin Castle? The Lord Lieutenant to the average Irishman is Dublin Castle. It is the permanent official—the Department. I shall be asked, "Why did you allow a Bill to become an Act of Parliament, one of the effects of which has been to rehabilitate and to re-establish Dublin Castle in all its pristine purity?" Does not the Chief Secretary know that that thing cannot be allowed? If any attempt is made to get this Bill through the House by machinery of that kind it will be opposed to the end by the party to which I belong. That is not a statement of mine. It is a statement I have authority to make. But suppose you re-enter and determine a tenancy? The English tenant farmer has no interest in his holding. He is not a joint owner. He is a yearly tenant—a tenant at will. At any rate, he has no tenant right, as we understand it. He has no interest to sell according to the law. But in Ireland the case is entirely different. The law for many years has acknowledged the fact that the farmer in Ireland is not an occupier alone but is a 2505 joint owner, and if you put this into operation in Ireland you are dealing not with a mere tenant, as you are here, but with a joint owner, and there is not a bit of machinery in the Bill, as far as I can see, to safeguard that man's tenant right.
§ Mr. KILBRIDE
Surely to goodness, when we are agreed that we want this Bill to be passed into law because of the principles it enunciates and the objects which we believe the Chief Secretary has in view in Ireland for the benefit of the whole of the people of Ireland, we do not want such a situation as that. Is not that going back to the old land war? We do not want that. We want to warn you of all the pitfalls in this Bill in its present shape. Any hon. Member who takes the trouble to read the Bill will see that they are pitfalls. There is no machinery in the Bill to safeguard that man's tenant right. Neither the Government nor anybody else has any moral or legal' right to rob that man, because it is robbery if you do not give him the full saleable value of the part ownership he possesses. I put that seriously to the Chief Secretary. It must be obviated somehow. I do not know by what machinery, but it must be obviated, otherwise this Bill, when it passes into an Act of Parliament and comes to be applied to Ireland, will be wrecked, and will not be successful. As it stands it represents the confiscation of the tenant's interest. I have looked at the Definitions Clause of this Bill, and I find that it reads:
"For the purposes of this Act—
I would like to ask the Chief Secretary how that definition is going to be interpreted in Ireland when he is putting this Act into operation? I know he does not intend that this Act should be used for the purpose of the preservation of the ranches, and I know that he would like to see many 2506 of these non-residential holdings broken up and brought again under cultivation as they were before the people were driven off them by the land policy which I have described, and which was aided and abetted by this House. For goodness sake do not let anybody in Ireland be able to say truthfully that there was another object behind this Bill. This Bill, because of the Definitions Clause, goes a long way to preserve the ranches and to prevent the land from being brought into cultivation. I hope the Chief Secretary will give his serious consideration to this point and to the other points I have raised if he thinks them worthy. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, although this is mainly an English Bill, I have rarely known a Bill that has been made applicable to Ireland that my colleagues on these benches can more cordially support than this measure because of the objects that are intended to be carried out; but I tell the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot support it in its present form. We are not going to have a pig in a poke. We want to see the machinery that he intends to use for putting this Bill into operation, and we want to sec that machinery in black and white. We want to have a reasonable opportunity of being able to judge whether the suggested machinery is the best machinery or not. This Bill does not give us any idea as to how it is going to be put into operation. I know that there is a big task before the right hon. Gentleman in endeavouring, as I am sure he will endeavour to the best of his ability, to overcome these difficulties, and I know there is a big task before my colleagues in endeavouring to help the Chief Secretary to arrive at the result desired. Unless we can work mutually together and with a good understanding I do not think that that result will be achieved.
- (a) the expression 'agriculture' includes the use of land as grazing, meadow, or pasture land, or orchard or osier land, or woodland, or for market gardens or nursery grounds, and the expression 'agricultural' shall be construed accordingly: and
- (b) the expression 'cultivation' includes use for grazing, meadow, or pasture."
For that reason I would ask the Chief Secretary to put in the Bill the machinery which he intends to use for the purpose of bringing this Act into operation. At this hour of the day, knowing as much as he does about Irish conditions, is it fair to this party and is it fair to the Irish people, that when they ask us, Who is going to do this and who is going to do that, the only reply we can give is, "The Lord Lieutenant." They may reasonably ask us then, Whether that is all we know about the work of the House of Commons in this matter? We cannot give them any answer because there is no answer for us to give. 2507 The Chief Secretary must know that the best possible mode of damning this Bill in Ireland and of trying to prevent that which we all desire is to give the Irish people the impresion that some Machiavellian or sinister object of this Bill is to rehabilitate Dublin Castle. We must not, under any circumstances, act so that the Irish people can be left under that impression. If we are able to avoid these pitfalls and get over the difficulties I have indicated the Chief Secretary will find that in a very short time he will be highly pleased with what he has done for Ireland in connection with this Bill.
§ Sir ARTHUR BLACK
I intend to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, and I do so because of the Clause which deals with minimum wages. The hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme derided the figure 25s. set out in the Bill as being a miserably low wage. If he knew as much as some of us do of the wages that arc paid in some of the agricultural districts in England even to-day, he would regard it as a great step in advance, and personally I am greatly indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture for having put this figure into the Bill. The wages boards also set out in the Bill for providing means for paying the minimum wage were also subject to some criticism. I happen to be connected with one of the trades already scheduled under a wages board, and I know that under the regulations framed by those boards hundreds of thousands of workers in this country have secured to them a fair and reasonable wage which in many cases they would never have had apart from the operations of the wages board. Therefore if we got nothing else but this Clause under the Bill, I should think that the President of the Board of Agriculture had done a great day's work for the country, and I wish him all success.
With regard to Part I. of the Hill as to the bounties, as they have been sometimes called in this Debate, my own impression is that this will not cost the Government anything. Of course, none of us are entitled to prophesy, but that is my belief. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that only about 300,000 ares have been converted from grass and other feeding land and put under the plough. Were it not for the fact that three or four months ago the Tight hon. Gentleman intimated that 2508 60s. per quarter would be the price at which farmers must sell their 1917 crop, he would have had a great many more acres under cereals than he is likely to get this year. I think that that was the greatest slap in the face that farmers in this country have received. But, after all, this is a war measure, and if he desires, as we all desire, that the utmost produce from the soil in the way of corn should be secured this year, why did he fix that price when the market price was considerably higher and is considerably higher to-day? It was not going the best way to encourage the farmers to put more land under crop by telling them so long in advance that in no circumstances would they get more for the corn. I have no doubt that there were good reasons, though I have not been able to find any, for fixing that price, but it does seem to me that that has been one of the main reasons why the corn crop of this year has not been larger. If we can get Part II. and Part IV. of the Bill, with reasonable conditions for carrying out the proposals in those two parts, I should be quite well satisfied with the vote that I intend to give to-night for the Second Beading.
§ Captain STARKEY
I desire to make a few remarks in support of this Bill from the point of view of a practical farmer. I do not wish to dwell on the dreary period of agricultural depression, but that period deeply affected the farmer and it affects his point of view at the present time. In my own county, Nottinghamshire, there were large tracts of strong arable land in those days—the late 'eighties and the early 'nineties. That period coincided with very bad weather conditions and very poor prices. The result was that land went out of cultivation, and with disastrous results for all concerned. By experience a system was evolved by which the farmers managed to make a moderate living by using the land for grazing. If they are to plough up this land again there must be no prospect of the same misfortune again befalling them. Therefore it is only reasonable that they should have some guarantee that this docs not take place. The State at that time held out no helping hand. Now it is admitted that agriculture is a vital necessity to this country. Com is a necessity. If farmers are to grow it, they should have some guarantee that they will not have the same bad period to go through that they had to go through before. Agriculture suffers under 2509 this disadvantage, that it conducts its operations in the open. Therefore everybody seems to think that he knows something about it, and criticises it in a way in which he would not criticise a business which was conducted within four walls. But agriculture is a skilled business, and is just as much entitled to a return on its operations as any other business.
I have been connected with the agricultural war committees in my own county, and the district committees have made reports upon the condition of the land, from which it is found that much of it is in a bad condition. In many cases the ditches have not been cleaned out. The reason for this is not altogether neglect. That does apply no doubt in a few cases, but the main reason is the shortage of capital. Many farmers I know are occupying farms which they have not sufficient capital to conduct properly. That is a great misfortune. Perhaps that was added to when the banks amalgamated. The amalgamation of the country banks with the London ones was no good for the farmer, because the farmer used to come into contact with the principals, whereas now he is only able to meet the manager of a branch bank which has its head offices in London. Capital is now very largely required for farming, because the stocking of the farm at the present moment would probably cost 60 per cent. more than at the commencement of the War. If the farmer is required to put down a large amount of land to arable it will require more capital. Therefore I hope that facilities will be given to him to enable him to get that capital. In many ways agriculture has been neglected. Even the statistics which we use are but very feeble ones. The agricultural returns which we make are only voluntary, and some farmers do not make them. These returns, I ought to say, give the acreage of land under different crops, and the amount of stock upon the farms. But, as presented, they are really only partially accurate, and must be so.
With regard to the yield and prices, by the Corn Returns Act, the corn sold in the markets is returned and registered. But the same parcel of corn is very often sold many times over, and each time it is registered. On the other hand, many parcels are never sold through these markets at all; they are sold direct to the consumer, and they do not come within the purview of the Act. Further than 2510 that, there are also local customs, and the seller has to give a return, true only a small one, of Is. in 10 quarters. I believe that never gets taken into account, because it is supposed to be a private arrangement, although it is customary. The quarter we sell is 504 lbs., and when it is converted into the legal quarter of 480 lbs. I do not know whether that custom is taken into account in making the computation. I am glad that the principle of the minimum wage has been introduced into this Bill. It is all very well in some places, where the land is very rich and agriculture is very flourishing, to say that this is not required, but I am convinced that in many parts of England it will be a very great boon. There is only one point in connection with this part of the Bill—I should like to know what is to be the definition of an able-bodied man. We have men of all kinds, from the old and feeble man, up to the strong and able-bodied man capable of carrying a sack of wheat, which is a very high standard. Of course, a dividing line has to be drawn somewhere, but I do not want the onus of drawing that line to be placed on the farmer. I hope it will be settled so that when the man applies to the farmer the farmer will know whether that man is to be ranked as able-bodied or not. When this Bill comes into operation I think there is a possibility of settling the standard under which grain is sold. Grain is sold by the quarter,-but the weight of the quarter varies, even in the same market. In London I notice by the return of market prices wheat was sold at 480 lbs., 504 lbs., and 496 lbs. the quarter, and oats at 312 lbs., 336 lbs., 320 lbs., and 304 lbs. That is very confusing to anybody who wants to estimate what is the real value of the grain. My suggestion is this, that when the bounty is to be paid upon the grain the register of the sale should have been made in statutory quarters. By that means, I think, it would be brought about that for the market of all corn there would be one single weight for a particular grain, which would be an advantage, because the present system is misleading to the farmer himself. He buys and sells at 504 lbs. the quarter of wheat, and, therefore, when he sees the return he recognises that the average price is lower than what he has got, and he thinks that he has been doing well, and that he has got a good price, but the reason is that for the standard 2511 price less grain is given than he has given. I do hope that this Bill will be passed. May I add that, before more corn is going to be produced, buildings should be provided into which to put it? The ordinary barns are not suitable for storing grain, and I should like to see elevators, such as are in America, to which a farmer could take his grain and receive a certificate for it. I do not think there would be any great difficulty in effecting that object in this country. There are not so many different kinds of grades of corn a: people imagine, but they create confusion, and make people think that there is an infinite number. But for myself, I do not think there would be any difficulty in putting corn into three grades, and if the farmer put it into a granary, or whatever it may be, he would get a certificate for 10, 50, or any number of quarters that he put in, and he would be able to sell it at any moment he liked. There would be this advantage: The farmers are obliged to thresh directly after harvest, because they require the straw for their stock, and very often the grain is damp, and damp grain, in fact, is most difficult to deal with. By having elevators such as I have mentioned it would be possible to dry that grain, and to have it graded according to quality. The setting up of these granaries would really pay in the long run, but certainly some help would be required from the Government at the start, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will consider that matter. I hope that this Bill will be accepted as a first attempt to deal fairly with all agricultural interests.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
The hon. Member who has just spoken made a very interesting observation on the question of the weight of grain, and in that connection this point arises: I am informed that under the Bill as drafted the advantage can only apply to 39 lbs. to the bushel. If that be so, it means that the lighter land in Scotland and Ireland will get a very small' amount. I hope that matter will be made quite clear before we go much further. With regard to the Bill itself and its difficulties, I think we all must agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he tells us that he is making proposals which run counter to the convictions of all his life. He has led us clearly to understand that if he were not in his present position, and was left to his individual action, he would 2512 have the courage to leave British agriculturists to meet any situation, but that a hard fate compels him to make matters go at a speedier rate because of the War. I am in sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in his view. I think we have the stimulus at work which would have solved the matter by itself, and that was the high prices produced by the War, and that he might have left those high prices to carry out the speeding up. There is one general remark I wish to make upon the presentation of this Bill to the House. I think we must complain that no estimate has been made of any kind whatever by any member of the Government in regard to the annual cost of putting this Bill into operation. I think we are entitled to some sort of estimate of what it will cost. We learn from the Order Paper that the hon. Member for Greenock (Major G. Collins) ha3 the support of 160 Members in favour of the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the expenditure which is now going on. I had expected to see on the Order Paper a Motion backed by those Members to the effect that this House declined to proceed with a Bill presented to the House until a proper and accurate estimate was placed before the House as to what that Bill was going to cost the Exchequer.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
If that is so, it should be made clear by a member of the Government, and if I may say so, we cannot accept the assurance of the hon. Gentleman, and require something more substantial. I ask the Government to give us some sort of estimate. The only two figures we have had were first from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in the very remarkable statement he made that he had come to the conclusion that wheat could not be produced at less than from 37s. to 38s. per quarter. That to me was a most astounding statement coming from an hon. Member who had been on this Committee, which really produced this Bill. If he had really thought, he would have recollected that a number of farmers gave evidence that they were making very substantial profits from the growth of wheat, and if he had only looked at the Return he would have seen that if what he had said was the case, farmers must have been losing in the last five years at the rate of from £1,280,000 to £1,680,000 per year, because the average price of wheat for that time has been 2513 from 33s. to 34s., and the difference in the estimate of loss is according as you take 33s. 4d. or 34s. 4d.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I should be sorry to lose the profit on straw, At present that would certainly make £4 or £5 per acre. It must be included as farmers are not quite fools enough to go on losing that in the growth of wheat. If that is the kind of figure, that given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, upon which this Bill has been framed, I am very sorry indeed for the country. I do wish to urge very strongly that this Bill has not boon drafted with regard to any other portion of the United Kingdom than England. It is clearly a Bill drafted for England, and for the most backward part of England. Some of the corn-growing southern districts are subject to strong human influences. No attempt has been made to adapt the Bill in any way to the needs of the other parts of the United Kingdom. Take Scotland. What is the value of a wage of 25s. to the agricultural labourer there? He has no use for it. He has done far better without the aid of any Government agency. The right hon. Gentleman is quite aware that Scotland has overcome the evil and has given the agricultural labourer a fair wage, adequate for proper subsistence, and better remuneration than he gets in England for his labour. Therefore, from that point of view Scotland has no need for the Bill. But Scotland has never been considered. No Scottish farmer can benefit by the Clause which prevents rents being raised, as they all have leases. I venture to support the statement of those who have said that this is not a war measure at all. It has nothing to do with the question of the production of food during war time, and it will not produce one quarter during the War. Let me justify that. We are told that there are 300,000 extra acres in cultivation. That is an illustration independent of this Bill.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
No, no; but under the powers of the Board of Agriculture, who have made a contract to grow at a certain price. This is not a war measure.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
The farmer's position was being assured by the natural price of wheat when it rose to 90s. That was a stimulus far greater than what is proposed under this Bill. The Bill reduces the immediate stimulus to the farmer from 90s. to 60s. on his wheat, and in similar proportion with regard to oats. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, no!"] Therefore, this Bill is a Bill for reducing the stimulus to the farmer this year by the very large sum of 30s. per quarter.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Prothero)
Does the hon. Gentleman really represent as a maximum price of wheat what is a minimum?
§ Mr. MOLTENO
I say that the actual price of 90s. is better than the minimum price of 60s. I think the House will be with me on that, and the farmers certainly will be. Therefore, I do not think we need have any disputes on the statement that the stimulus is far greater in the natural price than in this Bill. We have had one other calculation, that which was given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture. He has told us that the fanner in the last three years of this Bill is going to be worse off by the operation of the Bill. He told us that the bonus which he is going to get per 5 acres will amount to 70s., while the additional amount he will have to pay in wages will be 75s., so that he will lose 5s. on every 5 acres, or Is. per acre. Those are the only two calculations we have had on the part of the Government which involve any figures. So far as the farmer is concerned he has never asked for this. It tends to diminish the stimulus, and, so far as the farmer is concerned, it is not a war measure. I regard the labourer's 25s., as has been well pointed out, as only equivalent to a sum of 16s. in pre-war times, and I do not consider a wage of 16s. in pre-war times at all an adequate wage. In Scotland there would be a riot if you reduced the wage there to 25s. Therefore, so far as the labourer is concerned, this is not a war measure at all to be of any service during the War. I would also venture to say that if both these stimuli or pseudo-stimuli were perfect in their operation we could do nothing during the War because of the want of labour. That is the crux of the question. I heard hon. Members opposite blame the Government because they- had taken so many men from agriculture. I 2515 am not going to defend the late Government, or any other Government, but I do say that this Government is taking 30,000 men from the land at the most critical moment that agriculture has ever gone through in this country. They are the remnants of the only capable men left on the land.
§ Mr. MOLTENO
They are being taken at this moment, and therefore the injury to agriculture by taking these men is infinitely greater than by anything else that has been done before. If you gave the farmers every kind of stimulus, without labour, they could do nothing to increase the produce of the soil. I would like to give an illustration of what it means to get men unaccustomed to the land. I had a soldier sent to me last harvest to help. He arrived and we asked him what he could do, and he said he was a newspaper man, but that he would do what he could. He was sent out with a small hand hatchet to gather a little fern and gorse to put under the stacks. In about an hour's time there was a great noise, and everybody rushed to see what was the matter, and it was found that the man had cut his own foot, and he had to be carried home and put to bed, and there he remained for weeks, and you can guess what happened to the harvest at that critical time. You cannot replace men competent to do this work by casual men brought in in this way, and therefore I maintain that this is not a war measure in the sense that it does not provide the labour which would be necessary considerably to increase our arable land. I again maintain that if you want permanently to increase the produce of the soil of this country you must do something else and give real security to the farmer. Give him security of tenure, give him security of his improvements, and give him a fair rent. Those are the foundations of all secure agriculture, and until you get those you will never get a satisfactory agriculture in this country. This, again, is a Bill which is most unfair as between farmer and farmer. You may indeed say that it is a Bill to diminish and destroy your milk supply. It is going to give a stimulus to the corn farmer so great that the dairy farmer will not be able to get his land at a rate which will enable him to carry on his dairy. His materials are dearer, and he 2516 has to pay the minimum wage, and there is nothing to give him any guarantee for his milk.
The Bill is also unfair as between large farmers and small farmers. I am surprised at the Under-Secretary for Agriculture, a friend of small holdings, having said a word about this, because it is a Bill for the destruction of the small holding. The small holder does not sell grain. He grows it to some extent, but he threshes it as he needs it through the year for the feeding of his stock. Anybody who knows how Scotland is farmed by 52,000 small holders will know that they cannot afford to sell grain, but they grow in the aggregate large quantities of grain which is used for feeding stock; and I say that this is a Bill to encourage the large farmer against the small farmer and small holder. It is also unfair as between different parts of the United Kingdom. It favours England against Scotland and against Ireland most strongly. I have spoken and written in favour of increased production, and I believe it can be done, and that we can double our output of agricultural produce, but I do not believe we can ever do it unless we give security to the man who puts energy, capital, and labour into the land. The Clause preventing the raising of rents is quite illusory. It only applies to the yearly tenant—not to every yearly tenant, but only to the existing yearly tenant—so that its application is so limited that it cannot affect Scotland in any way whatever. Scotland has farms on lease, and therefore leaseholders are entirely excluded from the benefit of the Clause, and it might as well not exist at all.
I wish, finally, to say that this Bill appears to me to be a Bill for the compulsion of everybody connected with agriculture—universal compulsion. The landowner is to be compelled to cultivate his land, not in a good or a bad way, but in the way that some bureaucrat who is sent to represent the State may dictate to him. The tenant is in the same position. The State can come in with its inquisitors and tell him, "It is true you are cultivating the land to great advantage to yourself, and that you are making large sums of money out of it, but we do not consider this is the way you should cultivate it, and you shall stop it, and we will do it for you in the way we think best." Then, again, you have got the public as a whole. The public are to be compelled to pay for their food, not the natural price, but the 2517 unnatural and artificial price which is placed upon it by this Bill. They have to pay in one way or another, either directly in their loaf, or indirectly in their taxes, and therefore it is compulsion all round. It is compulsion gone mad. It is a servile world which you are going to create after the War. The War, in which the great word of our leaders has been "freedom," is going to end in universal compulsion and placing this great giant of British agriculture in bonds and fetters, when we know that that giant is capable of anything if you will give him freedom. He has been tied up by feudal laws; remove those, and you will see an expansion such as you have never dreamed of. Every country in Europe has done it, and-got rid of primogeniture, entail, and so forth, which are the foundations of the feudal system. Take them away, and let us have land so that those who want it can use it to the best advantage, and you will have a development such as you have never seen in this country before. Instead of doing that, you are putting in a system of bureaucrats and autocrats, a system wholly alien to the freedom-loving people of this country, and I do not believe, when they ascertain what your Bill is and really know, that they are going to stand such a curtailment of their freedom.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
The last hon. Gentleman seemed to me to argue that his objection to the Bill was that neither was the minimum price going to he a real advantage to the farmer, nor was the minimum wage really high enough to be of any practical use to the labourer. I submit to him that on the Committee stage he can alter both those things and raise the limits accordingly. He, however, laid great stress upon the word "security," and told us that that is what the agriculturists of this country want. That is what this Bill, for the first time, is offering to the agriculturists of this country. The reason I rise is, first of all, to say that I am not one of those who have approved in the past, nor am I very much in sympathy with the principle at the present moment, of a minimum price by this means.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
I have always been in favour of another system of maintaining the agriculture of this country, and that is by means of tariffs. 2518 That, I believe, is the sounder system. We are, however, in the middle of a great War. We are asked by the Government to adopt this Bill because, in their opinion, it is the most speedy way, without raising great measures of controversy, to bring the land more quickly under cultivation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury maintained that this was introducing a very controversial measure in the middle of the War. Doubtless he also thinks that questions which we have also considered in this House, the Home Rule Act, Electoral Reform, practically Manhood Suffrage and Woman Suffrage, are non-controversial. It is only when he dislikes a proposal that he finds that it is of a controversial character! I need not say that the right hon. Gentleman, when he made himself responsible for the Paris Resolutions, was indulging in something which could be called controversial; but his patriotism rose to such an extent that he decided to face public opinion and to support these resolutions—and nobody would say that he was to Maine in bringing forward a war measure of that description. At the present moment the right hon. Gentleman takes the view that we ought to wait to see the way things are going, to wait to see if they get worse. Yesterday, he made a criticism which was most unfortunate. It was also most unfair. Those who have listened to this Debate will realise that he offered nothing in return. He criticised the proposals put forward, but he made not one single constructive proposal in relation to this matter.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
I am coming to that in a moment. He told us that this was not a War Bill. He said that Members of Parliament might very well concentrate their efforts in carrying on the War efficiently. It was a strange thing for the right hon. Gentleman to tell this House after his tenure of office that we ought to carry on the War efficiently. We want, I think, to ask the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends why they are going to oppose this Bill, and to smash it—because, however much they may pay lip service to the principle of the minimum wage, the country will know that if this Bill is defeated by the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends they are deliberately depriving the agricultural labourer of a minimum wage under this measure. The Bill obviously cannot stand, and you cannot intro- 2519 duce a minimum wage, unless the country is going to give some security to the farmer.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
For the simple reason that no farmer will till a single extra acre of land under those circumstances, and the hon. Member knows that perfectly well. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the Government would do far better to go in Tor a system of storage in granaries. He also went so far as to suggest that he had really done a great deal in that respect, and that he had stored a considerable amount of wheat. I believe that as a matter of fact he had three weeks' supply at one time. Let us even say six weeks' supply. That was the height of the imagination of the right hon. Gentleman ! That was his device for saving us from the submarines. He tells the House that he believes in this policy of granaries. Let me tell the House this, that, in spite of the right hon. Gentleman's efforts— and he told us that he realised the evil—in spite of the fact that he had stored this extra grain, the importation of wheat during the three important years declined. In 1912 it was 29,000,000 quarters. In 1913 it was 28,000,000 quarters. In 1914 when the right hon. Gentleman began to wake up to the international situation—it was 27,000,000 quarters. In 1915 it was 22,000,000. What is the good of the right hon. Gentleman coming here and telling us that he realised the danger and was going in for storage when the total imports of this country were declining? His words are not much consolation to the people of the country at the present time. It is a pity that if the right hon. Gentleman really believes in this granary system that he did not listen to some of us who constantly urged on him when he was President of the Board of Agriculture and his colleagues the need of these granaries and of facing the danger. He took no notice. Then he comes down to the House and offers as an alternative at this time that we should build granaries. Really it is an extraordinary thing that any statesman should descend to such an argument. What does it really come to in this year when we are facing the position? It really means that the right hon. Gentleman prefers granaries, or, in other words, he prefers ship-borne wheat to home-grown wheat. That is really the reason.
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dews-bury, as the hon. Member opposite below the Gangway observes, prefers no wheat at all to home-grown wheat. That is really the situation, because what the right hon. Gentleman first of all forgets is this world shortage, which is probably going to get worse in the months to come. He forgets that all his ships and the ships of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) are not going to bring a sufficiency of wheat to this country in 1918 if the submarine peril goes on until that moment. Food production has, therefore, become our first line of national defence. It is not only so to-day, but it is going to be so next year, and the year after, and after the War. We have always got to consider this in the future: that if war comes it will come suddenly and if the submarine is going to stay we have got to see that food production in future is as properly provided for in this country as our Army or our Navy may be. At the present time, according to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dews-bury, we have to risk the lives of more of our merchant seamen rather than grow our wheat at home at some little cost. What an intolerable suggestion ! I do not imagine that the right hon. Gentleman has thought of it in that way, but it is the fact, for the less wheat we grow in this country the more our mercantile marine will have to face the dangers of the sea, and the more we will have to run the risk of blockade without adequate protection. It is quite evident that the right hon. Gentleman is still wedded to his ancient beliefs. The obvious policy would have been for our Government, when this great war fell upon the world—and one might have imagined they would have thought of it—to have cabled immediately to the Dominions asking them to grow.- so many million more acres; and the second thing that they ought to have done was immediately to take steps to double the production in this country, if possible. They took no steps. They were so wedded to their political beliefs that it was quite clear they would sooner risk any peril in the future than abandon a policy because of the political arguments that could be advanced in favour of it. We had political arguments last night. It is deplorable to think what the people of this country, who realise what the danger is, will think of the utterances of the right hon. Gentle- 2521 man in 1914. Sir Harry Verney, speaking on behalf of the late Prime Minister, said this:I am glad to be able to announce that the Government, after minute examination of the position, are satisfied that there is no necessity for them to take any action of the kind suggested in regard to next year' s cereal crop. The Government have arrived at the conclusion that they will not be justified in holding out financial inducement to the farmers to increase their acreage of cereals.The Milner Committee recommended a minimum price of 45s. per quarter. The Government refused that price, and we know to-day that it stands at 80s. The right hon. Gentleman pointed the finger of scorn at the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, and he told him that labour was the real solution, and that the reason for the decline in acreage was owing to the fact that labour had been taken from the land. I thought it was an extraordinary thing that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury should have advanced that argument. He it was who did more than anyone else in the Cabinet to prevent the Government coming to a decision on selected man-power for the Army. He it was who insisted that they should go on with the voluntary system. He it was who, above all others, compelled the Government to go on in the promiscuous manner in which labour was taken from every trade in the country, when we ought to have seen to it that the essential labour was maintained. If we had had a definite system at the beginning, if the right hon. Gentleman had not stood at the elbow of the late Prime Minister and forced him to disregard the facts, we should have kept our skilled men in our vital industries.
In August, 1916, the Government knew perfectly well that the food situation was so serious that we could not continue on the existing lines, and what did the Government do? They did nothing. I venture to think that my right hon Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture has done more in three months than all the late Governments did in the last twelve years. By real action, by vision, 300,000 acres have been brought under cultivation already, and we do honestly believe, if the Government is supported, they are going to have 3,000,000 more acres under cultivation in this country. England is very inquisitive to know who is responsible for the price of food in the country at the present moment. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dews-bury is not here, but I think, as 2522 the days go on, the country will more and more point the finger at him because he was more responsible than any other other Minister for encouraging the Government in continuing upon their old path of laissez faire, and preventing them from taking any action. Many a time the right hon. Gentleman with his eloquence has protested against any encouragement to agriculture, for fear that the price of the loaf might be increased by a farthing, or a halfpenny. The price of the loaf has increased by something like twenty-eight farthings in the last two years. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the real way to do the thing was to pay the farmers on the amount of acreage broken up. This is a business man who makes that proposition, and who has been President of the Board of Agriculture. I venture to think that there never was a more extravagant suggestion than that. What you want to do is to try to get the very best, the biggest crops in this country. To pay on the acreage broken up is to put a premium on bad farming. What you want to do is to encourage complete fertilisation and complete farming in this country so as to get the biggest crops, and therefore it is on the crops that you want to give the advantage.
There has been no more expensive Minister in this country than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury. He has cost this country by his policy millions a year, and now ho wants this Bill altered so that you put a premium on that kind of farming which is not productive of the greatest good to this country. I only hope his "Rake's Progress" is finished, and that in future we shall hear not quite so much from the right hon. Member in this House. He says that what you must do to get more acreage under cultivation is to go in for research and education. Really, is it not a little bit late to talk about research and education? I venture to think this is a good Bill. Personally I dislike the principle of 'bounties and minimum prices. I believe a tariff would have been a wiser policy, but we are in the middle of this terrible situation, and I am going to support the Government, and I venture to think it is time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury, while this Rome of ours is burning, should cease fiddling with his party politics.
§ Mr. BARRIE
As a representative of one of the northern constituencies in Ireland, I think it only right I should say that 2523 this Bill will receive the united support of the Ulster Members, and I think in this matter all Irish Members are absolutely agreed. That, of course, does not convey that we quite like the shape in which this Bill conies to us with regard to its Irish provisions. We are told nothing as to the machinery under which the work of this Bill is to be done in Ireland. I do fear that in the pressure, which we all understand, appreciate, and allow for, under which this measure has been brought forward, there has been too little recognition of the fact that Irish conditions differ absolutely from British conditions. Let me say that the chief error is that the Bill seems to suggest an attempt to restore the power of the Lord Lieutenant, and to give him the power to say under which public body in Ireland the work of carrying out this great measure is to be done. Until I read that provision I thought that even on this side of the Channel it was generally agreed that in the matter of agricultural development Ireland was rather pointing the way both to England and Scotland. Regardless of politics, I think all Irish Members claim—and properly claim — that to-day agricultural education and agricultural administration in Ireland are in advance of what you have in England, and the moment it happens that a new and special duty is charged on behalf of agriculture in Ireland, what do we find in this Bill? We find a proposal to give the control to a Board to be nominated by the Lord Lieutenant. I have nothing to say regarding the present occupant of that high office, further than this, that he has not distinguished himself so far by any special work on behalf of Ireland, and public confidence in him is not such as would justify any Irish Member in agreeing to the present suggestion. I do not know why the Irish Department of Agriculture and its capable advisers should so suddenly and secretly have fallen out of favour with those responsible for the Bill. I understand the Chief Secretary will shortly intervene in this Debate, and I shall await his statement with interest as regards what we cannot help but feel is a very important and mysterious change of policy.
There is something more than that to be said as regards the machinery of the Bill. If the suggested system of a seven months' average, as to which there seems to be great difference of opinion, is maintained, it means a delay in April, May, 2524 or possibly June of the following year. This new board which is to have charge of this work will have the duty laid upon it of issuing something between 400,000 and 500,000 cheques. That is a duty, I think, which suggests a small army of officials, and Irish opinion is, I believe, united in thinking we have more than* sufficient officials there already. As regards the measure itself, it is one which is only fulfilling a pledge that was given to Irish agriculturists, as well as to British agriculturists, fully six months ago in this House. That promise was repeated in full and ample detail by the Prime Minister on the 23rd of February last, when he gave the figures in detail. But here, again, there is this difference that while the Prime Minister referred to a quatrer of 504 lbs. it was afterwards reduced to 480 lbs. for wheat and from 336 lbs. to 312 lbs. in the ease of oats. These are Committee points, but they have an important bearing as to how this Bill will work out. On the big, broad question underlying this Bill I listened with amazement to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury yesterday. I may not- have a specially good memory, but I think it was a striking contrast to the speech he made immediately following the statement of the Prime Minister only two months ago. I have refreshed my memory on this point, and I find that so far from differing from the policy of the Prime Minister the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury blessed it, received it with open arms, and went so far as to say that while he did not like the bounty system, if these provisions would lead to an increase in our food supplies, as some hon. Members anticipated, he would willingly see the minimum price of 70s. instead of 60s.
What has happened in the interval to cause the right hon. Gentleman to alter his attitude? We have had no explanation except that the old shibboleths of the Liberal party seem to be threatened. The right hon. Gentleman calls this a breach of a truce, but the truce was broken long ago in other and even more important matters. We do not regard this as a breach of the truce, but we regard it as a measure called for by the present position of the War. Within these Islands you may not appreciate as fully as we do in Ireland how much damage the submarines have done. We know how many food ships coming to Dublin and Belfast have got to within a few miles of their destination and 2525 have then gone to the bottom. The whole situation has been altered with the arrival of the latest submarines. To-day this measure, which is not beloved in any section of the House, is the direct result of the Government underestimating the power of the submarines during the early stages of the War. Agriculture can do a great deal to meet the submarine menace. We do not forget that high hopes of the result of submarine warfare have been built in Germany. We do not forget that three months ago the German Chancellor said that the stomach was the only vulnerable part of Britain; therefore it is the duty of every hon. Member who can rise above the old party view to give his hearty support to the Second Reading of this Bill, and give it a majority if pressed to a Division which will encourage the Government to go forward, even late in the day, with this measure and place this Bill upon the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I desire to intervene only for a very short time, and I do so partly because as a representative of the Labour party we have had a visit from a deputation representing the Agricultural Labourers' Union, in order that their views may be put before the House. The trade union movement amongst agricultural labourers has not been very strong in this country, but it is growing now under the strong and virile union which represents particularly one part of the United Kingdom, and will, I believe, extend its boundaries very much further ere long. That union and that deputation has naturally something to say with regard to the proposals in this Bill with reference to the minimum wage and what concerns it. With the principle of the minimum wage they are in hearty agreement, as indeed are all the members of the Labour party, on whichever side of the House they may sit. The principle of the minimum wage recognised in this Bill is one to which they give their hearty assent, and one which we hope to see extended in other directions, but they are not satisfied with the amount of the minimum wage, and when the measure comes into Committee we shall proceed to argue upon the question as to whether the present minimum is sufficient or not. In view of the cost of living in these times, the members of this union think that a minimum of 30s. is as low as ought to be put into the Bill. 2526 There are other points with regard to the hours of labour, for after all a minimum wage which is not conditional and put into operation with fixed hours of labour may be difficult to work, and certainly it is not fair between one part of the country and another and between one set of agricultural labourers and another.
I am informed that in Norfolk there are thirteen different arrangements with regard to the hours of labour, and if there is to be some attempt to bring up the level of wages, an attempt ought to be made to deal with the question of hours. I know that these are Committee points. This deputation are also of the opinion that it is very difficult to defend the system of payment in kind, which seems to be rather a return to the old truck system, and payment in cash would be preferred. If some arrangement could be made whereby payment in kind was to disappear altogether it would be a great advantage and a great step forward. In Committee we propose to put down Amendments raising that point. Perhaps the House would permit me to say that I put this specific point to this deputation from the Agricultural Labourers' Union: Do you or do you not as workers and as members of a trade union wish the Labour party to oppose the main principle upon which this Bill is founded? Whatever the theoretical opinions may be, or may have been, I got a definite reply to that query, and they said, "No, we do not desire to see this Bill defeated." While there may be something to be said for the point of view that special industries may grow up in this country, in which capital and labour may join together with the object of securing what they may think to be a fair share, but which the country may not think a fair share, I do not think anybody in this House or outside has any right to blame the agricultural labourers of this country if they seize the opportunity of getting a minimum wage established on this occasion. Their past history and the struggles which they have had—I know something of them, because I come of agricultural stock myself—are such that I do not wonder they are willing to accept this Bill with its promise to them of an uplifting movement which will probably for the first time for many generations, put them upon their feet in such a way that they can stand erect and be independent. There can be no doubt that the submarine menace does drive us in and back upon ourselves. We have to face the fact that it 2527 has altered the whole question of overseas supplies. If we do not as a result of this War get rid of the submarine menace —.
§ Mr. WARDLE
It may or may not have commenced, but it is doing a great deal of harm at the present time. The question whether the submarine ought to be used in the fashion in which it is being used to destroy commerce must become an international question in the near future, and until it is settled one way or the other we have to face the fact that it is a menace to our overseas supplies, and we have to take such measures as we can in the time at our disposal to deal with it. It is an exceedingly urgent problem, and I do not think that it can be met unless we are prepared within the borders of our own islands to take such steps as may foe within our power to increase our own supplies. Shall that be done by bounties or by tariffs? I do not like either, but I certainly prefer the method of the bounty to the method of the tariff and I cannot see any other method by which it can me done—certain Amendments, of course, will be necessary—than the method proposed by this Bill. Agriculture is not the only industry to which subsidies and bounties have been given. We have shipowners in this House, and we know that shipping companies have had large subsidies. We know that during the course of this War when the Government have taken over and become partly responsible for shipping subsidies have been given to shipping companies. They are familiar to all the Members of the House, and there is no need for me to mention them. If it is necessary to subsidise shipping for certain public and national purposes, surely there can be no objection on the ground of principle to the question of a subsidy, provided there is a national purpose to be served thereby, and, as one who all my life has been a Free Trader and who dislikes profoundly much of the polemics which have been exercised in this Debate on one side or the other, I want to say that national security and regard for the life of the people of this country ought to be, and must be, the care of any Government which professes to be national.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOLT
That is a matter of twenty years ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "They still get them!"] They get them still because you cannot take them from them, but it never ought to have taken place. I very much regret that there should have been attacks of the character that there have been on my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman). It is no part of my business to defend him, and indeed it would be an impertinence for anyone to offer to do so, but there have been two very bitter attacks made upon him during the afternoon, and I think they were very unfair. There is no Member of this House who has done his work more whole-heartedly or in a more public spirit than my right hon. Friend, and there are very few people who have been members of the Government who have done their work with more public efficiency. It is very unfair of hon. Members to forget that the majority of the late Government are members of the present Government. The policy of the late Government was the policy of the majority of the members of the present Government, and whether it was right or whether it was wrong I think it hardly becomes those who support the present Government to charge the whole of the policy of the late Government to the people who are now sitting on the Front Opposition Bench. It is a very unfair form of controversy. During the discussion on this Bill we have had a great deal of doubt expressed as to whether it is a war measure or a measure for the times after the War. The supporters of the Bill have defended it on cither ground and on both grounds. I would submit that as a war measure it is quite unnecessary. My hon. Friend the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Sir Tudor Walters), who made a most excellent speech, showed that very conclusively. Under the powers conferred by the Defence of the Realm Act and those conferred by the Votes of Credit, it is perfectly possible for the Government to obtain any amount of food they require during the course of the War from British agriculture. There is nothing whatever to prevent them from 2529 entering into contracts with the farmers for the supply of food under definite conditions precisely in the same way as they have entered into contracts with shipbuilders for the supply of ships or armament firms for the supply of explosives. So far as the War is concerned, there is no reason for introducing this Bill. The Government have ample power to provide all the food they require from British agriculture during the War under the Defence of the Realm Act.
Those who propose this Bill have got to defend it on the ground that it is a measure for the times after the War. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, in the admirable speech with which he introduced the measure, told us that it was in the interest of national safety, and that our national safety would be increased if we produced at home the greater proportion of the food which we ourselves consume. Of course, precisely the same argument applies to any other article of consumption which is really necessary to the interest of the country. It seems to me to be obvious to everyone that the production either of food or of any other article under conditions which are not economical is not the best way to increase the total wealth of the country. It must reduce the standard of living of the people, and ultimately it must reduce the total amount of population. It would be quite impossible to maintain in these islands the population we now maintain if we spent the time and energies of the population in producing all sorts of commodities under uneconomic conditions. The only terms on which you can make this country a self-supporting country is by diminishing the population of the country. I venture to say that it is absolutely impossible to support in these islands the population you now have except by the method of trading with foreign countries on the most favourable terms. The right hon. Gentleman told us that in his opinion we ought to be able to produce 82 per cent, of our total foodstuffs at home.
§ Mr. HOLT
Whatever the period of time, we should be independent of seaborne supplies, he said, and that was going to add to our national safety. The right hon. Gentleman delivered that as an axiomatic proposition, but he made no attempt to prove it. I venture to say it is not so. Let us take the case of Russia. She is an enormous food-producing country. In the middle of the War she entered upon a revolution, largely because there is an insufficiency of food. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Largely because there is an insufficiency of food.
§ Mr. HOLT
In any case, the people did not get it. Let us turn to the case of France. France is a country which, I think, did produce about 82 per cent, of her total foodstuffs. The condition of France is very much that which was held up to us by the right hon. Gentleman as something at which we should aim. What is the position with regard to the food supply of France? She was quite unable to supply herself by her own food supplies, and she turned to us and asked us, and I may say compelled us, to supply her with food. If the British Government had not forcibly compelled British shipowners to take foodstuffs to France, and arranged to buy for France those supplies of food we were in the habit of taking ourselves, France would have been absolutely starved. So that the country which deliberately laid itself out to be a self-supporting country in the matter of foodstuffs at the outbreak of war, turns to the country which imports its foodstuffs and asks them to supply it with food. That is an historical fact which cannot be gainsaid by anybody who knows what is going on. What is the result of the French policy? The French policy of supplying for themselves all the food they require to consume has resulted in the fact that they had no mercantile marine, nothing worth mentioning; that they had no ports, their ports were negligible compared with what we have; that they had no commercial organisation for getting foodstuffs from overseas. They would have been absolutely on their beam-ends for getting food if it had not been for our system. Such things as a mercantile marine, ports, and commercial organisation cannot exist as a stand-by. They have to be there during the whole time. You cannot have a wheat supply from 2531 abroad as a stand-by. You cannot have a supply of a world commodity in excess of that of ordinary times. That could not be done, because if we did not consume it a large proportion of that commodity would be wasted, it would not be possible to sell it, and the growers would soon cease to produce it. You cannot have large sources of supply always open. You have to plump for one source of supply and stand on that. I venture to say that the larger the area of supply the safer the country. It is the large and not the small area that gives you safety. You have protection against climatic conditions in the larger area. Whatever the risks of famine, the larger the area of supply the less the risks are. Let us see what has happened during the War, and what must happen during a war on this scale. Why could not France produce her own food? For the reason that they turned the producers of food into soldiers, and that is why we have not been able to produce food in this country, and that is why in Ireland the position has been so much better.
§ Mr. HOLT
The part they have lost is the industrial part and not the agricultural part. When you go to war you are forced to depend on neutrals for your most urgent supplies. I draw attention to this most essential consideration—that if you are going to supply yourself with necessaries, such as food, you must set aside men for producing those supplies. If you get those supplies from neutrals you can get them on credit, and it is not necessary to put aside at that moment any men to produce those supplies or the goods that are going to pay for them. You have an economy in man-power by obtaining your supplies from persons not engaged in the War. The truth is that if you are going to have millions employed in war there is no means of escaping famine. You have to put up with it as one of the consequences of the War. The right hon. Gentleman talked, and others have done so, of the desirability of being independent of sea- 2532 borne supplies, and I would invite them to consider what that means. I venture to suggest that to be independent of seaborne supplies means the destruction of the British Empire. The British Empire depends entirely upon the use of the sea. If you cannot overcome the submarine menace it is not merely the foodstuffs of this country which are concerned; it is the whole British Empire. If the enemy are able to stop grain coming into this country they can stop ore, the transport of troops overseas, and the whole communication between this Empire and our Allies. If the submarine can stop food, the submarine ruins the whole of us. To suppose that you are going to meet the submarine menace by providing a supply of food at home seems to me the most absolute lunacy. It is distracting the attention of the people of this country from the root of the matter, which is that they must conquer the submarine or perish. It is one of these two. If you cannot conquer the submarine, then your Empire is gone, and there is no place for it. Nothing you can do is worth mentioning if you have to admit that that menace cannot be mastered.
I say frankly that I think the object of the Bill is bad. I think that if its intention is to induce farmers to produce corn under uneconomic circumstances it is a bad Bill, and I propose to vote against it. I think its methods are bad. This policy of giving, I do not like to call it a subsidy, but a potential subsidy—really I think it is a subsidy—is thoroughly bad. It is giving the greatest amount to those people who need it least. The man who makes most out of this proposal is the man who does not want a subsidy at all. He has land on which corn is the most natural crop. The man who does not go out of his way to do a single thing is to get a higher reward than the man who has striven hard to do something more. That is the plan of the Bill. I say that cannot be justified. As to the discrimination between the man who produces grain for his own consumption and the man who sells it on the market, that cannot be justified by anybody, because, by what is really a rather expensive trick, the man who consumes his own grain can always get the subsidy. He has only to arrange, as an hon. Friend of mine said to-day, to incur the additional cost of cartage to get the subsidy; therefore, whenever the subsidy is worth having he will waste a little money and get it. We were told that the farmers require a 2533 reasonable security in regard to price. Why do farmers require a security in regard to price which no other producers in the country require?
§ Mr. HOLT
The real curse of agriculture is that agriculturists are always asking to be spoon-fed and to be put on different terms from anybody else. When hon. Gentlemen tell me that it is necessary for a farmer to have a guarantee of prices, will they please tell me why it is not necessary to have a guarantee of prices for mutton and beef as well, because if you cannot farm an arable farm without a guarantee of prices, how is it that you can manage to farm a dairy farm and produce butter, milk, potatoes, and anything else without such a guarantee? It is ridiculous to tell us that only farms which produce certain classes of grain need to have a guarantee of prices and that every other farmer can carry on business without having a guarantee of prices for the article he produces. It is not reasonable. I wonder if bounties are going to stimulate production. Bounties killed the French mercantile marine by inducing people to do all sorts of foolish things in order to get them. It is quite as likely as not that you will find the same thing will happen in regard to agriculture which is fed by bounties. It will be fed by bounties if any result is to come from this Bill, because if no bounty is paid, nothing will happen under this Bill. It is very doubtful, indeed, whether any advantage will accrue to agriculture from inducing people to rely upon a bounty. The farmers will always come to this House to increase it, and they are likely to rely upon it rather than upon their own skill. I would refer for one moment to the question of the wages board. Personally, I have never liked wages boards, I have always preferred perfect freedom of contract. [HON. MEMBERS: "Grind them down!" and "Worst paid labour."] It is infinitely better to let people make their own bargains. Supposing you are going to have a wages board for agriculture, why is that to have 2534 any connection with subsidies to farmers? A wages board is either right or wrong. A minimum wage for agriculture is either right or wrong, and it cannot have anything whatever to do with the question whether you guarantee the price of corn.
§ Mr. HOLT
The reason why not is a very simple one. The minimum wages apply to all agricultural labourers. Every agricultural producer has to pay the minimum wage. On the other hand, the subsidy, or whatever it is, is only going to be paid to a certain section of agricultural producers. Some of these people who are going to receive a subsidy are admittedly not going to be affected by the minimum wage, because all those persons who are now paying wages above the minimum wage proposed will give no consideration in the way of additional wages for the subsidy. Therefore, there is no connection whatever between the minimum wage and the subsidy or bonus proposed under this Bill. The two things are perfectly separate and ought to be treated separately. I go much further. It is a most foolish act on the part of this House to have the establishment of a minimum wage in any way connected with the bounty or subsidy, because the next thing you will have said is, "You have no right to take away the bounty until you abolish the minimum wage." The two considerations ought not to be put together at all. After all, when you were starting a minimum wage for the wretched chain-makers of Cradley Heath, who were so abominably paid, nobody suggested that you ought to establish a minimum price for the chains. Nothing of the sort was suggested.
Then we are told the landlord is not to raise his rent. I want to know why not, because you are going to pay the subsidy or bonus to a farmer who has done absolutely nothing whatever? What greater claim has the farmer to a bonus or subsidy than the landlord? I do not think either of them has any claim. I am not an agricultural landlord, but as far as I can see in most cases the landlord has quite as much claim to a subsidy as the farmer.
Then you are going to have a bureaucratic measure for enabling the Board of Agriculture to see that all farmers cultivate their land properly. I have not that enormous faith in all the gentlemen who live round Whitehall to believe that they are capable of walking about the country 2535 telling the farmer and every other man who is doing any work for the country whether he is doing it properly or not. I do not believe they are capable of doing it. They can scarcely manage their own business, and, what is more, if you go -on in this style of legislation, we shall get to a state in which there is no person in the country who is not occupied in inspecting someone else. All productive employment will cease in favour of a great board of Government inspectors. If we are going to have a body of inspectors to inspect these trades the money for them ought not to be provided by Parliament but, as in the case of inspectors in other trades, the expenses should be defrayed by the trade itself. Further, I suggest that if you are going to have Government inspectors of agriculture, if you are going to try to put compulsion upon farmers to farm, as you think, properly, if that is the policy at all, it is not necessary to pay a subsidy to do that. Again, the subsidy or bounty is only payable to one class of farmers, whereas apparently the liability to inspection is one which applies to all classes of farmers. If you are going to enforce this inspection a very much easier and simpler way of doing it is to stipulate, as could very easily be done, that for the purposes of the Agricultural Eating Act land should only be regarded as agricultural land if there is a certificate issued by the Board of Agriculture that it is being properly used for the purpose of agriculture. If financial inducement is necessary, it should not impose any burden upon the taxpayers of the country. If a Division is taken I shall certainly go into the Lobby against the Bill.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Duke)
I am sure the House will think that no apology was due from the hon. Member for the illuminating speech he has made in regard to the proposals of this Bill. The hon. Member has demonstrated how completely a measure dealing with a subject like agriculture can be misunderstood, and of how little value criticism can be when it springs from rooted predilections. The hon. Member made one observation with which I agree— I think it was only one—with regard to ray right hon. Friend (Mr. Runciman). He regretted that hon. Members had found it necessary to speak in somewhat severe terms of my right hon. Friend; but I must ask the hon. Member, "Who began it?" I must remind him that my right hon. 2536 Friend introduced this Bill to the House as a measure in which the Government have thought fit to open questions of controversy.
§ Mr. DUKE
My right hon. Friend knows that I shall not indulge in personal abuse. There were some references to my right hon. Friend which I join with the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) in regretting, but once you open a set polemic in the middle of a great war, unless you have some profound reason for it, you are likely to excite a good deal of passion, and if the profundity of the reason in regard to a particular measure is such that when the question comes to be asked, "Do you move to reject it," and the answer is "No," then it looks as if there had been a little misapprehension as to whether the atmosphere of controversy need have been introduced in regard to the measure. I contrast some of the controversial speeches which have been made with the contribution to this Debate of those hon. Members who are probably more profoundly interested on behalf of their constituents than any other bodies of Members, namely, the hon. Members for Ireland. Although the hon. Members for Ireland criticised this Bill and brought to the details of it stringent examination, for which I am grateful to them—because no member of the Government desires to avoid criticism in a measure of this kind—there was not a sound of controversy in their speeches. They accepted this Bill with their knowledge of the agricultural situation and with their appreciation and the appreciation of their constituents of the necessity for the Bill and the possibilities for good in it, and all that they said to His Majesty's Government was, "Mould this Bill so that it does all that it is possible to do for Ireland." To any other hon. Members who have said to His Majesty's Government, "Mould this Bill so that it 2537 may do its best for England, and so that it may do its best in the emergency in which we stand and stave off famine from our households and our tables—to every man who approached the subject in that spirit I desire to express my gratitude. But does it help the discussion that the hon. Member for Hexham should emphasise the desirability of importing our food from abroad and the saving grace from the economic standpoint of living upon imported food? The Government which framed its course upon the dictates of the hon. Member for Hexham would not find itself in the street, it would find itself in a much less agreeable situation, and I think it would deserve it.
The justification—I will not call it the pretext or excuse—which my right hon. Friend made for dealing with this Bill in a polemic as a controversial measure was that it was not a War Bill. He called it an after-the-War Bill. Is the emergency of the present time a war emergency and a war problem? What is the situation? What has been the growing situation month by month, I might say year by year? The sources of supply have been restricted; the quantities of supplies have been diminished; the transport of supplies has been brought into perilous risk. And all those things have happened progressively. It was going on, and we came to that grave and critical condition in the autumn of last year. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where was Runciman?"] Whoever else can throw stones at the right hon. Member with regard to September and October and November I cannot. And I say this. I have said nothing other. I have said it always, and I say it now, that His Majesty's Government at that time may have failed to take measures which subsequent experience would have suggested if they could have had it, but they did what Englishmen always have done in those circumstances; they did their best; we did our best. I was sorry to hear my right hon. Friend differentiate between the "we" with whom he acts and the general body of men who are endeavouring to render service to the country. After all, it is "we" who are waging this War. If hunger comes it is "we" who will have to suffer, and I do not like the new distinction in which the House is told by a very eminent member of one of the old political parties, by one who was, at any rate, a leader of a strong political party, speaking for himself and 2538 I assume for others, that "we" should take such a course, and that "we" have done certain things.
That comes of the letting in of the spirit of controversy; that comes of treating a Bill, which is in truth and fact in its origin, its objects, its intent and the problem with which it deals, a war measure, as though it were some fantastic proposal with which the Members of His Majesty's Government are amusing themselves in order, as some hon. Members have thought fit to say, to distribute doles in this season of trouble and distress among a minority of our countrymen. If hon. Members think about it they will see what an odious imputation it is. I am going to demonstrate, I hope, that in its intent and in its proposals this is a war measure. The problem we have seen. It cannot be met in the way of the hon. Member for Hexham. It is a problem of staving off hunger with material food—food of cereals, food of meat, and other ordinary supplies for the table. You cannot get it by talking about it or by relying upon the theories of Free Trade however beautiful they may be. Where were we in December of last year, when supplies were perilously restricted, 25 per cent. below the normal, with many sources of supply absolutely closed, transport cut down and in the course of being cut down to more than half of its possible use? I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for anything in July or in August. There was only one direction to which His Majesty's Government was driven to look, and it resolved upon the development of our own resources. And what was the outstanding fact of that problem? It was that in Great Britain upwards of 4,000,000 acres capable of cultivation had gone out of cultivation since about the year 1870. That was the outstanding fact. It was that of an additional 5,000,000 tons of food, 4,000,000 acres would produce four-fifths of it. Another outstanding fact was the condition of Ireland, upon which hon. Members dwelt; and I do not wonder that many Irishmen feel profoundly the disparity between tillage and pasture, which in Ireland is such as does not exist in any other country. In December last, I am glad to think, we began in Ireland with something in the nature of an edict under the Tillage Regulations. The people of Ireland saw the sense of it and the good of it. Those who advised them, advised them, I believe, in the best interests of their country and of the United Kingdom. 2539 The edict which was issued was to break up an additional tenth of the arable land, and that has been, on the whole, handsomely and enthusiastically obeyed.
It has been estimated that in Ireland three-quarters of a million acres have been put under cultivation. I do not want to exaggerate, for it is difficult to know, but there has been a very great increase of cultivation. Whether it is (half a million acres, three-quarters of a million acres, or a little more or a little less, it is a very notable achievement, and may give us heart for the task in front of us. We did the same in Scotland under the Defence of the Realm Regulations. Now this Bill has been described as though it was some mystery of iniquity. We came up against one question from all the farmers, whom we had to meet in both centres, however patriotic they may be. My right hon. Friend said that they have become more patriotic as time goes on. I confess that it hurts me to hear this jeering and sneering against a body of men who are doing their very best, who will do their very best, and against whom the only blame that can be raised at the present time is that those who have charge of their affairs insist and say, "If you are going to compel us to take the risk of the tillage of our land, you must at any rate devise some system which will protect us from the risk of being ruined as the result." That is supposed to detract from their patriotism; at any rate, it demonstrates their common sense. I would venture to remind my hon. Friends that there is not much capability for public service unless there is at any rate a modicum of common sense. What was the position? We found ourselves given ungrudgingly, at the risk of the men who undertook the work, 1,000,000 acres of additional tillage, a million of tons potentially of food value. Two questions, or rather three questions, arose. There was a question of further compulsory powers. When people make their exhortations to apply the Defence of the Realm Regulations, if I did not know better, it would make me believe that all my fellow countrymen were enamoured of the Defence of the Realm Regulations, and wished to live all their lives under them, but there are limits to what you can do under the Defence of the Realm Regulations. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, no !"] Anybody who has had to apply 2540 them knows. I have had to apply and administer and consider the administration of them in almost every aspect, and I tell my hon. Friend that there are limits. That was one of them. His Majesty's Government was willing to introduce, and at any rate at present to stereotype, and regularise the system of compulsion. That is the system in Part IV. of this Bill.
The labour problem had arisen owing to things which were not foreseen, owing to the dispatch of men from the land to the front, and owing to various causes, and it was aggravated by old conditions with regard to wages, and the country demanded that if you were going to put agriculture in a new position the agricultural labourer should share the benefits of the position, if there were any. There were two things which were resolved upon. His Majesty's Government had the duty, whether it liked it or not, of making compulsory regulations about tillage. Having that duty and having dealt with the question of agriculture, it had the duty of being able to say to those concerned, we are going to make a new start about the wages of agriculture. Nobody in the House has grudged that and nobody in the country will grudge it, and although pain and grief have come out of the War some benefits will come and this may be one of them. Those were two things. We were going to do one other thing. We were going to secure the co-operation of farmers. Do hon. Members suppose you can compel a man in this country by Defence of the Realm Regulation to spend money in hundreds or thousands of pounds and be out of it for months and take his chance of whether anything comes to him as a result. You cannot control his land, you cannot control his planting of crops. You cannot make him work on agriculture except as a labourer, and if you can make him are you going to get your 5,000,000 tons of additional food by a system of forced labour upon the farms? Why, of course, you are not. It is a fantastic notion that you could apply Defence of the Realm Regulations to this vast problem, with any expectation of success. You had to find out on what terms the patriotic farmer was willing to take the risk. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] There is the same jeer. I wish it could be heard in the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Name him!"] It is not worth while. That was the question— how were you going to get the hearty 2541 co-operation of the farmer? All kinds of experts advised upon this matter. They advised before two, at any rate, Departmental Committees, composed of men of great skill and eminence, and they advised in great numbers the various Departments and Boards of Agriculture, but what was better still was that the farmers said, "Well, put us in a position in which we shall have a reasonable prospect of not being absolutely destroyed by the failure of the crops which we till or by the market being flooded, in the event of an early peace, with foreign corn; put us in that position, and we will do all we can." What was the duty of Hi3 Majesty's Government under those circumstances—the course recommended by experts of every kind and of very degree of eminence? Why, it was their duty to take occasion by the hand and close that matter with the farmers, and I thought when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his speech here on a Friday in February—I think it was the 23rd—and it was welcomed from the Front Bench opposite, and the cloven hoof of controversy was not discovered in it, and nobody thought it was not a war measure, I thought in that state of the case that the thing was as good as done and that it was only a matter of working out the details. Well, I believe it is, because after all, when you look back upon these two nights of Debate, what emerges? First of all, this emerges, that every man who has spoken with acquaintance of agricultural conditions has supported this Bill; secondly, that the whole body of the representatives of Ireland, subject to certain observations made, have supported this Bill; and as to the vital part of this Bill, that part which empowers the Government to enforce tillage, my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Runciman) supports this Bill and says it is a war measure. I will read what my right hon. Friend said about it, to try to remove the delusion that this is not a war measure: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."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 24th April, 1917, col. 2267.]It is not enough to say—because if it had been remembered that it was a war measure we should not have had the excursions into the regions of controversy which we have had; it is a war measure in its vital elements—it is not enough to say 2542 it is a war measure; it has got to be a reasonable war measure. If I am right in saying that these were the terms upon which you could secure the hearty cooperation of the farmers of the three Kingdoms in all the difficulties with regard to materials and implements and labour, then it was a wise and necessary war measure, and that is what I venture to say it is; and when this Debate comes to be considered, and when hon. Members come to appreciate what we have been talking about, what we have really been debating— that is, the question whether we shall use compulsion to secure our food supplies in the most tremendous crisis that has ever come upon us in that respect, and whether we shall do it upon terms which are accepted by those who are concerned in the matter as reasonably fair, or at any rate not oppressive—when that comes to be appreciated, then better justice will be done to this measure than has been done in the course of some of the speeches in this Debate. Something has been said of alternatives. Who has proposed any? The right hon. Gentleman formulated a proposal. He said bring back to the land the labourers who know it. They have gone. Nobody believes that any Government would send men out of the country if they realised that they were better employed here. We were in a conflict of necessities. One or the other prevailed at one or the other time. The men are not here. The emergency is here. My right hon. Friend urged compulsion. Compel the farmer, he said, to till his land properly. Upon whose terms: yours or his'? At your risk or at his? These are questions that require an answer! My right hon. Friend opposite said: "Use research, education, co-operation; improve distribution, improve transport." There is an old proverb that says: "While the grass grows the horse starves." His Majesty's Government was not ready to go to the country, for whom it is the trustee, and say, "You are faced with potential want and distress, and we propose to set up colleges!" This is a War measure. When you cannot do a thing in all respects as you would, you have to do it as best you can.
There is one other matter with which I wish to deal. I will make a strong appeal to the indulgence of my hon. Friends from Ireland, and I have to ask them to believe that the position of this Bill in regard to Ireland occupied my attention and that of my advisers most closely for 2543 a considerable time before it was introduced. My right, hon. Friend and I hope to have the advantage of meeting hon. Members from Ireland, and of trying to gather a consensus of opinion in regard to those questions, and their difficulty, which is far greater than any of the questions affecting the application of this Bill to this country. In regard to rents, judicial tenancies, in regard to the 400,000 small holders, in regard to the assessment of the statutory prices, it will be necessary that hon. Members and we should come I to an understanding as to the best methods; and I ask them now to believe that it is the intention of the Government to deal fairly in these matters
§ Mr. DUKE
I ask hon. Members from Ireland to give me indulgence in this respect. They know that if I can I fulfil my pledges, and I believe that this is a pledge which can be well fulfilled. Now with regard to the bonus, the most extravagant expressions have been used. It has been suggested that it is a bounty which is going to make a tremendous addition to the National Debt, and, according to other views, it is not going to be paid at all. I ask hon. Members to consider this. The standard price for wheat for 1917 is 60s. Is there any chance, is there any hope that we shall have something to pay in respect of the standard price for 1917? Would to God there were! If £10,000,000 or £20.000,000 would secure us that certainty it would be one of the cheapest bargains ever made. Take 1918 and 1919–55s. Does anybody suppose there is going to be such a difference between that price and the market price that this is going to be a very popular matter? Nobody supposes it. [AN HON.
MEMBER: "Then why does the farmer want the Bill?"] The farmer wants the Bill as an insurance. A man insures his house; he does not expect it is going to be burnt down. He insures his ship, but, except in these times, he does not suppose it is going to be sunk He effects many insurances. This is an insurance for the farmer. With regard to the last period, for which the minimum price is fixed at 45s., why, Sir, it is a lower price than was in operation in this country in the seventies, a time within the memory of practically all who are here. The price in the seventies was about 50s. We have heard all sorts of theories as to what may happen by what people are pleased to call a bounty. I will read—and hon. Members from Ireland will be particularly interested in it—a little piece of practical experience from a dispassionate authority. In 1784 there was introduced into Ireland a bounty of 3s. 6d. a barrel upon the export of corn when corn fell below a certain price—a transaction not absolutely dissimilar from the present, except that the money had to be paid. This is what Lecky said:
Foster's Corn Law of 1781 granted large bounties on the exportation of corn, and imposed heavy duties on its importation. Ii is one of the capital facts ill Irish history. In a few years it changed the face of the land, and made Ireland to a great extent an arable instead of a pasture country.
Newenham, the great economic authority in Ireland, says in regard to that period:
Acute distress in Ireland ceased, manufactories flourished in consequence of increased profits in agriculture, the whole population rapidly augmented, and the well-being of all classes steadily rose.
I do not suggest that this is a measure to secure this purpose, but I do say it is a measure which, when you look at it in its elements and in its true light, is one which His Majesty's Government need take no discredit for having introduced to the House of Commons and to their fellow-countrymen.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 288; Noes, 27.2547
|Division No. 33.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs)||Bird, Alfred|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Barrie, H. T.||Black, Sir Arthur W.|
|Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling||Bathurst, Capt. C. (Wilts, Wilton)||Blair. Reginald|
|Amery, L. C. M. S.||Beale, Sir William Phipson||Blake, Sir Francis Douglas|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Martin||Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Boland, John Plus|
|Ashley, Wilfrid W.||Beck, Arthur Cecil||Booth, Frederick Handel|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith-|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Boyton, James|
|Banner. Sir John S. Harmood-||Bentham, G. J.||Brace, Rt Hon. William|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Brady, Patrick Joseph|
|Brassey, H. Leonard Campbell||Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.||Nolan, Joseph|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Nation-Griffiths, Sir J.|
|Brookes, Warwick||Hayden. John Patrick||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Hazleton, Richard||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Henry, Sir Charles||O'Donnell, Thomas|
|Bryce, John Annan||Henry, Denis S.||O'Neill. Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)|
|Bull, Sir William James||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Butcher, John George||Hibbert, Sir Henry F.||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Carew, C. R. S.||Hills, John Waller||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Carnegle, Lieut.-Col. D. G.||Hinds, John||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Cator, John||Hohler, G. F,||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Cautley, H. S.||Holmes, Daniel Turner||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Cawley, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Hope, Lt.-CI. J. A. (Midlothian)||Philipps, Maj.-Gen. Ivor (Southampton)|
|Chaloner, Colonel 8. G. W.||Hunt, Major Rowland||Philipps, Sir Owen (Chester)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Pollock, Ernest Murray|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Ingleby, Holcombe||Pratt, J. W.|
|Clyde, J. Avon||Jackson, Lt.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Pretyman, Ernest George|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Jessel, Colonel H. M.||Prothero, Rt. Hon. Rowland Edmund|
|Cochrane, Cecil Algernon||Johnston, Sir Christopher||Pryce-Jones, Colonel Edward|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir B.||Jones, Edgar (Myrthyr Tydvil)||Radford, Sir George Heynes|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Coote, William||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Reddy, Michael|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Jones, W. S. Glyn- (T. H'mts, Stepney)||Rejmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)|
|Cory, James Herbert (Cardiff)||Joyce, Michael||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)|
|Cosgrave, James||Keating, Matthew||Reid, Rt. Hon. Sir G.|
|Courthope, George Loyd||Kellaway, Frederick George||Remnant, James F.|
|Cowan, William Henry||Kelly, Edward||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Craig, Col. James (Down, E.)||Kenyon, Barnet||Richardson, Arthur (Rotherham)|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Kerry, Earl of||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Croft, Lieut.-Col. Henry Page||Kilbride, Denis||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Cullinan, John||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Currie, George W.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. (Devon, S. Molton)||Robinson, Sidney|
|Dalrympie, Hon. K. H.||Larmor, Sir J.||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Rowlands. James|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Royds, Edmund|
|Davles, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Leo, Sir Arthur Hamilton||Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Levy, Sir Maurice||Rutherford, Sir J. (Lanes., Darwen)|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Salter, Arthur Claveil,|
|Devlin, Joseph||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Samuels, Arthur W.|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby N.||Locker-Lampson. G. (Salisbury;||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Dillon, John||Lockwood Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R.||Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)|
|Dixon, Charles Harvey||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Donovan, John Thomas||Lonsdale. Sir John Brownlee||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Duffy, William J.||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool Exchange)|
|Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Sheehy, David|
|Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.||Lundon, Thomas||Shortt, Edward|
|Faber, George Denison (Clapham)||Lynch, Arthur Alfred||Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Walton)|
|Fell, Arthur||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Ffrench, Peter||McGhee, Richard||Starkey, John Ralph|
|Field, William||Mackinder, Halford J.||Steel-Maitland. A. D.|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Macmoster, Donald||Stewart, Gershom|
|Fitzpatrick, John Lalor||McMicking, Major Gilbert||Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Flavin. Michael Joseph||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)!||Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)|
|Forster, Henry William||Magnus, Sir Philip||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|France, Gerald Ashburner||Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Thompson. Rt. Hon. R. (Belfast, N.)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Marriott, John Arthur Ransoms||Thomson. W. Mitchell- (Down. North)|
|Gardner, Ernest||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Gastrell, Lieut.-Col. W. Houghton||Meagher, Michael||Tickler, T. G.|
|Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Touche, Sir George Alexander|
|Goldman, C. S.||Meux, Hon. Sir Hedworth||Tryon, Captain George Clement|
|Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Meysey-Thompson, Colonel E. C.||Turton. Edmund Russborough|
|Grant, James Augustus||Millar, James Duncan||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||Molloy, Michael||Walsh, Stephen (Lanes., Ince)|
|Greig, Colonel James William||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Gretton, John||Money, Sir L. G. Chiozza||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Griffith, Rt. Hon. Ellis Jones||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E, S.||Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay|
|Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||Mooney, John J.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Gwynne, R. S, (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Moore, William||Watson, Hon. W.|
|Hackett, John||Morgan, George Hay||Weigall, Colonel William E. G. A.|
|Haddock, George Bahr||Morison, Thomas B. (Inverness)||Wheler, Major Granville C. H.|
|Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Whiteley, Herbert James|
|Hamersley, Alfred St. George||Muldoon. John||Whitty, Patrick Joseph|
|Hamilton C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington, S.)||Neville. Reginald J. N.||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Hanson, Charles Augustin||Newman, John R. P.||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||Newton, Major Harry Kottingham||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Wilson, Captain Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||Wilson, Lt.-CI. Sir M.(Beth'l Green,S.W.)|
|Wilson-Fox, Henry||Yeo, Alfred William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES —|
|Winfrey, Sir Richard||Young, William (Perthshire, East)||Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr.|
|Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.||Younger, Sir George||Primrose.|
|Anderson, W. C.||King, Joseph||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Rattan, Peter Wilson|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Martin, J.||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Cralg, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Molteno, Percy Alport||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Glanville, H. J.||Morrell, Philip||Williams, John (Glamorgan)|
|Hogge, James Myles||Outhwaite, R. L.|
|Holt, Richard Dunning||Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.|
|Jardine, Sir John (Roxburghshire)||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.||Lough and Commander Wedgwood,|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday, 7th May.—(Mr. James Hope.)